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Why Athens should be the first city you visit after lockdown—where to go & what to see in Greece’s ancient capital

When I told friends I was heading to Athens, reactions ranged from "isn’t it really dangerous?" and "I’ve heard it’s a bit grimy" to "is there enough to do?" 

ancient temple with olives trees in acropolis athens
Acropolis of Athens

I always find reactions like these surprising, if you love to travel, see new sights, ways of life and to immerse yourself in a new culture, there’s enough to do in any city, right? I even came across one blog post that said one day is enough to ‘do’ Athens - thats crazy...

For a capital city, that’s filled with the most incredible architecture, history, ancient temples, galleries and the best restaurants, how can one day ever be enough? I stayed in the city for five days but would have been seriously content with a couple of weeks and I already want to go back, the people I met were generous and helpful, the food and cocktails I tried were wonderful and I felt safe and settled as a solo traveller.

Erechteion temple statues in acropolis Athens greece
Erechteion temple

Arriving at Athens airport, it’s easy enough to take a train to the centre of the city as there’s just one line that runs all the way in, tickets cost 10 euros and you can buy them from the ticket office or automated machines. Coming from and going to the airport were actually the only times I used the metro/train system, for the rest of my time in the city I walked everywhere. 

As soon as I arrived in the city I dropped my bag at NEW hotel and headed to Mount Lycabettus in the east of the city to get a sweeping overview of the surroundings. There’s a funicular that takes visitors to the top or if you prefer to walk, you can do that too. I walked up on my first evening to watch the sunset and take a few photographs. There’s also a very beautiful little white chapel at the top, dating back to 1870, plus you can see an elaborate ceremony each evening where two guards lower and remove the Greek flag for the night. It was on my walk to the base of the mountain that I noticed how many orange trees there are in the city, I never knew Athens was filled with pretty orange trees, they looked so beautiful lining almost every street but apparently you can’t eat the oranges as they’re too bitter, they do, however, fill the winding streets with the most amazing citrus scent.

Once the sun sets, some of the cities ornate buildings are lit up, one that’s impressive at night is the Metropolitan Church of Athens and surrounding Mitropoleos Square, it was deserted most nights when I walked past and in the light of a full moon, is looked beautiful. 

Metropolitan Church of Athens at night
Metropolitan Church of Athens in Mitropoleos Square

On my second day in the city I walked to The Panathenaic Stadium, the only stadium in the world made entirely from marble. It was here that Greece hosted the 2004 Olympics as well as the opening and closing ceremonies for the very first modern Olympics back in 1896. At first I reached the outer edge, ringed by pine trees and found locals running on a chilly Sunday morning - you don’t have to pay for the track that runs just outside the stadium so it’s a good way of seeing the area if you’re on a budget. I headed to the entrance and spent a couple of hours inside, walking and taking photographs, there’s also a small exhibit showing Olympic posters from all over the world. 

The Panathenaic Stadium athens
The Panathenaic Stadium

Later, I found my way through the narrow lanes of Plaka  and up to the world famous Acropolis. I bought my 10-euro single entry ticket online a few days before arriving in Greece and this allowed me to walk straight through the gates. But there were hardly any queues when I visited during the month of March so it would have been easy for me to buy one on the day too. There are so many amazing temples and monuments to see so dedicate as much time as you have to see it all, I had an entry time of 2pm and easily spent most of the afternoon walking alongside the Parthenon and generally mooching around inside the grounds. 

the Parthenon athens greece
The Parthenon

My favourite parts were Odeon of Hero des Atticus, a pretty stone Roman theatre and the female forms on the outside of the Erechteion temple. The areas throughout the Acropolis are well signposted and there’s lots of information in English as well as Greek. Running round the Acropolis is a pedestrianised area where you can also see other monuments such as the Library of Hadrian and the Temple of Hephaestus, so it’s definitely worth returning if you have time for a leisurely stroll.

Odeon of Hero des Atticus from above
Odeon of Hero des Atticus

To learn a little more about Greek Culture and to see some fascinating exhibitions I'd recommend the Benaki Museum on Koumbari St where you can easily spend half a day. As well as the building being beautiful to look at, there are four floors filled with fabulous ancient ceramics, sculpture and even costumes. The first floor was my favourite for the bold jewellery, embroidery and stunning bridal costumes. 

costumes on models in the Benaki Museum, athens
Costumes inside the Benaki Museum

Other museums worth checking out are The Museum of Cycladic Art, The Acropolis Museum and the National Museum of Contemporary Art. 

That was pretty much all the sightseeing I had time for in-between stopping off for lunches and dinners at cute Greek restaurants and street food stands - there’s still plenty more to see, so for anyone who thinks one day in Athens is sufficient, I'd say, "you're crazy" - I'm already excited for my second trip.

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