Last Stop: Athens

I realize that I never wrote about my last stop in Europe, which was to Athens, Greece. We flew there from the island of Santorini, which was only about an hour flight away. Warning: If you go to Athens in June, it is crazy hot. Many shops and restaurants close during the hottest hours in the afternoon (between 2 to 5 pm), which our Airbnb host described as a siesta-like period for Greeks.

There are many important historic monuments to check out in Athens, as well as cool flea markets and shops. As the capital of Greece and a major transportation hub, Athens is also a convenient place to do day trips from.

Here are a list of things to do (and around) Athens:

1. Acropolis of Athens

The main feature at the Acropolis is the Parthenon, dedicated by the Athenians to Athena Parthenos, the patron of their city. I highly recommend visiting this site in the morning, as it tends to be less hot since the sun hasn’t reached its full peak yet.

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2. Take a ferry to Hydra

Athens is close to many islands, one of them being the island of Hydra, which is located in the Aegean Sea between the Saronic Gulf and the Argolic Gulf. There are short hikes you can do in Hydra to some beautiful beaches, where the water is as blue and clear as the sky. A one-way ferry trip to Hydra from Athens takes less than an hour.

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3. Watch the sunset over the water

This is just one of those classic vacation things you must do in Greece. The photo below was taken while we were waiting at the dock in Hydra for our ferry back to Athens.

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4. Visit the farmers market in Athens

It’s a little hard to communicate with vendors, who for the most part only speak Greek, but the farmer market in Athens was quite an interesting and fun experience. The produce here is really cheap; for instance, I bought a large bag of plump, juicy cherries (around 3 lbs) for two euros.

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5. Explore Monastiraki

This flea market area is always buzzing with tourists and locals alike. There are tons of cool shops, cafes, bars, and souvenir shops to check out. I recommend trying a fish foot massage at Doctor Fish Athens, where you place your feet inside a tank and little fish nibble the dead skin off your feet. The sensation was really ticklish at first, but it soon became soothing and even nice. My feet also did in fact feel softer afterwards.

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6. Buy some Greek sesame snacks & honey

We bought a lot of souvenirs, such as snacks and beauty products, to share with our friends back home. Most of the snacks we found in Greece contain either honey and/or sesame seeds. There were also a lot of olive oil products for sale in the markets; we bought cream and shampoo containing this ingredient, as well as some olive wood products.

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7. Explore Coffee Shops

During the hottest hours of the afternoon (between two to five), many shops and restaurants are closed and it also tends to get too hot to wander outside – making it the perfect time to explore Athens’ coffee shops. There are tons of really neat ones around the city, my favourite being the cozy Little Tree Books & Coffee.

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8. See the Acropolis at night

There are many restaurants with rooftop patios near the Acropolis of Athens, allowing guests to see the beautiful Acropolis light up at night. We visited Kuzina, as recommended to us by our local Airbnb host. This restaurant tends to get quite busy so be sure to make a reservation ahead of time.

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9. Daytrip to Delphi

From Athens we took a day trip to Delphi, a famous ancient sanctuary about a two-hour drive away from Athens. The site is on the south-western slope of Mount Parnassus, overlooking the coastal plain to the south and the valley of Phocis. Showcasing monuments built by important ancient Greek city-statess, Delphi embodies Hellenic unity and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Must-Try Foods 

Not only is Greece absolutely beautiful, but the country’s cuisine is also phenomenal. From street souvlaki to grilled squid, everything I ate was incredible – and at prices that I know I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. Here are some dishes you have to try when in Greece:

1. Gyro and Souvlaki

Gyro is a special Greek delicacy consisting of meat, onion, tomato and tzatziki sauce served with pita bread. The gyro meat is cooked slowly on a vertical rotisserie and is served as strips or small slices of meat. Souvlaki is also a Greek dish, but is prepared as small meat cubes and grilled vegetables on a skewer. A great place to try these dishes is at Sfika, a restaurant that serves some of the best grilled meats in the city, according to our local host.

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2. Greek Salad

Made with the perfect balance of feta cheese, crisp vegetables, and buttery croutons, the Greek salad at Kuzina Restaurant was absolute perfection.

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3. Greek Frappé Coffee

The traditional frappé coffee is a Greek foam-covered iced coffee drink made from instant coffee, water and sugar. The frappé has become a hallmark of Greek coffee culture, and is available in virtually all coffee shops across Athens. I got one at Coffee Island, which sells a real strong traditional Greek frappé for 1.10 euros.

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4. Asian Greek Fusion at Mr. Dim

This may sound almost silly, but this Greek Asian fusion shop called Mr. Dim served one of the best bao creations I’ve ever tasted. The tender, juicy gyros meat worked so well with the flavours of the Chinese sesame bao; even my Asian parents adored this fusion dish.

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5. Grilled Squid

I highly recommend the grilled squid at Smile Restaurant, a local family-run business. I normally don’t love grilled squid because it tends to be too chewy for my liking, but the texture of this one was amazing and grilled to perfection.

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6. Moussaka

This traditional Greek dish is either eggplant- or potato-based, and is layered with ground meat in a fashion similar to that of a lasagna.

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7. Koulouria Thessalonikis

These giant sesame bagel-like treats are sold everywhere on the streets in Athens for typically less than one euro. They’re deliciously chewy on the inside, and carry a fragrant toasted sesame taste – perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack.

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Happy traveling!

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Santorini

Heaven on earth is Santorini, a beautiful Greek island filled with white and blue cascading buildings and delicious seafood. Quite bluntly, Santorini is what remains after a large volcanic eruption that destroyed the earliest settlements on a formerly single island, and created the current caldera. The main island slopes downward towards the Aegean Sea, and the capital, Fira, is at the top of the cliff looking down on the lagoon.

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A beach that I would recommend visiting in Santorini is the Red Beach – given this name due to the red hue of its rocks from the lava of the volcanic eruption. We were told that from Red Beach, we could take a boat to White and Black Beach (creative names, I know). Just as we were trying to figure out where the docking station was at Red Beach, a small boat suddenly pulled up on shore right in front of us, and the captain started yelling, “White beach! White beach!” Next thing we know, a crowd of people started gathering around the boat, ready to hop on.

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It turns out that these small boats pass along the three beaches (Red, White, and Black) every hour, and costs only 5 euros round trip.

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My favourite of the three was Black Beach. It was quite big, and swimming in the icy cold water was perfect to beat the the stern heat.

In the evening, we strolled around Pygros Village and watched the sunset from this beautiful restaurant called Pygros Restaurant.

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Arrive at the restaurant two hours before the sunset to secure a table by the window. I recommend ordering the fried cod; it was battered and fried to a deep golden perfection, while the inside remained moist and flavorful.

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The next day, we hiked an 11-km trail from Fira to Oia. Although it was a little tough since some parts of the hike were rugged and it got quite hot in the afternoon, it was still a lot of fun and the view everywhere you looked all throughout the journey was absolutely gorgeous.

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That evening, we watched the sunset in Oia. There were a lot of people gathered on this one particular tall cliff, but we decided to avoid the bustling crowd and settled on a slightly lower cliff instead. Our view was still spectacular; it’s amazing to see just how round and neon pink the sun becomes as it slowly drifts out of sight.

The next morning, we brunched at Cafe Galini, a hotel restaurant with a great panoramic view of the cascading white buildings by the hillside.

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Although I had visited coastal cities before, living on an actual island was a completely different experience. The island was also big enough that I never felt trapped or bored.

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Whether you’re looking to just relax at the beach or to conquer a challenging hike, Santorini is definitely the place to be (while enjoying some great seafood too).