making the most of a short layover in Athens, Greece
I almost wasn’t going to write about this part of our last trip. But, I still wanted to document such a fun, albeit short, layover in Athens, Greece. I think it’s the perfect example of how to “roll with the punches”. You know, the times when nothing goes according to your plan. The times you just have to laugh it off and make the most of it. We’ve experienced so many times like that, we have tattoos to commemorate those adventures. Since most seasoned travelers (especially backpackers) have had those kind of travel moments, we can relish in them altogether!
Alright, so here’s the skinny on our trip to Greece. Our Middle East trip with Travel Talk was all planned out. We knew we were spending a couple days in New York before heading to Egypt. We planned on flying out of NYC to somewhere in Europe before going to Cairo. Flights from Europe are loads cheaper to Cairo than in the states. Lo and behold, Athens happens to be the cheapest and one of the only direct flights into Cairo. Bingo! Greece has always been on our list to visit. We had already been to a lot of the other major cities that flew into Cairo, so it was perfect.
I’ll be honest, we had heard very mixed reviews of Athens. We’re normally not ones to judge places by others advice, so we decided it was time to experience it on our own. I can tell you that we absolutely LOVED Athens. We loved the neighborhood we stayed in, loved the people, and loved our food experiences. It also could have been that our short window of time helped our experience to be the best it could have been. All I know is that I’m glad we went even if other people hate the city.
We had initially planned on having almost a full 24 hours in Athens. Enough time to eat all the greek food we want, drink all the wine, visit the Acropolis, and do a mini walking tour of our area of town. What we hadn’t planned on was a 2 hour delay leaving New York, missing our connecting flight in Brussels, and being rerouted to Rome before finally arriving in Athens. That cost us an extra 7 hours of exploring. One day we’ll have to do a podcast episode on how we managed to get the only seats available out of Brussels. Just know – it was crazy. The flight attendants on Austrian Airlines were saints and I am grateful they cared for us so well!
By the time we got into Athens, we would only have about 15 hours to see all that we could. Luckily for us, Athenians are a late night crowd. We could still partake in a little wine drinking and enjoy the tzatziki we had been craving. With that, here’s a mini guide of how to make the most of 15 hours in Athens!
The Athens airport is about 40 minutes outside of the main tourist neighborhoods. Grab a metro map in the train station across from the airport and find the closest station to your accommodation. The train into town leaves every 15-25 minutes. For us, we hopped on Metro Line 3, which connects to the other 3 major lines. We did have to change trains and grab Line 2, but it’s really straightforward. Train/metro travel is my favorite mode of transportation when traveling. It’s always so fun and different from our normal car rides in our hometown. Outside of using the metro, we walked everywhere in Athens.
where to stay
When I was researching the neighborhoods of Athens, I knew we needed to be close to the Acropolis. Given our amount of time, it helped so much to be within a 10 minute walk to the monument. I was choosing between the Plaka and Koukaki neighborhoods. From what I found, they’re both great neighborhoods close to the major tourist sites. We ended up staying in Koukaki at this cute little shared apartment. The location truly couldn’t have been better. The little street next to our room was lined with coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Acropolis hill was less than a 10 minute walk and the metro station was just across the street from us. Our hosts even gave us a little Greece magnet as a gift.
The Plaka neighborhood is a good home base if you have a couple more days in Athens. It is the neighborhood you see all over Pinterest boards. It’s the oldest neighborhood of the city, full of picturesque buildings and pedestrian only streets. Plaka is a more touristy part of the city, but it has a lot of great options for eating and drinking in a concentrated area.
what to do
Our number one priority was always the Acropolis and Parthenon and it’s basically the only thing we go to see. Sadly, we didn’t make it on our little mini walking tour. One day we’ll travel back to Greece for a real tour of the country!
We actually ventured up to Acropolis Hill on our first night after dinner. We grabbed a couple beers from a little shop and headed up. Obviously you can’t just waltz all the way up to the top, but you can explore the lower grounds of the complex. It was so beautiful and peaceful at night. It made it all that more exciting to see in the daylight.
We initially had wanted to take a tour of the whole Acropolis with a guide. But, our plane left in the afternoon at 1:15 and there was just no time to do a full tour. And I gotta tell ya, I actually loved what we did instead. We got up really early, got coffee from the place under our apartment and beelined it to the entrance office. We were literally the first ones on the grounds! The self service ticket kiosk wasn’t working, so we waited for an agent window, bought two tickets and headed inside. We had downloaded Rick Steves Audio Europe App and saved Athens to our playlist. He has a great audio guide for the Acropolis, Ancient Agora, and a city walk of Athens.
The audio guide through the Acropolis is about an hour long. It goes into great detail about every building, statue, and monument around Acropolis Hill. It was perfect for our needs! We learned at the Roman Forum that you should start at the most important part and work your way backwards. So we booked it straight to the shining gem, the Parthenon. I’m glad we started there because the longer we were up there, the busier it got. We got to take pictures without droves of tour groups and enjoy the beautiful views of the city.
Doing the audio guide allowed us to take things at our own pace and adjust our tour to our needs. We still learned a ton and got to see everything we wanted. I definitely recommend, especially if you’re pressed for time. If you do choose to do a guided tour, you have two options. You can book a private one in advance or find a licensed guide at the entrance. However, the guides at the entrance can cost you a pretty penny, especially if you want a private tour. They offer discounted rates if you can get a few people to join.
The only thing we were a little bummed we didn’t have time for and didn’t even really realize was at the Acropolis, was Mars Hill. It’s also called the Areopagus and it is where the Apostle Paul gave a famous sermon to the Greeks. The Areopagus used to be a meeting place of sorts, where the city’s counsel of elders would conduct their business. There’s a plaque of Paul’s sermon in Greek and English in the rocky marble area. If you care at all about biblical history, it’s a place worth checking out.
Entrance tickets to Acropolis: €20 per person
where to eat
There were some great options for food and drink around us. We mainly stuck to the street next to our place out of convenience. They did not disappoint!
◊ Kalamaki Bar – This little corner restaurant was popping when we walked through our little pedestrian street. We got real lucky with a table out on the patio, otherwise there was a big wait. We were so excited to get a big meal after all our airport travel the previous almost two days. Not only was the food delicious, it was so cheap! We feasted on lamb, chicken, and beef skewers, a greek salad, tzatziki and pita, and a whole LITER of wine. All that for less than $25!
◊ Kolokitha Bar – We stopped here on our way back down from the Acropolis at night. It was a great spot for bar peanuts and a cold draft beer. I also may or may not have fallen asleep while drinking my beer here. #jetlag.
◊ Mikel’s coffee – This was the coffee shop right under our apartment. You guys know we’re pretty snobby when it comes to our coffee, but Mikel’s did the trick. It was a nice place to grab a cup of joe before heading up to the Acropolis in the early morning chill.
◊ God’s Restaurant – This was our final restaurant before heading back to the airport. We found it on a cute street under the Acropolis and we got a front row patio seat. We experienced a traditional Greek breakfast with Greek yogurt, Greek salad and tomato eggs. That was a new one. We got to have all the Greek things we wanted I suppose!
After breakfast we grabbed our backpacks, jammed to the metro, and literally sprinted to our terminal. The Athens airport just loves to make us late. We almost didn’t make it to our flight on time, but with a stroke of luck it was a tiny bit delayed!
After a whirlwind night and morning, we were still glad we got to see a new place. It definitely wasn’t how we expected to spend our layover, but it was still worth it. We can’t wait to get back over and explore more of areas of this beautiful country.
What about you? Any good stories about your travel mishaps that didn’t go as expected? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear!
Til next time,