Every year in late spring the Whitehead family go away together. I’m talking the whole family – parents, siblings, aunt & uncle, cousins, and everyone’s partners. We’ve now reached 13 people on these trips, which makes finding accommodation a challenge. Not to mention finding a destination that’s affordable and convenient for both us and for my cousin Tom and his wife Gabbi who live in Jordan. Greece ticked all those boxes for us!
Last year we went to Cyprus, which was great, but you know what? I think Greece was even better. Not only was our villa perfect (actually two villas smushed together), with an awesome pool, outdoor seating area and incredible views, but there was so much to do! If you find yourself in Attica, you should be adding these items to your holiday to do list.
1. Watch the sun set
The previously mentioned incredible view of the sea and the mountains beyond was a definite highlight of our trip. Every evening as the sun crept towards the horizon, we were treated to an absolute masterpiece performance. Well done, nature.
2. Eat gelato every day
Who knew Greek gelato was so bloody great? Not me. And easily the best gelato we enjoyed all week was from Siropi in Palaia Fokaia. After a poll of the group the most popular flavours were pistachio, chocolate & cherry, and banoffee pie.
3. Catch the metro into Athens
The best way to travel into the city centre is to drive to the end of one of Athens’ metro lines and get the train in. If you need to drive into the centre for some reason, make sure you park in a private car park.
There are a few metro stations you can choose. Acropoli is the closest to the Acropolis, Thissio has the most scenic walk into town, or Monastiraki lands you right in the main square.
4. Explore the streets of Plaka
Plaka is the Old Town of Athens. This leafy, hillside district is woven with cobbled streets and dotted with tiny churches and trendy cafes which spill onto the steps.
5. Visit a Greek yoghurt bar
There are quite a lot of these around, but the recommendation from Mike Whitehead himself is Chandlier, where you can choose your flavour of yoghurt and all kinds of toppings from nuts, fruit and granola to different types of honey.
6. Get customised sandals
If you head down Ermou to Agias Theklas you’ll find Melissino’s, “The Poet Sandal Maker”, where you can have your own customised sandals made. If you get there early enough you can pick them up the same day!
7. Watch the changing of the guards at Hellenic Parliament
If you’re the sort of person who goes to Buckingham Palace when you’re in London, head to the Hellenic Parliament in Athens to watch their own changing of the guards – and try to make them smile! (Dad couldn’t manage it.)
8. Ogle at the Panathenaic Stadium
The Panathenaic Stadium was originally built in 330 BC, rebuilt in marble in 144 AD and excavated in 1869. After being refurbished, it hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896, and again in 2004. It is the finishing point for the Athens Marathon, and the location of the Olympic flame handover ceremony to Greece as the host nation. It is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. It’s massive.
9. Walk through Hadrian’s Arch
The Arch of Hadrian or Hadrian’s Gate originally spanned the road from the centre of Ancient Athens to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. No one really knows when it was built, who commissioned it, or what it represents. Hadrian is definitely involved in some way.
10. Check out the Temple of Olympian Zeus
This enormous temple was originally made up of 104 colossal columns and housed the largest cult statue in the ancient world. It took 600 years to build, starting in the 6th century BC, and was pillaged only 100 years after completion. Falling into disuse, it was never repaired – but 16 columns are still standing today! I think that’s pretty amazing.
11. Order souvlaki from Kosta’s
You’ll find this place on pretty much every foodie post about Athens. Kostas (κωστα) is the go-to Souvlaki joint, as the queue of locals will demonstrate. Souvlaki are basically meat skewers, which you can get still on the skewer or in a pitta, with fresh tomatoes, onions, lettuce, tons of herbs and sauce. To enjoy the local way, order two pittas with chips.
12. Indulge in some deep fried dough balls
Turns out Athenians love dessert! There are gelaterias and doughnut shops everywhere, but Lukumades is the place to go. Fried dough balls topped with sprinkles (icing sugar, cinnamon, etc) or filled with chocolate or cream are the speciality. We had ours filled with chocolate praline, with enough in a punnet to feed the whole group as the perfect side to iced coffees.
