How to spend 72 hours in Athens
Spending three days in Athens will never be enough, but if you know where to look you’ll discover a city you never imagined
Rightfully proud of its past, Athens has a firm grip on the present and a glint in its eye for the future. With a few millennia under its belt stretching back to a golden age of history, Athens already has some gripping stories to tell. And yet, it continues to reinvent itself.
Culture comes first
To the plethora of cultural experiences in its treasure trove, Athens has added a few gems to shed yet more sparkling light on the capital. The Acropolis Museum offers the rare opportunity to see a real excavation site. The fact that you literally walk high above it on a glass floor only adds to the effect. Discovery games leave the whole family to be enraptured as they make their way to the restaurant among Athens’ roof-tops.
Sparkling new arrivals to refresh the heritage
At the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, you are treated to the luxury of doing everything from olive picking, yoga classes and sailing to just spreading out on its expansive lawn with a picnic. Technopolis, an architectural marvel in itself, has so much on offer, including concerts, exhibitions, seminars and workshops for any imaginable interest and the Onassis House of Letters opens its arms to cultural innovators of all kind, a prejudice-free boost to Greece’s artistic heart.
Seeing is believing
The best way to get a feeling for Athens is to walk. First and foremost, there’s the ‘Acropolis effect’. Everyone experiences it, standing in open-mouthed wonder in the sunlit presence of the mighty Parthenon.
Then it’s a short hop down to the labyrinthine alleyways of Plaka, now packed with gift shops and restaurants, a slice of nostalgia in more ways than one and a little piece of bygone Athens preserved in amber. While you’re there, the neighbourhood of Anafiotika presents you with a bouquet of flower, shrub and white-washed island-style houses.
The National Garden, meanwhile, provides a contrast. Amongst trees and plants from around the world are Roman ruins, statues of heroes and visionaries and the Zappeion Hall, built for the revival of the Olympic Games in 1896 and now an exhibition and conference centre. From here, you can see the mythical hills of Lycabettus and Filopappou, which if you climb will give you a 360 degree perspective on all the Athenian wonders.
That Riviera touch
Just when you think that Athens has run out of surprises, it produces its ace in the pack. Rich heritage? Naturally. Contemporary lustre? But, of course! The Athens Riviera offers you much to rival its famous French counterpart and Greece’s own island magic. Its swish marinas are a regular port of call for luxury vessels whose passengers are looking for the high life. Dazzling hotels combine with clear blue sea and glistening stretches of sand, guaranteeing all the facilities and comfort for long, leisurely hours, interspersed with water sports, a set or two of tennis or a round of golf.
Soak up Athens’ sunny secret
Down the coast, the Temple of Poseidon presides timelessly over the swirling waves of Cape Sounio and Lake Voulagmeni invites you into its healing waters. The nights on the south coast of Athens are made even more magical by the excellent choice of excellent restaurants and clubs by the sea.
Head for the islands or the snowy slopes
Outstanding experiences out of town
Visiting Athens doesn’t mean you can’t get a taste of island life. Just a short boat ride away is the cosmopolitan, car-free and carefree island of Hydra occasionally dismounting to take in its distinctive architecture. Or there’s neighbouring Poros, where the clock at the top of the island is ideal for sweeping views and a bit of romance, and friendly Aegina that will treat you to a handful of delicious pistachio nuts as you wander the ruined temple of Goddess Aphaia.
And if you visit in winter and fancy a bit of skiing or just the atmosphere of a winter resort, Mt Parnassos awaits with its pristine white pistes, picture-perfect winter town of Arahova and added bonus of the ancient site of Delphi, just a couple of hours away by car.
Taste the difference
But there’s no question that Athens should be the main course. Literally. Naturally, it has its wonderful, traditional taverns with classic recipes, generous portions, friendly atmosphere and prices. But it also puts the ‘new’ into nouvelle cuisine, overflowing as it is with award-winning restaurants serving you international and local dishes, with the very best of homegrown ingredients.
Innovation is the name of the game: Coffee drinking has been elevated to an art form and trend-setting ‘baristi’ are proud purveyors of every blend under the sun. Meanwhile, you’ll find the fashionable European brunch given an old-time Greek twist, with fresh cheeses, tomatoes and village-style bread to the fore.
Tucked into cozy corners of the city centre in old industrial venues are restaurants forging ahead with brand new, bold culinary creations, where global influences abound, alongside countless Greek wines and beers from local micro.
Shop till you drop
There’s a wealth of options in the shops of Athens and Ermou Street helps make sense of it all. Anything you could possibly need is conveniently gathered in one pedestrianised shopping street in the city centre. After the shops, you deserve a coffee in Agia Irini square while you plan the night ahead.
The bar scene
Athens nightlife is famous for good reason. With a view of the Acropolis or the sea, housed in 200-year-old neoclassical buildings and managed by award-winning mixologists, Athens rooftop cocktail bars bring you one step closer to the firmament. Be the brightest star under the cloudless night sky in wine bars with lovingly compiled menus and show off your dance moves, not to mention that brand new outfit, all night long in one of Gazi’s impossibly avant-garde nightclubs.
Athens: The ultimate historic city on the move
No matter how wondrous its stories up to now, Athens is always ready to invite you to help write a fresh chapter and add yet another layer to its rich and enthralling heritage. How can you resist being part of the process of embracing its glorious past and exploring and inventing the future of this eternal metropolis?