Sometimes I get lucky when I travel. This morning, for instance. I’m walking down the street in Athens and I suddenly find myself entering the famous Syntagma Square just as the weekly changing of the guard ceremony begins. Suddenly the quiet space fills with the sounds of the marching band and the colors of traditional Greek military uniforms. It’s a good thing I’ve found myself here, because with only 24 hours in Athens the probability wasn’t high.
24 Hours in Athens
After watching the changing of the guard ceremony in Athens, I head deeper into the city center to see more of the sights. I haven’t been here since I was 14, so the Greek capital might as well be new to me.
Thankfully I’m here with a friend who has traveled here more recently, and she leads me to the Plaka, a maze of markets and shops in narrow streets that line the ancient ruins dotted throughout the city.
We let our senses be dazzled by the sights of blue Greek eyes and scents of fresh soaps and olive oils, ducking into chic shops like Forget Me Not to browse the design-led souvenirs that rise above the tourist tat.
When sensory overload takes its toll, we stop for a tea break at Off White, a cafe near the ancient Agora. Its funky furniture and range of loose-leaf teas served in Japanese pots make for a great atmosphere to relax in. By the time we’re done sipping our infusions and taking advantage of the WiFi, we’re ready to explore some more.
We walk over to the Acropolis Museum, which opened in 2009 and replaced the rather tired old museum I visited as a teenager.
The new museum is sleek and state-of-the-art, with beautiful open spaces displaying the antiquities of the Acropolis (or copies of the originals that sit back home in the British Museum—awkward). I love the design almost as much as the sculptures and statues, and I adore the fact that the outdoor cafe on the terrace has views of the Acropolis above.
After visiting the museum we head down the street for lunch at one of the many restaurants in the area. Cafe Eris has an outdoor table with our name on it, and we settle in for a lunch of moussaka and Greek salad as the flag on the Acropolis waves its white and blue stripes above us. It’s a decently good meal for such a touristy area, and gives us energy to take further advantage of our 24 hours in Athens.
We walk over to admire Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, then escape into nature in the National Gardens. Lush and green, their big leaves form canopies over the earthen paths and pretty ponds.
Soon an avenue lined with the most beautiful purple flowering trees leads us to the pretty Zappeion exhibition center and up to Kolonaki, one of the most chi chi neighborhoods in Athens.
We walk through the narrow tree-lined streets, window shopping at the many florists and wine shops, and making a mental note of the sweet cafes and chic restaurants on Karneadou Street.
At the end of day we make the mandatory pilgrimage to the Acropolis. It’s the main event in Athens, and no trip to the city would be complete without visiting.
We follow the path up to the top of the hill, the ruins of the Parthenon looming ever larger as we approach.
Once there, we climb the steps and take in the ruins, marveling at the history and the expansive views of the city below.
Next to the Parthenon, which is under scaffolding, the Erechtheum steals the show with its beautiful caryatids, the originals of which we saw up close in the museum earlier (apart from the one in the British Museum—again, awkward).
It’s magical here, and we’re glad we’ve come late in the day when the crowds are thin and the light nice for photography.
I’m happy to have ended my day in the Greek capital on a high note—both literally and figuratively. There’s a lot more to do and see here than I’ve had time for in just a day, but 24 hours in Athens have given me a chance to see the city’s main attractions and—luckily—some of its special highlights.
Have you been to Athens? What were your favorite parts of the city?