Athens (And Surrounding Cities) Travel Guide

September 23, 2014

It astounds me that Athens is a city that has recently gotten a bad rap amongst American tourists as being ‘dirty’ (I hear this all the time!).I’ve traveled quite a bit around the world, and the Greek capital is one of my favorite places to visit. Not only is it a mecca of ancient history, resulting in gorgeous monuments and ruins everywhere you look, the food is phenomenal. I repeat, phenomenal.

Sasha and I visited Athens in December, which is the off-season, so we got to experience the touristy activities in a slightly quieter environment. We spent four days in Athens, and then took a day trip to Corinth with Greece Private Tours and loved it.

One of my best friends, Brooke, just returned from a trip to Athens with her family. They booked their vacation through Olympic Tours and were shown around Athens, then driven to Corinth for a day, visited Olympia for one night and ended their Greek tour in Nafplio, where they spent three days. Brooke kindly wrote recommendations for the latter two cities to help make this travel guide a multi-faceted Greek sightseeing bible (thank you, sweet friend!).

Below you’ll find restaurant, site, and activity recommendations for all four cities. If you have any questions, please email me. To find the full list of my travel guides, click here.

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ATHENS

Food & Drink

  • Oroscopo: This little Greek restaurant won’t win you over with their decor, but I promise that the food is delicious. They serve the most amazing baked feta dish which I highly recommend.
  • Strofi: The views from the top floor of Strofi are unmatched. The mood is slightly romantic, with dim lights and candles, and the food is (ohmygosh) tasty. Sasha and I both devoured salad appetizers and barely had room for our main courses.
  • Avocado: A vegan restaurant in Greece? Why bother? Well, because it’s heavenly. Even Sasha (solid carnivore) said it was the best meal he ate in the city. We ordered falafel, Ashima (a quinoa dish), the forest burger and vegan chocolate pie, and savored every last bite.
  • Thanasis: Order the spicy peppers (of course, too hot for Sasha to handle!) and get their Greek salad – it was one of the most beautiful and colorful dishes I’ve ever eaten.
  • Cafe Boheme: The food at Boheme was delicious and tasted very authentic. It’s best if you can get a table outside.
  • Piazza Duomo: Sasha drank Irish coffee and ate apple pie, and I sipped on flavorful Greek coffee (me) while doing some serious people watching. It’s in the middle of the Monastiraki neighborhood, so there is a lot of hustle and bustle nearby (i.e. good people watching).
  • Orizontes Lycabettus: After a long walk to the top of Mt. Lycabettus (or less tiring funicular ride), you should reward yourself with wine at this gorgeous glass restaurant and make sure to take a million photos outside (over all of Athens).
  • Yogolicious: After eating dinner one night, I told Sasha that all I wanted was frozen yogurt, and voila, we found Yogolicious, which is a slice of America transplated into this ancient city. The yogurt was delicious, and the area is great to walk around at night (live music, bars, etc.).
  • Lucafe: We sat by the fire outside and had Greek coffee and wine while watching the world pass by. Get a seat outside and sit side-by-side so you can get good views of passersby.
  • Vezene: This gem is a peaceful 30 minute stroll from the Acropolis, so we went one night after staring at the old monument. The meal was worth the walk, and the service was phenomenal. Just learn how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ – ‘parakalo’ and ‘efharisto’!

Sites

  • Parthenon: The Parthenon is the large stone building at the top of the Athenian Acropolis (see more below). It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece and is regarded as an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece, Athenian democracy and western civilization, and one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments. The Greek Ministry of Culture is currently carrying out a program of selective restoration and reconstruction to ensure the stability of the partially ruined structure. It is important to note what times the Parthenon is open, as we made several attempts to view it but it had already closed.
  • Acropolis: The Acropolis is located on a rocky promontory over 520 feet above the valley of Ilissos. The Acropolis has been a fortress to protect places of worship and royal palaces from 2000 BC. Over years, fighting and wars destroyed the Acropolis and forced it to be rebuilt. I highly recommend that you get a private tour guide through Olympic Tours so you can get the full experience with the history, background and fun facts about Greek Mythology.
  • Mount Lycabettus: The peak of Mount Lycabettus is highest point in the city that surrounds it. Pine trees cover its base, and at its peaks are the 19th century Chapel of St. George, a theatre, and a restaurant (mentioned above). The hill is a popular tourist destination and can be ascended by the Lycabettus Funicular, a funicular railway which climbs the hill from a lower terminus at Kolonaki (the railway station can be found at Aristippou street). Sasha and I walked up to the top and were very tired when we arrived, but the views were breathtaking and make the semi-hike worth it.
  • Temple of Olympic Zeus:  This colossal temple in the center of the city was dedicated to Zeus, king of the Olympian gods. Construction began in the 6th century BC during the rule of the Athenian tyrants, who envisaged building the greatest temple in the ancient world, but it was not completed until the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD. The temple is very much in ruins now, but it is worthwhile visiting.
  • Panathinaikon Stadium: You will find this ancient stadium while walking through Zappeion. It is where the first modern Olympics took place in 1896. Sasha and I played on the field like children, and took great enjoyment in doing so.
  • Church of Panagia Gorgoepikoos: This gorgeous church is located in the Plaka region of Athens and was built over 700 years ago. We weren’t inside of the church for very long, but we took some gorgeous photos of the intricate interior and exterior.

