Go Greek for April!
by Taylor Deer
Week 1: Go Back in History to Ancient Greece – A Weekend in Athens
I am so happy it is April and spring is finally on its way! During this time last year, I was finalizing all of the details for one of best trips of my life – The Greek Islands. Since I did a lot during my trip to Greece, I want to make sure I take the time to share all of my memorable experiences thoroughly for each city and island that I visited and not overwhelm you all in one blog post.
During this ultimate Greek tour, I visited each city and island for two days. On every Tuesday this month, I will share my two-day itineraries for Athens, Santorini, Paros and Mykonos. These itineraries are perfect if you are traveling throughout Europe and looking to make pit stops in Greece or if you are planning on traveling throughout the country.
I traveled to Greece at the beginning of July 2016. I went during prime tourist season, so it was a bit crowded at some of the popular sites we visited, but it didn’t stop me from having the time of my life. The best times to travel to Greece are in the spring and fall seasons. The weather is perfect and you won’t be stuck in crazy crowds.
One of the main reasons why my Greek Islands trip was so memorable is because I traveled there with my two cousins Alexie and Tara along with one of my best friends Courtney. We also met many awesome and fun people from around the United States who we ended up becoming lifelong friends with.
Pictures of my cousins and I in Greece!
On Saturday, July 2, 2016 we boarded our overnight flight to Greece. During the flight, we were all way too excited about our grand adventure that we barely got any sleep on the plane. On your flight to Greece, you can also catch some gorgeous views of the French and Italian mountain regions and beautiful crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Aegean seas.
Once we landed and left the airport, we were all so exhausted that we wound up relaxing at our hotel’s beautiful rooftop pool that overlooked the entire mountainside of Athens. As we swam and relaxed, we also got to meet new friends and enjoy delicious mojitos and light Greek appetizers. I am usually not a big mojito drinker, but the ones made in Greece are refreshing and delicious as they use quality alcohol, fresh mint and little-to-no sugar.
Later that evening, we headed into downtown Athens in the main square called Monastiraki to a rooftop restaurant and bar called A for Athens. It is a hotel, but the restaurant and bar at the top is an awesome place to hang out with great friends and savor a fresh souvlaki platter filled with pieces of meat, pita bread and olive oil, while enjoying stunning views of the famous Acropolis, Pláka neighborhood and Monastiraki Square.
After our delicious dinner, we couldn’t wait to get a taste of Athens’ nightlife. We headed to 360 Cocktail Bar, where we enjoyed European club music. I’m not a big EDM (Electronic Dance Music) person, but when in Europe, it is hard not to get into it. 360 Cocktail Bar features a fancy bar and restaurant, but turns into a lounge at night. The cocktails were some of the best I ever had and there was no better way to enjoy the night than overlooking the beautiful Acropolis lit up under the stars.
The next day we woke up, ate breakfast at our hotel and then were ready to go back to Ancient Greece for the day. 2,500 years ago, Athens was one of the most important cities in the world. Its art, politics, architecture and literature have reverberated down through centuries.
Our first stop was to the Stadium of Olympia – also known as the original Olympic Stadium starting from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. Even though I am not necessarily the biggest “sports” person, I do enjoy watching both the summer and (mostly) the winter Olympic Games every four years. During the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, which were hosted in Athens, I enjoyed watching some of the games being played in the ancient Stadium of Olympia with my dad. It was even more awesome to actually be in the stadium in-person this past summer. Right around the corner from the Stadium of Olympia is Lysikratous Street, where you can see the Arch of Hadrian and the ruins of the giant Temple of Olympian Zeus.
After spending some time in Olympia, we headed to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon. The Acropolis is one historical site you cannot miss when visiting Athens! Since Greece barely gets rain throughout the year, the atmosphere is very desert-like. Make sure that if you are visiting during the summer that you wear light clothing and bring a large water bottle, as it is very hot and dry at the top. Luckily, the day we went, the weather was very windy so we were comfortable and able to enjoy the archeological sites without suffering in the heat.
When you walk up the steps, you enter the Propylaea, which is the entrance that was completed in 432 BC, just before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian wars. Once you enter, you can see the Pinacotheca (picture gallery) and a Hellenistic pedestal. On the right, is the tiny temple of Nike Athena, which commemorates the Athenians’ victory over the Persians’.
