Travel to Greece through Athens

by - January 29, 2017

Although in the internet there are fantastic Greece travel blogs, I have decided to write this Greece travel guide. Lately the circumstances in some countries complicate travel and many wonder whether to go or not go? Since some time has passed since then, more than practical information that would not be very useful at this point.

I would like these notes to show that many times the trips that are complicated can end up going very well. Although ours developed quite differently from what we had originally planned. Greece was one of the destinations that we were delaying from year to year because we always found a theoretically more attractive place to visit.

After having been in Egypt a few months before, we were so eager to discover ancient cultures that we decided pay off that debt once and for all. However, the road was not easy because, perhaps for leaving it so long, everything began to twist from the beginning. Our idea was to visit Greece in late May or early June to avoid the tremendous heat of summer there.

So I booked flights and hotels considering an itinerary that included Athens, Peloponnese, Delphi, Meteora, Mykonos and Santorini. Unfortunately, a week before leaving, I had to cancel everything because it was complicated by a sudden family problem. In short, it seemed that the trip to Greece was sneaky but I did not know how much.

A few days later, the family problem seemed to be solved and, as I was already finding something better, the Greek bug came back to bite us. However, the days had passed quickly and we were already in the middle of June. We went back again to reserve everything. I asked for advice from a friend who was working at the Embassy who encouraged me to continue with the trip.

With such a perspective, I went to a friend who worked in a travel agency so as not to miss the flights and hotels. Although the agency gave some discounts, the cost came out more expensive than the originally planned trip. Looking at it objectively, it did not go too much, because many visits were included, as well as the accommodation in four-star hotels.

At first, we had booked a flight that arrived in Athens at one o'clock in the afternoon, so we could make the most of the day. When we changed the date, there was no longer availability, and we had to take one that landed at 11:15 PM, so the day was completely lost. We booked the transfer in advance. Fortunately, we arrived very punctual and the services worked normally.

On the way we saw the streets practically deserted and in the symbolic Syntagma Square there were hardly any people. We had booked accommodation at a hotel, well located to be able to travel the most touristic places of Athens by walking. We were tired and we go to sleep soon.

Day 1

We had breakfast in the hotel. Athens is a controversial city from the point of view of its tourist attraction. There are those who love it and who find it ugly. It is chaotic and uninteresting, worthy only of a half-day visit to see the Acropolis. Its construction by Pericles in the 5th century BC marked its period of greatest splendor. Well, at last we had to check it for ourselves.

Athens is very widespread which can be seen from the top of Philopappou, Lycabettus, Nymphs or from the Acropolis itself. The view towards the four cardinal points is a white immensity of houses. It is not that the houses are white but that when you see them as a whole, everything looks white. Looking towards the sea you can clearly see the Aegean and the Port of Piraeus with its boats.

As we had been advised, the first thing we did was to go to the Acropolis, because we have to get up early to avoid the heat and the overcrowding. The Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, at the foot of the hill is pedestrian and at 8:30 it was quite busy. We passed the Embassy. In principle, we saw nothing out of the ordinary.

We bought a ticket, which allowed us to visit several monuments within a maximum period of three days. It included Acropolis, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Hadrian Library and Kerameikos cemetery. However, we had to visit everything that same day since the next we would leave the Greek capital. It's one of the few tickets that I have not kept, so I do not remember what it cost us, but as I have seen on the internet the prices seem to have gone up a lot. There are discounts for students, seniors, and large families.

From this avenue we go to the Theater of Dionysus, cradle of the Greek tragedy and the first theater built in stone in 342 BC, which had a capacity of 17,000 spectators. It had 64 steps, of which 20 remain. The first row was composed of marble thrones for authorities and priests. The central throne was destined to the God Dionisio, conserves claws of lion to the sides and counted on a canopy.

The rest of the ranks, for people of the village, were limestone and the women were relegated to the last rows. Most of what remains today corresponds to later Roman constructions.

A little further on we see the exterior of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus which dates back to 161 BC. Up a few meters, on a path to the right, we could see it from above, at our feet. It was restored in 1955 and outdoor concerts are held. From the top we can see it perfectly and we have a nice perspective of the Hill of the Nymphs and the Philopappos Hill with its monument, which we would see later.