Activities

  • Take photos outside of the Presidential Mansion (lots of marching armed guards)
  • Go to the Acropolis Museum – not only is it gorgeous architecturally, you will learn lots about Greek history, especially that of Athens
  • Try the ouzu liquor (typically complimentary at nice restaurants), but be prepared to sneakily spit it out in a glass (it tastes like gasoline!)
  • Spend lots of time wandering through the the Monastiraki neighborhood (little flea market neighborhood with good shopping and cafes)
  • Get a massage at Hammam Baths (recommend the Ali Hammam one) – remember to bring a swimsuit!
  • Shop at the massive H&M in the Monastiraki neighborhood – one of the best I’ve ever visited
  • Go to the rooftop restaurant of Hotel Divani Acropolis and have a drink while watching the Acropolis light up at night

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CORINTH

Food & Drink

  • Marinos Restaurant: The views from Marinos Restaurant are phenomenal, as is the food. The staff are very polite, and eating here is definitely a must-do during a trip to Corinth.
  • Papaioannou Wine: We visited Papaioannou Wines as part of our private tour, and drink a handful of delicious wines. They have massive barrels everywhere, and while it may not be up to Napa Valley’s aesthetical vineyard standards, the wine makes up for it.
  • Palivou Estate: Sasha and I loved Palivou Estate’s wine so much that we bought a massive bottle and carefully brought it back over to the states and are so nervous about opening it (when is the right moment to open your favorite wine from Greece?). The staff were incredibly friendly and we loved chatting to them about the wine making process and sipping a number of their award winning wines.

Sites

  • Corinth Canal: When driving from Athens to Corinth, you pass over the Corinth Canal, and should stop to take pictures of this terribly narrow waterway. The canal connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea, and cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separates the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland.
  • Ancient Corinth Archaeological Site: This site is where the ancient city of Corinth existed, which is separate from the modern city now. There is a museum on the site which is worthwhile visiting, as it houses a large collection of artifacts of the local archaeological site and smaller sites in the neighboring area.
  • Acrocorinth Fortress: Acrocorinth was first a Greek acropolis, then a Roman citadel, and later, a Byzantine fortress. You will see this fortress from any point in Corinth, and need a car or taxi to drive you to the top. Walk up the cobblestones to the top for the most breathtaking views (a great photo opp!).
  • Mycenaen Ruins: Mycenae was the center of power in the Late Bronze age (1600-1100 BC). The ruins of the Mycenaean Acropolis themselves are awe-inspiring – most notably the Lion Gates, which is the earliest known piece of monumental sculpture on the European continent. You can (and should) also visit the tomb where Agamemnon was murdered by his wife and her lover after he returned from the Trojan war (see photos below).

Activities

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OLYMPIA

Food & Drink

  • Eat dinner at the Europa Hotel (family run restaurant) and watch the sunset – the most beautiful views and delicious food

Sites

  • Ancient Olympic Games site: Do a private guided tour through Olympic Tours (request Niki as your tour guide – also recommended by Rick Steves). Imposing temples, votive buildings, elaborate shrines and ancient sporting facilities were combined in a site of unique natural and mystical beauty. Olympia functioned as a meeting place for worship and other religious and political practices as early as the 10th century B.C. The central part of Olympia was dominated by the majestic temple of Zeus, with the temple of Hera parallel to it.Olympia1

 


NAFPLIO

Sites

  • Palamidi Castle: This castile is a fortress built by the Venetians during their second occupation of the area between 1686 and 1715. There are 857 steps in the winding stairs from the town to the fortress. However, to reach the top of the fortress, there are over 1,000. It is definitely worth the hike!

Activities

  • Do a Segway tour through the city but make sure you know how to fully operate one!
  • Rent a bike for four and explore the city
  • Sail with Captain Aris for a day where you will take a private sailboat out to an uninhabited Greek island where you get to swim, snorkel, etc.
  • Take a day trip to the Island of Spetes
  • Walk to a nearby beach and take a dip in the Aegean Sea (there are no sharks!) and take a morning stroll along the coast
  • Hike up to the top of Palamidi Castle and explore the inside (including the ancient dungeon)
  • Take an excursion to Epidaurus to visit the famous ancient amphitheater and
  • archaeological site
  • Visit the winery at the famous Nemea wine producing area
  • Tour an ancient Greek church in the city (so beautifully decorated)
  • Eat along the water at sunset at one of the many delicious Greek restaurants

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