Oupah! 28 Hours in Athens
Do you remember your favorite year in middle school? Mine was 5th grade (10-11 years old) when I studied Ancient Greece and Greek Mythology. I was fascinated by the tales of love, war, vengeance, and strength. I still vividly remember learning the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur that was held in the labyrinth on the island of Crete. You know the story; classic case of a father who accidentally kills his hero son because his son forgot to change the flag on his ship when sailing back to Athens after he defeated the monster, escaped the labyrinth, but left his princess on an island after a drunken celebration…anyway here’s a good summary if you don’t remember.
Greece came in second to South Africa last year when Dan and I were choosing our honeymoon destination. With direct Ryanair flights from Dublin to Athens, we knew we had to take advantage of our close proximity and chose to celebrate our first anniversary in Greece.
We knew we wanted to visit Athens and see the Cyclades islands, but could we fit it into 4 days and what island or islands should we visit?
We ended up spending a day in Athens before heading to Santorini (post forthcoming!). It was the perfect amount of time to take in the sites of the city. I was excited to finally visit the birthplace of the Olympics and modern democracy, the home of Socrates and Homer, and walk among the ancient ruins.
Follow along as I share the ultimate guide to Athens! I’ll show you how to hit the major sites, enjoy delicious food, and explore the best neighborhoods in 28 hours.
28 Hours in Athens Itinerary
Upon arrival, have dinner at I Kriti, a traditional Greek tavern with Cretan food.
Don’t worry about what time you arrive in Athens. Greek taverns serve food until at least 1am. You must go to I Kriti, a family run restaurant in the Omonia neighborhood. The area looks a little run down, but don’t let that scare you. I think this may have been my favorite meal in Greece! Check out more details below in the Eats section.
Get an early start and take Alternative Athens’ Athens Highlights Mythological Tour.
This tour is a must do! When you’re visiting a city with ancient ruins, like Athens or Rome, it’s important to go with a tour guide because honestly, if you’re just walking around, most of the sites just look like piles of rocks (hate to say it).
When looking for a tour, I always make sure it’s a small group and seek those that offer more than the typical info you can simply read in a guidebook. I came across this company, Alternative Athens, through my research. Their tagline, “Discover the Streets. Experience the City,” struck me immediately. The first thing you see on their website in large bold letters is “Explore life off the beaten track…” and they were offering a different way of seeing the ancient ruins. I always try to avoid cookie cutter tours. I landed on the Highlights Tour, so we could see the main sites as well as less frequently visited ruins in the morning and then have the afternoon to explore the rest of the city at leisure. Our tour guide, Alexandra, made the ancient city come to life with tales of Greek mythology and explanations of what the sites looked like in their heyday.
You start at the Temple of Olympian Zeus (definitely an insider tip). The temple was finished in 131 and was the largest in the city. It’s quite striking standing below the large Corinthian columns imagining the full structure.
Next, pass through Hadrian’s Gate, an arch built to honor the Roman Emperor Hadrian.
From there, you head to the Theater of Dionysus, god of fertility and wine, at the base of the Acropolis. At its peak, the theater held 17,000 people! It’s thought to be the birth of theater.
Moving down the path, you’ll pass the ruins of the hospital and see the more intact Roman theater, Herod Atticus Odeon, which could hold 5,000 people. If you’re there in the summer, try to catch a concert as it’s still used today!
Now, you’re ready to climb up to the Acropolis, the citadel on the hill. The Acropolis is perhaps the most emblematic location of ancient Greece. Here you’ll find the Parthenon, the Propylaea (entrance to Acropolis), Temple of Athena Nike, Sanctuary of Asclepius, and Temple of Erechtheion. On the tour, listen to your guide explain the history and mythological tales. My favorite was how Athena became the patron goddess of her now namesake city by defeating Poseidon in a contest.
After a well-deserved coffee break, you’ll head into the Ancient Agora (gathering place) where you’ll see how the ancient Greeks lived. You’ll also see the Temple of Hephaestus, super well-preserved.
Finally, you end at the Ancient Cemetery in Keramikos where you’ll learn how death was just as important to the Greeks as life. And don’t forget the famous myth of Hades, god of the underworld, and his beautiful bride, Persephone.
After the tour, head to lunch at Thansis Kebab off Monastiraki Square for souvlaki.
The traditional kebab is lamb, but I got the chicken. It was amazingly tasty! The bread especially was so good.
After lunch, wander the streets of Monastiraki and visit the flea market.
Then head to Plaka, the oldest section of Athens, and get lost in its beautiful flowered streets.
Pop into the shops and cafes. Admire the street art. This area could also be a great option for lunch.
If you have time, don’t miss the Acropolis Museum.
For only 5 euro, you’ll get to see many of the artifacts that were found on the Acropolis, some of which your tour guide will have discussed. I highly suggest a visit! You’ll likely onlyf need an hour.
From the museum, walk through the National Gardens to Syntagma Square, the central plaza.
Here you’ll find the Greek Parliament building. If you time it right, you’ll see a smaller version of the Change of the Guard (more below in TBP Tips).
End your day with Greek yogurt at Stani, the last traditional dairy bar.
