10 Miles a Day: Athens, Greece

Opa!

There’s a reason Athens, Greece, is on so many people’s travel lists. Home to intellectual greats like Plato and Aristotle, the city is littered with historical sites. The Acropolis, the Parthenon, and ancient temples to Greek gods like Zeus and Athena Nike are just a drop in the sightseeing bucket.

Mediterranean food — featuring grilled meats, fresh vegetables, herbed olives, and salty feta cheese — is universally palatable, particularly when accompanied by the ever-present carafes of wine and followed by incredible Greek desserts like baklava and halva. And there are so many things to do in the central part of the city that Athens makes for an easily walkable adventure.

Lamb souvlaki piled on fries and grilled pita bread with a side of tzatziki sauce at Acropolis Restaurant Cafe in Athens, Greece

We had an Athens-in-a-day adventure three years ago when we visited with our boys, so we added some new stops to this latest itinerary.

Our 10-mile walking tour of one of the world’s oldest cities began at Filopappou Hill, which lay between our Airbnb and the Acropolis. When we planned the route, we originally thought this public park would simply be a pleasant walk to our first destination. We had no idea it would turn out to be a destination of its own.

Also called the Hill of the Muses, you’ll find several interesting archaeological sites on Filopappou Hill, including Socrates’ prison. It’s also a wonderful place to watch the sun rising or setting over the city.

One of the archaeological sites on Filopappou Hill, the ancient Church of Ayios Demetrios Loubardiaris, which was hosting a wedding during our visit

The Acropolis is arguably the highlight of any visit to Athens, despite the crowds and ubiquitous scaffolding. And while it’s worth buying a ticket and spending time exploring the site in detail, the incredible thing about the Acropolis is that you can see it from much of the central city. So while it’s surrounded by restaurants touting their great views, just know that you can see it from a pretty sizable radius, which means you don’t have to overpay for your meal just to have it in the background.

Mike on our visit to the Acropolis in 2015. The same scaffolding was there on his first visit 36 years ago, and it was still there when we returned this year.

While our mapped route for this Athens walking tour was just over 6 miles (10 km), there’s a lot of ground to cover at the Acropolis, the National Garden of Greece, and several other stops on the tour. That’s an important thing to consider when you’re planning your excursion, as is the amount of time you might spend at each site. What Google said would take us two hours to walk took an entire day.

Once you’ve seen the ancient Acropolis in person, you may be craving more history and archaeology (and air conditioning). For just $5.75 USD (5€) per person, the Acropolis Museum is an excellent source of all those things, and it’s located at the bottom of the hill. You can see the Theater of Dionysus and grab a meal at one of the many sidewalk cafes along the way.

A Greek lamb burger on grilled pita with tzatziki sauce and a side of crispy fries at Dionysus Zonar’s Restaurant in Athens

You cannot throw a stone in Athens without hitting a monument. (Although they frown upon throwing stones, so don’t do that.) En route to see The Runner, a modern sculpture made of thousands of pieces of jagged glass, and the National Garden of Greece, we passed the Arch of Hadrian. The marble monument has its place in Greek history, but after you’ve just seen the Acropolis, it’s perhaps too easy to be unimpressed as you walk right by it. And speaking of unimpressive, let’s refer to the National Garden as a park from now on rather than a garden. You’ll enjoy it much more that way.

Hellenic Parliament in Athens, Greece (image: Thomas Wolf via Wikicommons)

On the other hand, we were impressed by the Hellenic Parliament, located in the Old Royal Palace. The giant golden building sits at a major intersection surrounded by souvenir sellers, food carts, and thousands of pedestrians making their way around town.

As night fell, we made our way to a trio of historic Athens churches. Agios Eleftherios, or the Little Metropolis, was built in the 13th century on the ruins of another ancient temple. It’s a precious little building covered in detailed carvings, and it’s dwarfed by its next door neighbor, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens.

Agios Eleftherios
Detail of the carvings on the Agios Eleftherios
Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens

Working our way through the crowds of the Ermou and Adrianou Street shopping district, we found the 11th century Church of Panagia Kapnikarea. It’s one of the oldest churches in Athens, and it looks like something from Hansel and Gretel or The Hobbit. The exterior would be right at home in a forest with a carpet of moss covering its archaic tiled roof.

Turn around after viewing the church, and you’re right back in a very present-day city, since the Panagia Kapnikarea shares its sidewalk with United Colors of Benetton, H&M, and Zara. And some very modern graffiti.

After passing more shops, this time selling bright blue Greek evil eye amulets, handwoven Athenian linen shirts, and other Mediterranean souvenirs, ancient civilization returns in the form of the Temple of Hephaestus. And the Sanctuary of Zeus. And the Ancient Agora of Athens. You know, just your everyday neighborhood monuments. And just a stone’s throw from our Airbnb where we began the day.

That’s the thing about Athens. Everywhere you turn, you’re surrounded by history. Important, influential world history. And it’s incredible to realize that modern people live their vibrant, day-to-day lives surrounded by the Greek gods.

Up Next: A stop along the coast of the Aegean Sea at Thessaloniki, Greece

Advertisements