The Greek capital of Athens is one of the most famous, and most visited, cities in the world. Millions of tourists make their way here every year, including more and more arrivals from the Philippines. Having been here for a while now, it’s time to give this place the WIM treatment and let you in on all the things you should do, see and eat when visiting one of the world’s oldest and most historically important cities!
The Temple of Hephaestus at the Ancient Agora
Visit the Parthenon
Let’s start with the most famous landmark: no trip to Athens would be complete without a visit to the Acropolis and the Parthenon. It’s at the center of town and very easy to find (it even has a subway station near it), so getting there shouldn’t be a problem. As with all outdoor sights in Greece: if you are visiting during the summer months, expect things to get seriously hot and best carry out any activities that involve walking during the morning hours or the later part of the day. You can buy a single ticket that gives access to the Acropolis only for EUR 20,00 / PHP 1000, but if you are planning to explore more sites anyway, then getting a “unified ticket” is the better option. It gives you access to the Acropolis, as well as the Ancient Agora of Athens, the Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos, the archaeological site of Lykeion, Hadrian’s Library, Kerameikos, Museum of the Ancient Agora, the north slope of Acropolis, Olympieio, the Roman Agora of Athens and the South Slope of the Acropolis.
This combined ticket used to be 12 Euros but sadly a recent price increase means it now costs 30 Euros or around PHP 1500. Tickets are available on site and the combination ticket is even valid for five days, so you don’t have to do it all in one go. There’s quite a bit of uphill walking involved when visiting the Parthenon but the sight of this stunning monument is definitely worth walking through the Greek sun and putting up with hordes of tourists.
Explore all the other cultural sites
Athens is a lot more than just the Parthenon. Assuming you have bought one of the combination tickets mentioned above, then you already hold the key to most sights that are worth visiting in this culture and history laden city, some of which you can easily combine in one day. For example, you could start with a visit to the Ancient Agora and then simply keep walking up the hill towards the Acropolis, come down again and check out Hadrian’s Library before going pasalubong hunting at the flea market next to Monastiraki square.
Monastiraki Flea Market
In general, things you should try and see include:
The Acropolis Museum: situated next to the Acropolis Metro station and near the ancient site itself, this museum gives you the whole background story of this most famous landmark. Ideal as part of your Acropolis visit, this is pretty much a must do if you want to learn more about the fascinating story of Athens and ancient Greece.
The Ancient Agora: Literally meaning “gathering place”, this best-known example of an ancient Greek agora, located to the northwest of the Acropolis, lets you walk in the historical footsteps of ancient Greeks and famous philosophers like Socrates and Plato. This large area was the heart of ancient Athens and the focus of political, commercial, administrative and social activity, as well as the religious and cultural centre, and the seat of justice. It is the very place where democracy as we know it today was first practiced and ultimately exported to the world.
The Ancient Agora
National Archaeological Museum: There are tons of museums in Athens, so if you’re pressed for time, try and at least take in the National Archaeological Museum, which is the largest archaeological museum in Greece and one of the most important museums in the world devoted to ancient Greek art.
The entrance of the National Archaeological Museum
The Panathenaic Stadium: Also known as the Kallimármaro (meaning “the beautifully marbled”), the Panathenaic Stadium was the venue for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Reconstructed from the remains of an ancient Greek stadium at the same location, the Panathenaic is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. It also hold a nice little exhibition showcasing various Olympic torches from past games.
The world’s only stadium made of marble: the Panathenaic
Mount Lycabettus: If you want the most sweeping views of the whole of Athens, then a trip up Mount Lycabettus is definitely recommended. Standing around 300 meters above the city, you can either walk up (calculate about 30 minutes from Evangelismos Metro Station to the top of the hill) or take the Lycabettus Funicular, a funicular railway which climbs the hill from a lower terminus at Kolonaki (The railway station can be found at Aristippou street). Once at the top, you can not only enjoy the best panoramic views of Athens, but also visit the beautiful Chapel of St. George or stop for a bite to eat in one of the restaurants.
The view from the top of Mount Lycabettus
The war museum: if sculptures and ancient stones don’t really do it for you, then a visit to the war museum might be more your thing. Situated near Evangelismos metro station and not too far from Syntagma Square, the war museum is the museum of the Greek Armed Forces and covers the history of war in all ages. The museum’s centerpieces are weaponry from wars in which Greece was involved, including a number of fighter jets proudly displayed outside that make the place easy to find.
The war museum in Athens
Syntagma Square: this one is a must-do and most people do it automatically by simply by arriving at, or going to, the center of town, which is where Syntagma Square (meaning “Constitution Square”) is located. Here you can check out the changing of the honor guards (called Evzones) at the tomb of the unknown soldier outside parliament (the changing of the guard takes place every hour on the hour, 24 hours a day) or go for a stroll down the road towards Monastiraki. If you fancy a posh drink with view of the square and the Acropolis, then the rooftop bar of the Grand Bretagne hotel is recommended. This is where Manny Pacquiao recently stayed but be warned: while the drinks are good and the service impeccable, the prices are seriously eye watering.
Members of the Presidential Guard outside the Greek Parliament
The Hellenic Motor Museum
If you need a break from all those ancient relics, or if you’re simply a bit of a petrol head, then a visit to the Hellenic Motor Museum might just be the thing for you. Located near the National Archaeological Museum, this motoring treasure trove occupies 5.000 square meters in a uniquely designed building containing over 110 cars from the 19th and the 20th century.
The Hellenic Motor Museum holds a fine collection of cars
Enjoy the Food
Greece is heaven for food lovers and Athens is filled with tasty delights on every corner, quite literally. Let’s start with the thousands of bakeries that seem to tempt you with cakes and traditional Greek sweets every few meters.
Greece is a deeply religious country and mostly due to pressure from the church, normal shops such as supermarkets or pharmacies are still closed on Sundays. There are a few exceptions to this rule and bakeries are one of them. Even the church seems to have given in to the sweet temptations that you can buy from early morning until late at night. Must try sweets include Tsoureki, a brioche-like bread-slash-cake loaf (buy it at a chain called Terkenlis, which sells the best version of it according to my local friends here), loukoumades, pastries made of deep fried dough soaked in syrup, chocolate sauce, or honey, and Baklava, a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of filo filled with chopped nuts, sweetened and held together with syrup or honey.