Walk and Breathe History in Athens’ Ancient Monuments

Mr & Mrs TTM spent a week in Athens and Santorini in winter and it was a really interesting holiday.

It’s true what they say about Athens- it’s an open air museum. There are lots of archaelogical sites in and around Athens. The most famous of them all of course is the Acropolis, the city on the hill that was the seat of Greece’s glory days as a world power. This city dates back to 400BC and saw the rise and fall of successive civilizations and conquerors from the Myceneans to the Greeks to the Romans, the Italians and Turks and finally modern Greece, each successive power building on (or modifying or destroying as the case may be) it’s predecessors’ architectural achievements at the same site.

The most famous of the buildings in the Acropolis is The Parthenon, originally a temple dedicated to Athena and at various points in its history was converted to a church and a mosque. Aside from the Acropolis complex there are other famous Archaeological sites at the foot of the hill e.g. Herod Atticus Odeon, the Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, the Temple of Zeus and the Temple of Hippastus. The modern Acropolis Museum building was built over the ruins of an old residential complex that was at least a thousand year old.  You could see though the transparent glass floors the archaeological diggings under and see a 1,000-year old living room with its mosaic floor intact!  It was very interesting to walk the places that have thousand year plus histories.  We literally breathed history in Athens.

Unfortunately, the effects of the crisis are noticeable in the city. There is a sense of neglect around the ruins e.g. rubbish in the streets, lack of cleaners and security personnel in and about the areas, abandoned diggings and unrepaired facilities. There were some graffitis even in the ruins – these are irreplaceable monuments not just for Athens but for humanity as a whole and it’s very sad that they are not being taken care of as they should.

What we liked best about Athens is that you could walk to all the attractions. We had 3 full days in Athens and we never once used the metro in all that time. We simply walked to all the attractions. The historical and tourist sites are all located in a compact city centre. From Syntagma Square, it’s a no more than a 30-minute walk to Acropolis. In between lies the Plaka and Monastiraki where you can find great restaurants, shops and more-a turn in a corner could surprise you with an excavated site, they are just all over the city.

We found the accommodation in Athens cheap. We stayed in the Acropolis area in a quiet neighborhood in a 3 star hotel that cost less than €100 per night. However, the food is quite expensive, more expensive than Barcelona. (See our post on our Holiday in Barcelona Lovely Food, Great Art)  Lunch or dinner in middle range restaurants across the Acropolis museums with 3-4 items good for two people is €40.  We found a gem of a place that not only saved us money but also let us have a taste of home cooked Greek food. To Kati Allo is an unassuming place located behind the Acropolis museum. They have large servings and the bill for two people only comes up to €15-30.  If you are not picky, souvlakis and sandwiches could be have for €4.  Greek cooking uses lots of olive oils, tomatoes and eggplants. Seafood is not as common or cheap as we would have liked but we did enjoy the salads and grilled vegetables and meats.

The Itinerary:

We were supposed to go on our holidays in September but due to work commitments it got pushed back lots of times and before we knew it it was the last week of November. We had misgivings about going to Greece in the winter but you go when you can right? As it turned out, autumn/winter is a great time to visit Athens as the cooler weather made for comfortable exploring.

Day 1
Started the day wandering around in Syntagma Square and watched the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; visited the ruins of Hadrians Library and the Roman Agora; walked around Monastiraki,wandered into the famous Athens flea market, and after more walking found ourselves on the foot of the Acropolis. The white marbles of the Acropolis steps and the theater of Dionysius are impressive.

Day 2
Morning spent in Acropolis Museum which gave us a nice background to the visit to Acropolis itself in the afternoon. The museum is just a 10 minutes walk to the Acropolis.

Day 3
Rode the bus to Piraues Port out of curiosity (nothing there, not worth a visit unless you’re joining a cruise or getting on a ferry); went back Syntagma Square and walked to the Roman Temple of Zeus barely making it before they close for the day. The highlight of our day was watching the sunset from Areospagus Hill (or Mars Hill) which is just off the entrance to the Acropolis. If you are Christian the Aerospagus is significant because this was the place where Saint Paul preached to the members of the Aerospagites which is a jury that tries murder cases in Ancient Athens. In the evening after dinner we bought souvenirs in Plaka.

Day 4
Out of town on a train to Corinth. Here is our post on How to go to Corinth from Athens by Train

1) Walk to everywhere- it’s a very walkable city. The marble steps to the Acropolis are very manageable with low gradient but they can get slippery so do be careful.

2) When you do need to use public transport the metro is very easy to navigate and is clean and modern. Single trip tickets for the metro could be purchased at the station. We took the X95 bus from the airport to Syntagma Square and while the bus is a bit old it was not so bad. Cost €6 per person and took about 40 minutes to the city. Tickets were purchased at the kiosk just before the bus stop outside the arrivals hall. Taxi fares are fixed- no meters in Athens. Be sure to fix the price with your driver before getting in the car. Generally expect to pay: €5 for Syntagma-Plaka or Acropolis area; €38 from the Airport daytime but midnight-5am rides are more expensive at €55. Public buses are trickier- tickets need to be purchased from designated kiosks in the city centers though we never found the kiosks to buy the bus tickets from.

3) Validate your ticket (by inserting it into a machine located on the bus or right outside a metro station) as soon as you board a bus or enter a metro station. There are no turnstiles or gates at the metro stations but you apparently risk a large fine if you’re caught without a validated ticket inside the metro.

4) Do you need a guide to the Acropolis? This is a matter of preference. We hired the services of a licensed tour guide on the spot before going into the Acropolis. Honestly we found the guide only distracted us from enjoying our time at the Acropolis. Going first to the Acropolis Museum and/or reading up before going into the Acropolis would give you enough background information to understand and appreciate what’s at the site.

5) Be mindful of opening hours. Acropolis closes at 5pm and the other ruins generally close at 3pm which we find too early. We are not sure if it’s a public policy or we just got lucky but we’ve turned up at monuments 30 minutes before closing time and got in for free. Just enough time to snap photos and read the plaques, but it was free of charge so we can’t complain.

After Athens, it’s off to Santorini in Winter.

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