Visiting Athena, The Acropoli and the Presidential Guards at Syntagma Square
Day two in Greece. Missed Day one? Read it here .The temperature was approximately 8 degrees Celsius when we finally managed to get out of bed and play hopscotch along the carpets in our room to get to the shower. A quick breakfast of leftover pie from Anna’s (our AirBnb Host), we headed off for our day of exploring the ancient city of Athens. One of the main things to do in Athens that was on our bucket list, was to visit Athena and then the Presidential Guards, whilst obviously drinking local wine and finding the yummiest Gyro.
We walked to the metro station from our apartment, enjoying the weather and the hustle and a bustle of Athens and purchased a one-day pass from the station. The one day pass was valid for any number of journeys for the following 24 hours and it was well worth it, at only 3 Euro (if memory serves me well).
Acropoli Metro Station
A short 10 minute ride later, we got to Acropoli Metro Station. Before we could even step out of the station, we were immersed in the city’s history. Underground excavation sites, burial tombs and various items were on display at the station.
Entrance Fees to the Parthenon – Important Things to Do in Athens
Usually, a ticket to access the Acropoli and the Parthenon was only 10 Euro in winter, as it was low season. But we purchased a 30 Euro all-access pass to a few attractions from the entrance of the Acropolis, which included –
- Acropolis & Parthenon
- Hadrian’s Library
- Hadrian’s Arch
- Ancient Agora
- Ancient Roman Agora
And a major benefit, which helped us later on, was that this pass was valid for 5 days. Which meant that we didn’t have to rush through everything in a single day!
The Parthenon and Acropoli
A slow 15-20 minute walk to the summit, dotted with various historic sites, structures, ruins and remnants from centuries ago left us in breathless awe when we stood at the bottom of the marble steps leading the way to the Parthenon. A marble-paved pathway, which was quite slippery, lead the way to panoramic views of Athens and the jaw-dropping structure of the Parthenon and a temple built in honour of the Athena, Goddess and defender of Athens.
We learnt the history of the city that we weren’t exposed to at school and kicked ourselves later for not doing our research before visiting. But, that didn’t stop us! We perched ourselves infront of the ancient Parthenon and decided to rely on good ol’ Google to enlighten us. We learnt that most of these beautiful structures were burnt and destroyed during the long rule of the Ottoman Empire, including a ginormous statue of Athena, where now, only the base remains. Much of it had collapsed after an explosion during the invasion of the Turks.
Imperfect Traveller Tips when visiting the Acropolis1 – Don’t be touristy and take awkward face photos and poses in front of the Parthenon or the temple of Athena or anywhere really. There are a few locals/protectors/guards who will blow their whistle at you SO loudly, you’ll want to bury your head under a pile of marble and pray that Athena herself won’t execute you!
2- Be respectful, in general.
The Theatre of Dionysus
You’ll come across an aerial view of this large amphitheatre on your way to the top of the Acropolis, but you can get to the base, near the gates, as you make your back down from the Acropolis. Unfortunately, you can’t get inside the theatre though.
The Theatre of Dionysus was built to honour Dionysus, the Greek god of drama (and wine). I was later snarkily told that this could have very well been the only I could have worshipped. Ha ha.
The Acropolis Museum
The Acropolis Museum, our next stop was nothing short of stunning. An entire archaeological site was still preserved and available for viewing below the museum and can be seen through transparent glass floorboards. Although this was not included in our All-Access Pass, it was definitely worth the additional 10 Euros.
Gyro, Gyro, Gyro!
It was almost 1pm, when hunger finally hit us, and our aching feet were begging for a rest. After making our way back down, we dined at a restaurant called Spezie – for GYROS! Our giant Gyros were absolutely delicious, warm, flavourful, fresh and SO orgasmic. I was falling further in love with Greek cuisine and I had barely dipped my toes in their wide range of delicious delicacies. Imagine the next few days!
Bellies full, we walked around, visited a local church charity fair, where I bought my first olive paste; the proceeds of which would go to a less fortunate family. Good deed for the year done?
One of the best things to do in Athens, especially if you have some time to spare is to aimlessly wander around the ancient city. You’re bound to find historic buildings and sites along the way. Without relying on Google Maps to get us to our next stop, we walked through narrow, charming, cobbledstoned streets and ended up Hadrian’s Arch.
Though unaware of its actual significance, Hadrian’s Arch was a magnificent structure, nonetheless. Along the way, we stumbled on to the Olympian Temple of Zeus, what was left of it at least; were 4 columns and 1 that had fallen, bang smack in the centre of a seemingly empty site. Having come up with various theories on how that 1 particular column would have fallen, from Hercules to someone accidentally having a ‘whoopsie’ moment, we headed back to the metro station, in search of the famed Presidential Guards at Syntagma Square.
Syntagma Square, Athens
One metro stop away from Acropoli, we got off at Syntagma and found a post office to send our previously bought Athens postcards from. Syntagma Square is the main and busiest centre; with dozens of gorgeous cops guarding the city, mainly because the parliament was right across the road! This was also where the Presidential Guards were.
The Presidential Guards & The Tomb of the Unknown Solider
The Presidential Guards are an elite unit of the Greek army and the highest honour for a Greek guard. They guard the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, that’s in front of the Hellenic Parliament, 24/7, 365 days of the year.
Working in pairs, these guards rotate every hour, but during that one hour of duty, they have to remain completely motionless, with ONLY the exception of blinking. To keep their blood well circulated, they move, VERY SLOWLY, every 15 minutes. Once the hour’s up, two other guards are escorted by an army personnel, where they march to the centre, before starting the ritual change over. The army personnel will then ensure, all four guards (two on duty, and two that just came in) are completely perfect, in attire, structure and position.
The ceremonial change over then begins and it’s the most beautiful and peaceful thing to watch. Don’t miss it if you’re ever in Athens! By the end of our trip, we had seen it three different times, almost had a fourth but that’ll be on my last blog about Greece! Watching the change-over, became one of our favourite things to do in Athens.
Nearing death from exhaustion and the cold climate, we headed back home, after remembering we had an early morning bus ride to Kalamata to look forward to. I had my first Greek wine, courtesy of Anna and it was the first time I had chilled white wine – that didn’t have to be refrigerated! Needless to say, I was quite content thus far.
Our Grecian Adventures continue – stay tuned for more!