At nine o'clock in the morning there were a lot of people at the Acropolis ticket office, but nothing much and we barely waited five minutes to get the window. You have to go very early to the Acropolis, especially before the arrival of the cruise ships that overflow everything. We passed through the Beule Gate and climbed the stairs to the Propylaea.

On one side is the small Temple of Athena Nike, built to commemorate Athenian victories over the Persians around 421 BC. We continue to the Parthenon, with its everlasting scaffolding and the huge crane, which has become almost a hallmark. It was completed in 438 BC and housed a monumental statue in wood, gold and ivory, 12 meters high, of the goddess Athena, to whom the temple was consecrated. It measured 70 meters long and 30 wide and had marble columns on all its fronts.

Over the centuries it was a church, mosque and arsenal, whose explosion in 1687 destroyed much of the temple including the roof. We still see in situ the remains of some sculptures in the friezes and pediments.

We continue to the Erechtheion with an ionic style and built on different levels. It is said that it was here Poseidon nailed his trident on a rock. Here is also the olive tree that Athena planted in the course of her fight with the god of the sea ​​through the city. The most famous of this temple is its southern portico with its caryatids. However, those that can be seen today are copies, since the originals are in the Acropolis Museum.

The visit of the Acropolis, like almost everything in Greece, is more a personal feeling than the admiration of the monuments themselves. The passing of time and the devastating action of nature and, above all, of man have wreaked havoc on these masterpieces of architecture and sculpture until they have been reduced to a mere shadow of what they once were.

However, being in front of those columns that constituted one of the cradles of our civilization impresses and excites. At least it happened to me. I also know that it does not happen to everyone. In my opinion the Acropolis is one of those places that nobody should stop visiting even if they do not love stones and less if they are broken. As if that were not enough, the views of Athens from there are extraordinary towards the four cardinal points.

Before leaving the Acropolis, we went through a path in the rock that then continues towards the ancient Ágora. We get closer to have great views of the Propylaea, the Acropolis and the surrounding area. Pity that the sun was facing the Acropolis. In total we spent more than two hours visiting the whole site and then head to Acropolis Museum.

Built to replace the old museum, which was next to the Parthenon, this modern concrete, iron and glass building was inaugurated in 2009. It has a large collection of treasures recovered from the Acropolis that were scattered in several Greek museums and also pieces returned by some European museums.

Also found here are the original caryatids and the remains of an ancient Athenian city found during the construction works, which can be seen under a glass floor. I found the museum downright interesting, entertaining even for non-museum fans, and it does not take too long to see.

Although I do not remember it, I suppose you cannot take photos because I do not have any inside. The funny thing is that in the rest of the Greek museums I could do without problems. Anyway. I'm not sure. Taking advantage of the fact that there was still a time for lunch, we went to the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

It is the largest in Greece, including the Parthenon. Construction began in the 6th century BC but it took 650 years to complete. At the moment only 15 of the 104 columns of 17 meters of height that came to have are conserved. We enter, but if you do not want to pass, you can see very well from the Acropolis or even from the outside.

Then we went to the old Olympic Stadium, made of marble. It was built under the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian between 117 and 138 AD and was restored at the end of the 19th century for the celebration of the first Olympic Games of the modern era in 1896. We could not enter because some concerts were being held, but it looks pretty good from the outside. This stadium has nothing to do with the one that was built for the 2004 Olympic Games.

From the stadium, we return through the National Gardens, with trees and small ponds. They are good for a walk, although some areas looked a bit neglected. When we leave to Leoforos Vasilissis Avenue, which leads to Syntagma Square.

We went to Plaka and had lunch in one of the many restaurants in the area. At this point I do not remember everything we took but one of the dishes was octopus and another musaka, which we liked. It was not expensive and, as usually happens at the beginning of the trips, we asked for too many things.

I also remember that the sensors of the restaurants were quite heavy because once we stopped to see the menus, they tried not to let us escape. It is a custom that is spreading in almost all tourist places. In the afternoon, we went to the area of ​​the Greek Agora, the old market square where most of the commercial activities took place and which preserves several sets of ruins.

