Growing up in a developing country as a child, to travel was just a dream. We lived in a small town and life was simple. My parents had only enough money to spend on private education. Where I come from, the quality of education from government-funded schools is really behind and for a girl to have a fighting chance when she grows up, a private education is a requisite step. One of my greatest aspirations as a child was to see the world. My mum used to tell me — we do not have the money to travel to far away places but we can still travel through books. Reading became my escape. It was my ticket to adventure, to exotic cultures and destinations. And one particular book that captivated me then and even to this day is Edith Hamilton’s Mythology — Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. I was in awe of the power of the gods, the boldness of the heroes and heroines, and the epic stories of love and war. Greek mythology was my introduction to Greek culture and history.
To visit Greece and to see the place I only read about in books is a fulfillment of a childhood dream. I booked a trip to Athens through Ryanair for around £500 for 3 people in March. We originally planned to just stay in Athens for our 3-night stay but serendipitously, I met a guy at work who came from Greece whose recommendations made a whole lot of difference to our experience during the trip!
Arrival – Downtown Athens
We arrived in Athens at around 9am and we took the train to central Athens which took us around 40-50 mins. From Syntagma station, we headed to our hotel — Hermes Hotel which is located in Plaka – Athens. For 3 nights, we paid £165 for 3 people which included breakfast. It’s a no-frills hotel and the room we got was quite small but it did the job. It was clean and centrally located. After checking in, we walked around the main shopping street — Mitropoleos and made our way partially to the Acropolis. By this time, the Acropolis was closed but we just wanted to see the view from that vantage point overlooking the brightly lit streets of busy central Athens.
The first day was just to orient ourselves with the area, to get our bearings . What we notice while wandering about the streets of Athens was how safe we actually felt. This was despite the news on the uncertainty around Greek economy and politics. The people were open and friendly. We did not feel harassed by shopkeepers even though we went into a couple of touristy souvenir shops. They were not pushy and if anything the environment felt welcoming and relaxed.
Day 1 – Mykines and Nafplion
We rented a car to head to a few places outside Athens. We had Mykines and Nafplion on our itinerary for that day. Mykines is more famously known as Mycenae. In Greek mythology, Agamemnon – a Trojan war hero, ruled this kingdom. Agamemnon was Menelaus’ brother and Menelaus was Helen’s husband before she was whisked away to Troy by Paris which then instigated the Trojan War. The House of Atreus (the family tree to which Agamemnon and Menelaus belonged to) had their own share of tragedy.
During their journey to Troy, Agamemnon had entered a grove dedicated to the goddess Artemis and killed one of her sacred deer. The goddess then punished them by making it impossible for their ships to set sail. The only way Artemis could be appeased was for Agamemnon to offer as a sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, on the goddess’ altar. The deed was done but not without grave consequences. Agamemnon’s wife, Clytemnestra, embittered by this terrible deed took up a lover -Aegisthus and they both ruled over Mycenae while her husband was at war. Agamemnon returned to Mycenae at the end of the Trojan War expecting a hero’s welcome but was caught unaware by his wife and her lover when they murdered him. Years later, his son Orestes, would then come back and avenge his father by killing his own mother and Aegisthus. (Greek mythology is riddled with plots like this — who needs Game of Thrones).
Mykines is a 2-hour drive away from Athens. The site mainly consists of the archeological site and the museum. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (along with Delphi and the Acropolis). The museum houses some very interesting artifacts from this early civilisation — the most famous being the mask of Agamemnon (on display was the replica). Admission to both the archeological site and the museum costs €8.
From Mykines, we headed to Nafplion which was around 40 minutes drive. Nafplion is a quaint coastal town which very much reminded me of Italy. The houses looked like Venetian houses — tall, narrow, with small balconies. It used to be the capital of Greece between 1823 to 1834. And it has plenty of historical interests. We did not have enough time to see them which made me think that we should have planned to stay overnight in Nafplion.
The coast itself is lively and lined with restaurants. The place has a romantic feel to it and it would have been ideal to eat dinner in one of the restaurants overlooking the sea.
Day 2 – Delphi
Anyone familiar with Greek mythology would have heard of the Oracle of Delphi. It is renowned as Apollo’s sacred temple where people from all walks of life came to seek advice from the Oracle concerning all important matters. Hercules was said to have visited the Oracle to find out how he could expiate his crime — he killed his wife and sons in a fit of rage orchestrated by Hera (Zeus’ wife who was eternally jealous of Hercules). Apollo then sent Hercules to serve King Eurystheus who at the time was the king of Mycenae. Eurystheus then set Hercules on the path of the famous 12 labours.
Delphi is a 3-hour drive from Athens. It is a relatively long drive but I think it is worth the trip. The site is larger and more well-preserved compared to Mykines. I felt I was being transported back time as I set foot on the archeological site. I could easily imagine what it would have been like for the Greeks in those days to embark on such a long and arduous pilgrimage to Delphi and the awe that they would have felt as they arrived at the sanctuary. It is situated at the foot of Mount Parnassos and at that level of elevation, you have a view of breathtaking scenery that evokes calmness and inspiration at the same time. There was something spiritual about the place and it was no surprise why the Greeks chose that spot for the sanctuary.
A visit to the museum would give a more complete sense of the grandeur of the sanctuary and how important it was in the Greek civilisation. Entrance was €9 for both the site and the museum.
Day 3 – Athens
It was our last day in Athens and the Acropolis was our last stop. We only had the morning to explore the Acropolis as we were headed back to London in the afternoon. Was half a day enough to for a visit to Acropolis? Yes and No. If you are only visiting Acropolis then half a day is sufficient but if you want to visit the Acropolis Museum as well, then you will be short on time – which exactly what we experienced.
The Acropolis was the centre of Greek politics. It was the seat of democracy. It was the cradle of ancient Greek society. The site was so significant that in order to fully appreciate its importance, you really need to spend some time to go around the archeological site. To help us make the most of our visit to the Acropolis, I downloaded Rick Steve’s Audio Tours. For a free app, I think it is very informative and useful.
We had to rush to the museum and we didn’t really have enough time to look at the collections properly which was a shame as the museum had an extensive collection of artifacts and occupied 3 levels. The entrance fee was €12 and is valid for not just the Acropolis and the museum but also for the Ancient Agora of Athens, Archeological Museum of Kerameikos, Museum of the Ancient Agora, Olympeio, and the Roman Agora of Athens.
What We Would Have Done Differently?
- Stay overnight in Nafplion to be able to experience more of the romantic ambiance of the place and to sample the food, and also to have some time the following day to visit the historical sites
- Spend an extra day in Athens to see the other sites as well
For this itinerary, it would be ideal to stay for 5 nights to really maximise the experience. Would I go and visit Athens again? My answer is… YES!
Do you know of any other hidden gems in Greece? I am keen to hear all about it. Please share your thoughts here.