Plaka is the tourist district. With its many restaurants and shops and the Acropolis towering above, it is a good location to find a moderately priced hotel; alternatively you can splurge and stay at the Grand Hotel Bretagne on nearby Syntagma Square, the crown jewel of Athenian hotels. From Plaka, it is a gentle stroll up to the Acropolis; there is a wheelchair lift on the North side. The Acropolis is home to the Parthenon, Temple of Athena Nike, and the Erechtheiron, with its Caryatids porch. The controversial, yet highly anticipated, New Acropolis Museum finally opened in June, 2009.
From the Acropolis, walk down to the Ancient Agora, the heart of ancient Greece. Follow in the footsteps of Socrates, Plato, and St. Paul. The reconstructed Stoa of Attalos houses a museum. Beyond the Ancient Agora is Kerameikos Cemetery; its Street of the Tombs has stones dating from at least the 4th century BC. The Roman Agora, or Forum, is also located within Plaka.
Other antiquitiesin the city include the Theater of Dionysos and Odeion of Herodes Aticus, the not to be missed Temple of Odysseus Zeus, the well preserved Temple of Hephaestus and Hadrian’s Arch. The National Archeological Museum, located near the Technological University, has a vast collection.
Syntagma (Constitution) Square, the site of the Greek Parliament, has a changing of the guard ceremony every hour. Cafes ring the square and free wireless internet service is available. Political demonstrations often take place here. Even if you don’t use the metro, visit the marbled Syntagma Square station for the display of artifacts unearthed during its excavation. Adjacent to Syntagma Square are the National Gardens, a nice escape from the bustle of the city.
Another escape is Lykavittos Hill. Reached by a funicular, this highest point in the city affords a panoramic view of the city, including the Acropolis. There is a cafe, restaurant, observation deck, outdoor theater, and small church at the top. There are various spelling versions for Lykavittos, including Lycabettus, Lycabettos and Lykabettos.
Souvenir shopping is plentiful in Plaka. Monastiraki flea market, near the Agora and Roman Forum, is especially lively on Sundays. A pedestrian shopping street, Ermou, adjacent to Plaka is a more fashionable location. Hondos Center, a large department store on Omonia Square is a short metro ride away. Hondos has a rooftop cafe with a great view of the Acropolis. Omonia Square is one location to avoid at night.
Dining options are plentiful in Athens. Although the Greeks tend to eat dinner late—after 8PM, you can eat almost anytime in Plaka. Be forewarned, though, that during slow times at tourist restaurants, waiters stand outside beckoning you to enter. Fish is priced byweight. Don’t want Greek food? There are lots of international options. Although we love Greek food, one of our favorite restaurants was a noodle bar near Syntagma Square.
Learning the Greek alphabet and a few Greek words can enhance your trip. Good morning or good day is “kaliméra.” Please (and you’re welcome) is “parakaló.” Thank you is “efcharistó.”
Pireaus, the embarkation point for Greek ferries and cruises is seven miles from downtown Athens. Unfortunately, Greek taxi drivers are notorious for overcharging. It’s best to arrange for a taxi either through your hotel or travel agent. We booked our driver through a Greek tourist agency; he was reliable, knowledgeable, and spoke fluent English.
Note that if you fly out of Athens airport, you should make sure you eat before you go through security. There is nothing available after security other than an informal coffee bar and Coke/water machine.
Please note that during the recent political strikes and demonstrations in Athens, a few cruise lines with Athens (Piraeus) as a port, changed schedules and itineraries. If you are scheduled for a stop in Athens before, during, or after a cruise, it is best to check in advance with your cruise line, airline, and hotel. Also, with the uncertainty of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, monitor any scheduled transatlantic flights closely.
Vickie is a former member of the Marco Island City Council and Artistic Director of the Marco Island Film Festival, and has been a volunteer for many island organizations. She is presently on the board of the Naples Mac Users Group. Prior to relocating to Marco, Vickie served as a school psychologist, Director of Special Services, and college instructor and also was a consultant to the New Jersey Department of Education.