Popular Athens Shore Excursions
Acropolis: Take a stroll along the multicolored marble pathway, which leads to the Acropolis, the ancient "hill city" and the capital's historic heart. The Acropolis is the must-see Athens attraction. Get there early (or if your ship's schedule allows, go late) if you want to explore this fabulous site without excessive heat and crowds. You should stock up on snacks and drinks at the entrance to the site, as they are not available inside (though you can buy books and postcards). We also recommend wearing comfortable closed-toe shoes with good traction, as the marble steps tend to be slippery.
Entrance costs about 12 euros. (Tuesday through Sunday 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. April 1 to October 31) Many other historic artifacts are in the Acropolis Museum, located on Dionysiou Areopagitou Street.
Parthenon: The Acropolis' most iconic structure is the Parthenon, a 24-centuries-old temple famous for the six "maiden" pillars that support its frontage. It's accessible via the same marble pathway as the rest of the Acropolis. Note: The Parthenon continues to undergo extensive reconstruction, so you're bound to see workers on-site.
Central Market: Stroll around the market to get a real flavor of Greek food and drink. Be warned though, some of the food stalls -- featuring slaughtered whole lambs and skinned rabbits -- are not for the squeamish. You'll also find decent flea market stalls near the food market if the sight of all that meat gets too much. (Athinas 42, Monday through Saturday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
The museums of Athens: Athens is home to a number of fabulous museums. Among them is the Numismatic Museum, former home of archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, the man who unearthed the ruins of Ancient Troy and declared, "I have looked on the face of Agamemnon." (Iliou Melathron 12, on Panepistimiou Street; Tuesday through Sunday 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., closed Mondays) When you've had enough of peering at ancient artifacts, you can bring yourself up to date at the National Museum of Contemporary Art. (17-19 Vas. Georgiou B. and Rigilis Street; Tuesday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., closed Mondays)
The neighborhoods of Central Athens: These include Plaka, one of the city's oldest districts, which lies near the Acropolis and is famed for its lively cafes and well-stocked antique shops. Use Plateia Syntagma (Constitution Square), which has a Metro station, as your guidepost. Plaka lies south of this square, while Kolonaki -- an upmarket district with classy boutiques, galleries and restaurants -- is at its northeast corner. Monastiraki and Thissio (charming historic districts with fine 19th century neoclassical buildings and a good array of shops and restaurants) lie to the west of Syntagma. A handful of bars and eateries in these neighborhoods also have rooftop seating areas that offer unbeatable views of the Acropolis.
If you head north from Monastiraki, you'll find yourself in Psiri, a former industrial zone that has been transformed into a haven for the trendy and avant-garde, with lots of alternative restaurants and offbeat shops. Artsy types will also love Bohemian Metaxourgeio (northwest of Psiri), which is home to Athens' Municipal Gallery on Avdi Square. Corinth, about 55 miles from Athens, is worth a visit to explore the narrow streets of its old city, view its fine Temple of Apollo and Roman Agora, and sail along the high-sided Corinth Canal. Most ships offer tours there.
Delphi: This site on the slopes of Mount Parnassus is one of the most famous of the ancient world -- and certainly the most mystical. Don't miss the Springs of Castalia -- where supplicants to the Oracle purified themselves before entering the sanctuary. Make sure you walk "The Sacred Way," which leads to the Temple of Apollo, the ancient Treasury and the 5,000-seat Theatre of Delphi. The latter dates from the fourth century BC. and offers magnificent views and amazing acoustics (have a holler to try them out).
Aegina: Athens isn't known for beaches, but if the sand and sun are calling, we recommend taking a roughly 35-minute ferry from Piraeus to Aegina, the second largest island in the Saronic Gulf. You'll find excellent beaches at Souvala and Marathon as well as the classic Greek monastery of Saint Nektarios and several ancient temples dedicated to Athena, Zeus and Apollo. Don't forget to buy some delicious pistachios to nibble on the way back.