A prefect holiday to Athens
If you ever have the chance to witness extraordinarily historical landmarks and artefacts of an ancient yesteryear, Athens, Greece must be on your shortlist.
Surely, you would recognise or remember some stories and know a mythical legend or two, from the ancient times of Athena and its powerful empire and civilisation? Perhaps you could recognise the ruins and surroundings of the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the first Olympic Stadium, the Arch of Hadrian or even the Temples of Zeus.
Athens is a City revered by history and culture lovers and adventure travelers alike. A destination some can only dream about visiting, and a region known for its democracy and immense archaeological importance and power in years B.C.
So, where is Athens?
Athens is located in Southern Europe, sitting on the Mediterranean Sea lying across the Aegean Sea. It lies to the West of Turkey, across the Ionian Sea to the East of Italy and directly bordering Macedonia, Albania and Bulgaria. Athens is a City that sprawls across a plain (called Attica), referred to as a basin. It is bounded by large surrounding mountains. Mountains Aigaleo, Parnitha, Pentelicus and Hymettus.
How to reach Athens?
From Dubai, the flight time is approximately 5+ hours (non-stop) or 7 hours (including 1 stop with Qatar Airways).
Local UAE carriers that fly to Athens include Gulf Air, Etihad and Emirates. It is an ideal destination for and EID holiday because of its proximity. However, it is also a wonderful destination should you wish to visit over Summer and extend your stay to visit the Islands surrounding Athens, particularly the Greek Isles (and Santorini, Mykonos).
What should you see whilst in Athens?
THE ACROPOLIS OF ATHENS
Without a doubt, the first sightseeing activity on your list should be the Acropolis of Athens. It is an ancient Citadel (fortress, placed above the City), located high above the City and includes the remains of several ancient buildings of immense historical significance. The Parthenon is the most well known and most recognisable building (remains) in Athens, particularly for tourists visiting the City. The Parthenon (a former temple) sits high on the Citadel, was completed in the 438 BC under Athenian Empire Rule and was dedicated to the goddess Athena (patron of Athens). Most impressively, it survives above most other buildings from the Classical Era in Greece.
If you have the chance, attempt to visit the Acropolis up close and personal, and also from a distance. At the base and a short walk nearby the Acropolis is the Acropolis Museum. It is one of the best Museums holding artefacts from the BC era that you will visit.
Do not forget to…
Enjoy a meal (or at least an ice-cream and coffee) in the Cafe’s / Restaurants beneath the Acropolis.
Nothing beats reflecting on where you are whilst relaxing with a delicious meal and coffee.
Hint: Visit The Acropolis as early in the day as you can. If you are visiting during Summer, try not to be there during the middle of the day. Plan your day as much as possible where you can climb The Acropolis in the morning (It opens at 8am), lunch and then the Museum (which opens at 8am during the Summer, and 9am during the Winter).
Panathenaic (Original Olympic) Stadium –
Located in walking distance from the Acropolis and the Arch of Hadrian is the Panathenaic Stadium (also known as Kallimarmaro). What a fabulous attraction in Athens and the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. The Panathenaic Stadium is the site of the first modern Olympic games in 1896. Modern times see it as as site for ceremonial events and live concerts.
Originally the site was a racecourse, commissioned by Lykourgos (Athenian statesman), in 330BC for the purpose of holding the ‘Panathenaic Games”. It was rebuilt by 144 AD and held a crowd of 50,000 people. After being abandoned for centuries, the Stadium was excavated in 1869 and rebuilt to hold the opening and closing ceremonies – and some of the competitive games – of the first Olympics (Zappas Olympics) in 1870 and 1875. In more modern times, the stadium was used in 2004 as an Olympic venue. It really is a fabulous place to visit, take some excellent pictures, especially of the kids pretending to run their timed races on the running track.
