The month of May is a travel month for my husband and me. Back in December he found a deal on roundtrip tickets to Athens for only $450 through Scott’s Cheap Flights (which you’ve heard me rave about quite a few times on different articles on here) and without even thinking about it he bought the tickets and we decided to drop everything and run. We started the trip off with 3 days in Athens, although truthfully, you probably only need about two days to see the city and to avoid spending time in your hotel room wondering what to do next (which is something we caught ourselves doing and when my husband travels, this is his biggest pet peeve). Here’s what you need to know about Athens:
The history in Athens will take your breath away.
Where To Stay:
We stayed in a lovely little AirBnB just outside the city center. I highly recommend booking your stay through AirBnB. Since our host was from the area they recommended things to us to do that were unique to the culture and not so much tourist attractions. They were very communicative and quick to respond to any questions that I had and we felt as if we were “living” in the city and not just staying in another hotel. I loved that.
What To Pack:
When I was doing my research I wish I had found more information on what to wear in Athens because the weather there was very tricky. The days were HOT and the nights were chilly. Our trip took place in May so I can only speak to the weather during this time of year. During the day it would get up to about 93°F but felt closer to 110°F and at night it would cool down to about 57-65°F. We found ourselves making trips back and forth from the city center to our AirBnB to make outfit changes. I found it best during the day to wear light t-shirts or crop tops and a pair of shorts BUT carry a jacket with you at all times. When you eat at the air conditioned restaurants it can get cold quickly and if you don’t want to go back to your hotel before nightfall you will thank yourself for being prepared with said jacket.
(If you’re looking for a new travel wardrobe but don’t want to spend your entire travel budget getting one together – I bought most of my clothes for the trip from Shein, Tobi *Bonus – Tobi now offers free shipping to Australia!, and Target)
Wear. Sunscreen. Everyday. Day 3 we forgot this and took an hour long bus ride to the spa we had wanted to visit. Since it was a double decker bus we decided to sit up top to get a better view of the city as we drove along the coast. We ended the day redder than I’ve ever been in my life. Don’t forget the sunscreen. Seriously. It’s as important as remembering to wear your underwear.
Leave the sandals at home and bring a good pair of tennis shoes. The streets of Athens are dirty and dusty. The pathway up to the ruins was all dirt and slick marble steps. Be prepared for this. Your feet will be a different color if you’re rocking sandals all day long and the arches of your feet will thank you for the support at the end of the night.
What To Do:
1. The Acropolis Museum
Listen, you’ll want to start with the ruins in the city. That’s what we did. I mean, how could you not? The ruins are probably the reason you came to Athens in the first place. However, I suggest heading to the Acropolis museum before you head up to the ruins. It will provide you with so much information and history which will make your experience with the ruins so much more enjoyable / memorable. We did it the other way around and wish we would have started out here. There is so much history to find in the museum. Learn about it and then make your way up the hill and soak it in.
*I suggest doing the museum the day before you do the ruins.
2. The Acropolis
Once you’ve done the museum get up to the ruins. Do the ruins at 8am – right when they open the gates. You’ll beat the crowd of tourists and won’t have to fight through thousands of people to get to the top. This is what we did and as we headed back down the hill we saw the crowds making their way to the top and my anxiety kicked in almost instantly. They have 2 million tourists visit the city each year. That number will feel very real to you when you see the groups coming up the hill. It’s also better to make the climb in the morning before the heat has kicked in. Your body will thank you later for that.
Take your time at the top. Seriously, do not rush looking at these ruins. They have been there for thousands of years. Fun fact, they’ve been attempting to restore the Parthenon since 480 B.C. I was so taken aback by these structures that I could cry just thinking about it. It’s unbelievable to me that they are still standing. This world is a crazy beautiful place. Take it in.
*At the base of the Acropolis there is a park called the “Garden of the Muses”. I highly suggest spending some time getting lost in there.
3. Temple of Zeus
The temple of Zeus is another site where you can see more of the city’s ruins. This was one of my favorite places simply because Hercules was one of my favorite Disney movies. This was the place where Hercules went when he first met Zeus. The columns will take your breath away with how big they are and the detail that still exists on them to this day.
