When planning our trip, we had to juggle a bunch of constraints due to time, flights, and not overbooking ourselves. We/our friends booked our boat from 12 pm on Sunday out of Santorini till 8 am on the following Sunday out of Athens. If we flew out on Friday, we would arrive in Greece on Saturday, leaving us one day to explore on our own. After perusing flights, we found the perfect long layover in Athens on Saturday that would let us see the sights, but get us to the boat on time. Now, just time to prep ourselves to fly over and hit the ground running.
As luck has it, we ended up sitting right near a screaming baby most of the flight, so after very little sleep, we put our bags into a locker, boarded the subway at the airport, and headed into downtown Athens. (PS. it is SUPER easy to take the subway into downtown Athens and it places you right near all the sights. If you are confused or need more directions, there is a tourism kiosk right before you exit the airport that was super helpful.) First stop -> a double shot of espresso.
Side note: Athens during the summer is REALLY HOT and you are in the direct heat a lot. I would compare it to a humid day in Texas. Be prepared. As much as we probably stood out, we tried to wear light clothes (I’d rather not overhead). We also made sure we bought water before going up to see sights, especially the acropolis.
Ok, now here we go!
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus. The first thing we stumbled upon when we walked into the Acropolis area was the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, an old amphitheater. Built in 161 AD by Herodes Atticus, this theater stood grand with seating for 5,000 people, three stories and a roof. It was later destroyed in 267 AD by Heruli, an East Germanic tribe who attacked Greece in the third century. Today, the ruins still in tact are continued to be used for musical events and concerts.
Acropolis. The most well known and main sight of Athens – the Acropolis. Sitting on a rock outcropping, these structures sit high above the rest of the city. Even though there is evidence that the area was used in early BC, the main temples and sites still seen today were constructed in 5th century BC. The Acropolis is home to buildings such as the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Athena Nike.
The Ancient Agora. The agora, in any greek city, was the main center of the city and always bustling with life. It was considered the main gathering place and the center of artistic and political life. There are small sections that have been excavated, allowing you to see what the shopping stalls and meeting places might have been like originally.
The Stoa of Attalos. Located on one side of the Ancient Agora, this building made from local marble was built as a gift in 159 – 138 BC. King Attalos II gave the open market area as a token of his appreciation for the time he spent studying in Athens. The area became a major shopping center area, until it was destroyed in 276 AD. It was rebuilt and it now stands as a Museum and displays lots of ancient artifacts found in the ancient agora.
Hadrian’s Library. On the North side of the Acropolis (located in the middle of the today’s restaurants and shops), are the remains of Hadrian’s Library and other buildings left behind. The library was build in 132 AD by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in a typical roman style. Like most of the others, it was damaged by the Herulian invasion. Later and over the years, several churches were built on top of the ruins (in 5th century, 7th century, and 12th century).
The area was closed by the time we walked by, but we got a few glimpses through the gates as we walked from the Acropolis to the Eastern area.
The Arch of Hadrian (Hadrian’s Gate). Serves as a gateway from the center of Athens (Acropolis & Agora) to the structures on the east side of the city (the Temple of Olympian Zeus). The arch celebrates the arrival of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 131/132 AD.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus. Only a few columns are left of this once monumental temple dedicated to the God Zeus at the center of the Greek capital. It was constructed at the beginning of the 6th century BC, but not completed until about 638 years later. The temple was built by an Athenian tyrant attempting to build the greatest temple of the ancient world.
Only 21 of the original 104 columns remain. When you visit, imagine the grandness of the temple if all 104 columns still existed.
The Panathenaic Stadium. The site of the first modern Olympic games in 1896 and reused during the Olympics in 2004. This all marble stadium was built in 144 AD by Herodes Atticus (recongize the name 🙂 ) and was used for a variety of things including the Panathenaic games. When Christianity rose in the 4th century, the stadium was abandoned. It was later excavated in 1869 to be used once again.
The stadium area is open and you can venture into the marble seats or stand on the olympic medal stages. We can always pretend to be olympic athletes, right?!
After all that touring and all that walking, we ended the day with some true Greek frozen yogurt and a few Greek beers. Opa! As much as I am sure we could have seen so much more given more time, but I think we were able to accomplish most of what we wanted to see of Athens in this short period of time.
What is the oldest place you have ever visited?