I’m still on a high after two plus weeks traveling in Greece and Turkey! This post is the first in a series highlighting each city and country we visited. First up in this travel diary is Athens, Greece. As a gal who loves the beach, interesting European cities with amazing architecture and great food, Greece has been on my bucket list forever.
To get a feel for Athens, you have to go to the Plaka. The Plaka is a neighborhood in the shadow of the Acropolis and its ancient temples. The with narrow cobblestone streets lined with tiny shops selling jewelry, clothing, ceramics, sandals and the list goes on. There are also lots of sidewalk cafes and family-run tavernas that stay open late and serve up traditional Greecian fare of tomatoes and cheese, sardines and all kinds of fish fresh from the ocean.
One of the things I love about traveling in Europe is the Cafe Society. Athens did not disappoint. I had no expectations of Athens and sometimes that’s the best way to travel. My husband had been before and wasn’t in love with the idea of spending a few days in Athens, but we’re both glad we did.
The Athens of yesterday is long gone and in her place is a cosmopolitan city teeming with cafes, coffee shops/bars, shops and restaurants galore.
The next time I come to Athens, I want to do a tour of the coffee shops. You know I love a good latte, but Athens made an iced cappuccino drinker out of me. It’s HOT in Athens at the beginning of September. I started each day with a hot latte at breakfast, but spending the mornings touring around in the heat called for caffeine in the form of an iced drink. A much needed pick me up served in a beautiful cut glass with the frothiest milk foam was a lovely treat. Not to mention that sitting outside in one of the many cute chic coffee shops cum cocktail bars was the cherry on top.
Literally there were coffee shops next to coffee shops. Definitely my kind of city!
What to buy in Athens? Leather sandals and linen clothing.
“In ancient Greece sandals were the most common type of footwear. They were worn by both men and women. The Greek sandals had many straps which were used to securely be fastened the shoe to the foot. The top of the sandals were usually of colored leather and the soles were made of cattle skin and had many layers. Greeks were able to adapt footwear for every type of activity. They emphasized on beauty, elegance and refinement. They considered shoes as an adornment of their feet.“
Grecian sandals harken back almost 40,000 years. There were a ton of handmade leather sandal shops in and around the Plaka. I settled on Christonia’s because our tour guide recommended the shop. He said their sandals were some of the better quality sandals in the city. All over the city you can find handmade leather sandals raining in price from about 36 euros to 45 euros. I chose a traditional pair of Grecian gladiator sandals handmade in Crete. I’d been eyeing a pair from Ancient Greek Sandals online and the store happened to be next to our hotel, but they were 4x the price, so I went with the “real” thing instead.
Like any city dependent on tourism, there are lots of shops to wade through in Athens, especially in The Plaka. We found a great men’s shop called Grace’s carrying amazing linen shirts by the Greek company Free Linen Athens. Their long sleeved and short sleeved linen shirts were just what my husband was looking for – they ranged in price from 63 to 69 euros. And if you’re buying more than 1, they may be willing to bargain with you.
Coffee ‘Til Cocktails in Athens!
Coffee til cocktails is a real thing in Athens. And I was all about it! A few years ago when we were traveling in Italy, I became fast friends with our bartender, Danilo Ponzone, at the Tiberio Palace in Capri. He’s become like a brother from another mother. Since then, Danilo has been named one of the World’s Best Bartenders and has hobnobbed with his counterparts around the world. I never travel without consulting Danilo for cocktail bar recommendations. His Athens list did not disappoint!
The Clumsies was our first stop when we landed, literally. Why? Our room wasn’t ready; definitely one of the downsides of choosing to stay at a boutique hotel. Lucky for us day drinking is a part of the Athenian culture! The Clumsies is in a somewhat non-descript building off of the Plaka – it’s a restaurant, coffee bar and bar bar. We learned first-hand that cocktail culture is alive and well in Athens! Each cocktail bar has their own list of signature cocktails with ingredients you might not think about for cocktails. Of course we had to try to their award winning Aegean Negroni ….. Todd and I both like gin, we both love Negronis and we both love fennel – we did not both love the Aegean Negroni. BUT, I’m so glad we tried it! The winner for us was The Greek Salad. Crazy as it may sound, this martini-like drink tasted exactly like a Greek Salad.
