Greece: Athens & the Peloponnese – Stripes Europe

Greece: Athens & the Peloponnese  Stripes Europe

Ancient theater in Acropolis

The Greek islands (also known asoften called the Cyclades) are picturesque, bucket list-worthy destinations. With beautiful beaches, blue and white buildings everywhere and the islander pace of life, it’s no surprise why islands like Santorini, Mykonos, Crete or Paros are often travelers’ first taste of Greece. But let’s dig a little deeper into what Greece’s capital city of Athens and the Peloponnese peninsula have to offer travelers. Full of ancient history, culture and a delicious culinary scene, there are more than enough reasons to book a trip to Greece’s mainland.

Although you might guess that spring and summer are the best times to visit Greece, we visited in mid-November to run the Athens marathon. And wWhile we had a few bouts of rain, the mild yet sunny days were perfect for exploring Athens and road tripping the Peloponnese peninsula—not to mention that it was not high tourist season anymore, which meant more space and time to truly enjoy the sites.

Athens

Greece’s capital city is sprawling, energetic and full of life. While the city is sprinkled with ancient history, it is not a place stuck in the past, with tons of restaurants, bars and lively squares. Plan for a half day or more at the Acropolis, which is an ancient citadel that sits high on a hill overlooking the city. The Acropolis is home to the Parthenon, arguably one of the most iconic sites in Greece, as well as the Temple of Athena Nike and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Lit up at night looking majestic and regal, the Acropolis also has the best view of the city where you can get a taste for how large it is and peek at the sea in the distance. You can reach the Acropolis on foot, especially if you want a bit of a workout walking up the hill. Be sure to also visit the Acropolis Museum where many of its ancient treasures are held.

Spending some time at the Ancient Agora, conveniently located near the Acropolis, should also be on your list. This space has a number of important sites, as it was the heart of ancient Athens, politically, socially and commercially. The Byzantine & Christian Museum, National Archaeological Museum and National Historical Museum are a few of theother museum must-sees. The Panathenaic Stadium is worth a visit too, as the first home of the modern Olympic games.

Peloponnese

Connected to the mainland by the Isthmus of Corinth, the Peloponnese peninsula is home to history, myths and the beginnings of civilization. Here are just a few of the many spots worth visiting:

Nafplio

Less than a two-hour drive from Athens, this seaside town on the southwest coast of the peninsula is charming, beautiful and offers plenty of things to see. Make your way into Old Town along the harbor, where you will find quaint and well-kept hotels, restaurants and shops, nestled right next to the Aegean Sea. You can continue walking along coastline trail for more gorgeous views and a chance to swim in the sea. Continue your adventure by climbing the 999 stairs carved into the rock that Palamidi Castle sits on to learn about Nafplio’s long history.

Monemvasia

This car-free town is located about a four-hour drive from Athens and was built carved into the rock facing the sea. Prior to 1971 when a bridge was constructed to connect the island to the mainland, Monemvasia stood isolated—which is exactly why it became so valuable and an important place for its residents. Monemvasia means “single passage” and inhabitants would flee to the island where they could hide behind the massive rocks that protected them from invaders and incoming attacks. Today, you can meander your way through the Lower Town and Upper Town to see 13th-century and Byzantine churches, 17th-century Venetian mansions and the beautiful restaurants, shops and accommodations in a gorgeous and peaceful setting.

Olympia

Those interested in the Olympic games should include a trip to Ancient Olympia, on the western side of the peninsula. While somewhat isolated from other places, witnessing the ruins, running through the tunnel that competing athletes entered the stadium and standing on the starting line imagining the cheering and yelling onlookers is definitely worth a tripstop. In addition to the ruins, there are a couple of museums nearby housing important artifacts from the early Olympic games and history of the area and the games.

The Marathon

Although you might not be planning to train or run any marathons during your time in Europe, it’s important to mention the history of this historic race. The marathon came from the ancient legend of a Greek messenger running 40 kilometers from the town of Marathon to Athens to share the news of an important Greek victory. Today, the modern Athens marathon continues this tradition, having runners start in the town of Marathon, where supporters cheer and pass out olive branches to put in runners’ hats as a token of good fortune and victory.

Food & Drinks

There is so much to love about Greek food. The freshness, bright flavors and contrasts of creamy tzatziki yogurt sauce with briny olives, crunchy cucumbers, tomatoes and greens sprinkled with salty feta. Pair those sides with souvlaki, marinated and grilled chicken, accompanied by a refreshing Mythos beer or Greek wine and you’ll be eating very well and feeling good.

Tips

  • Getting from the Athens airport into downtown was an easy metro ride, taking 30 to 45 minutes depending on the time of day.
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes, especially when visiting the ancient sites as the ground is often uneven and made of dirt or gravel.
  • If you’re driving around Greece, plan to pay for tolls. Keep any coins you have on hand to make the tolls easy.

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