After a day in Santorini, the next morning I took some an accidental >$100 worth of overpriced Kyclades seafood to go before heading out on my 11:20am flight to Athens.
Like the lightning fast flight to Santorini, the Aegean Airlines flight back to Athens was just as quick and I was checking into my lodging by 12:30pm.
Thanks to a previous monsooner on my last trip, Jeffrey O’Neill of FlyClever, I was hooked up for 60% off the bill on the butler floor of The Hotel Grande Bretagne: the final word in in Greek luxury and opulence.
The hotel in of itself is a landmark in Athens, having been the former headquarters of the Nazis during World War II and the site of a failed plot to blow up Winston Churchill.
I was then picked up at the hotel by my friend Sidian Lam, whom I met when I used to speak at the University of New Hampshire every spring since 2010. Sidian is a Greek national of Chinese descent having been raised in Athens all his life and thus became the perfect tour guide to show me around.
He also has been trying to convince me to come visit him in Athens for the past 3 years so I finally made it happen.
Starting from Hotel Grande Bretagne in the Syntagma district of Athens, we walked through the charming, winding pathways of the old Turkish quarter of the Plaka District. Here was what virtually all that existed of Athens when it was declared the capital of Greece.
Before I knew it, within 10 minutes of walking we hit Acropolis by 2:25pm, where we were told that Acropolis was taking in its final visitor in 5 minutes. So we ran and bought tickets (6 euros for students, 12 euros for adults) and headed uphill.
We first walked by the Odeon of Herodes Atticus:
Then we walked up the Main Entrance, with the Temple of Athena Nike to my right.
And lo and behold, bare and empty on a hill, stood Parthenon, built and dedicated to the goddess Athena.
To the left of Parthenon is Erechtheion with its 4 Caryatids facing Parthenon…
…and the Temple of Poseidon behind it:
Head to the very back of the complex for sweeping views of Athens:
Take a peek of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest temple ever built during the Roman Empire, to your southeast:
Face south and you can also see the Theater of Dionysus facing the famed Acropolis Museum.
After 30 minutes we headed out as the complex was closing its doors:
Afterwards we climbed a nearby hill for a clear shot of Acropolis:
Then we hopped off and strolled along the various coffee shops surrounding Acropolis, stopping by to visit one of Athens’ more famous open-air movie theaters, Thision Open-Air Cinema:
As well as peeking through the Roman Agora:
You’ll then hit Plateia Avyssinias on the west in the Monastiraki district, named for the random Fethiye Mosque and church standing side by side on an urban square:
Head up north a little bit and you’ll hit the colorful Monastiraki Flea Market:
Walk west on Ermou Street to check out the Metropolitan Cathedral under renovations:
And you’ll complete the circle back at the Parliament Building in Syntagma, where guards change every hour as they stand by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Within the Plateia Syntagmatos, to the left of the Syntagma Metro exit, are the remnants of the Peisistratos aqueduct.
Afterwards we took a 5min cab ride up to the bohemian, left-wing enclave of the graffiti-adorned Exarchia district:
Prior to its 5pm closing, we then hit the “only museum worth seeing in Athens”, aka the Acropolis Museum (3 euros for students), which is on almost every top 10 list for best museums in the world.
They definitely get it for its sleek, modern aesthetics and the way they space all the sculptures and pieces that have been found around Acropolis.
They also have a great outdoor café:
We then headed up to Lykavittos Hill for the best sunset in Athens:
There’s also a small church on top of the hill:
But don’t linger too long lest you miss this sunset:
For dinner, we headed to the Athens port/docks where we got to chose our food:
Then it was off to another part of Athens where we had a second dinner over lamb:
Afterwards we headed back to the city center:
Despite the darkness I did more sightseeing at Hadrian’s Arch:
The Temple of Olympian Zeus up close:
Then walking through the National Gardens I stumbled upon the Zappeion building that was built in the 1880s for the first modern Olympic games and is now a conference center.
And speaking of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, the original Stadium for the world’s first modern Olympic Games is across the street from the National Gardens:
Afterwards Sidian and I joined up with my colleague’s husband, Christos, who was gracious enough to host me for a late dinner over spirited conversations about travel, work, our mutual friends, Greece, its war-torn history, and its unpredictable economy:
After a few drinks, I headed to bed before my morning flight back home.
But before I leave here, my stay in Athens wouldn’t be complete without mentioning my time at the Grande Bretagne. Its old world charm was balanced enough with modern bells and whistles. This place was one of the best hotel experiences I’ve had and staying there makes me feel guilty to call myself a monsooner at this point.
This palace houses a 7th floor outdoor swimming pool, an 8th floor rooftop garden facing the Acropolis, a 1st floor cigar lounge (Legit Cuban Cohibas and Romeo y Juliet cigars go for 15-20 euros each), a ground floor restaurant-bar . . .
. . . a basement indoor pool, massage spa, hair salon, and multi-room thermal suite with 4 types of sauna chambers (Eucalyptus/Amethyst Grotto, Herbal Steam Bath, Laconium, Foot Reflexology) and many types of shower settings with accompanying mood lights and scents (‘Fresh’ – mist, ‘Tropic’ – heavy shower, ‘Splash’ – side fountains, ‘Rain’ – cool, medium shower…) . . .
I’m sure I’m missing other things here, but at this point it’s becoming braggadocio. Either way, the thank you goes to Jeff of FlyClever for setting this up and coming to monsoon with me back in August so that I can now enjoy perks like these!
How else would you spend 4 days off from work?
- At time of posting in Athens, Greece, it was 24 °C - Humidity: 70% | Wind Speed: 21km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly sunny