In addition, it offers very nice views of the Acropolis, especially at sunset. We were struck by the Hephaisteion, dedicated to Hephaestus, god of the forge. It was built by one of the architects of the Parthenon in 449 BC. It is very well preserved, has 34 columns and a frieze with sculptures of 9 of the 12 works of Heracles or Hercules. By the way there were a lot of turtles in the lawn that surrounds it.

We also saw the Stoa of Attalos, a building rebuilt between 1953 and 1956 on the foundations of the one erected by King Atalo II of Pergamon in the 2nd century BC. It houses a model of the ancient agora and a museum with numerous pieces from the site, including several sculptures on the air free. This area was very quiet and we liked it a lot, it had a special charm.

Then, we continue through the back. I do not know where we got that we came across some roads (metro or train) and we had to take another walk to find a place to cross. At the end, thanks to the map of the guide that we had (then we did not have GPS in the phone) we arrived at the Monastiraki Square. It was crowded with people.

We saw that the subway station was closed, as were some stores, but apart from that we did not notice anything special. By the way, this is one of the sites in Athens where you have to take good care of purses and bags. After having some great ice cream, we went to the surrounding areas with its many shops for tourists.

In the vicinity there are several archaeological sites, such as the Roman Agora, with the Hadrian's Library, built in the year 132 by the emperor to house his enormous collection of books. It also functioned as a convention center and even had a pool and the ceilings were made of alabaster and gold ornaments.

After its destruction in 267, it was repaired and used as an early Christian and Byzantine church, converted into the house of the Ottoman governor and later into a church again until it was destroyed by a fire. In the 20th century excavations were resumed and its west façade was restored between 1960 and 1970.

In the area of ​​the Roman agora is also the Tower of the Winds, which, however, dates from the 2nd century BC and is Hellenistic style, built in marble and with a peculiar octagonal shape. Its maker was the Syrian astronomer Andronikos Kyrrestres, who used it as a water clock and weather vane. With a height of 12 meters and a diameter of 8, its name is due to the eight winds that are sculpted in the friezes on its sides, under each of which there is a sundial.

Between some things and others, it was time to have dinner. We decided to go to the area of ​​Monastiraki where the terraces of the restaurants look towards the Acropolis. We had a seafood platter with Greek wine, salad and pita bread, seeing the illuminated Parthenon. It was a luxury. A pity that my camera then was not very good at night photos.

We walk back towards the hotel, in the area of ​​Plaka, among the multitude of tourists. The atmosphere there was bustling with a touristy night. We went closer until we reached the vicinity of Syntagma Square.

Athens ancient greece travel

Day 2

We got up with a very different perspective from the previous one and in the hotel they served us breakfast. Immediately the tour guide appeared, who told us that we had to leave the city immediately. Once on the bus, we joined our tour partners. The bus was big and we had plenty of room to go as we pleased, another thing in our favor. Two couples told us that the previous day they had been staying in the surroundings of Omonia Square.

From Athens, the excursions are long to the most popular tourist sites, mainly Delphi and Meteora. So much so that it is not advisable to make round trips in a day from the Greek capital, because you lose a lot of time on the road and it is quite tired. Without a doubt the best thing is to rent a car to make the tours each one at your own pace.

You have to keep in mind that the roads are often not good or, otherwise, hire a tour of more than one day to visit several places, although this is somewhat expensive. Public transport saves money but does waste a lot of time and it is not always possible to combine destinations without returning to Athens. In short, it is a question of doing it according to what each one wants to visit.

We made our first stop near Corinth Canal. From Athens the journey is about 80 kilometers and it took us about an hour, since the road was quite clear. From this area I remember that we went almost all the time by motorway, but I forgot if there were tolls. This canal links the Gulf of Corinth with the Aegean Sea, and separates the Peloponnese from the rest of mainland Greece.

Although it was not built until the late nineteenth century, it is said that Nero already tried to start a project that dated back to no less than the seventh century BC, when Cape Matapan was one of the most feared by the mariners in antiquity. Another 60 kilometers of journey took us to Epidaurus, our second stop that day. The road changed completely and we found ourselves climbing a mountain pass that offered fantastic views of the Aegean Sea.