The main archeological site to see while you are at the Acropolis is the famous Parthenon that was built by Pericles in the 5th century BC as a monument to recognize Athens’ political and cultural achievements. Being in front of the Parthenon was surreal for me. It felt like my middle and high school history books came to life!
Another great site to see when visiting the Acropolis is the Erectheion that sits on the most sacred site of the Acropolis – where Poseidon and Athena had their contest over who would be the Patron of the City. It is also a MUST to go over by the Greek flag in the northeast corner of the Acropolis where you can catch the best views of Athens and take great pictures.
Acropolis means the upper city. Many of the city states from Ancient Greece were built around the Acropolis. It was a place where people were able to escape to in times of invasion. The most sacred and important buildings were built usually on or around the Acropolis during ancient times.
When you walk back down the stairs from the Acropolis, you can grab refreshing frozen daiquiris and fresh, out-of-the-oven baklava that will melt in your mouth! If you haven’t had baklava yet, then you are definitely missing out. It is a delicious, sweet pastry made with layers of filo filled with a variety of chopped nuts, cinnamon and nutmeg that are held together with a syrup or honey. Baklava is a famous dessert in the Balkan region, originated in Greece’s neighboring country Turkey.
After spending a few hours at the Acropolis, we headed into downtown Athens to explore beautiful Pláka. If you have ever been to Europe before, you definitely know that each city offers its own charm and fairytale-like architecture. Pláka offers a wonderful European ambiance within Athens. The locals are very friendly and accommodating; all of the tiled buildings feature warm colors and beautiful flowers hanging from their stucco walls; the shops have items you can’t find anywhere else and the restaurants are authentic and comforting.
While we were wandering through Pláka, we stopped at a jewelry shop that offered beautiful custom-designed rings, necklaces, ankle bracelets, earrings and more with rich stones found in the surrounding seas. I bought a ring with an orange stone from the Mediterranean Sea that I wear almost every day.
Olive oil is also a big staple in Greece and the locals use it in many of their products. I ended up purchasing soap made with olive oil that makes my skin nice and soft when I take my nightly baths.
Ever since I arrived in Greece, I had been craving a delicious gyro. We found a great street stand in Pláka where they sold chicken, beef, pork and lamb gyros. I got a mouth-watering chicken gyro with Greece’s famous Tzatziki sauce that is made with Greek yogurt and mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil and other freshly grown herbs. After eating our gyros, we picked up refreshing gelato from a local coffee shop.
After our fulfilling day touring all of Ancient Athens, we headed back to our hotel, took a nap, showered and then got ready for our last night in Athens. Before going out to dinner, we stopped at the Areopagus – also known as Mars Hill. The reason why Mars Hill is famous is for a few interesting reasons. In the Bible, Apostle Paul delivered his famous speech there about the identity of “the unknown God.” (According to the biblical account Acts 17.) During pre-classical times, it was the council of elders of the city and in classical times, it functioned as the chief homicide court of Athens. According to Greek mythology, Ares (the god of war – known to the Romans as Mars) was tried here (by the gods) for the murder of Poseidon’s son.
The Areopagus is located across from the Acropolis. We climbed up the marble hill where we watched the sun setting over the gorgeous ancient city. Please make note that when visiting Mars Hill to wear comfortable shoes. I was wearing sandals and had a tough time climbing up and down the hill. When you are at the top, make sure to watch where you step, it is easy to fall on the marble.
When we climbed down from Mars Hill, we were all starving for dinner. We walked 15 minutes into Pláka to an authentic Greek restaurant called Kitro – Café Restaurant and Bar. We enjoyed sipping on delicious Greek wine and I had savory stuffed peppers and grape leaves.
Since it was our last night in Athens, we wanted to go out again. After filling our stomachs, we headed to Six d.o.g.s – a trendy cultural bar with live music, art exhibitions and a beautiful outdoor atmosphere with Christmas lights hanging from the trees. It was a great way to wrap up our time in Athens.
Athens is a vibrant city and a perfect starting point for your journey through the Greek Islands or a great stop if you are touring around Europe. Surrounding Athens is the gorgeous, bright-blue Aegean Sea. If you have more time in Athens, visit one of their beautiful private or public beaches! If not, get ready for your next adventure in Greece or in Europe!
Athens is a great city to visit and I am so happy I started my Greek journey there! I hope you enjoyed my first (out of four) blog posts about my amazing trip to Greece. Stay tuned for my next adventure in Santorini!
If you have any questions regarding my visit to Athens, Greece, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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