Even though traveling is most often exciting, visiting a new country can be a daunting experience, especially when said country is so far away from home and so different from our own.
I love traveling, it is how I like to spend my money and my time and also how I feel I can learn the most; the premise of immersing myself in other cultures and meeting people from around the world always make my heart happy.
Recently, I had the opportunity of traveling to Greece; it was one of the countries on my destination bucket list, as well as Olivia’s, so it was the perfect spot for her celebratory “quinceañera” trip (for us Hispanics, girls turning 15 is a big deal!). I was happy to hear Olivia was opting for a trip instead of a big party and both the planning and execution of her dream trip were equally thrilling.
Greece is a great place to visit, it’s a diverse country with so much history, the perfect place to learn about the world’s past or to simply go and relax on a beach at one of its many dreamy islands. This time we chose to visit Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini, three of the most popular destinations in Greece. All places had their charm and we made the best memories in each of them.
I will recount some of my observations and recommendations for each of the places we visited in Greece. This post is focused on Athens, the first city we visited during this amazing trip.
As Greece’s capital and largest city, Athens is definitely an attractive destination even though many people would argue that “it’s only worth 2-3 days” out of your visit to this amazing country. Considering I usually favor city vacations over beach ones, this was my favorite place in Greece. We stayed in the center of Athens a few minutes away from the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and the Ancient Agora. Just like most European cities, Athens is chaotic; it is fast-paced, busy, and very dense. It is generally a safe place but locals always warn tourists of pickpocketers and petty crime so it’s always worth keeping an eye out for these dangers.
My favorite things about Athens were:
- The history: visiting the ancient sites was incredibly satisfying. The thought of walking around places that are thousands of years old is mind-blowing as was reading about the history of the city itself. Most of the ancient sites are carefully preserved and managed, which makes for a great immersive experience for anyone who visits. My favorites were the Acropolis and the Museum of Acropolis, which features an amazing view of the Parthenon.
- Things are generally inexpensive: food, souvenirs, transportation, and most things are generally inexpensive in the city. Tourist sites are reasonably priced and inviting, and attraction ticket costs averaged about 10 euros or less.
- The ease of navigation: moving around in the city is very easy; there are tons of tour buses (Hop On/Hop Off), taxis, and metro, and the streets are very walker friendly with great signaling and easy sidewalk access. We took the City Sightseeing bus for a couple of days and were able to go around most of the city with the multiple routes offered by this bus (highly recommended); definitely a great way to see the city in a short amount of time.
My recommendations for anyone thinking of visiting Athens:
- Book your airport/port transfer in advance: the airport/port is fairly far from the city center so transportation to and from these spots can be very tricky. Don’t fall for the airport taxi trap, it is so much easier to have someone waiting for you at the airport instead of scrambling to find a ride and it is most likely cheaper too!
- Have cash in hand: many places in Athens don’t accept credit cards so I recommend withdrawing some cash from an ATM before venturing out into the city. Avoid the airport ATM machines at all costs; their exchange rates are the least favorable and their fees are insane too.
- Plan your days: even though it’s fairly easy to move around in Athens, some of the points of interest are very far apart so planning your days will help you use your time more wisely and see as many things as possible. I always use Visit-a-City as a starting point to plan my days around the cities I visit for the first time.
- Wear comfortable/safe shoes: I found myself tripping and slipping multiple times on the streets of Athens, especially when climbing up the stairs to the Acropolis. The streets are cobbled and very slippery and walks are usually very steep so I recommend wearing comfortable shoes that have a good grip; it can be very dangerous to walk the streets of Athens in shoes that aren’t appropriate. Remember, comfort over fashion!
- 3 days is more than enough: if you’re passing through Athens on your way to visit some of the Greek islands, 3 days is a good amount of time to get to know most of the city. You’ll get to visit all of Athen’s highlights in 3 days and will definitely get a taste of the Greek culture. Of course, if your interest lies in deepening your knowledge and understanding of Athens' ancient history, staying longer than 3 days is also great!