The Cradle of Civilization

You probably learned a plethora of information about Athens and the Greeks in your middle school classroom.  In fact, you may have been subjected to me talking about Athens and the Greeks, either in a classroom or informally.  With good reason, mind you: the Athenians, are, according to all Western civilizations, all that and a bag of pita chips. But you may have some questions, such as “How long should I stay in Athens?  What sites in Athens should I see?”  This post will help you plan your next trip to the birthplace of democracy.

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Mount Lycabettus

How long should I stay in Athens?

Whether or not you are a history buff, if you make the trip to Greece, Athens should be on your to-do lists.  You may be surprised, however, to hear a history enthusiast such as myself recommend that you stay in Athens for only a few days.  Why?  While ruins are all the rage in Athens, you can cover the most pertinent of said crumbling buildings in 48-72 hours, reserving the rest of your stay  for time in smaller villages and islands, where you will find the real Greece.  Athens is big, crowded, and hot.  In the summer, the sun beats down on you.  It reflects off the asphalt and indirectly beats up on you.  If the sun could beat sideways on you, it does in Athens.  Did I mention that it’s hot?   All that asphalt and marble makes you feel like you’re in a pizza oven.

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The Temple of Hephaestus; the sun

What sites in Athens should I see?

Here’s where I can share some personal recommendations and experiences.  I highly recommend purchasing the Acropolis Pass.  This will allow you to see several sites (the Acropolis, the Agora, Hadrian’s Library, and several other sites and museums) for 12 euros.  You will have history coming out of your ears by the time you get through with these sites (we didn’t even see half of it) and that will hold you over for a few days.

The Acropolis

Your main destination, history-wise, should be the Acropolis.  The “high city” of the Athenians housed their most important temples and buildings, and also served as a protection in case of invaders (ever play king of the mountain and you’re the guy on the top?).  Housing the Erechtheion, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Propylaea, and most importantly, the Parthenon, the Acropolis has plenty to see for serious and casual fans of history and humanity.

Coincidentally, we ran into two students from Montclair State University, which is just 25 minutes from our home in Edgewater, New Jersey.  They took a picture for us in front of the Parthenon.

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Jolyn and I in front of the Parthenon

We really enjoyed the Acropolis, especially because we got to see so much on that one hill.  Additionally, it’s hard to beat the view of Athens from way up high.

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When you go to the Parthenon, you likely will approach from one of its main gates.  We suggest that you take the long way.  On our way from the Plaka neighborhood (where we were staying), we took a wrong turn or two and unexpectedly ended up taking a side road up the the Acropolis.  The side road turned out to be a charming neighborhood called Anafiotika.  We found Anafiotika to be particularly amazing because it was somehow devoid of all the crowds and bustle of the rest of Athens.  It was like we miraculously stepped out of Athens and on to a tiny Greek isle.  Nestled at the foot of the Acropolis, Anafiotika is certainly a hidden gem worth checking out.  Only 45 houses remain in the neighborhood (part of the neighborhood was destroyed in the 1950s for archaeological research), so it must be prime property in this day and age.  If I lived in Athens, this is where I would want to be!  Somehow, it looks like I took remarkably few photos of such a cool site; next time I’m in Athens, I will devote more digital film to the endeavor.

There’s so much more to see in Athens, though.  Tune in next time to check out our other recommendations.

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