If you have just one day to spend in Athens and you would like to visit two of the most stunning examples of the very best in Greek culture and art, and also Athens’ most popular shopping district, I can help you. I can guide you to the Acropolis Museum, the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center and the Plaka shopping district. But remember these words: Location, Location, Location.
Your one precious day in Athens will be stress-free if you chose to stay at the Parthenon Hotel on Makri Street, located a three-minute walk from the Acropolis Museum, a short stroll to Plaka, ten-minute cab drive to the Niarchos Center.
The Parthenon Hotel is in the heart of the “old city” where “the past meets the present,” and it is a warm and welcoming oasis where you are close enough to the tourist attractions of Athens, (the closest Metro stop, Acropoli, is just a short walk away), yet separated from the crowds. Location, location, location.
You will receive a warm smile if you greet the friendly staff members at the hotel by saying “Kalimera,” (good morning), and I am guessing they will respond in kind. I suggest you begin your day by asking the friendly staff members at the hotel to call a cab driver they recommend to take you to the Niarchos Center. For the return trip, you will find cabs parked outside the Center. In the early evening, leave the hotel for the short walk to the Acropolis Museum and the end your evening with another short walk from the hotel to Plaka. Have your evening meal at one of several roof-top restaurants in this district, which is said to have been inhabited since ancient times and that many ruins are beneath its cobblestone streets. (Sorry, no digging is allowed;-)
The Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center is an absolutely stunning architectural masterpiece that combines a park, garden, and seemingly endless indoor space that has pride of place next to the wine-dark Bay of Faliro. Spread over 210,00 square miles in what the architects call “a landscaped park,” the Center opened in 2016 and was given as a gift to the Greek government in 2017. It houses both the Greek National Library and The Greek National Opera.
Designed by Renzo Piano, the architect said he imaged the building to be sloped and “rising from the earth,” as it does have that visual effect. ( I imagined Athena rising from the head of Zeus ) It has a “green roof” and a glass observatory with a very large solar canopy powering the buildings beneath it.
It is the setting for concerts, plays, workshops, jazz festivals, dance performances, movies, operas, festivals, and seasonal events. Outdoors there is a 42-acre park with playgrounds, water jets, and vegetables gardens, and a 400-metre sea water canal for sailing and kayaking.
Astonishingly, except for fees for bike rentals and the price of opera tickets, all of this is free to the public. It is a splendid gift from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation to Greece.
The Acropolis Museum should be visited in the evening, because at dusk, the museum is magical. Large, glass panes enclose the structure, creating the illusion of a luminous jewelry box for the precious Parthenon sculptures and artifacts inside. The architects paid homage to the treasures that are displayed by creating vast “white” or “empty” space throughout the museum, giving each work of art its very own pedestal.
Guides advise starting on the third floor and working your way down. You will be rewarded by the interior and exterior views and, as you admire the sculptures and read their histories, you will be told the story of the Parthenon.
PLAKA. You will have the sensation of being in a small village as you walk the narrow, cobblestone streets of the Plaka, starting on Adirianou Street at the bottom and walking up a gradual incline. On the way, you will see many small shops and most likely a young man or woman will be standing outside, urging you to come in for “a browse.” The tourist shops sell lovely cotton clothing, jewelry made by artisans, replicas of Greek art, locally-made ceramics, Greek specialty food and wine, and much, much more.
The restaurants are abundant, many offering fresh fare from farmers and fisherman. I have never seen Greek dancers perform, but many tavernas have musicians. You can see the Acropolis from the Plaka, and you get the best view from a roof-top restaurant. On some nights, movies are shown in the al fresco theatre.
Upon the return to your hotel, The Parthenon, you may want to impress the friendly staff with your fluency in Greek by wishing them “Kalinikta” (good night). I am sure they will respond in kind and then remind you not to miss the hearty breakfast buffet in the morning.