Athens is truly an exquisite city. The juxtaposition of the modern city layered atop the ancient city is truly a curious sight. As you walk through the Plaka (the neighbourhood at the foot of the Acropolis), there are hints of the past struggling to remain relevant in the present.
If you have the time to spare I would recommend spending a full day in the Plaka. Here’s the way to do it:
You’re going to want to start your day early by heading to the Acropolis. The lines can be rather long so I would suggest arriving at least 30 to 45 minutes ahead of open hours. That begs the question of breakfast. No self-respecting Greek will be opening his/her restaurant before 10am so make sure you purchase a few croissants, some jam, fruit and cheese the night before. There is a neat little grocery store on Karagiorgi Servias Street between Nikis and Voulis streets.
There are a dozen different ways to make your way up to the Acropolis through the winding streets of the Plaka. The best way is to use the mount as your general direction guide. As you get closer, you will see signs pointing you in the right direction. If you’re lucky, you might be able to find a local out for an early stroll who will walk you to the entrance gates on Stratanos or Theorias. Once you’ve paid your entry fare, take your time to reach the Popylaea (the tall entrance gate). On your right you’ll see the Theatre of Dionysus. The Acropolis has some spectacular views and offers great photo opportunities. I love spending time sitting and envisioning the scene some two thousand years ago.
Surrounding the Acropolis
When you’ve had your fill of the amazing architecture and artistic skill up close, your next stop is admiring it from afar on the Areopagus Hill. You can climb the metal stairs or the old stone steps. If you choose the latter, be careful as the stone has been smoothed down over time and can be quite slippery. The views atop the Areopagus are stunning! Be sure to snap a photo of the Acropolis and the Agora below. Next, follow the path down to the Ancient Agora. The restored Stoa of Attalus offers some great photo opportunities.
Lunch in the Plaka
Leave the Agora the same way you entered (you’ll get back to the Plaka without having to walk the open-to-traffic part of Ermou – not a very nice part). By this point you should be hungry. The restaurants will be opening and plenty of servers will be soliciting your business. Don’t be afraid to politely decline. Be warned: as soon as you stop to check out the menu you’ve made your choice in their minds. Choose a café with outdoor seating (not hard, they’re almost all outdoor seating), order a plate of mezes and begin people watching. The tourists are just as interesting at the Greeks.
Shopping in the Plaka
Just east of the Acropolis, you’ll find a small pedestrian street market filled with any kind of Greek souvenir you can think of: from olive oil to wine from art to t-shirts. You can really luck out and find a great piece of art for your home at a great price. It’s all about the haggling! If you don’t ask, you won’t receive. There are also some great little gelato shops here – stracciatella is my favourite flavour!
You’ll find a ton of restaurants north of the Plaka in Monastiraki. Authentic Greek food may be a little difficult to find as this immensely tourist location is filled with Italian, Asian and Indian restaurants. After dinner head east towards Syntagma Square. Cross Stadiou Street, walk across the Square and cross Panepistimiou St to face the Greek Parliament. Watch the changing of the Evzones, the Presidential Guards, as the sun sets.
After a long day you’ve earned the right to flop into your bed and sleep in!