Arrived in Athens at 4pm, took the Metro from the train over to our hotel (Evangelismos), walked 3 blocks over and checked into the Athens Hilton (thank you Hilton Honors Points!), where we had a direct view of the Parthenon from our balcony.
After freshening up, we headed up via funicular to the restaurant with the coolest view in Athens, perched atop Lycabettus hill. The restaurant’s food was pretty good (this is where we first discovered Greek wine – their whites are lovely!), but the view was outstanding! Take a thin sweater if you go in the evening (better view then) because it does get drafty.
Woke up early and started walking eastward towards the Acropolis. We just wandered without paying too much attention to the map, so we ended up in a couple cool neighborhoods (Syntagma, Kolonaki, etc.) that had charming tabernas (restaurants) and coffee shops and wine bars.
We eventually figured out that we were going SW, which was cool because we ended up right next to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which is a major attraction. It’s a little worse for wear, but you can still imagine what it must have looked like thousands of years ago. TIP: Buy the all-inclusive entrance ticket, which is good for a week, and will get you into all the major attractions.
We ended up walking in to the Plaka pedestrian area, which is cool for souvenir shopping (at tourist prices, of course) and eating and we decided to have lunch here (gyro…mmmmm). With our bellies full and our fluids replenished, we made our way to the Acropolis.
Plan to spend about 3-4 hours wandering around here if you’re a culture/history buff. Also do your best to get here earlier in the day than we did, since it gets pretty full with tourists over the course of the day, and it gets pretty hot around mid-day. Also, bring good walking shoes as you’ll do quite a bit of climbing up steep walkways to get up to the top of the hill.
We started out at the Temple of Dionysus, wandered through it all up to the Parthenon proper, and then came back down through Ancient Agora, stopping for pictures at the Temple of Hephaestus. TIP: Don’t wander alone through the trees in the Areopagus area – we did and accidentally interrupted a pot deal…cannabis baggie exposed, replete in all its glory.
Afterward, we were all cultured out, so we made a half-hearted attempt at walking through the Roman Agora before giving up and heading off to dinner in Monastiraki. We ended our day wandering back through the shops in Plaka before heading over to the Metro station and going home around 11pm.
We woke up fairly late (and dehydrated), so we headed straight for the National Archeological Museum and had breakfast around there.
Sadly, we only had about 2-3 hours there since we’re both museum buffs and there was SOOOOOOO much to see. If you’re into lots of artifacts from the ancient world, and enjoy reading the placards, then I suggest planning a full day here…otherwise, it is possible to rush through in 2~3 hours, although I would not recommend it. High points here were…well…legion. Seriously, you NEED to go here.
We unfortunately ran out of time, and had to run back to our hotel to get our bags so that we could take the Metro over to the Piraeus pier to grab our boat. We upgraded to business class (cuz I felt like it, darn it) and enjoyed the 5 hour ride out to Santorini. You can get there a lot quicker by plane, but I’ve always wanted to take a boat through the Aegean, so we went for it. The boat left on time, but somehow arrived a couple hours late. Also, the Aegean is named after the waves propensity to jump like goats, so that should give you an idea of what to expect of the ride. We arrived at the pier in Fira (AKA Thira), where our pre-arranged ride for the cave hotel was waiting for us.
Not sure if you’ve ever been to Santorini before, but the cave hotels are basically hotels that are built into the sides of the cliffs overlooking the relatively inactive volcano crater (caldera). The views are spectacular, and the sunsets will stay with you forever.
They’re a little on the pricey side, but I think they’re totally worth it. Our hotel was the Regina Mare, which was pretty decent and had great service. I wouldn’t expect more than 3.5 stars at any of these caldera hotels, but they nearly get by on charm alone.
We ended up going with Imerovigli, which is half way between the two major towns on the island (Fira and Oia). We chose it because it is fairly close to both, but not nearly as touristy and much quieter – you can actually hear the waves at night as opposed to the various boatloads (literally) of people coming and going from the major cities.
If you’re looking for nightlife, then you might want to stay at Fira. If you’re looking for more rustic charm and more restaurants, stay at Oia. If you’re looking for peace and beauty, stay at Imerovigli.
For dinner, we headed over to a local restaurant (take that with a grain of salt) that was pretty close to the hotel. The food was great and the local Santorini wine was fantastic.
We just basically wandered around Fira and enjoyed the general ambience of the place. We enjoyed various meals at various places (can’t recall them off the top of my head) and then went home and called it a night.
We decided to rent a car and head out to explore the beaches. Renting the car was a good move since the bus and taxi systems are unreliable and sporadic at best (apparently pretty typical for Greece). Looking for the beaches…well…let’s put it this way. If you’re expecting broad sandy beaches with warm waves of blue water washing over you, at least you’ll be happy that it’s blue. Santorini was formed through volcanic activity, and its original round shape was devastated a long, long time ago, resulting in its current crescent + point shape today.
This resulted in the formation of spectacular landscapes and beautiful cliffs, coastlines, and beaches. The bad news is that the beaches are all made of stone. The Black Beach has scorching hot black stones. The Red Beach requires navigation across the cliffs of insanity, and the White Beach requires an off-roading experience to reach. The waters are all crystal clear since there is no sand to be seen anywhere. The waters are also very, very cold for some inexplicable reason.
I got a kick out of the drive and the adventure of getting around. It was cool passing through the vineyards full of lazy grapevines (they sprawl on the ground, vines akimbo vs. having posts to follow) – try to make some time for a winery if time permits. We also accidentally ended up driving up an insane mountain towards a place called Ancient Thira – the roads are 1 to 1.5 lanes wide, which makes it extra fun when you’re trying to get around the vans containing tourists. I’d advise against going here unless you like literally living on the edge.
After spending the day in search of and ultimately hanging out at a beach, we headed home to watch an amazing sunset from our terrace, freshen up, drop off the rental car, and then we headed up to Oia for dinner at what is purported to be the best restaurant on the island. This was GLORIOUS – words cannot describe how good this was. It was pretty darn expensive, but it was also our last night in Greece, so we just went for it. You also NEED to go here if you visit. Afterward, we staggered back home (after waiting 45 minutes for a taxi to show up) and finished packing before we crashed for the night.
Woke up at around 4:30am and had a tiny little bit of breakfast on our terrace (we were too full to eat it all, but the hotel had packed us a nice breakfast the night before and left it in our room). We cleared out of the hotel and headed to the airport and managed to catch the sunrise over the east coast. Our flight took off at 6:30am, and thus ended a great (albeit far too short) vacation in Greece.