How to Spend a Long Layover in Athens, Greece
Long layovers are always a fantastic way to explore new cities. As long as I have a layover over 6 hours (a good rule of thumb from my experience) I will 100% take full advantage and get out of the airport to explore. Simply put your luggage in hold - virtually every airport will have this service - and head off to the city center to get lost!
I was flying to Santorini via a stop in Athens and had 7 hours to discover what Greece's capital city is all about. On top of my to do list was obviously see the Acropolis, the ancient citadel containing the remains of several buildings of great architectural and historical significance. From the airport, I caught the express bus number X95 to the city center, and took a taxi up to Acropolis hill from there for like, 5 euros. You could walk, but I was obviously a little rushed and not to mention, lazy.
After paying the 20 euro entrance fee, I got my first sight of the famous Acropolis. Massive structures of stone loom over your head, and you have no choice but to feel like you were transported back several centuries in the past. Walking around and witnessing the architectural feat fills you with amazement - how did people manage to build such impressive structures over 3,000 years ago? It filled me with a childlike wonder; I just sat and absorbed the ancient energy of the place, imagining what it was like to walk upon its ground all those years in the past. It's one of those places that are so formidable, it forces you to stop and be present and totally aware of your surroundings, which is one of my favorite feelings while traveling.
After a couple hours exploring everything the Acropolis had to offer, I still had some time left to explore Athens city itself. As I came down from Acropolis hill, I realized there was a large-scale, city-wide protest going on, which from what I understood was rallying against recent tax increases in the country. Greece is unfortunately undergoing a pretty intense economic crisis which has caused some civil unrest due to the government's (mis)handling of it. It made the streets a bit chaotic, but it also forced me to come to terms with a reality of traveling: cities aren't these perfect places tailored for tourists, they go through real, arduous challenges that affect their very fabric. It's important as visitors not to gloss over the struggles that a country faces, but to instead do some research and understand the context of what its people are going through. How much are you really benefitting from travel if you ignore the not-so-perfect aspects of it?
After observing the protest and learning more about recent Greek history, I decided to explore the beautiful Plaka neighborhood at the bottom of Acropolis hill. It's full of flowery streets, local restaurants serving the best Greek food, and boutiques and souvenir shops. Definitely worth exploring this cute neighborhood on foot if you have the time. No one really talks about how awesome of a city Athens is on its own (aside from the Acropolis), but it really was quite charming and pleasant.
The bus system was down due to the protests, so I made my way back to the airport in a taxi for my flight to Santorini! What would you have done with a long layover in Athens?