The 7 Jokers Coffee & Cocktail Bar
The name alone tells you why I loved this place! Yes, just like The Clumsies, The 7 Jokers is open all day and serves lattes along side some of the best constructed cocktails I’ve had. Plus, The 7 Jokers is run by some of the coolest female bartenders I’ve ever enountered! The cocktail menu changes seasonally and while they only have 10 drinks per season, those drinks are so well composed and thought through that you don’t need to order off menu. You can, but why would you? My last drink of the night was a deconstructed pina colada. It looked like a fancy bourbon cocktail, but it tasted just like the frothy creation I love sipping while poolside.
Baba Ah Rhum
Unlike its counterparts, Baba Au Rhum was not open for day drinking. We were hoping to stop in and have a drink before heading to the airport, but they were closed. It looks like a super cute spot. Danilo said they have great cocktails, so I have no doubt that they do! If you go, please let me know what you think!
When trekking to a city or country replete with history, I usually nerd out. I didn’t have a lot of time to research Athens before we arrived, but I knew we were traveling to the heart of democracy which meant we had to go to the Acropolis. The Acropolis of Athens is a complete ancient Greek monumental complex, situated on a hill over 500 feet, that is still standing.
I’m not a big fan of crowds or long lines, especially in the heat! The first time I went to Rome I was on my Bar trip. I got all the way to The Vatican, saw the lines and decided to skip it. I crossed my fingers that I’d get back one day on a non-student budget; I did and it was worth the wait.
That said, I was overwhelmed by the crowds at The Acropolis. Fortunately, we hired a great private tour guide who had us buy our tickets online the day before. And once we arrived at The Acropolis with our tour guide, we were able to skip the line. However, while we were able to bypass the tourists waiting for entry, we still had to contend with the crowds hiking up the mountain. The hike was serious, this was not a time for cute sandals, but more than the trek the heat almost took me out. The heat combined with the crowds – we learned from Nickos, our tour guide, that the cruise ship day trippers make up the majority of the folks there on any given day – was A LOT. It was what it was and we marched on.
The Parthenon is stunning. The Parthenon is a former temple on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, that was dedicated to the goddess Athena during the fifth century BC. It was truly amazing to traverse up that hill to see the place where democracy, philosophy, theatre, freedom of expression and speech were born. We stood on the ground where the intellectual and spiritual foundation for our values and the world we live in was born. The fact that the Acropolis’ monuments, have survived for almost twenty-five centuries through wars, explosions, bombardments, fires and earthquakes is a testament to the incredible construction of the ancient engineers.
The Acropolis Museum
We went to The Acropolis Museum when we left The Acropolis. It might seem like overkill to some, but again if you like history, love to learn and are fascinated by ancient ruins you’ll find the museum enjoyable. The Acropolis Museum is an archaeological museum focused on the findings of the archaeological site of the Acropolis. The museum was built to house every artifact found on the rock and on the surrounding slopes, from the Greek Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece. Going to The Acropolis Museum immediately after leaving The Acropolis was perfect because it filled in the gaps. By that I mean, it was an opportunity to put all of the information we learned from our guide into perspective.
The Acropolis Museum is devoted to the Parthenon and its surrounding temples, it is cleverly perched above Athens like a luminous box. The large glass panes beautifully draw in the ancient and modern parts of the city, making it a truly evocative experience. Designed by New York’s, Bernard Tschumi, with local Greek architect Michael Photiadis, it is the perfect sanctuary for the ancient artefacts that were found in and around the Acropolis and successfully deconstructs how the Parthenon sculptures once looked to the citizens of ancient Athens.
The museum is extremely well-done and worth the time.
Athens is a great small city to spend a few days in. If you’re planning a trip to Athens, here are a few things to consider:
Length of Stay: 3 full days is plenty of time to get a feel for the city
Private Tour Guide: Yes, worth the investment if you’re a history nut and want easy access to sites and museums.
Where to Stay: There are a good number of 5-Star and boutique hotels to choose from near and around the Plaka.
This post contains affiliate links and I may earn commissions for purchases made through links in this post. Please see my disclosures for more information. Thank you so much for your support!