13. Drink iced coffee
You can’t go to Greece without a daily stop for an iced coffee. If you’re visiting the city during a warm season it will be a welcome break from the sun and a much-needed refreshing pick-me-up. We enjoyed ours alongside the delicious dough balls from Lukumades.
14. Check out the Ancient Agora
Originally a commercial gathering place, the Ancient Agora of Classical Athens is the best example of an ancient Agora known in Greece today. The Temple of Hephaestus is the largest building, which you can see from on top of the acropolis, nestled amongst the surrounding greenery.
15. Check out the Roman Forum
If you’ve been to Rome then the Roman Agora in Athens will look familiar, built in the 1st century BC during the reign of Julius Caesar. The entrance sits on the western end where you’ll see the Gate of Athena Archegetis. The most famous monument in the agora is the eight-sided Tower of the Winds. This sundial, water clock and weathervane was also built in the 1st century BC by astronomers.
16. Visit the Acropolis Museum
A ticket into the Acropolis Museum will set you back 10 euros each, but it’s worth it to fully appreciate the Acropolis itself. Inside you’ll find excavated objects that ancient Athenians used in everyday life, sculptures from archaic temples, and on the 3rd floor, the Parthenon gallery.
This is where you can view the frieze of the Parthenon, put together with exactly the same dimensions as the cella of the Parthenon. This means you can walk around the 3rd floor and get a sense of the narrative of the story of the Panathenaic Procession. The frieze has been pieced together with a combination of the original blocks and cast copies of the bits that are in other museums like the British Museum and the Louvre.
17. Find a tortoise
You can find this guy wondering around the dry grass and rocks on the climb up to the Acropolis. He’s clearly old and very sturdy, but nevertheless probably best to look and not touch.
18. Check out the Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Built in 161 AD, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus on the side of the acropolis was refurbished in 1950 and still functions today as a theatre and concert venue! Previous performers include Frank Sinatra, Pavarotti, Sting, Elton John, Patti Smith and the Foo Fighters.
19. Walk through the Propylaea
When you get to the top of the hill you’ll see your first columns – this is the Propylaea, which basically means “entrance” in Greek, but the entrance to the Acropolis is the most famous Propylaea.
Fun fact: It inspired the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin!
20. See the whole of Athens from the Acropolis
The Acropolis can be seen from all over Athens, and it’s the one thing you can’t miss on your visit. This ancient citadel sits on top of a rocky hill, proudly displaying the remains of some seriously old buildings.
Head to the flagpole at the eastern end of the Acropolis to get what has to be the best view over the city. I for one hadn’t truly appreciated the size of Athens, and found it breathtaking to see the extent of this metropolis sprawled between the hillsides.
21. Check out the Parthanon and the Erechtheion
The Parthenon is the biggest building still standing on the Acropolis. Don’t be surprised to find it at least partially covered in scaffolding. This monument needs some serious upkeep, and there’s a lot of repairs going on from a botched restoration attempt done in the early 1900s.
There isn’t really that much information given once you’re up there, so to truly appreciate the historical significance, watch this documentary – The Secrets of the Parthenon.
22. Climb Areopagus Hill
As you exit the ticketed area of the Acropolis, don’t miss the unassuming rocky outcrop to your right. This is Areopagus Hill, or Ares Rock, a mythologically significant rock where the Apostle Paul is said to have delivered his speech from the book of Acts.
Top tip: The steps carved into the rock are really slippery and dangerous – go for the metal stairs instead.
23. Cool off with some granita
On your way down from the Acropolis you might be craving something to cool off – it’s hot up there! This is when you want to head to the most colourful cafe in town – Klepsidra. Hidden on the stone steps of Plaka, this cafe is surrounded by brightly painted houses, and climbing plants. Obviously the menu features many cold beers and sodas, but what you really want to order is a granita – slushies made from fruit sorbet.
24. Eat Moussaka at the oldest Taverna in Athens
Just round the corner from the Roman Agora is Taverna Platanos, one of the oldest tavernas in Athens. Hidden away from the bustle of the city in a quiet leafy square, this family-friendly restaurant is the perfect way to end your day in Athens with some authentic Greek dining.
