There have are 14 World Wonders (7 old and 7 new) and somehow, for some reason, the Parthenon in Athens has been left off both lists. Considering this ancient city was built in the 5th Century B.C., that’s a major snub.
Nevertheless, that which we call a world wonder by any other name is still as sweet, and there’s no denying that a visit to the Acropolis is a singular and awe-inspiring experience.
Throughout the years, this holy place has been looted, burned and converted for various uses, yet still it stands. In its glory days, a 20 foot-tall golden Athena, the goddess after which the city is named and who protects its citizens, would greet those who entered the Parthenon, her presence made even more magnanimous by her reflection on a pool of water before her.
Today, the Parthenon is mainly columns; the infrastructure, precious treasures and even marbles of the facade have been acquired by others. The Greek government is in the process of an ongoing restoration project, but it’s doubtful the ruin will ever be restored to its former glory.
What’s left for visitors is a treat for the imagination–a chance to transport themselves to a different time.For me, visiting the Parthenon, and Athens in general, has always been on my list, but I figured it was one of those “eventually” trips. When the opportunity came up to travel to Greece for a week during New Years and my birthday, I hesitated. I didn’t speak Greek. I didn’t have a ton of cash to spend. I had a million reasons to say no, but one giant reason to say yes.
To quote Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
So off to Greece I went. For those looking to repeat my itinerary, here’s how I spent the perfect 24 hours in Athens, Greece:
1) The Acropolis
I arrived around 9:30am since I had a slow wakeup and took the time to enjoy breakfast on the balcony in my amazing AirBnb. Upon seeing the line to enter I chastised myself for not coming sooner, and paid 10 Euro for a guided tour to bypass the wait. The tour was brief, conducted on the 15 minute walk up to the Parthenon. Our guide, Anastasia, was efficient and informative. I appreciated her hustle.
It was a warm and sunny day, rare for January, so I lingered and took plenty of photos. In addition to the Acropolis, there are 2 other buildings on site: the Erechtheion (pictured above) and the Temple of Poseidon. It’s said that the olive tree adjacent to both was dropped there by Athena herself.
2) Dionysiou and Adrianou Street
After the Acropolis, I took a stroll down Dionysiou Areopagitou Street and Adrianou Street, 2 pedestrian-only streets at the base of the Acropolis. Tourists can listen to live music and sway to the sounds of a bouzouki. For lunch, I went into the nearest Greek cafe and ordered anything with feta. As expected, it was out of this world.
This is the place to do your souvenir shopping in Athens. You can buy a hand painted vase that’s molded in an ancient Greek style and even carry-on sized olive oil to bring the flavors of Greece home with you.
3) Self-Guided Walking Tour
I debated between doing a guided city walking tour and ultimately decided on the free option through the Rick Steves Europe application on my iPhone. It was very informative and easy to navigate, taking me past the Lysicrates Monument and Roman and Ancient Agoras.
While at the Ancient Agora, the place where all the cool kids hung out in Ancient Greece, I met a friendly elderly Greek gentleman while photographing the Temple of Hephaestus. Even though I was running late for the next item on my schedule, I stopped for coffee and he told me a story about how Crete got its name. It was well worth the detour and I’m glad I had that local encounter.
While not on the Rick Steves walking tour, you can stop by the Temple of Zeus. It’s fully visible from the outside so don’t bother spending the 3€ in admission. You can also take pictures of Hadrian’s Arch day or night, located right outside the entrance to the temple.
4) Acropolis Museum
I took a guided tour of the Acropolis with Faye Georgiou, who I found through the Rick Steves supplement and who is absolutely fabulous. Well educated, tiny and mighty, she packed 2,000+ years worth of history into 2 hours and made it fun and engaging. Best tour I’ve ever taken, ever!
Afterwards, Faye walked me down into the metro station, which also doubles as an active excavation site. I learned that panel on the wall is actually hiding a tunnel for digging, and we knocked on it to confirm it was indeed hollow.
5) Gyro feasting
Because any gyro in Greece will be the most amazing gyro you’ve ever had. Ever.
The same goes for moussaka.
6) Athens Nightlife Tour
I finished the day with a nightlife tour by the Urban Athens Collective. Attendees can stroll the streets and listen to live music at a local cafe. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful guide and made a friend along the way to accompany me. The tour takes you to 3 separate spots and I felt safe the entire time.
It was, hands down, the most perfect 24 hours of my life. Coincidence? I think not. I think when you put yourself out there and are bold enough to go after what you want, the universe rewards you. Never stop seeking happiness; it’s worth every second of the chase.
I hope to be experiencing that same birthday magic next year in Asia, on my 30th birthday, to culminate my year of adventure.
Have you ever traveled for your birthday? Was it life changing? Feel free to comment below.
Till next time, safe travels!
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