Recently, I had a pretty long layover in Athens, on my way to Egypt. I chose this flight because I haven’t visited the capital of Greece before, and this was a good time to get out of the airport and explore the oldest capital in Europe for several hours. Since it was the beginning of March, the weather was just perfect, and I had a great spring day with just enough degrees in the thermometer to make me feel comfortable for the few miles I had to walk on the charming streets.
How to get to downtown
The International Airport of Athens is situated about 35 km away from the city, so it’s kind of expensive to get a taxi. Therefore, I recommend you choose the subway. Fast, simple and economical. All you have to do is get out of the airport and follow the “To Trains” signs that will send you to the counter. If you follow my itinerary, you will have to get to Syntagma Square and go along the blue M3 line. A return ticket from the airport to the center costs € 18. The higher price is strictly due to the very large distance. Otherwise, a regular trip is about € 1.4. The good part is that once you got into the subway, you no longer have to change anywhere. After about 45 minutes, you will be in Syntagma Square.
🎫 roundtrip subway ticket from the airport to downtown € 18
💶 currency: €
Places to visit on a layover in Athens
The most famous square in Athens and perhaps even in Greece, Syntagma Square is a busy and lively place. You will recognize it easily after seeing the Parliament Building in the immediate vicinity, but also after seeing the artesian fountain in which the pigeons are refreshing themselves. The orange trees will instantly make you really feel like you are in Greece.
Syntagma Square is also an intersection of two major metro lines, 2 and 3. A detail to know, especially if you want to get to several places by subway.
As soon as you cross Syntagma Square, you get to the heart of shopping in Athens. Luxury brands, chic cafes, and cool terraces are all lined up on the vibrant Ermou Street. This street connects Syntagma Square with the archaeological sites, the main reason why Athens is so visited. In addition to showcases with clothes and shoes, the architecture of the buildings here is also very attractive.
Find all: Hotels in Athens.
On your way to the Acropolis, you will pass by the Metropolitan Cathedral, next to the Church of Saint Eleftheria. Both are a basic landmark for Athens and are worth visiting or at least admired from outside. The Cathedral is dedicated to the Annunciation and was built in 1842, shortly after Athens was named the capital of Greece, following the War of Independence of the country. The project was extremely ambitious and thorough, so it took 20 years to complete the construction.
The ruins of the Acropolis
From Syntagma Square to the Acropolis you will walk 1.5 km. Considering that you will stop quite often on your way to the archaeological sites, you will probably arrive here in about an hour, especially as you will have to hike many stairs and a steep hill.
The Acropolis ticket costs € 20 in the summer months, while from November 1 to March 31, the price is two times cheaper. Many people confuse the Acropolis with the ruins, but the Acropolis is just the name of the citadel, the fortified chine. The Parthenon is the most admired building on the Acropolis. It was built as a temple for goddess Athena, became a church and later, a mosque. Its impressive columns measure 10 meters in height and are made of marble and limestone, in the unmistakable Doric style.
🔑 Parthenon dimensions: 70 m * 31 m
🎫 ticket for the Acropolis €20 1 April – 31 October; €10 1 November – 31 March
In Greek mythology, Athena was the goddess of wisdom. Originally, it had a dedicated 12-meter high statue inside the Parthenon. Today, although the statue does not exist anymore, you will see it on the explanatory banners around the temple. Approximately 7 million people visit the ruins each year. Which means it gets crowded almost every time. Although the Parthenon is by far the most famous of the Acropolis buildings, there are many more. Among them are Erehteion, the Ionic temple dedicated to the goddess Athena and Poseidon, the god of the sea, Propylaea, the majestic entrance, the Dionysos Theater, etc.
🔑 There is a replica of the Parthenon in Tennessee, USA
The view from the Acropolis
If you have enough time and a physical condition you can rely on, you can choose to admire Athens from the highest point of observation. It’s Lycabettus Hill, 277 meters tall. You have two options to reach its peak. You can either hike through a forest or get the funicular. This is how the hill looks like, as seen from the Acropolis:
Watch: my vlog at the Acropolis.
And you can also see the Temple of Zeus Olympian, also known as Olympieion or the columns of Zeus Olympian. To visit it, you have to go through Adrian’s Arch, another very important landmark. The purpose of the construction was to honor the arrival of Emperor Adrian in Athens.
🔑 Adrian’s Arch is 18 meters tall and is close to the National Garden
Obviously, if you look from the other part of the citadel, you can also see part of the Saronic Gulf or perhaps even the Piraeus Port, which I will surely visit next time when I have time to explore Athens for a longer period.
If it happens to “knock at the gate” of the Acropolis and no one answers, or on the contrary, you find a very long queue, you still have a saving option. Areopagus Hill, located in the immediate vicinity, which offers a very good view of the ruins. Even if you can not visit them, it is a good, free of charge option.
It is said that on this hill, the Apostle Paul spoke to people about Jesus Christ. Areopagus is translated into Ares Hill. Ares is the god of war, the one who murdered the son of Poseidon.
After you’ve taken your lesson of history, it’s time to walk on the most picturesque streets. Fortunately, Plaka, the nicest and oldest neighborhood in Athens, owns the majority and is located very close to the Acropolis, so you will not have to distance too much. Here you will feel like you are on an island in Greece because the atmosphere is unmistakably similar.
🔑 Don’t miss Adrianou Street, the most popular in the Plaka neighborhood.
Since you left the airport anyway, you can’t go back to the boarding gate without a few souvenirs in your backpack. Besides magnets, pillows with traditional motifs and mock-ups of the Acropolis ruins, I recommend you some hand-made olive wood objects. The shop is called Olive House and is located on Adrianou Street, mentioned above.
The furry locals
Not as many as in Istanbul, but at least as sweet and fluffy are the cats of Athens. Fed, respected, cuddled, giggled and admired, the four-paws inhabitants appear on each street of the city. Even if you don’t have any food for them, it is enough to give them a drop of affection and they will instantly reward you with a long cat twirl in gratitude.
The National Gardens
The effort you made in climbing the hills must be alleviated by a relaxing stroll along the shady alleys by the towering palm trees and other tree species in the National Garden. The oasis in the middle of the Greek metropolis is a kind of park combined with a mini zoo and a botanical mini garden, all spread over an area of 24 hectares. What can you see here? Plants, fruit trees, doves, swans, goats, lakes, bridges, benches, canopies and mini caves. And lots of green that will help you get rid of stress and prepare you for your next flight.
⇒ Find all: Hotels in Athens.
🔑 All of the above activities can be made in a layover of at least 9 hours.