4. The Royal Gardens
This park sits right behind the Parliament building. It’s lush green trees and shadowy paths make it one of the most relaxing walks I have ever been on in my life. In the garden they had different animals roaming around. Peacocks, goats, turtles, ducks and many more live in these gardens for you to visit. It was beautiful. Buy a bottle of wine, grab a book and spend an afternoon here.
5. Brettos’ Bar
Welcome to the oldest distillery in Athens. This was a hole in the wall bar that we stumbled upon in the city center. The owners make their own Brandy and Ouzo (Greece’s liquor) along with all of the colorful liquors you see lining the walls in house. We ended our night here and everyone inside the bar was having such a great time. The locals were friendly and everyone had a smile on their face. It’s the perfect nightcap. We highly recommend.
*Can’t say that I highly recommend the Ouzo though. It smells and tastes exactly like Black Licorice, so if that’s your thing it’s perfect, if it’s not I wouldn’t suggest trying it.
From Brettos’ website:
“The unsuspected visitor of the historic center of Athens cannot miss the hundreds of colorful bottles and lights that decorate the walls of “Brettos”. “BRETTOS” is the oldest distillery in Athens. It started operating for the first time back in 1909 at the ground level of an Athenian old mansion in the heart of Plaka. At those premises, his founder, Michael Brettos, started producing ouzo, brandy and few liqueur flavors, from the old time classics like cherry and peppermint to the most distinct ones like citrus and masticha, using old family recipes from Smyrni (Izmir, Turkey). It is the 2nd oldest distillery in Europe!
Since 1909, although it is now almost a century old, little has changed at Mr. Brettos’ old-fashioned distillery. It still operates as a bar at this small, incredible, beautiful, charming and “out of time” spot. It is still serving visitors ouzo, 3, 5 and 7 star brandy, more than 36 different flavors of liqueur, none of them available in any other of the liquor or grocery store, traditional Greek spirits, wines and beers. Visited by many locals, it is also very inviting for the tourists. Anyone who is passing by can either sit down and try any liqueur he wishes for, or buy the whole bottle if in need of something to go or take home.
The inside of the small shop is still as it used to be. The first thing you notice is the beautiful décor of a wall full of coloured bottles lit from behind that fill the entire back wall floor to ceiling, providing a colour spectrum in contrast to the 200 year old building. On another wall are the old barrels full of spirits that are still used. Around the shop there is a bar with about 15 stools where you can sample the famous homemade ouzo (very smooth), brandy or liqueurs. Finally, next to the door there is the very first, hand-made, ouzo distiller that Mr Michael Brettos once used.”
6. Central Hotel Rooftop Terrace
This bar was suggested to us by a friend who had visited the city previously. We were told to go for the view as it sits facing the Acropolis and at night they light up all of the ruins and the mountain they sit on. 100% do this. The view was incredible and pictures don’t do it justice even a little bit. (Also, this bar made one of the best margarita’s I’ve ever had.)
7. Vouliagmeni Lake Spa
Besides the ruins this was hands down the best thing we did the entire trip. We took one of those city tour buses along the coast (which was breath taking) and ended up at this spa hidden from the highway. The mystery of the lake is that no one knows where the water comes from or where it drains and they’re continuing to look for that source to this day. The water stays the same temperature year round (24-29°C) and the minerals within the water help with post traumatic stress, gynecological issues, dermatological issues and more. However, the coolest part of the lake are the fish that are native to the water. Garra Rufa fish, or the “Doctor Fish” as they’ve been nicknamed, eat the dead skin cells off of your body when you sit in the shallow water. This sounds SO weird but once you got used to it it was unbelievably relaxing as it feels like your body is vibrating.
We sat in the water for about an hour and a half and got out and enjoyed a delicious lunch at the spa’s restaurant. It was only about 11 US dollars to get in and 150% worth it. If you find yourself in Athens get yourself to this spa.
These were my favorite parts of the city. Athens has a few more museums and parks and a hike that is supposed to have spectacular views of the city that we decided not to do. One thing we didn’t expect was how dirty the city was. There is graffiti everywhere and the smog is worse than LA’s (who knew that was possible?!) so don’t expect a beautiful city but do expect a city that is overflowing with authenticity and rich history.
You will not be disappointed.