We’re not really sure why this place gets such a bad rap…
Athens is famously a ‘get in, and get the hell out’ kind of city; if you ever speak to a person whose been to the capital of Greece, you bet your bottom dollar they’re going to tell you how much they didn’t like it. So for us, discovering that we quite liked this mecca of Greek history was quite a pleasant surprise (and unpleasant, because we in that case we would’ve quite liked to allow ourselves more time). Do yourselves a favour, and give yourselves a couple of days to explore the plethora of history here. We might be biased, as we were once known to be utter Classics geeks, but there’s a lot of eye-opening ancient shit here to be wowed by.
Well, it’s fairly stupid of me to outline all the tourist attractions in Athens for you. So instead, I’m going to list the top five you should prioritise – and some info on the multi-site ticket which seems to be A.confusing as shit to find anything about on the internet and B. just the easiest thing to do really.
Acropolis – what you need to know
Of course, the pis de resistance of the ancient Greek world, Athens’ top draw is a crumbling, half-destroyed ruin on top of a hill. Selling it? We’ll go on..
As I’m sure most of you realise: the Acropolis actually refers to the entire complex/ citadel located on top of the craggy outcrop of rock in the middle of Athens. The most famous of these buildings is the Parthenon, the largest temple skeleton that everyone mistakenly assumes is the Acropolis. While you can see the complex from many points in the city, I would definitely recommend spending the 20/30 euro and seeing it up close and personal. But first, let me tell you exactly what that money will get you.
**Tickets to the archaelogical sites**
After two fruitless hours of searching the interwebs to try and figure out exactly what is included in the 30 euro ‘multi-site’ ticket, to decide on whether or not stumping up 30 euro for a 24-hour visit to Athens was going to be worth it or not. We had a fairly good handle on everything, and had decided on sticking with the 20 euro ticket, when we lined up at the ticket counter the next day – and all our information was wrong. So, here’s exactly what to know about both tickets:
– The 20 euro Acropolis ticket
Includes: the Acropolis and its slopes (don’t get too excited, the slopes don’t include much). This translates to: access to the site where the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Erechtheion are (you can’t actually get inside any of them). Also includes the sites of the smaller ruins along the Acropolis’s slopes – the likes of the the Theatre of Herodes Atticus (you’ll be behind a gate for this one too) and the Theatre of Dionysus (you can climb all over this one).
* Even better – travel in winter and you’ll only have to pay 10 euro.
** You can’t buy this ticket online, you need to show up at any of the ticket offices scattered around the various entrances to the Acropolis to buy one. Our tip? Show up first thing in the morning, regardless if you want to visit at that time or not. The line at opening time is minimal, and you can buy your ticket and return later to actually visit the site (the entrance line is non-existent). At one point last week, the line to buy a ticket was apparently five hours long.
The 30 euro multi-site ticket
Okay, ignore the rest of the crap you’ve read online. If you want to go to the Acropolis and one or more of the other archaeological sites around Athens, it is well worth getting the multi-site ticket.
This includes access to:
– Ancient Agora (Temple of Hephaestus included)
– Hadrian’s Library
– Roman Agora
– Aristotle’s Lyceum
– Temple of Olympian Zeus
Because the sites can cost anything from 4 euro to 12 euro buying separate tickets, getting the multi-site one just makes plain financial sense if you’re planning on going anywhere other than just the Acropolis. It also lasts five days, so you can take your time to get around all of them. We managed to get around five, including the Acropolis, in a day – so we definitely got our money’s worth.
*You can buy this ticket online, or at any of the archaeological sites. Yes, that means that you can buy one at the Ancient Agora, and then waltz in to the Acropolis whenever you like.
But: if you’ve only got a short amount of time, or just plain cannot be bothered with a bunch of ruins, here’s what we thought the top 5 sites to see were.
But of course, you can’t exactly go to Athens and miss the most important archaeological site in the whole country. It’s basically the only reason people go to Athens anyway. The Acropolis is every inch as impressive in real life as it is in photos, and is best viewed in early morning or evening to avoid the crowds. It’s also best taken in after a visit to the Acropolis Museum, which is only 5 euro, and has everything you ever needed to know about each building contained in the ancient citadel and its incredible history. Account for one or two hours to wander through the complex.
Top tip: Take in the sunset from Philoppapos Hill (see below for photographic proof this is gorgeous), with an excellent view over to the Acropolis and the rest of Athens. Watching the ancient temple turn a pinky hue in the dusk is the best way to see it.