We had yogurt for dinner and it was perfect! Get the traditional sheep's milk yogurt with honey and nuts.
All I can say about the food in Greece is WOW. They use the freshest ingredients with simple preparations. Dan and I opted for more low key meals over fine dining. Let’s just say I put my lactose intolerance aside for a few days and it was completely worth it. Below, find a list of the must-try foods as well as the spots we enjoyed…which was every single one!
What to Eat
You know the drill for most of these I’m sure, but here’s my list:
> Yogurt with honey and nuts
> Feta – a sheep's milk cheese. ALL of it. I basically ate a whole block one night by myself…oops.
> Souvlaki – grilled meat and vegetables on skewer served on grilled bread. Lamb is traditional.
> Fish – ask what’s fresh
> Meze – small dishes. Maybe eggplant, feta, capers, hummus, etc.
> Capers – they are so big!
> Olives and olive oil – goes without saying. Actually the best I’ve ever had.
> Spanakopita – spinach pie
> Baklava – a sweet pastry with honey and nuts in filo dough
> Loukoumades – Greek honey dumplings. Essentially fried dough. Not really my thing, but good for a bite or two.
> Kataifi - a dessert of shredded wheat wrapped around nuts with honey. Wasn't my favorite.
What to Drink
> Frappé Coffee - instant coffee shaken with ice and sugar. It's delicious. You can also have with ice cream.
> Ouzo – what you associate with “oupah.” If licorice isn’t your thing, this drink is not for you.
> Raki – a Cretan digestif. Typically served in a small bottle after dinner at a Greek tavern.
> Metaxa – a red brandy. We didn’t get to try this, so report back.
Where to Go
> I Kriti – You must go here!! Amazing traditional Cretan tavern filled with locals. It’s down a little alley off Omonia Square. Order the chickpea salad with figs, sundried tomatoes, in lemon olive oil. I had amazing fresh grilled anchovies with tomatoes and oregano. Turns out you can eat them whole, but I preferred to fillet and not eat the bones. Dan had their specialty of spicy pork ribs. If the menu isn’t convincing enough, keep reading this story: I struck up a conversation with the waiter about the anchovies and we started talking about Greek food generally. He then proceeded to bring us a traditional dessert of loukoumades, fried dough basically with honey, sesame seeds, and cinnamon. I then asked what the table next to us was drinking and he brought us a bottle of raki with 3 shot glasses and says,”One for him, one for you, and one for me.”
> Thanasis Kebab – great for souvlaki at lunch. Try to sit outside for the people watching.
> Stani – the last traditional dairy bar also off Omonia Square. OMG I had their traditional sheep’s milk yogurt with honey and walnuts. Incredible. Also make sure to try a dessert if you have room. We went with Galactoboureko, custard pie.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Hotel Melia Athens off Omonia Square. Staying near Syntagma Square is also a great area. Overall, the metro was easy to navigate and reliable, so if you're not within walking distance of the main sites, try to stay near a stop.
To and From the Airport
There is a flat fare of 38 euro from the airport to the city center (35 minutes), which is where you’ll most likely stay. The rate increases to 50 if you’re traveling from midnight-5am. DO NOT let the taxi driver scam you. You DO NOT pay extra for bags and it’s definitely a flat fare. The driver runs the meter as a record, but you pay the flat fare. Our taxi driver tried to scam us.
You can also take the metro, which is very simple to navigate and takes about an hour! Just make sure you purchase the Airport ticket (10 euro one-way, 18 round trip). You can also purchase one-way group tickets: 2 people for 18 euro, 3 people for 24 euro.
If you can, check the traffic before getting in a cab because it may be faster to take the metro anyway.
TBP Insider Tips
> Head to Greece in the shoulder season (April-mid June and end of September-October)! You’ll benefit from lower prices, less tourists, and cooler temperatures.
> Take the Alternative Athens’ Athens Highlights Mythological Tour. You won't regret it.
> Purchase the multi-ticket for 30 euros to see all the ancient monuments. It’s valid for 5 days just in case you don’t make it to all in 1. Best part, you can buy the ticket at any of the sites, i.e. don’t waste your time standing in line at the main entrance to the Acropolis! If going on the Alternative Athens tour, you will purchase the ticket at the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
> Enter the Acropolis complex from the Theater of Dionysus to avoid the long lines.
> The tour will take you to 4 of the 6 ancient sites. You can also visit Hadrian's Library and the Roman Agora. We chose to just walk by and admire the sites on our way to Plaka.
> Wear comfortable walking shoes!
> Sunscreen and hat no matter what time of year. The sun is strong.
> Bring water on your morning tour. It gets hot and dusty.
> If you're in Athens on a Sunday, head to the Parliament Building on Syntagma Square to watch the Changing of the Guard at 11am.
> Our guide told us that the street dogs that hang outside the ruins are all vaccinated and each has its own monument it hangs around.
Have you been to Athens? What was your favorite part? Any other recommendations? Leave a comment below or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Thank you Alternative Athens for hosting us on your tour! For more info, check out their website. I was also eyeing the street art and food tours, so let me know if you go. All opinions are my own.