We have just returned from a lovely holiday in Athens and it was my first trip back to Greece in almost seventeen years – goodness that makes me feel old! Mum and Dad used to take us on our summer holidays to Greece when my sister and I were younger and we were lucky enough to visit several Greek islands including Crete, Corfu, Kos, Rhodes as well as Cyprus and Northern Cyprus. I love Greece and have lovely memories from our family holidays, like singing karaoke with Katie, playing card games with Mum and going on walks with Dad to find cats (I haven’t changed!)
So as the Eid holiday was approaching, Ryan and I looked into our options for travel, as certain countries are opening up for travel from the UAE – it also helps that we are both fully vaccinated. We were initially looking into the Seychelles but as Eid approached the prices started to rocket. So we browsed through the options on Emirates Package Holidays and found a great deal for flights and four nights accommodation in Athens and booked a locally branded hotel called Divani Caravel – it was quite a corporate hotel but was great for the price and a nice walk into the city centre.
We were so excited to be heading back to Europe as we haven’t been since our mini-moon in Nice almost two years ago. For the first time in ages we had a day flight which was actually lovely, we normally opt for the red eye night flight to maximize our holiday but decided to stick with the nice 10.50am flight which got us into Athens for 3pm.
When you arrive in Athens and you are fully Vaccinated for COVID (having had both doses at least 14 days before travel) then there is a separate queue which requires you to show proof of vaccination and you can head straight for passport control. Alternatively if you’re not vaccinated with both doses then you must go in the queue for a rapid COVID test (you do not need to pay for this) and await the results as a group before proceeding to passport control. It was strange receiving a passport stamp for entry to Greece!
We weren’t sure how easy it would be to get from the airport to the main city so we pre-booked our transfer on an app called Welcome Pickups. It was the first time I had used this app but it was extremely easy to use. It can be accessed across 63 countries and connects users to local taxi drivers (in the same way as Uber) but it allows you to book your ride in advance. We were then provided with the driver’s name, phone number and registration plate which was great. There is also the option of taking a metered taxi or the train as there is a train station located at the airport and several metro links across the city.
As planned, our driver was waiting in the lobby holding a sign with my name and we headed straight to the hotel. The hotel was slightly out of the city centre but was only a 25 minute walk. We thought that it would be a lovely way to walk around and explore the city each day. We reached our hotel at around 4.30pm, had a quick change and then set off on our first adventure. Of course, I had done my research online beforehand and found some gorgeous restaurants and tips for sightseeing in Athens (you can read all about our amazing dining options here). One of the top places to visit in Athens is Plaka; one of the older neighbourhoods which is filled with brightly coloured buildings and quaint restaurants and cafes. It was about a thirty minute walk from our hotel to Plaka and we loved taking in the views (and some beverages) along the way.
On our journey from the airport we asked our taxi driver for recommendations for any local bars we should visit during our trip and he suggested a wine bar called By The Glass. It was relatively easy to find from our hotel and sat outside overlooking a cute church whilst enjoying a few glasses of rosè and a charcuterie board – it was the perfect way to start our trip!
We had made a reservation at Psara Tavern – which means the old fisherman’s tavern in Greek – and is listed as the most romantic restaurant in Athens. The restaurant is gorgeous and set at the top of a stairway with other bars dotted alongside. The restaurant has a lovely view over Plaka and the food was just as impressive as the view!
I had planned a day of sightseeing for our first full day so we were up and rearing to go bright and early! We had breakfast at the hotel and set off straight to the Acropolis. We didn’t buy our tickets in advance we purchased them at the site entrance for €20pp. We had also toyed with the options of a tour guide but decided against it but it was easy enough to pick up local licensed tour guides at the entry for €50pp – these tours last approximately 50 minutes but we felt we wanted to go at our own pace although it would have been great to have the ancient history told along the way.
We were provided with a map, along with our tickets, which identified stops along the way with placards of information so we were able to read up on the information ourselves as we went at our own pace. We visited at the start of May which is outside of the peak season and it was an amazing time to visit as we only crossed a handful of people of the way up whereas we have been told that during the peak season there will be thousands!
After a few hours at the Acropolis we continued exploring the narrow roads of Plaka and the New Town before grabbing a taxi back to our hotel for a quick change before dinner. Uber was one of the most convenient ways for us to get around but it was just as easy to flag down the local yellow taxis and request the journey on the meter.
For dinner that night we had booked a restaurant called Orizontes Lycabettus which is located on Lycabettus Hill. To reach the restaurant you can either walk (not in heels) or take the cable car up which was €7 per person for a return journey. The views from the restaurant were amazing, we felt like we could see across the whole of Athens. As the sun started to set, we noticed what looked like smoke, followed by fireworks and the waiter informed us that Olympiacos had just won the league!
By our third day we were exhausted from all of the sightseeing so I was very happy we had booked a relaxing beach day in the middle. We grabbed a taxi outside the front of our hotel and headed down to the beach. The drive was around 35 minutes and cost around €17 in the taxi. Astir Beach Club is affiliated with the Four Seasons and when making your reservations online you can choose different sections, one being adults only (yes please)!
As we travelled before the season fully opened it was pretty quiet when we arrived, but in typical Louise style we were early. Throughout the day the beds started to fill up and we had chosen a cabana on the front row. It was super chilled and the food was amazing so if you are visiting Athens and need a day to relax I would highly recommend Astir Beach.
We had also booked dinner at a restaurant called Blue Fish that evening which is a short 15 minute walk from Astir Beach around the sea front. The food was incredible (you can read all about it here) and it was a unique dining concept which I would absolutely recommend if you love seafood!
Whilst we were in Athens, some of the COVID restrictions started to ease. A curfew was in place meaning we had to be home by 11pm but on our final night this was extended to 12.30am. We were also lucky enough that on our final day the restrictions on closure of museums was lifted, meaning we were able to visit the Acropolis Museum – to Ryan’s delight!
We walked from our hotel into the city centre and timed it well so we were able to see the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was interesting to watch as the guards are dressed in traditional uniform (my favourite part being their shoes).
The entrance to the Acropolis Museum was amazing as the museum itself is built over ruins which used to house some of the most affluent residences in Athens! The entry to the museum is €10 per person and you can purchase your tickets at the entrance on the day.
We ended our final full day by meeting some friends for drinks and dinner in the New Square, starting at A for Athens and finishing across the square in 360 Bar. Both of these bars have increidble views of the Acropolis during the day and at night.
We decided to have a lay in and just chill on our final morning so we popped out for our last breakfast and in true European style found a café on the side of the road to sit and drink our coffee and orange juice. We ordered an Uber for our journey back to the airport which was very straightforward and an easy drive.
For our return flight to Dubai we were required to show a negative PCR test upon check in so we arranged that with a company called IASYS. They were extremely responsive by email and I informed them of the date and time that we were flying and they scheduled our COVID test for the morning before. The nurse came to our hotel and carried out the test in our room which took no more than 15 minutes for us both from start to finish. We were then emailed our test results within 24 hours. This service cost €60 which we were more than happy to pay for the convenience of not having to leave our room!