Before my escape from Cambodia to Athens in August 2020, I read different Athens travel guides and blogs. Most of them suggested staying in the Greek capital for 2-3 days only. The historical part of the city is small, so this time would be enough to visit Acropolis and its museum, Archaeological museum and try some Greek food. Then take a car and continue exploring the ruins of the other famous temples around the country. Or maybe take a ferry and enjoy the beaches on the Greek Islands for the rest of the vacation.
I spent a month in Athens and wasn’t bored at all. And I’m planning to come back when it will be possible. I suggest you not hurry and plan more time in Athens. Here are 5 unusual things to do, which will help you to enjoy your stay and create a special bond with this city.
Meet the sunrise at the Philopappos Hill
You’ve already read about watching the sunset at Philopappos Hill. It is beautiful and worth seeing. But I suggest you come here also in the morning, while the sun rises up right behind the Acropolis.
Unlike my wife, I’m not a morning person, and for me, it was hard to wake up. But I’m glad that she made me do it. We took some amazing pictures and then had sandwiches and coffee watching how the sun rises above the Acropolis hill.
There is no need to go to the top of the hill, where the Philopappos Monument is situated. There is a good observation terrace halfway up. You will see it on your left while going up to the hill.
Except for the amazing view, another bonus is that not so many people come to see the sunrise. I was in Athens between two lockdowns, and the city was less crowded than usual. But still, quite a lot of people came to Philopappos Hill to see the sunset. And the next day we were the only people who came there to meet the sunrise.
In August the sunrise time was between 7 and 7:30 a.m., and if you stay somewhere in Plaka, the old historical neighborhood of Athens, you won’t have to wake up extremely early. But here comes another thing I’d like to suggest in my unusual Athens travel guide.
Exercise philosophy, while drinking wine and playing Backgammon with locals
To experience a pleasant evening with Athenians you should stay somewhere away from the touristic parts of Athens. It will take longer to get to Acropolis, but the city is not so big and the metro is a fast and reliable way to get around.
Greeks are very communicative people, so you don’t have to worry about how to start a conversation. Just put the phone away, order some “krasi” – wine, and don’t avoid eye contact. It won’t take long until someone will start talking to you.
I enjoyed talking with the Greeks. The stereotype that all of them are philosophers seems to be true. My personal experience shows, that Athenians are very-well educated deep-thinking people. They were starting very unexpected discussions with me. We were talking about the Czechoslovakian gentle revolution and speculating about the possible long-term impact of the pandemic on our society.
I’m very curious what kind of education they get in Greece. Everyone I talked to during my long evenings in Athens had a spacious mind. They were familiar with historical events from different eras and regions. Nothing surprised Athenians, and everything was interesting to them. From ancient pagan gods, through Norman invasion of Sicily to Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot in Cambodia.
Try traditional pies from 111 years old bakery
This time my Athens travel guide won’t take you anywhere far from the city center. The Ariston bakery is situated around 200 m from the Parliament, hidden in the narrow streets of Athens. All pastry I tried there was good. And don’t forget to talk to the owner. His grandfather started this bakery in 1910, it survived two world wars and is still operated by the same family.
The bakery is small and there is no place to sit. So grab your pies and go in the direction of the parliament.
Travel in time in the National Garden in Athens
Directly behind the Greek Parliament building (The Old Palace), you will find the National Garden in Athens. You probably read about it in other Athens travel guides. This place is perfect to hide from the heat and have a small picnic.
The former Royal Garden was completed in 1840 and opened to the public in 1920. It doesn’t look exactly the same as 100 years ago – the dry Mediterranean climate was not suitable for many plants and they did not survive. But still, some remember the Greek Royal Family. Like 12 palms at the entrance were planted by Queen Amalia. Today this garden avenue holds her name.
For me, it was a special pleasure to rest under the 100 years old trees enjoying the pastry of the same old receipt. My new friend’s grandfather was already an established baker in Athens when he first went for a walk in this garden after it was opened to the public.
The second historical event I was thinking about in the National Garden in Athens was the monkey incident. A bite of an exotic pet caused the death of the Greek king Alexander in 1920. His father Constantine I was restored to the throne, which changed the direction of Greek politics. Changes brought the replacement of the military staff with more loyal, but less experienced officers, which led to the defeat of Greek troops in Turkey. And a result, it ended the 3,000-year long presence of Greeks in Asia Minor.
Continue exploring Greek military history
The best place to explore Greek military history is situated near the Flisvos Marina and known as the Floating Naval Museum of Athens. It is possible to see and visit there several historical ships, amongst them the Battleship Averof – the former armored cruiser from the first half of the 20th century, and the reconstruction of the Ancient Greek trireme.
Yes, it is the reconstruction, not the original ancient ship. But this is the charm of living history – you can actually be a part of it. Before the pandemic, it was possible to reserve a place on board and to row and maneuver the ancient ship.
In August 2020 I could only observe trireme from the pier. But hopefully, you will be luckier during your visit to Athens. Don’t forget to check the reservation conditions in advance – at least 15 days ahead.
Athens travel guide – final thoughts
Putting all things together, my main advice is simple. Leave the rush behind, relax and keep your eyes open. The best experiences are usually not planned. And knowing the people is the same important as exploring the monuments. It is doubly true in Athens.