Squeezing a visit to Athens into just 48 hours might seem daunting… But there’s no need to feel intimidated!
Spending two full days in Athens, is a great way to begin feeling part of the city.
You’ve got a pretty big day ahead of you.
Luckily, there are coffee places everywhere. So, start the day as the Athenians do, with a Freddo Cappuccino and a crisp Koulouri, a type of circular bread sprinkled with sesame seeds, before heading towards the first stop on your tour, the Acropolis, the most iconic landmark in all of Greece. To get there take Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, which starts opposite Hadrian’s Arch and the Ancient temple of Olympian Zeus and on the way pass by the Odeon of Herodes Atticus – known as the “Herodeon”. Built by Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife Regilla in the 2nd C. AD, this Roman theatre in central Athens, is still frequently used as a venue for live music performances and theatre during the Athens & Epidaurus Festival, which runs from the beginning of June through August.
Acropolis is located just above the theater, and no matter how many photographs you’ve seen, nothing can prepare you for seeing it in person standing after thousands of years. It is the most important ancient site in the Western world and must-see in Athens.
From Acropolis, it’s a ten-minute walk to the New Acropolis Museum, which showcases every aspect of ancient Greece with the appropriate light that makes the forest of sculptures and relief panels of the Parthenon Frieze literally come to life. For lunch you can try a light brunch at the museum’s restaurant while admiring the breathtaking view of the Acropolis surrounding you.
Suitably refueled, head towards the area of Anafiotika, a magical “island” neighborhood, hidden against the slopes of the Acropolis and then move on to the enchanting streets of Plaka, with a history of more than 3.500 years. It is without a doubt the most picturesque neighborhood in the city, bustling with life throughout the year, lined with small tavernas and lovely cafes that invite you to take a break under the shadow of the sacred rock.
As the day wears on, take a breather from the unrelenting swathes of ancient architecture in the city with a leisurely stroll through the flea market of Monastiraki. Packed with vintage shops, street peddlers selling fruit from small stalls and the smell of roasting meat from the souvlaki joints, the heart of the old city remains vibrant and colorful.
For an early dinner, at least for Greek standards, head through Mitropoleos street to Tzitzikas and Mermigas restaurant, and don’t forget to order Chicken Mastihato. A tender chicken breast is sautéed and sliced, perched on top of a kadaifi nest (a special type of pastry which is like angel’s hair pasta) and swims in a white cream with mastic sap and bacon.
Wrap up your night by walking to Lykabettus hill – Athens highest point, boasting twinkling views of the city below… Because it’s always nice to end your day on a high.
With a score of sights already under your belt, treat yourself to a more leisurely breakfast and then head to the Benaki Museum, a veritable cradle of civilization, which offers visitors a broad overview of Greek history. With more than 40000 exhibits, its rare collections narrate the story of Hellenism throughout the years, recording the character of the Greek world from prehistoric times to the early 20th century.
From there head towards Syntagma square, the vital meeting point of the Athenians, and continue downhill through Ermou street to the Varvakeios Market. It was built in 1886 and can be proud that during its history of 150 years has fed many generations of Athenians. Amidst the butcher and fresh fishmongers’ stalls, one can find merchants selling fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices and cheese.
Only few minutes away from the market you could find perhaps the most traditional Taverna in Athens, Diporto. It is a basement tavern in the corner of Sokratous street and Theater square located in a 150 years old neoclassical building. With background the huge barrels of 600 kilos on the about ten tables lined with greaseproof paper, not only you will not find a reserved sign, but you will hardly sit and eat privately.
Wind up the afternoon by exploring Psirri, one of the most artsy and colorful neighborhoods of Athens, packed with creative stores, quaint restaurants, picturesque cafés and bars. From there, head to Thissio where, the beautiful neoclassical buildings create a nostalgic atmosphere of old Athens.
To end your time in Athens, head to Mani Mani restaurant, for a creative twist on traditional Greek cuisine inspired by the southern Peloponnese’s Mani region. Try the yellow split peas with caramelized onion, the slow-cooked pork belly with white carrot puree and quince, and the homemade noodles, called Makarounes, with sun-dried tomatoes, olives and feta cheese.
Written by Dimitris Papageorgiou