1. Catch a sunset…
I could easily say any sunset anywhere but for the sake of simplicity I will suggest just three out of literally dozens of locations to witness the sun’s ‘end of shift’.
–Cape Sounion at the Temple of Poseidon – a 45-minute-plus drive from Athens. No need for words. Take a bottle of nice wine and think that 2,500 years ago, people just like you were enjoying the exact same sight – the sun’s spectacular dip into the Aegean Sea.
–Lycabettus Hill – in the heart of Athens, overlooking the city to the sea stands this beautiful 277-meter hill with its tiny Agios Georgios Byzantine chapel and a smaller – Agioi Isidoroi – in a cave below. Panoramic, romantic, and easily accessible, plus it’s a nice walk up.
–Filipappou Hill – a romantic stroll along the stone walkaway all the way to the peak of the hill with a beautiful view of the sun bidding farewell for the day. Find a spot and let the glow inspire you.
2. Have an ouzaki
If there’s one thing that best describes – and embodies – the Greek Experience, it’s the ouzaki – which is basically all about finding a spot by the sea, preferably mid-day or early evening before the sun sets, ordering some ouzo (a traditional Greek anise-based spirit) and a meze… a side dish or two of small titbits, which usually include some cheese, sausage, fish, octopus, tomato, cucumber, Greek olives, and bread. Attention: a meze is not food nor a complete meal. It’s meant to accompany the ouzo. Picture it as a mini-eating session meant to take you out of a busy day and remind you that life is meant to be enjoyed with (or without) company. As simple as that.
3. Take a ferry to a nearby island
Sounds complicated? Well it’s not. The great thing about Athens is that you can just take the train to Piraeus port, hop on a ferry and go to Aegina, Agistri or Hydra islands – just for the day. No more than an hour’s journey and you get the complete Greek island experience. Many people commute every day from the these tiny isles to Athens for work.
4. Take a stroll along the Areopagitou pedestrian walkway at the foot of the Acropolis.
What an experience! Just think about it. You’re walking the same path Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato once took some 2,500 years ago… with imposing views of the Parthenon and the same Greek sky. This area is bustling with life, street musicians offering the lyrical accompaniment, traveling artists the shows, and dozens of street vendors selling their crafts and wares.
5. Catch a concert at the Ancient Irodion Theater
(In summer and fall only), right below the Parthenon on Acropolis Hill. Why? Because you’ll be sitting in a venue built in 161 AD where some the world’s greatest artists dreamt of performing: among them Maria Callas, Florence and the Machine, Luciano Pavarotti, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli, and Patti Smith – to name a few.
6. Rent a sailboat for two days
It’s not as expensive as you might think. If you’re a group of about five or six people you can rent a sailboat and skipper for as much as you would be paying for a decent hotel room. All you have to do is hop on a boat and let the skipper take you to some nearby islands. In the meantime, enjoy the ride, the rejuvenating Aegean Sea breeze, diving from the boat, and island life.
7. Changing of the Guard
Every hour on the hour the handsome “Evzones” that guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Greek Parliament building at central Syntagma Square change shift. This is an elite military unit, otherwise known as the Presidential Guard or “Tsoliades” dressed in the traditional kilt-like foustanella, white woollen hose and wooden tsarouchia footwear. They change uniforms in winter and on national holidays. At 11am on Sunday mornings, the ceremonial change of guard begins from the backside of the parliament building outside the Presidential Mansion, where they are headquartered. Awesome stuff for the kids and kids at heart.
8. Visit the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
Known as the SNFCC, where the culture of contemporary Greece takes center stage whether it’s a National Opera event, a concert, a theater performance, a seminar, an art show, a bike ride, or its spectacular ‘dancing fountains’. A must for anyone coming to Athens, promising a day of culture, recreation, fulfilment, and relaxation.
9. Delve into the Greek blues
Known as the “rebetika” – a music genre once associated with the outcasts and laymen. The genre later became a major part of upper class entertainment and an important part of Greek music culture. The rebetika were included in 2017 on UNESCO’s list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as an “expression of cultural and historical significance” that must be safeguarded for the collective interests of humanity. There are several venues in central Athens and Piraeus where you can find performers dedicated to the style.
10. Go hiking
In Athens, you ask. Well, yes. The Greek capital stands in the ‘embrace’ of four mountains: Mt Parnitha (at 1,141 meters) to the northwest, to the northeast Mt Pendeli (were all the famous marble comes from and home to the National Observatory) at 1,109 meters, Mt Hymettus (once known as “Trellovouno” or crazy mountain on the east at 1,026 meters, and lastly, the humble Mt Aegaleo to the west at 469 meters. In the last few years, dozens of trekking and hiking groups arrange well-organized activities on weekends for all levels that usually culminate with a much-deserved delicious Greek meal.
So if you’re planning to visit a Greek island or a mainland destination, consider a two-day stay in Athens as an appetizer for what’s in store all year round across the country.
♫ As a final ‘note’, the 1962 song below was composed by one of Greece’s greatest composers, Manos Hadjidakis, to the lyrics of poet Nikos Gatsos, and performed by ‘global Greek’ Nana Mouskouri at the beginning of her long career. The song is dedicated to Athens… “Athina” – describing the Greek capital as “the joy of the cosmos and the dawn, this small blue lily” .