Last year, I took the risk, and travelled to Greece for a partial holiday, and then I worked remotely afterwards. See my blog post on how I travelled to Greece during COVID here. One of the reasons I choose Greece was because I read that if there was a time to travel there it would be now. There aren’t a lot of tourists so I would get to experience the sites with barely anyone around. And they were right. My other reason was that Greece had done such a great job at reducing its COVID numbers that it is one of the safer countries to visit.
I decided not to go to the islands because I was still weary of getting on a boat for several hours (cesspool of germs). I also wanted a clear path to an airport in case they were closing borders. And finally, if I did get sick, I wanted to be near hospitals. I really didn’t know how the level of medical staff and practices on an island and didn’t want to take that risk.
So, I mostly stayed in Athens and travelled around the region. Because I became very familiar with the city, and during a very unique time in history, I wanted to share my top ten sites to see in Athens during COVID.
If you, like me, had to study ancient Greek architecture, the Acropolis is an iconic site that is still influencing design and architecture to this very day. It was number one on my list of things to see. Apparently, in the past (pre-COVID) you had to wait in long lines, get your ticket days in advance and have to battle many buses filled with tourists. Because I went during COVID, I literally walked up to the ticket booth, got tickets, found a guide and was able to experience the site with barely anyone around.
Tip: Wear a hat, comfortable shoes and bring lots of water. There aren’t a lot of areas for shade and places where you can sit down, people are already resting there.
After you finish visiting the Acropolis this is a simple area to visit that is right at the base of the hill. It is an old historic town with many narrow labyrinthine streets and neoclassical architecture. Plaka is built on top of the residential areas of the ancient town of Athens. It is known as the “Neighborhood of the Gods” due to its proximity to the Acropolis and its many archaeological sites. I
Tip: Here you will be able to get a lot of souvenirs and find great places to dine
Like any destination in most cities, a visit to the local market is a must. It is slip into sections – seafood, meat, fruit and spices. What I learned is that people still buy from their trusted butcher. Relationships still matter in the market. Stay tuned for my Athens Food Tour post where I talk in more detail about the market.
Tip: Look for some rare finds, I saw a shark on display!
4. Little Kook: Mary Poppins
Now, this is a hidden gem! Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets is this Instagramable moment. The decoration has drawn inspiration from the stories Alice in Wonderland, Mary Poppins, Cinderella, and some Halloween creatures. I will be honest, I didn’t try any of the cakes because I was looking for some authentic Greek cuisine on my visit.
Tip: If you are traveling with children this is a great stop on the tour
5. Monastiraki square
This is just a few blocks from the market so it’s an easy site to check off the list. Also, it’s outside:) What I enjoy about this view is that you can see Greek, Roman and Byzantine architecture on one site. Here you are in the heart of one of the major tourist attractions in Athens. You can visit the local flea market. Visit the Roman Agora and Hadrian Library which are close by. Or just walk around and get lost in the sites.
Tip: Buy a discovery pass to the local sites, you will save money in the long run
I know visiting an ancient cemetery and potter’s quarter doesn’t sound that appealing but there are great large-scale sculptures made for “rich regular” folk than the gods. It also gives you a sense of the scale of the type of neighborhoods that used to exist. This site also has shade, places to sit, a public restroom and is part of the discovery pass.
Tip: Visit the museum where you will see the most extensive collection of burial-related artifacts in Greece
7. Chapel St. George
Now, if you want to see the best panoramic view of the city make your way here. There are two options to get to the top. You can walk/climb your way up. Or you can take the trolly up. It really gives you perspective on the urban development of the city and how the Acropolis sits mighty on top of its hill. Apparently, it’s illegal to build another that will obstructive the view of the Acropolis which is why you can see the city sprawled out with low to mid-rise buildings.
Tip: Book dinner at the restaurant. It’s expensive but worth it
From one amazing view to another. I was told by a local to go to the Hilton and have a drink. Well, I had more than just one lol. When I tried to order ouzo, I learned that it is actually something you sip with your meal. They gave me shots anyways, now that’s Greek hospitality!
Tip: Dress to impress, this is a classy joint
9. Panathenaic Stadium
If you are into sports, this stop is a must. This is where the very first Olympics where held. It is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. The stadium held the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1896 Olympics and was the venue for 4 of the 9 contested sports. It was used for various purposes in the 20th century and was once again used as an Olympic venue in 2004. It is the finishing point for the annual Athens Classic Marathon. It is also the last venue in Greece from where the Olympic flame handover ceremony to the host nation takes place.
Tip: You don’t need to really pay to go inside, you can get a pretty good view from the outside
10. Acropolis museum
So, we began with the Acropolis and we’ll end with it. When you are surrounded by ancient architecture, it’s a breath of fresh air to see something modern. Designed by Bernard Tschumi the building revolves around three concepts: light, movement, and a tectonic and programmatic element. Together these characteristics “turn the constraints of the site into an architectural opportunity, offering a simple and precise museum” with the mathematical and conceptual clarity of ancient Greek buildings.
Something I learned when I was in Greece is that they preserve all the treasures of a site by building a museum to house them all. So after you visit the Acropolis, come here to see all the sculptures in remarkable condition.
Tip: Go to the top level where all the friezes for the Acropolis are on display. The size and craftsmanship is truly incredible