2. Ancient Agora (including Temple of Hephaestus)
Much akin to Rome’s Roman Forum, this is just a whopping big area of ruins you’ve probably never heard of, that might just impress you more than the main draws themselves (Acropolis we’re looking at you). The sprawling excavated site was essentially the centre of the ancient city, and is the best-known example of an ancient Greek agora. The museum, in the Stoa of Attalos, is worth stopping into.
3. Temple of Olympian Zeus
Sure, there’s only a mere corner of the gigantic temple that remains – a measly handful of the original 200 columns – but this is worth checking out if only for its size. Each column is 12 metres tall, and the site of one sole crumbled column lying where it fell on the ground is actually kind of moving. The only disappointing thing was that it wasn’t laid waste to by a rampaging war or invading army – but it simply deteriorated over time from the weather, and human tampering. Stupid society.
4. Aristotle’s Lyceum
It’s a bit out of the way from the other sites, but if you’re keen for a walk through Syntagma Square or through the Botanic Gardens, then it’s practically on the way. There’s not much to see here if you compare it to other sites in the city – but the fact that Aristotle himself, and the other ancient philosophers, once taught their prodigies on this very site is kind of bad-ass.
5. Roman Agora (including Tower of the Winds)
Again, less to see here than the other more impressive sites, but it’s interesting if you have the time. Actually, the most impressive remains of the site are right at the entrance, where the well-preserved Gate of Athena Archegetis still stands proudly, flanked by columns on either side. The site was financed by Julius Caesar himself, and erected all the way back in the 1st Century AD. You can see most of it from the gates – but it’s worth going inside for a wander, if not just to have a look inside the beautiful Tower of the Winds, which is – arguably – the star attraction of this agora.
Other sites to see if you have time (in descending order): Panathenaic Stadium (if you have time, pay the entrance fee, but otherwise you can take most of it in from outside the gate), Botanic Gardens, Syntagma Square and Greek Parliament Buildings.
These apartments are located far enough out of the tourist district that they’re cheap, but close enough that you can still walk up the Acropolis in a breezy 30 minutes. They’re also about 100 metres from the best bars and restaurants in Athens – which is obviously why we picked it. For a meagre 60/ 70 euros, you can book a 3-bedroom apartment, with two double beds, and a large living and dining space. It’s all pristine and clean too – which is more than can be said for a lot of Athens. The dudes that run this place have thought of everything too: there’s new containers of shampoo, conditioner and body wash in the shower, 3D glasses for the TV, and even a cupboard stocked with olive oil, spices, and even some pasta and lentils. They won’t hesitate to sit you down for an hour to go over all the sites to see in Athens and the best way to see them, either.
But I still think it was the plethora of complex carbohydrates that won me over.
Ambrosia Restaurant, Drakou 3, near-ish the touristy area
After an hour of wandering the streets aimlessly for an authentic Greek taverna (the family-run eateries of Naxos having ruined us for Greek food forevermore), this find, down a tiny pedestrian streets on the outskirts of the tourist district was a godsend. Complete with outside tables, delicious house wine, and overworked, underpaid elderly waiter who spoke no English aside from “no more of that”, and “everything is good” and “oh my god”; you won’t find better around these parts. Order the rose wine, the moussaka, and the stuffed pork. For 30 euro for three people, and full entertainment provided by the poor waiter who obviously wished he had never approached our table, it’s beyond worth it.
AVOID AT ALL COSTS
Peri Cafe, Syntagma Square: Unless you’re in the market for surly baristas who berate you when you ask for your coffees to be made hot instead of cold, aforementioned cold cappuccinos, cold food, and rude waitresses. We’d heard excellent reviews and stories about this place, but can confirm – it did not live up to a single one of them.
Getting to/ from the airport
From Syntagma Square, either take the metro or the bus. The bus is cheaper, at 6 euro, and takes about an hour. The metro is 10 euro, or 9 euro each if you’re two people, and takes about the same amount of time. We’ve been told to avoid taxis as they tend to ignore the fact there’s a meter installed in their car and make their own prices up instead.
Food: Lidl breakfast (10 euro), baked goods and frappes for lunch x 2 (8 euro), breakfast at Peri Cafe (12 euro), dinner at Ambrosia (10 euro), ‘Brown Cows’ at nondescript tourist cafe (5 euro)