The Greek capital presents itself at first sight just as you would imagine it to be: Loud, hectic, dusty, chaotic and overcrowded. But don´t worry, the megalopolis has a few spots in store to show you the other side of Athens: Authentic, easy-going and colorful.
The most convenient (yet in my eyes least attractive) way to see the most important sights of the city are the hop-on-hop-off buses that leave close to the cruise terminals in Piraeus, the gigantic port of Athens. They might take you to as many attractions as possible in the short amount of time that you generally have during your port-of-call day, but they will not let you enjoy town off the beaten tracks.
This is why I prefer to take the public trains that run from Piraeus train station right into downtown. The station is located approximately 20 minutes by foot from the cruise terminal. If you like, you may also bridge the distance by a taxi ride. But chances are pretty likely that the drivers will try to convince you to let them show you Athens for a horrendous price. So whenever the public transportation system is not on strike (it´s alwasy a good idea to check in advance!), the trains are a cheap and comfortable way to reach downtown Athens in just as much as 20 minutes. And the biggest plus: You get in touch with the locals!
A great stop to get off the train is Monastiraki. This centrally located square is not only a hotspot for the Athenians to meet, it is also the perfect starting point to explore one of Athen´s most beautiful neighbourhoods: The Plaka. But before you start your city exploration, pay visit to the gorgeous rooftop terrace of Bar 360 for a Greek coffee or an ice-cold refreshment. This bar is popular with both locals and tourists and spoils with outrageous views over the Acropolis and the city itself. From here, it is also a nice walk up the hills through beautiful little back streets to Areopagus (Mars) Hill. You can do excellent souvenir shopping in the small shops that you will pass and I suggest you pay visit here rather than in Koukaki, one of the most touristy shopping areas in town.
From here, you can decide wherever you wish to visit the Parthenon or continue the city exploration right away. If you follow the downhill street just past the Acropolis into direction of the Acropolis Museum, you will find many little street cafés and restaurants to grab a little bite or refreshment at. The museum itself is supposed to be very interesting, yet I have not been there. My favourite spot lies just around the corner of Dionysos Theatre. Walk up the narrow streets bordering just to the fenced area of the Acropolis and you will discover an ancient Athens that seems to be from another time. Cute little white buildings with colorful doors and windows are glued to the mountain like icing sugar topping to a cake. It is almost like time stands still here. Enjoy breathtaking views of the city and the peace and quiet of this neighbourhood.
Down the hill again it is only a stone´s throw to popular sites such as the Arch of Hadrian, the Olympieion or the Kallimarmaro. Just a little further, you will find the beautifully arranged National Gardens of Athens with the congress, Zappeion.
Just a little down the main road past the park, you can sneak peek onto Greece´s parliament building. Right opposite of Syntagma Square, this is probably the most important public space in Athens and also gateway to the shopping district of Plaka. Two churches that I personally consider Must See´s in this area are the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens and Kapnikarea Church. Just downhill both roads lies Monastiraki Square, the metro station that will take you back to Piraeus and the ship again. I am sure you might see more at once if you take the sightseeing buses, but from experience I can assure you that your travel experience will be deeper and more memorable if you take it step by step. Don´t forget: Most Med cruises do have Piraeus as port of call, so there will be lots of future chances to check out the other sights that Athens has to offer. Rome wasn´t built in a day either … 🙂