After a couple of weeks in Italy, my brother and I hopped on a flight for a quick trip to Athens, Greece. Even after all of the history and beauty we had seen in Italy, I was still excited to visit Greece. No two cultures illicit such visions of ancient times and mythology. We had only 2 days available and wondered what to do in Athens within such a short time.
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While in Italy, we had been held up for an extra day in Venice after the train workers went on strike. Not a big deal, but an inconvenience. So we weren’t too thrown off when we arrived at the airport in Athens and found that their subway workers were, too, on strike. Strikes seem to be common in those parts of the world. Since our hotel was quite a ways from the airport and the cabs were pricey, we decided to wait out the strike. It was scheduled to end about two hours later, so we grabbed some food from a shop in the terminal and waited it out.
When the strike finally ended, and the workers returned, it was an easy trip to downtown Athens. The trains had both English and Greek wording, but I got a kick out of reading in Greek. We found our stop without a hassle and headed off toward the hotel.
My brother booked the weekend in a Marriott using points. It wasn’t too far from the Acropolis and pretty convenient to shops and sites. We were either able to walk or take the trains wherever we wanted to go. Soon after checking in, we headed out to see the nearest ancient ruins, just up the road from the hotel.
What to do in Athens: Visit the Temple of Olympian Zeus
Stop number one was the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the surrounding grounds. All that remained of the ancient temple was a small set of pillars in the middle of a grassy field. They were pretty, but not all that exciting. The rest of the grounds was even less thrilling. Several crumbled rocks and parts of old buildings hardly held any semblance of a proper structure. As a result, we could only identify rock from the artifact by a plaque in front of each ancient piece, identifying its name or function.
What to do in Athens: Visit Parthenon – Acropolis
A bit disappointed, we decided to head to the more famous site: the Acropolis. You could see the Parthenon sitting atop the large hill from just about anywhere in the city. It was the centre of the town and the highest point. At the base of the hill was an intact auditorium. It was easy to imagine the performances or speeches that must have been held on the site years ago. Upon entering the site, it was pretty awesome to see the Parthenon up close and in person. It was a colossal structure, covered in ornate details and symbols. Unfortunately, much of the structure had already crumbled. What was remaining was primarily covered in scaffolding to stave off the rapid deterioration. Nevertheless, it was still an impressive sight.
There were a few other ruins with the Parthenon at the top of the large hill. I was glad we took a guidebook because we likely would have just blown past the other sites without giving them a thought. The guidebook gave us a better idea of the meaning and history behind each of the structures.
Aside from the history, the other remarkable aspect of being atop the Acropolis was the view. We could see for kilometres in every direction around us, all the way out to the ocean. Athens was much more hilly than I had pictured in my head, not unlike Rome. We spent quite a while atop the large hill looking out at the view before wandering back down to grab some dinner and crash for the evening.
What to do in Athens: Walkaround
Having seen the most important site in Athens already, our goal for the second day was to do what we do best when travelling: wander. So we hopped on the train down to the more central part of the city, where the museums, shops, and restaurants lined the streets. First, we hit up a couple of museums in the area with artifacts dating back well into the BC years. We then wandered over to the Agora, the principal gathering place during ancient times. There were several ruins in the park-like area, and there was a market surrounding one end.
After a few hours of wandering and stopping in shops and cafes, we ran out of things to do. So we returned to the Marriott to relax at the rooftop pool that had a perfect view of the Acropolis. At night, we could see the Parthenon and other buildings all lit up. So with that view in the background, we settled in on lounge chairs and called it a day, ready to head back to Rome the following day.
We hadn’t prepared for our tour and didn’t know what to do in Athens from the start but we had fun for the two days we stayed and I don’t regret visiting Greece. The next time I visit Athens though, I hope it’s a stop on my way to some beautiful Greek islands. Santorini, here I come!