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During my recent vacation to Greece with friends, we hired a great driver in Athens named Makis Dedes (email: limogr@otrenet.gr), and booked an amazing tour of the Acropolis from a guide named Laura (of Yasoo Greece). I learned so much from Laura – not only about the history of Greece, but also about the best way to visit this world-class site, and I thought I’d pass along a few tips if you’re headed to Athens for some sightseeing.

Laura was a top-notch guide.
Laura was our top-notch guide.

1. Arrive early. Athens is a major stop on Mediterranean cruise routes, so by 8am, when the Acropolis opens, the tour buses are already pulling up and spewing out day-trippers by the hundreds. If you want an early morning start, be there and ready to enter precisely at 8am to stay ahead of the hordes.

The site was not yet completely taken over by cruisers when we were there.
The site was not yet completely taken over by cruisers when we were there.

2. Or arrive a whole lot later. The good news about cruise day-trippers, though, is that eventually they have to return to the port. This means that from about 5pm until the site closes at 8pm, there are far fewer people at the Acropolis. And depending on what time of year you go, you could have a great view of the sunset over Athens.

As far as reaching the site itself, we found that a good way to go was up the Filopappou (Philopappou) Hill on the southwest side. It’s in the shade, and it’s not too physically taxing. But the best part is that it’s largely unused by the aforementioned hordes, and the views of the Acropolis itself as you approach are unparalleled.

A pause in our hike to contemplate the incredible view.
A pause in our hike to contemplate the incredible view.

3. Head indoors. Athens can be a furnace in the summer and is warm to mild all year round, which brings me to my next tip: The Acropolis Museum has some serious air conditioning. Obviously there are other highlights as well, such as walking on glass floors that show off the ruins of homes excavated during the construction of this seven-year-old museum; and getting up close and personal with Parthenon friezes, monuments and pediments. The details of these works are jaw-dropping, and the archaeological ability that brings history to light is humbling.

The beautifully designed and blessedly cool halls of the Acropolis Museum.
The beautifully designed and blessedly cool halls of the Acropolis Museum.
The details of these works combined with the views from the walls of windows was almost overwhelming.
The details of these works combined with the views from the walls of windows was almost overwhelming.

But honestly, that air conditioning was a welcome surprise, especially for just €5 ($6).

Grab some nosh and a drink at the Acropolis Museum cafe and enjoy the view in the shade.
Grab some nosh and a drink at the Acropolis Museum cafe and enjoy the view in the shade.

And if you want to take a load off, the museum’s cafe has some pretty OK views, too. Whatever.

Hanging out on the Balcony of Athens, Lycabettus Hill
Hanging out on the “Balcony of Athens” — Lycabettus Hill.

4. Have a game plan. As for a rough itinerary of a day spent sightseeing these ruins, it’s best to go straight to the Acropolis, and then go see the museum. From there head to the Temple of Zeus, which you can do pretty quickly, and end with Lycabettus Hill, also known as the “Balcony of Athens” for its spectacular views not only of the Acropolis but of all of Athens and the Mediterranean, as well.

Weeeee are the chaaaampions, my friiiieeeends.
Weeeee are the chaaaampions, my friiiieeeends.

5. Be sure to visit the Panathenaic Stadium. Dating back to 140 AD, it has hosted various Olympic events and concerts since 1870. When we visited there was hardly anyone there, which made for some fun photo ops!

Am I tanning... or did I just run a marathon? You decide.
Am I tanning … or did I just run a marathon? You decide.

6. Don’t miss the Herod Atticus Odeon at the Acropolis. It’s quite a sight during the day, but it’s not just a dusty old ruin; concerts and ancient-era dramas are still performed here, and I could only imagine what an experience that would be. The Hellenic Festival used the Odeon this summer as a venue for a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar and a concert by the China Philharmonic Orchestra. So make sure to check the listings while you’re in town.

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