A trip to Greece will undoubtedly hold one of the best memories you’ll keep for years to come. To many, one mention of the dream country and Santorini comes to mind, but don’t underestimate the other places of interest this phantasmagorical country has to offer. Meanwhile, here are a few charming sites not to miss in Athens, the City of the Violet Crown.
1. Syntagma Square
The hub for many types of public transportation in Athens, Syntagma Square is situated right in front of the 19th century Old Royal Palace, housing the Greek Parliament. What attracted me to the square was the fascinating sight of The Presidential Guard, known as Evzones, guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – a memorial dedicated to Greek Soldiers who died during war. Their march consists of striking 1.5kg red leather boots (called Tsarouchia) embroidered with black pom-poms, forcefully onto the ground to create a powerful thump. The loud noise produced is symbolic to letting their ancestors know they are alive and free.
Do note however, with about 50 nails at the sole of each boot, a hidden blade in the tassel, muscular legs and a powerful kick, don’t even think about disturbing the Evzones.
2. National Garden
Conveniently located just beside Syntagma Square is the entrance to the National Garden. If you enjoy walking like I do, you’ll find this garden quite the walker’s therapy. Another thing I noticed in Greece is that the locals like to keep fit – there were quite a number of joggers in the park even though it was winter. Not only were they jogging, they were even racing at it.
3. Mount Lycabettus
It was about 4.30pm in the afternoon when we decided to hike up Mount Lycabettus. Standing at 300m, the limestone hill was a 30 minute climb and with every stop we made, we were greeted with a beautiful panoramic view of Athens. Interestingly enough, myths have it that the hill was created by the Goddess, Athena, who dropped a limestone mountain she had been carrying for the construction of the Acropolis. After what could possibly be the longest 30 minutes of my life, we arrived at one of the 2 peaks which houses the Chapel of Saint George.
3. Panathenaic Stadium
Best known for hosting the first modern Olympics in 1896, the Panathenaic Stadium is a historical site of Athens and the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. For €5, you get to enter the stadium and if you walk further in at the end, you’ll find a beautifully lit cave leading to a mini museum showcasing the historical highlights of the stadium. It is quite an awe-inspiring moment.
4. The Acropolis of Athens & the Acropolis Museum
A vacation in Athens wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Acropolis and its archaeological museum. Although the Acropolis had been damaged by the 1687 siege during the Morean War, it was still an honourable experience to stand amidst this historical landmark in Athens. A multi-site entrance ticket had cost us €30 but be prepared to walk a lot as the area of the Acropolis is vast. Apart from the multi-site package, you also have the option of purchasing the standard ticket which still allows you access to the main sightings, this costs €20 in winter and €10 in summer. Personally, the standard tickets would have sufficed as we got tired eventually and did not manage to cover all grounds.
The Acropolis Museum concentrates on the findings of the archaeological site of the Acropolis, including sculptures, busts, rock sediments, artefacts and marble. The café on the fourth level serves unforgettable Greek coffee which is a must-try when you visit the museum. If you’re thinking of making some purchases at the museum shop however, it will be better to do so at the smaller shops outside the museum. The entrance ticket to the museum had cost us €5 in winter, down from €10 in summer.
Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your trip to Athens:
- A trip to Greece is much more affordable in winter – we were there for 16 days in February and spent a total of one-third the amount we would have spent if we had gone in summer. Less tourists in winter too.
- There are a number of refugees in Athens, be wary if they come up to you wanting to hand you a rose or a “gift” – they’ll expect to be paid for it and will not leave your side until satisfied.
- A visit to the Acropolis would best be made on a Sunday morning, where you get to witness the Evzones raise the Greek Flag up the pole on the belvedere to the tune of the Greek National anthem, along with a marching band.
- Gyros and souvlaki is soul. Gyros and souvlaki is love. Gyros and souvlaki is life.