The New York air blew in a chill last week, bringing with it nostalgia for the warmth of summer. For those New Yorkers not yet ready to pile on scarves and sweaters, a getaway to the sunny Mediterranean climate of Greece could be the perfect way to stave off the eminent temperature drop.
Athens, Greece’s capital city, boasts an average September temperature range from sixty-six to eighty-four degrees, with low rates of precipitation and humidity levels that would make any New Yorker jump on a plane. Sunshine isn’t all that Athens has to offer, though. As the cradle of Western civilization and one of the oldest cities in the world, Athens is rich in history. Ancient ruins and monuments dot the streets, the Acropolis and imposing Parthenon the jewels in the city’s crown. Despite, or perhaps complimentary to, Athens’ ancient history is its distinctly modern feel, due in part to the sprucing up of the city prior to the Olympic Games in 2004. A state-of-the-art airport, expanded Metro system and reduced pollution level are all recent upgrades of the city, making Athens even more tourist friendly. And if the many draws of Athens aren’t quite enough to satisfy your appetite for all things Grecian, a wide expanse of gorgeous islands are just a short boat ride away.
A good first stop on your tour of Athens is the Acropolis and surrounding neighborhoods. The most significant monument of ancient Greece, the Acropolis is literally a massive flat-topped rock, rising almost five hundred feet above sea level and dominating the skyline of Athens from every vantage point. In the fifth-century BC the Parthenon, a temple honoring Greek goddess Athena, was built upon the Acropolis, and it continues to stagger visitors today with its breathtaking size and beauty. As the center of ancient Greece, the Acropolis is also the site of the Temple of Athena Nike as well as the Ionic temple, Erechtheum, each contributing even more splendor to this important site. Arriving here in early morning will help you skip the throngs of other tourists and miss the heat of midday. Entrance to the Acropolis costs twelve Euros per person.
When you are ready to leave the Acropolis, head to the nearby Monastiraki neighborhood and wander through the ancient Agora. The Agora was a place of assembly and a market in ancient times, and the ruins are wonderfully preserved. Don’t miss the Temple of Hephaestus before you exit the Agora, it is one of the best-preserved ancient Greek temples. Monastiraki is also the perfect neighborhood for souvenir and specialty shopping as well as for enjoying a cold glass of Greek Mythos beer at a café.
The new Acropolis Museum in the nearby neighborhood, Makrygianni, is an essential stop on the Athens tour. Opened in 2008, the Museum houses all the surviving artifacts from the Acropolis in an exquisitely designed building. The artifacts range from perfume holders to sculptures originally adorning the Parthenon. The entrance cost is one Euro and expect crowds at any time of day.
For a relaxing sojourn, take the Metro to the Syntagma stop and visit the National Gardens. A tree-lined oasis filled with winding paths, fountains and duck ponds, the Gardens adjoin the Parliament building in this central Athens neighborhood. A playground, café, children’s library and botanical museum round out a visit to the Gardens. While you enjoy the area, be sure to check out the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and changing of the guard that takes place every hour at the Parliament building.
After soaking in the sights and bustle of Athens for a few days, you may want to do as the Athenians do and take a boat to a nearby island, either for a day trip or an overnight excursion. There are countless island destinations to choose from, and most boats depart from the port of Piraeus, which is accessible by Metro to the stop of the same name. Nearby Aegina, Spetses and Hydra are popular as day trips, each offering unique scenery and accommodations.
If you have a few days to spare, there is no better place to spend them than the island of Santorini (pictured here). Approximately a six-hour boat ride from Piraeus port, Santorini was created by the eruption of the still-active volcano at its center, creating a diverse landscape of steep cliffs and sandy beaches. The villages on the island add to the picture-perfect views, with small white and blue buildings dominating the architecture. Thira is the largest and most popular town on Santorini, with an active center and nightlife, but Oia, the northernmost town, is home to the most breathtaking sunset views, winding stone walkways and delicious restaurants.
Olympic Airlines flies non-stop from JFK Airport to Athens International Airport every day. Compared to other European destinations, a flight to Athens is a bit expensive, but the beauty and culture that awaits you is well worth the price.