Bleisure – when you combine business and leisure. Recently, I had a business meeting scheduled in Athens. Which was a perfect opportunity to spend an extra few days in this vibrant city and explore.
Acropolis: First stop after I arrived was the Acropolis. I took an Uber straight to the entrance of the Acropolis area. The drop off point is right at the bottom which allows you a short but beautiful walk to the entrance gate. When you buy your entrance ticket (20€) make sure you rather buy the combi-ticket (32€ or so) that allows you access to a couple more heritage sites and it valid for 5 days. I didn’t do it and ended up paying way more at the end. The Acropolis is an UNESCO world heritage site set on a hill overlooking Athens and contains the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance, the most famous being the Parthenon. You can easily walk around for 2 hours without getting board of all the amazing temples and look out points.
On your way back down, stop and climb a little rock (it’s on your way, you won’t miss it) that overlooks Athens on the one side and the Acropolis on the other. It’s amazing to watch the sunset there. One of the most important theatres, the Dinonysos Theatre is built right up the slopes of the Acropolis.
On my way back to the hotel, I stopped over at another ancient site: The archeological site of Olympieion – or Hadrian’s Gate. As far as I remember the first ancient Olympic Games were held here. It looks like an amazing 400m track:-) By the way, this is another site for which the combi-pass is valid.
Still historic, yet more modern, further down the main street you can find the stadium that hosted the first Olympic Games of the modern times, I think it was beginning of the 19th century..it could have been earlier.
Ancient Agora and Roman Agora:
Another stunning inner city ancient site is the Ancient Agora and as an extension the Roman Agora. Agora basically means: Large square where social and religious activities, commerce, outdoor theatrical performances and athletic contests were held. In other words it was the center of Athenian democracy. Use your imagination and just walk around, imaging how life must have been 2500 years ago..
The Acropolis Museum
This museum is probably one of the best museums I have ever been to. Fortunately, it was part of our agenda and I went with my colleagues, because otherwise I would have left it out, thinking I’ve seen the actual Acropolis why must I go to the museum? How I would have missed out!!!! Do yourself a favour and take a guide to take you on a tour. You will learn so much, for example that a lot of the original sculptures etc. from the Acropolis have been stolen and are now in the British National Museum and the Brits refuse to give them back.. super super interesting.
Plaka is the old historical neighbourhood of Athens, just on the slopes of the Acropolis. It is vibrant, charming, full of tourist (and locals), you can find the mainstream restaurants there but dare to explore little side streets and you’ll find the cutest little local restaurants.
Where to eat
Thanks to my Greek colleague who hosted our meeting we found this amazing restaurant To Kafeneio in one of the side streets of Plaka. And OMG was this good. The food was excellent, the atmosphere brilliant and the service outstanding. In high season, definitely book a table as space is limited, especially outside and yes, you definitely want to sit outside in summer, enjoy the young musicians walking past and playing a mix of Greek folklore with a modern twist. (on a side note, I think it’s amazing that young people go out and do that.. given the economic situation Greece is in and them not finding jobs).
Where to stay
I mentioned it already, that the trip was initiated as a duty trip and I just extended my stay. We were booked into the Hilton Athens and I stayed there another two extra nights. Nothing to complain about this hotel. It might be your typical business hotel but is has all the amenities you need – Pool, Spa, restaurants, a few shops, Wi-Fi, a nice roof top bar. It looked like a lot of the cruise ship passengers, especially Americans and others arriving from far stayed there for one night. The location is relatively central. It is a good 1.7 km walk to the Plaka neighbourhood but absolutely safe and actually a nice walk after a heavy dinner. Alternatively, it is a rough 5€ Taxi/ Uber ride to the center of Plaka or the Acropolis. In case you are not set on a small boutique hotel kind of style, I can highly recommend this hotel.
I briefly mentioned it above: the Galaxy Bar. It is open to the public and you can even go when you are not a guest of the hotel. It offers an amazing view of Athens and the Acropolis. Beautiful spot for a sundowner.
What to buy
I fell in love with the Greek brand Korres. I had samples from somewhere and when I saw the shops all over town, I just had to buy. Their range is amazing. If you can find it in your country buy buy buy..
What to avoid
Taxi drivers! Avoid taxi drivers. If you have an Uber account use them! They are friendlier. I have experienced taxi drivers as arrogant. They ask you where you going and if it’s not far enough they don’t want to take you.. my 1.7km to the hotel weren’t long enough on various occasions..
I might have never considered Athens a top bucket list destinations but thanks to our meeting, I had a chance to go and I can only recommend it! Put it right up there on your list.. If you are from Europe, plan a long weekend get away. If you are from farther away, plan an extended stay next time you go to one of the islands. Athens is definitely worth a trip. I was extremely positively surprised by the Osman influence, the energy of this place, the hospitality of its people and the beauty of it’s history.