48 Hours in… Athens

Athens. Oh boy. What to say about Athens. I would be lying if I said I was excited for these 48 hours in Greece’s capital city. Actually, I was not looking forward to them at all. I came to Athens in 2005 and was less than impressed. Although I was only 16 years old, I was still a fairly experienced traveler and just felt icky about the city after 4 days here. I can’t really put my finger on what I didn’t like about it. I found it dirty, chaotic, filled with graffiti (even on some of the ancient ruins! I mean come on….) and the people were straight up grumpy and mean. It felt like a city that didn’t respect itself.  The vibe was just off and It was definitely the low point of that trip. I never really forgot it because I’m a pretty easy going traveler, so for me to not like a place, is kind of a rarity.

But I was determined to give it another chance. Plus Sam has never been and wanted to visit some of the ruins, especially the Acropolis. So from Mykonos, we flew into Greece’s capital city for a 48 hour jaunt. And I am happy to report my impression this trip is better. Although this is certainly not my favorite city in the world (by a long shot), I was able to take it at face value. Once you get past the gritty exterior and look past all the senseless graffiti, Athens starts to open up to you. You see the underbelly. The good stuff.

48 hours doesn’t seem like enough time to explore the major things in a city of 4 million people. But Athens, at least from the eyes of a tourist, is really compact. It’s easy to navigate the streets, especially in the central, relic filled Plaka (downtown) area. We spent the two nights at Backpackers Hostel, a centrally located and popular young backpacker’s hangout. It was ranked really highly on Trip Advisor, but my impression was not quite as high. Still, a comfortable and convenient place to stay.

One the first day, we signed up for a walking tour through the hostel. Hosted by a Greek Archeologist (and for only 6 euros), I thought this was an excellent way to start our visit. Since it is super hot, I’m wearing a simple black patterned dress by Rachel Roy from Macy’s. And my ever beautiful (but extremely comfortable) Merrell sandals. We left from the hostel and went out to Hadrian’s arch and the Temple of Zeus. The temple of Zeus is a nicely rebuilt site featuring some of the original columns from the once-huge temple. Hadrian’s arch stands in remembrance of one of Athen’s most important leaders, who changed the face of the city especially in terms of its architecture and culture.

We continued up along the main street to Syntagma square, home to many of the government buildings in Athens. You can see the beautiful Greek Parliament building as well as the tomb of the unknown soldier. From there, we wandered our way around some of the commercial district, specifically in the Plaka. Filled with tiny shops selling everything from tourist souvenirs to hand-painted art work, this is a definite must stop. It’s easier to navigate than the markets on the Greek Islands, and is pedestrian only, so you don’t have to worry about cars. Sam and I actually wound up coming back here at night to explore some more. Monastiraki square is another nice area to stop, although be prepared for street performers and lots of graffiti. But it has some lovely cafes and a delicious juice bar, plus it serves as the entrance to the flea market. I was able to find some awesome bead stores in there!

Next stop was the ruins of the ancient agora and Hadrian’s library. The first public library ever built, this site is fine seen from outside. No need to pay the extra to go in. But it’s cool to see the ruins surrounded by modern buildings. And the agora is a nice stroll, filled now with olive trees and bushes to cool it down. The ancient agora was the central hub of life in Athens and was the main market place for Athenians. From there, you can make your way up the western slope of the Acropolis to to the top of Argopagus hill. This provides a really nice view of the Acropolis and the surrounding city. St Paul actually came here to preach about Christianity to the Athenians.

We continued on the walking tour around the Acropolis, which is surrounded by a lovely pedestrian area. And the final stop on the walking tour was the Acropolis museum. This was the highlight for me. Rated one of the best museums in the world, it is absolutely beautiful. Modern with lots of natural light, I highly recommend stopping here before heading to the Acropolis. It features statues, pottery and relics all found on the Acropolis. But the best part is on the 4th floor. It has a complete reconstruction of the size of the original Acropolis and features all the plaques and sidings that have been restored from the original. It also has a wonderfully informative video about the history of the site. This enhanced my experience on the actual Acropolis, and I might dare say, I liked it better than the site itself.

The sun is hot and oppressive here, so we stopped there for day one. For day two, I am wearing the Amalfi Jumpsuit by 9seed, with a Free People bralette and my Birkenstock sandals. The next day we explored the National Gardens which are right near the Temple of Zeus. They provide a peaceful break to the chaos of the city, and are thankfully, graffiti free. And then we made our way up the Acropolis, to explore the ruins of the Parthenon. The Parthenon has been under near constant renovation sine 1990, so expect to see scaffolding. But it is still an impressive structure nonetheless. I particularly liked the temple next to it, which many people overlook. Also, the views are stunning. We went around 7pm when the sun was starting to set and it was really lovely.

Another great part about central Athens is its art scene. Sam & I are not “arty” people by any means, but there are some really great galleries to stumble upon. They all have their own unique feel or perspective which makes it a nice way to spend an afternoon. Plus with lots of little art shops selling more reasonably priced oil & canvas pieces, you might even take something home for yourself. Overall, this trip to Athens was much better than my previous visit. I found the people to be friendlier, although still a little rough around the edges. And if you can just except it to be a little dirty and gritty, then you might just open up your eyes to a city filled of history, culture and art.

Author: Megan Arz

I am a travel and food obsessed Midwesterner living in Chicago and dreaming of the world. I work as a full-time program manager for Greenheart Travel, but I am also committed to integrating the travel lifestyle into my every day routines. I am passionate about ethical travel, meeting new people, creating unique memories and eating local cuisine!

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