Blue hour view of Parthenon and Herodium in Acropolis Hill in Athens

In the Shadows of the Gods: Traveling Athens and the Aegean Islands

Blue hour view of Parthenon and Herodium in Acropolis Hill in Athens

In the Shadows of the Gods: Traveling Athens and the Aegean Islands

These must-see attractions and Greek restaurants guarantee your getaway to Athens and the Aegean Islands in Greece will be unforgettable.

When describing Greece from a traveler’s point of view, two words spring to mind: life changing. From age-old relics and charming seaside villages to big-city attractions, Greece offers the perfect blend of sophistication, intrigue, and history. Although many visitors journey to the romantic Aegean Islands, most Greek getaways begin or end in Athens.

Greece entices travelers with an array of attractions, from the historic to the romantic. Pleasant weather and lighter crowds make spring, early summer, and autumn great times to visit.
Explore the Richness of Athens

Some people visit Athens by default, using it as a stepping stone to the less crowded Greek Isles, while others go there specifically to see ancient history come to life. Either way, the city has much to offer.

Ancient Allures

In Athens, modern buildings spread as far as the eye can see, but the Acropolis radiates ancient history from the city’s center. This sacred rock is home to several ancient jewels, including the Propylaia, the Erechtheion, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Parthenon. Featuring majestic chiseled columns, massive stone blocks, and magnificent statues, this site will take anyone’s breath away.

After exploring the outdoor ruins, the Acropolis Museum offers even more antiquities indoors. The glass floor leading to the entrance reveals a look at the excavation site underneath. In addition to ancient treasures, the museum displays friezes and other priceless pieces pulled from the temples.

Greek Temple Erechtheion in Acropolis of Athens"
Source: Shutterstock

Additional stops for ancient history buffs include the Panathenaic Stadium eight minutes east of the Acropolis and the Temple of Poseidon located roughly 42 miles southeast of the city on Cape Sounion. Dedicated to the god of the sea, this stunning temple greeted ancient sailors when they arrived home to Athens.

The Plaka

Along the northeastern base of the Acropolis, the Plaka District is like a village built exclusively for pedestrians and occasional bicyclists, motorcyclists, and delivery drivers. Lined with colorful neoclassical structures, this picture-perfect area allows visitors to shop, dine, and relax in shaded courtyards and gardens.

Travelers looking for authentic dishes like moussaka or spanakopita can find delicious bites at To Kafeneio, Taverna Saita, and Taverna Platanos. The Plaka’s best-kept secret is Paradosiako located underneath the Electra Palace Hotel. Although it’s not the most charming location, there’s a reason many Athenians eat here: delicious food. Most eateries in the Plaka stay open until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. to accommodate locals who customarily dine very late in the evening.

Flowers decorate traditional houses along a sidewalk in the Plaka District
Source: Shutterstock

More Athens Attractions

It’s possible to spend days exploring Athens. If you only have limited time, don’t miss a few of the must-see attractions from a local’s perspective:

  • The sunset view from atop Mount Lycabettus
  • An outdoor flick and cocktail at Cine Paris
  • Cafes, bars, and ouzeries in the Thissio and Psyri neighborhoods
  • Live music, spirits, and dance-til-dawn parties at six d.o.g.s.
  • Attica Zoological Park in the suburb of Spata

Escape to the Romantic Aegean Islands

The four major Aegean Islands offer innumerable possibilities for a spectacular visit. Three — Mykonos, Sifnos, and Santorini — belong to the Cyclades, a cluster of 220 islands just southeast of Athens. The fourth, Lesvos, is situated in the Northeastern Aegean Sea.

Mykonos

Named for the grandson of the Greek god Apollo, Mykonos is the most cosmopolitan of the Greek Isles. Often compared to St. Tropez in France, the island’s capital, Chora, features sandy beaches, narrow marble streets, beautiful Cycladic architecture, and fragrant bougainvillea. After enjoying a little beach time, many visitors make their way to Matoyánni Street, lined with charming outdoor cafes and high-end shops. Journeying to Mykonos from the mainland takes between four and five hours by ferry.

Best Local Dishes: Kopanisti (spicy cheese spread) and louza (Greek version of prosciutto)

Seaside cafe restaurant in Little Venice on Mykonos Island
Source: Shutterstock

Sifnos

Just five hours from Athens by ferry, Sifnos oozes seaside charm and tranquility. The food may be the best in the Cyclades, but the nightlife is low key compared to other islands. One of the prettiest villages on Sifnos, Artemonas features bright blue rooftops, doors, and shutters as well as old-world windmills and a cluster of intimate stone alleyways. On Saturday nights, locals and visitors sip cocktails from trendy rooftop bars in Apollonia, the hilltop capital located less than a mile away.

Best Local Dishes: Kaparosalata (stewed capers and onions) and revithokeftedes (spiced chickpea fritters)

Santorini

From Athens, ferry passengers arrive in Santorini within eight or nine hours after several stops along the way. With charming whitewashed villages, an active volcano, and exceptional wine, Santorini is a popular pick for romantics. For stunning sunsets and caldera views – especially near the hilltop castle – Oia is the village of choice. The community of Perissa features a long, black sand beach and connects to Perivolos, a village known for its active nightlife.

Best Local Dishes: Tomatokeftedes (tomato fritters) and capers and fava

The town of Oia on Santorini island in Greece
Source: Shutterstock

Lesvos

A journey by ferry from Athens to Lesvos lasts roughly eight to 10 hours. Located northeast of Athens just off the coast of Turkey, Lesvos offers a mild Mediterranean climate, traditional villages, and a quiet ambience. A favorite seaside community, Molyvos, features quaint homes along the hillside and the remains of a castle perched at the apex. Inland, visitors find mountains, streams, large olive groves, and a petrified forest that contains the largest plant fossils in the world.

Best Local Dishes: Grilled sardines and fresh-baked bread

Take plenty of photos on your Greek island getaway, and don’t forget to share them with us on Instagram.

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