We sat under the green canopy and enjoyed perfectly seasoned feta, juicy Greek olives, and fluffy flatbread dipped in fresh tzatziki, followed by satisying plates of moussaka and chips.
25. Try carrot marmalade
Dessert at Taverna Platanos came on the house – thick creamy Greek yoghurt topped with homemade carrot marmelade – sounds odd but it was delicious!
26. Catch the cable car up Mount Lycabettus
Mount Lycabettus is a 300m high limestone hill covered in pine trees, dropped by Athena when she was carrying limestone to build the Acropolis (HISTORICAL FACT). It has two peaks boasting a 19th century chapel, a theatre, and a restaurant, which you can visit by going up the hill in the Lycabettus Funicular railway from the station at Kolonaki on Aristippou street.
Legend has it that Mount Lycabettus got its name from being a wolf refuge – it literally means “the hill that is walked by wolves”.
27. Drive along the coast
We were so lucky to stay in a villa on the coast. The coastline in Greece is seriously stunning, with tiny islands breaking through the water out to sea, and as I’ve already mentioned, some spectacular sunsets. If you rent a car, make sure to take a drive along the coastal roads.
28. Spend an afternoon at a beach bar
We visited three very good beach bars on our week in Greece, Fokaia Beach (where the great gelato is), Heaven Beach Bar, and Baila Beach Bar. Pretty much every good beach has a bar, with sun loungers and parasols stretching out across the sand.
When we first visited Fokaia Beach we assumed you had to rent the chairs – not so! You can literally set up camp across as many chairs as you like, and all you have to do is buy something from the bar over the course of your beach day. That could be anything, a coke, iced coffee, cocktails, ice cream, even a whole meal.
29. Rent a paddle board
Baila Beach Bar was our favourite beach, because there were so many activities! We rented a paddle board for a few hours and discovered that if you’re not careful you can paddle yourself pretty far out to sea without realising.
30. Go snorkeling
Dad loves a snorkle, and brought flippers along with him too. Turns out it was totally worth it – the water was perfectly clear and teaming with fish.
31. Eat freshly caught grilled fish
Speaking of fish, the coastal towns in Greece are the perfect chance to eat freshly caught grilled fish. They will all buy their fish from the fisherman outside their doorsteps, so you can’t really go wrong, but we had a delicious dinner at To Kyma in Palaia Fokaia. A heads up if you do go there – if you tell them you want sea bass, they will bring you a whole sea bass.
32. Drive down to Souniou Bay
On our last evening in Greece we took a little trip down to Poseidon’s Temply by Souniou Bay. It’s a beautiful line of coast with uninterrupted sea stretching out. Souniou Bay itself is a very pretty, well kept beach that’s a definite lounger location if you’re in the area.
There’s actually a reference to Sounion in Homer’s Odyssey – when the Greek commanders are sailing back from Troy, the helmsman of one of the ships dies while rounding “Holy Sounion, Cape of Athens.” King Menelaus then lands at Sounion to do a proper funeral pyre cremation on the beach.
33. Watch the sun set over Greece from Poseidon’s Temple
One of my absolute favourite moments of the whole holiday was watching the spectacular sunset over the sea from Poseidon’s Temple.
The Temple of Poseidon, 200 ft above sea level, is one of the major monuments of the Golden Age of Athens. Built in 444–440 BC under Pericles (who also rebuilt the Parthenon in Athens) on the ruins of another temple from the Archaic period. Only some of the original columns have survived, but they reckon it would have looked very similar to the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens – it might even have been designed by the same architect!
You have to pay to get into the area around the temple, which is open until 1 minute after sunset (they’ll chase you out after the setting sun dips below the mountains on the horizon). I think this is a great way to end a trip – dramatic, historical and beautiful.
Whether you’re into hot beach holidays, city breaks, or interesting history trips, Attica in Greece has got something for you. I’m not even a massive fan of beaches and I thought they were ideal, so you can imagine how my beach-loving family felt. Again, our villa really was ideal for a big group, would definitely recommend. Athens is perfect for a day trip or two – I for one would have loved to go back another day to see more.
Have you been to Greece and tried any of the things on my list? Let me know in the comments?