Arch of Hadrian
Located nearby “The Acropolis’, is the Roman ‘triumphal Arch’ (Arch of Hadrian). It is a Gateway, founded in 122AD, amongst a complex of structures that includes the ‘Temple of Olympian Zeus’. Many believe that the Arch was constructed to celebrate the arrival of the Roman Emperor ‘Hadrian’ and as an honour for his numerous donations to the city. The Arch is located 325 metres southeast of the Acropolis.
Hint: From this location, you can take the most fabulous distant pictures of the ‘Acropolis’.
Hop on Hop Off Bus
An absolute Must!
One of the best ways of finding out what to see in a new city is to take the Hop-on Hop-off bus. The Sightseeing bus in Athens is a really great option and it covers a lot of Athens including 15 stops whereby you can get on and off the bus as often as you like. Stop 1 is located at Syntagma Square which is a busy and great location in Athens to also see.
Hint: To save on transport costs. Plan your Hop-on and Hop-off tour as early as possible. This way you can plan your visit, minimise transport costs and see as many sights as possible.
So, the basics of Athens…
Tourist Visa Requirements
Ensure to find out if you need a visa before you travel to Greece.
Check with the Hellenic Republic Greece Embassy in Dubai on 04-2272106 or Abu Dhabi on 02-449 2550.
Traveling to Europe is fairly simple, but make sure you check on your travel status before you fly.
The official language of Athens (Greece) is Greek. English, however, is spoken widely throughout Greece.
The currency of Greece is the Euro (€). The value of 1 Dhs (aed) is .25 Euros.
In terms of gratuities, particularly with house staff et al, should you wish to tip 10-15Dhs, this would be equivalent to 2.50 – 3.80 Euro’s. It is a soft yet common practice to tip for food preparation and delivery and services. Some restaurants in Greece will round up the bill, so check this before you choose to tip. In many restaurants, the owner will not allow the service staff to keep the tips, keep this in mind, and perhaps pass your tip to the waiter directly.
The predominant religion practiced by Greeks is Eastern Orthodox (which belongs to the Greek orthodox Church) and it is widely practiced by the Greeks, however, Greece allows freedom of religious belief.
So, when is the best time to travel to Greece?
The climate in Greece is primarily Mediterranean. Athens sits in a coastal region and therefore typically experiences wet winters and dry/hot summers. Summer can be very warm, however, it is bearable and even still considered a relief from the UAE’s hot summers. You can still consider Summertime an appropriate time to visit Athens. The most optimal time to visit, however, would be August through to November. Especially, if you wish to do a lot of walking around the City. This time of year would average 20-23 degrees Celsius.
Tips to Great Success in travelling through Athens:
* Pack the right clothes – check the weather advice for Athens prior to travelling. You may think to only prepare for warm weather clothing, and surprised by rain on or cooler weather.
* Research and Plan your transport options well to the region you decide to visit. The holiday will be much more productive and enjoyable if you know how you will be “getting to and around” before you arrive. It is a fabulous City to walk around. Because of the City layout of Athens, you can literally walk for miles without requiring public transport. Remember this, however, children get tired legs.
TIP: Ensure to plan ahead and become familiar with the public transport options.
Where to Stay?
Hotels and Apartments are abundant in Athens.
There are a broad mix of budget accommodation and high-end Hotels. Research your favourite accommodation booking website or App, all types of accommodation are available and easy to find and get to.
Our tips for choosing the right hotel:
* make sure you read the reviews for your chosen hotel, and study its location and facilities well* Enquire if your hotel has a shuttle available, particularly from the Airport.
* If your preference is to eat from the in-room dining menu, remember to book a hotel that has a well-considered Room Service. (Request a copy of the menu before you reach your accommodations if needs be). There are cafes around most areas, so meals are widely and easily available through the city areas, however, if you are concerned, ensure your hotel has breakfast included in your package. This makes it easier for the family to fuel up on standard hotel type food.
By Annemieke Woodbridge