3 Days in Athens

I’d argue that three days in one city could never be enough. But sometimes it’s all we’ve got so let’s make them count people!! For us it was actually more like one full day and two half days. SO this is what we made of it:

TRANSPORTATION FROM THE AIRPORT

We arrived in Athens exhausted after a LONG travel day. After navigating our way to the train stop in the airport, we spent several minutes contemplating the best way to get to the city. The airport is the end of the metro line and turns out, there’s a flat “airport rate” that makes it quite a bit more expensive to ride from the airport all the way into the city compared to what it would normally cost per stop–go figure. We paid for the extra fare and found our way onto the train. It was crowded but well maintained and relatively comfortable. We made it to our stop and got lost in search of our hotel. I’m one of those people that thoroughly enjoys being lost in foreign cities (at least during the daylight hours)–it’s so fun to stumble upon cute corners and hole-in-the-wall restaurants!

FOOD

Speaking of hole-in-the-wall restaurants! One of the most memorable experiences we had in Athens was a little place called Ambrosia – located at Drakou 3, Athina 117 42 (view on Google maps). It’s the tiniest little place right on the side of the street, but the food was phenomenal. I recommend the souvlaki and gyros and the house wine! We had two full meals, appetizers, and two pitchers of wine for only about €22!! We were so happy with the quality and value that we became return customers 🙂

SITES

The casual juxtaposition of ancient ruins and modern city life was surprising to me! Tourists walk around blindly in awe of the dilapidated temples while locals zoom around on motor bikes as if they see 2500-year-old structures everyday (oh duh, they do). I got ambitious with the sites and purchased the multi-site ticket (€30 each) — oops. We fit in the Parthenon, Odeon of Herodes Atticus (all contained within Acropolis), the Temple of Zeus, and the Arch of Hadrian. We could have done all of that for about €20 if we had bought individual tickets. I also highly recommend the Acropolis museum – €5 per person for entry. If you are a serious history buff, you could definitely squeeze more sites into a 2-3 day period. But fair warning: the popular temples are CROWDED. We were there in May – the beginning of the busy season – and the city was just mobbed with people. Walking up the hill to the Parthenon was like a zombie shuffle… everyone puts one foot in front of the other as you follow the body ahead of you. The crowds proved exhausting and definitely slowed us down a bit overall. We continued to use the metro and foot travel throughout our stay in Athens – you definitely don’t need to rent a car or even use cabs if you stay within the city! The metro was safe, efficient, and inexpensive.

LODGING

This trip was several months before we began our backpacking adventure, back when we both had jobs, apartments, and normal income streams. We stayed at the Athenian Callirhoe hotel. It’s a nice mid-range option but if we were in full backpacker mode, we probably would have stayed in a hostel. Let me know if you have any good hostel recommendations for when I inevitably return to Greece! Opa 😉

Santorini

I have a thing for islands (having been raised on one – shoutout to Kent Island!). I also have a thing for history, And cliffs. And white and blue buildings. And The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. Basically Santorini is my dream spot. I fell in love with the spirit of the place and the pure aesthetic GOLD that draws photographers and other artists from the corners of the world. Read on for breakdown of my recommendations and other musings: 

HOW TO GET THERE

You have two options: plane or boat. Flights from Athens are relatively cheap – Ryanair tickets seem to range from $40-100 USD, depending on the season. And ferries are plentiful, ranging in price and speed. We paid about $45 USD per ticket on Blue Star ferries, which was around a 7 hour journey. The upside of taking the ferry is that there are several ferry options each day and you don’t necessarily need to book in advance! In the off season, there are few people and plenty of open seats. And in the busy season, there are many many people which means plenty of ferries. We booked our ticket one day in advance through a local travel agency. We probably paid a little bit extra by going through the agency, so try booking directly from the ferry company (Blue Star, Hellenic Seaways, etc.) for the best fare! You can check the ferry schedule here. We wanted to experience BOTH so we flew into Santorini from Athens via Ryanair and departed via a Blue Star ferry. I would say that the flight is the better value overall, but in order to get the good rates, you have to accommodate the rigid airline schedule. The cheaper flights are either very early in the morning or very late in the evening. If you have plenty of time, or are looking for a more relaxed experience, take the ferry! If you are busily rushing to the next destination and trying to save time, take a plane!

WALK TO OIA

We stayed for only four days but I could have been there for weeks exploring. I highly recommend the 10km walk from Fira to Oia (pronounced ee-ya). The hike takes you through several villages and up into a more rural mountainside. It is strenuous because of its length but you certainly don’t need to be an Olympic athlete to complete it. I made the trek solo and enjoyed the 360 degree AMAZING views. The island is crescent-shaped, so if you get to the higher elevations, you see water on all sides. The most beautiful blue water for mile and miles. When you get to Oia, there are lots of spots to shop and dine, but it is certainly the most touristy spot on the island, and therefore the priciest. My favorite village on the island was Firostefani – it felt authentic and yet had lots of accommodations for tourists. We stayed there at the Ira Hotel & Spa and I can’t recommend it enough. The view is unrivaled. Our “room” was actually a little white cave – ancient Greek islanders lived in caves for their durability and shelter from the hot sun!

SAILING CRUISE

Another must do in Santorini is a catamaran cruise. There are dozens of companies that provide the service but we chose Caldera Yachting because they had an affiliation with our particular hotel. My understanding is that all of the companies provide a very similar experience. Let me repeat: you MUST do this. It is 100% worth the money. We payed somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 euro per person. It felt like a lot when we paid, but we absolutely got our money’s worth. A Caldera employee picked us up from our hotel and delivered us to the marina, where we met our crew and our boat. The crew were all the friendliest local Greek people – they were truly fantastic. They took us around to the main sites (Red Beach, White Beach, Black Beach, etc.) and allowed us to jump in and swim around at each of the sites! We were there in April and the water was COLD! But who wants to be that person who didn’t swim in the Aegean because it was “cold” ? Not me! If you’re less brave, only jump in near the hot springs as they are more bearable :). Toward the end of the cruise, we anchored for lunch – an athentic Greek meal prepared right on the boat! The food was phenomenal. Oh and did I mention the unlimited wine? Yep! And Santorini wine is wonderful. Are you starting to see why I liked the cruise so much?? Hehe. 

OTHER THINGS TO DO

We also visited the Akrotiri archaeological site and museum – it was certainly worth the price of the ticket but we didn’t splurge for a guided tour. But I think we would have gotten more out of the experience with a guide. I recommend renting a car when on the island – parking can be tough but having the car was definitely cheaper than paying for taxis or Ubers everyday. Plus driving around in a little Isuzu Amigo (tiny 2-door SUV with a removable soft top) felt so islandy! We affectionately named it Taco :). Having that car allowed us to spend time just exploring the island! We drove around to all the little villages, scoping out vineyards and hidden streets.

BOTTOM LINE: GO TO SANTORINI

This place has found a spot near the top of my “favorite places ever” list and I would absolutely go back! It is gorgeous and charming and I think any type of person could find things to do here – weather you like history, food (did I mention Greek food is astonishingly great?), hiking, beach going, boating…. Just go check it out and see what I mean ;). The only possible downside of the place is that it is SO well-known and SO touristy, but honestly, I loved the challenge of finding places off the beaten path! You just have to get out and explore.