A valuable information we would like to share for fellow Singaporeans is that your cheapest gateway to Europe is actually via Athens ($250 one-way in May 2018, Scoot). We would recommend you to book your flights after midnight and skimp on your sleep during the day to survive the ll hrs flight (no in-flight entertainment due to the heavily discounted price).
Athens International Airport is fairly simple to navigate and we found the express train to get us to downtown Athens (opens 6.30am – ll.30pm, €10 one-way) with minimal stress.
We recommend accommodations at Monastiraki or Syntagma area as most of the fun things to do are basically clustered around these areas.
The Athens Metro system is idiot-proof as well and we got to our hotel at the Monastiraki station sooner than expected. We grabbed a Vodafone sim card as we were exiting the Metro. (Note: It is not as convenient to find sim cards in Athens compared to other cities we have been to)
At the hotel lobby, we requested for the top floor. Despite being smaller in size compared to the other rooms which are equally priced, the rooftop gave us a perfect vantage point to the Acropolis for a sunset time lapse. We decided it was wise to pay back a few hours of sleep debt and take it easy on the first day, which was basically strolling along Athina Street.
Day One – Museum Visits
The first place that we would normally go to when visiting a new country, is the museum. It’s vital for us to understand the country’s past, present and future before we decide to embark on its main attractions, in the case of Greece, the Acropolis and all its ancient Greek temples.
There are 5 popular museums to go to in Athens.
1) Acropolis Museum
2) National Archaelogical Museum
3) Benaki Museum
4) Museum of Cycladic Art
5) Byzantine and Christian Museum
To have a rough idea of what collection/artifacts each museum displays, click here.
Since we only have 3 days to see and experience Greece, time is pretty limited. We only have one day which is dedicated to visiting museums. So, we chose these three to best give us a quick insight of Greece.
1) Acropolis Museum
2) National Archaeological Museum
3) Byzantine and Christian Museum
There are plenty to see along the streets of Monastiraki and before we knew it, we found ourselves near the Syntagma Square. We witnessed the changing of parade performed by elite soldiers (held every hour everyday).
We strolled back to our hotel and found the best deal of all – strawberries plucked fresh from the Athenian farms selling at €1 for a lunch-sized paperbag. As we were munching, we strolled past our hotel and since there was still light, we decided to explore the other end of Monastiraki in search of dinner. Food is cheap if you compare it to other parts of Europe but our gut instincts told us we could get a better deal elsewhere.
Things became more interesting but at the same time dodgier, as we walked away from our hotel and the crowded area. A quick google search indicated that we were now in Omonia, a rather notorious part of town. We felt a bit adventurous and pushed on.
We were glad we did because we got to experience one of the the best Kebab in the world. It was the juiciest piece of meat delicacy wrapped in warm crispy dough where every bite just oozes out combustions of flavours. It was so deliciously unbelievable that we had it everyday during our stay in Greece. For only €2.50 to fill up our bellies, this place is highly recommended unless you dislike spicy or greasy food and do not want to take a risk being in Omonia area.
Malik Jee Fast Food Restaurant Sofokleous 47, Athina 105 52, Greece
Day Two – Acropolis, Greek Temples, Lycabettus Hill
Day 2 was all about the main reason why we came to Athens: Acropolis. We got up for breakfast at the earliest timing given by the hotel and set off to buy our 24hr Metro tickets for €4.50. (more info can be found at http://www.athenstransport.com)
We dropped off at Acropolis station and bought the tickets for €20 pax. It sounds a bit steep but take note that it covers the entrance fee for all these sites:
1) Acropolis (inclusive of north and south slopes)
2) Ancient Agora
3) Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos
4) Archaeological Site of Lykeion
5) Hadrian’s Library
7) Museum of the Ancient Agora
9) Roman Agora of Athens
Take note that it is best to arrive early to avoid the tour buses and go via the entrance from the Acropolis Metro station. We rushed up during opening hours so we got to take nice pictures before the whole place was swarming with tourists. Be prepared to reserve a whole day just for exploring Acropolis and the other sites.
Note: The Acropolis Museum ticket is excluded from the above package but it’s not really a must-see attraction as most of the information you need can be found via the Internet.
Despite all the beautiful photographs and high expectations we had prior to visiting Acropolis, the white pillars and architecture exceeded our imagination. Its full grandeur was simply impossible to capture in a mere photograph.
We set off early to take the Metro to the end of the line at Piraeus station for an island day trip.
Note: Most of the tickets will be sold out if you don’t book early especially to Santorini and the Aegean islands.
We booked ferry tickets to an underrated island called Aegina famous for pistachios as all the tickets for Santorini and the Aegean Islands were fully snapped up by the tour agencies. The ferry ride itself was a pleasure (recommended to seat at the back with unblocked sea view where occasional sea sprays and sea birds will accompany you).
Once there, we rented a bike for €15 and had explored Aegina with its quintessential Greek landscapes of of picturesque hills flanked by the cerulean Mediterranean Sea. We returned on the 4pm ferry and reached our hotel before 7pm (not forgetting to have another another bite of Malik Jee kebab). Next day we went back to the airport at dawn feeling hyped up for our next destination – EGYPT.
TIPS FOR ATHENS
- Beat the crowd at Acropolis by using the south east entrance instead of the west entrance. The tour buses will drop the tourists at the west entrance. There’s no queue at the south entrance.
- It’s not going to be a peaceful walk around this historic site. There will be construction going on.
- Come either when the gates open or in the afternoon around 5pm. You’ll have the place mostly to yourself. Great time to shoot videos with the last rays of sunlight before the sun sets.
- Some of the marbled foot paths are uneven and have smooth surfaces. So wear shoes that has friction or a good grip on the soles, so that you won’t slip.
- Check the closing times of some of the attractions. Some close early during winter.
- Sunscreen, sunglasses and water
- TaxiBeat App, popular in Athens which you can use to book taxi
Day Three – Meteora or Santorini
We are torn between Meteora and Santorini.
Santorini, regarded as the most beautiful Greek island, is one of the MUST-see romantic places. Every Facebook albums of friends who have been to Greece, will definitely have photos of them with the mix of towering cliffs, inky waters of the Aegean Sea and its signature blue and whitewashed painted buildings. Santorini is definitely one of the perfect choices for honeymoon places.
Meteora, on the other hand….
I’m just lost for words right now.
…and so we picked Meteora.
Getting a train from Athens to Meteora
Pro-tip: Go to this link to purchase your tickets from Larissa station in Athens to Kalambaka. There is a direct route from Athens to Kalambaka which saves ALOT of time. If you get on a direct train, you won’t have to worry about getting off at the right station. Kalambaka will be the last station.
- From wherever you are in Athens, take the Metro and alight at Larissa Station, which is the central train station of Greece.
- At Larissa station, take the train to Kalambaka, which is the city below Meteora. Kalambaka is where you can find alot of hotels and eateries.