Athens is known as the historical capital of Europe, with a long history and is especially fascinating for those Greek Mythology enthusiasts (or those who had little children at the time the cartoon Hercules came out!) For this writer, it has a special charm coming from such a young country – the USA.
A visit to Athens would not be complete if you didn’t visit The Acropolis (Sacred Rock). The Acropolis sits on a rocky crag in the centre of the city. It is said to be primarily dedicated to its patron, the goddess Athena. The columned monument you see is called The Parthenon and there is also the Temple of Athena Nike (wingless Nike where Nike sports shoes are named after I learned!) and Odeon of Herodes Atticus (known now as Herodion). This 161 AD theatre still has concerts where legendary performers such as Elton John and Andrea Bocelli have performed. It also forms part of the arts festival – Athens & Epidaurus Festival held annually through June, July and August. A word of warning for your clients if they go at peak season, it is recommended to go when The Acropolis first opens (8 am) or at the very end of the day (6 pm) as it does get rather busy.
I would suggest that you take a walking tour of Athens where your clients can take it most of the historical sites doted around about 4 or 5 kilometres from The Acropolis and all that is within that site as well Olympian Zeus (temple of Zeus) just to name a few – Athens has so much history to see and all of Greece has over 100 Agrological sites!
Within this walking tour we started at Parliament House where there is a Monument for the Unknown Solider guarded by a unit of the Greek Army called the Eyzones. These guards wear traditional Greek uniforms and their most distinctive part is foustanela, a kilt-like skirt. (Like Gladiators wore) A very unique changing of the guards takes place every hour. During their service, the Evzones are not allowed to talk or move at all. (Similar to the guards at Buckingham Palace in London). This tour also walks through the streets of Athens always full of life with loads of restaurants and shops. Plaka is not to be missed with its narrow cobblestone streets lined with tiny shops selling jewellery, clothes and local ceramics and what I’m told, good leather products. Sidewalk cafes and family-run tavernas stay open late, ideal when you have been touring all day.
The new Acropolis Museum located only 300 metres from the Acropolis and close to downtown is well worth a visit. This Museum has a total area of 25,000 square metres, with exhibition space of over 14,000 square meters. They do not offer guided tours, but suggest you do book one of the licenced tour companies/guides. Our guides were from Alternative Athens and both Kelly, who took us on the walking tour and Andreas to Hydra (see more below) were professional and well knowledgeable. I learned so much and realised there is so much history I did not know or forgotten!
Obviously, Greece is also famous for its islands, but if you don’t have time to head off to Santorini or somewhere like that –then I would suggest Hyrda.
Hydra is a cosmopolitan Greek island and is only a short 1 hour 40-minute Hydrofoil ride from Athens port (Piraeus). The Greeks like this island too as it is so close it allows them to have a quick get away from city life.
On Hydra Island, you won’t see any cars. The only way to get around is on foot, boats or donkeys. With no cars, it makes this island so serene and unpolluted to relax at the many outside café, some souvenir shopping or take a stroll through their cobbled streets. I would say, however, tell your clients to try and avoid riding the poor donkeys that are located at the port, as they stand in the heat all day with little water. If you do want to go riding, I suggest Harriet’s Hydra Horses. Harriet is English and came to Greece with her mum at 10 and stayed! She says her horses are her pets and her family and we experience how well they are looked after as they are kept in the shade, well-watered and are not over worked, even in the high season.
Harriet Hydra Horses offer a number of different tours from a ride up to the most scenic part of the Island to the Church of St Konstantinos, and/or a ride to the beach where you and the horses can take a dip!
You can take a sea taxi to the other side of the island where you will find boutique hotels, restaurants and a beach to swim and relax. The spot we stopped was at the Four Seasons Boutique Hotel. (Not the same Four Seasons we all know, but lovely all the same). They have an outside restaurant where you can enjoy lovely Greek lunch looking over the Aegean Sea and even if you don’t stay at the hotel, you can rent their sunbeds for only Euro 5/person for a siesta (which is needed after the delicious local food!) I didn’t see the rooms, but viewing the website, I would consider this hotel if your guest where looking at a stop over.
If your clients are looking for an options for their next holiday, this writer highly recommends Athens for not only the history, but food, shopping and friendly local hospitality and best of all, only a 5 to 6 hour flight from most GCC destinations.
* TTN was invited to join Oman Air on their inaugural flight to Greece on June 1 – this daily flight departs Muscat early afternoon arriving in Athens early evening allowing time for dinner in the city or to relax to start fresh the following day. The return flight leaves after midnight, therefore, providing you all day on your last day to enjoy this historical city.