One of the oldest cities in Europe, Athens, the capital of Greece, bursts with Aegean sunshine, bouzouki music, and boasts a history over 3,000 years old. Whether you fly into Athens or arrive in Piraeus, you immediately feel welcome. You could easily stay in Athens for weeks, walking the calderimia (narrow streets made of stone) in Plaka, watching the sunset from the dry hill of acropolis, or taking time to taste delicious Greek mezedes at night in bright tavernas. To know Athens completely might take a lifetime. But if you had just 12 hours to spend there are 7 things you should not miss.
Have Coffee in Zappeion
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Many people skip it, but in Athens you will need it. A cup of Greek coffee is a must. Greek espresso comes in a tiny cup containing a big shot of caffeine, and people usually drink it in one go. Head to Zappeion and sit in the middle of the National Gardens. Here you will have a view of Megaro, a gorgeous, neoclassical building. While you sit among ordinary citizens drinking their coffee, and sophisticated professionals working in their laptops, you also might spot celebrities and politicians hiding behind newspapers and huge sunglasses.
Go shopping in Monastiraki
Located at the south bottom of Acropolis, near the Attalos loft and the ancient Agora (market), Monastiraki is famous for its flea market and is a great place for a walk. An early morning visit to Monastiraki, while most tourists are still asleep, is the best time to grab the greatest deals. The area also is known for the shops with colourful nargile selections, sandals makers, original icon shops, and antique prints. Most of the action is near the Metro train station where stands and chairs will fill the place by noon.
Take pictures of the guards in the Parliament
Built in 1834, the Greek Parliament was the palace for the first kings of Greece. In front of the main gate is a war memorial guarded day and night by Evzones, or official guards. The guards alone are a huge attraction, particularly with female visitors. The Evzones will let people take their pictures but they cannot talk, move or look. Nobody knows if the story is true, but once a lady tripped a guard who fell flat on his face. She waited until he was off duty to apologise and the two of them lived together happily ever after.
Eat gyro and a Greek salad
By early afternoon you will be starving and declare it is time for lunch. The traditional Greek food is gyros. Made of crusty pita bread, thin slices of lamb, white onions, and tzatziki, a delightful yoghurt based dressing, a gyro is usually served with the traditional Greek salad of big chunks of sweet tomato, thin slices of cucumber, black marinated olives, crispy lettuce and salty feta cheese. Olive oil and oregano dressing is an option. An overstuffed gyro with salad is around 5-6 euro.
Visit the Caryatids
Obviously there are many things to see in the acropolis. After the Parthenon the most famous sight is the Caryatids. Symbolizing women as pillars of strength within the family and society, the Caryatids are literally pillars, or more appropriately, they are columns located along the porch of the Erektheion.
Test your voice at the Odeum
The Odeum of Herodes of Atticus is the ancient theatre used today for public performances of music, drama and poetry. Some of the world’s most famous artists have been here, including Maria Callas who performed in this building her last concert. It has no electronic speakers. Instead, all sounds are magnified by the building impeccable acoustics so that even if a pen is dropped the entire auditorium will hear it.
Watch the sunset from Mars Hill
Nothing is more romantic than watching the sun set on Mars Hill during a quiet evening in August. The hill once was dedicated to Mars, one of the 12 Olympic gods. It also was the same hill that the Apostle Paul first spoke to open minded Greeks. As the hill overlooks the city, the music and smells from Plaka’s lively tavernas fill the air. Sunset this time of the year is around 9pm but party-minded Greeks start to go out after 11:00pm.
Written by Alex Papa
Alex Papa lived in Greece for over 20 years. He is now based in the UK but travels somewhere almost every month. He sponsors his travel from his blog where he offers Norton antivirus discount coupons. As a business consultant he loves helping people find new business ideas.