From the canal to Epidaurus, it took an hour or so. There is a bus from Athens, which arrives in about two and a half hours. The archaeological site that is located a few kilometers from the current town was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988. Here is located the ancient sanctuary dedicated to Asclepius, god of medicine, who was attended by many people in search of miraculous cures.

In addition to several enclosures with very interesting ruins that are still being excavated, the highlight is its theater, built in the 4th century BC with a capacity for 14,000 spectators. It is extremely well preserved as it has barely been restored despite being plundered by the Goths of Alaric I at the end of the 4th century. Its track was lost until an Englishman named Gell found its ruins at the beginning of the 19th century.

The theater also stands out for its extraordinary acoustics. We make the test of dropping a coin in the center of the stage and the sound is perfectly heard in any of the seats. We go up to the highest ranks to see the beautiful place where the theater is located. In addition, rains in the Peloponnese last week helped to give it a greener color than usual.

We continue our journey to Mycenae, in a journey of about 55 kilometers, which took about one hour to travel. On the way we stopped for lunch at a restaurant. Before reaching Mycenae, we stopped at the so-called Tomb of Agamemnon also known as the Treasury of Atreus. It is the most important vaulted tomb (tholos) that is conserved in Greece, dates from the 13th century BC and belongs to the Creto-Mycenaean artistic style.

Some fragments of the entrance door, which was decorated, were brought to England and are exhibited in the British Museum. It consists of a double door, a corridor and two rooms, the main one with a height of 13.2 meters and a diameter of 14.5. It is really impressive to penetrate inside to appreciate the thickness of the stone ashlars and the height of the vault. It is worth stopping to see this imposing funerary monument.

The oldest remains of Mycenae date back to the 17th century BC and correspond to some tombs that are preserved outside the fortification. The city began to reach its maximum splendor around the year 1400 BC and half a century later had great walls that defended a royal palace.

The so-called Door of the Lions is the best preserved and immediately it attracts the look, with its lintel composed of four blocks that weigh more than 20 tons. I cannot deny that I felt a special emotion as I passed through it. The fortified city seems to have been destroyed around 1200 BC because of an earthquake, although it had gone into decay some time ago.

In the archaeological site we visit an enclosure of royal tombs of the 16th century BC, consisting of concentric rows, the remains of the old royal palace and the cistern, with a depth of 18 meters, whose first section can be descended by an underground staircase.

One of the most important pieces found in the tombs is called Agamemnon Mask, a piece of gold that is exposed in the Archaeological Museum of Athens. Despite its name, it is impossible that this mask belonged to the famous King who led the expedition that attacked Troy to recover Helena, the wife of his brother Menelaus, king of Sparta. The facts recounted by Homer, if true, occurred much later.

As it happens with almost all the ruins in Greece, one must train and a lot of imagination to get an idea of ​​what these piles of stones represented at a time when the ancient Greeks believed that the citadel gates, due to their size, built them a cyclops.

We must bear in mind that we are seeing constructions several centuries before the birth of Christ. And, just to see the Lions' Gate and to think that you are stepping on the land that Agamemnon walked through is worth it to get there, at least for me.

Other places we visited were Nafplio, important port of the Argolid that preserves the remains of the fortifications of Acronafplia. It is a Byzantine and medieval city with four Venetian castles and Palamedes. The Venetian citadel built between 1711 and 1714 on a cliff of more than 200 meters of height to defend the city is considered a masterpiece of military architecture.

It however, could not stop the Turks, who conquered it after only a week of siege. It is also very interesting to see the Bourtzi Fortress, north of the pier. Not far from there is Tiryns, with the archaeological remains of its cyclopean walls from the 13th century BC, which we could also take a look at.

We also passed by the Mycenaean Arkadiko Bridge of Kazarma, located on the road that connects Mycenae and Tiryns with Epidaurus. It is part of a set of three bridges built around 1300 BC that are still preserved (some are even used) and that correspond to an old Mycenaean road that linked the city states with the sea. By the way, the archaeological sites of Mycenae and Tiryns were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.

That night we went to sleep on the outskirts of Olympia. It started to rain, so we stayed in the hotel room, where we had dinner included.

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