How to Get the Most Out of a Layover in Athens | Culinary Backstreets
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Whether you are arriving in Athens by ship or airplane, both the port and the airport are near enough to be able to venture out and enjoy a little bit of the city if you have at least a few hours. The airport is 35 to 40 minutes by metro from downtown Athens (but be sure to take into account a 10- to 15-minute wait). Coming from the port is more complicated, as Piraeus is enormous. Opposite gates E5 and E6 you can find the electric railway, which connects to the metro and can take you straight to the heart of the city.

5 hours
If you’re on the metro, get off at Syntagma station and take the red line towards Elliniko. Get off at Acropolis metro station and start walking towards the glorious pedestrian-only street Dionysiou Areopagitou. On your right you can see the Arch of Hadrian, on your left you’ll be able to see the Acropolis Museum – the building seems to merge with the Ancient Rock of the Acropolis. Its cafeteria and restaurant are a first-class opportunity to have a meal with one of the most beautiful views in Europe. The menu is quite varied, as they have to cater to families and kids, but you can enjoy a number of good regional Greek dishes as well. Try the fried calamari with eggplant salad and the salad with arugula and siglino (Cretan smoked pork).

Continuing on from the museum, a number of ancient sites lie on both sides of the road – the Acropolis, Philopappou Hill and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus – which leads to Thisseion station. You can get to Piraeus in 20 minutes from here or change lines at Monastiraki to return to the airport.

10 hours
If you can, try to arrive at Syntagma station before 11 a.m. so you can see the changing of the guard. The evzones, men dressed in traditional Greek costume, do a choreographed bit in front of the Greek parliament. You can then cross Syntagma Square and head towards Plaka for a walk, stopping to drink coffee at the beautiful courtyard of Glykys. This is a quiet place with a few tables outside where cats reign supreme. Drink some Greek coffee (make sure you order it with a little sugar) and then walk the touristy, cobblestone streets of Plaka until you hit To Kafeneio. We love the spicy meatballs served with “THE sauce” (as they like to call it), a tomato-based concoction boldly underlined with curry – this dish never disappoints. We also heartily recommend something called the coupa, a wheat rusk bowl containing chopped tomato, feta and plenty of sliced onion. The entire thing is meant to be eaten, rusk bowl and all. Not far from here is the hipster hangout of Agias Eirinis Square, where all the cool kids are having a drink at Rock n’ Balls or Throubi.

24 hours
Twenty-four hours gives you plenty of options for exploring Athens and allows you to venture a bit farther afield – that is, away from the tourist crowds, to places only locals dare to go. This being Athens, we suggest surf or turf, but either way, you’ll need a taxi.

If you like seafood and shellfish, a visit to the port is in order. One of our favorites is Strofi, in the neighborhood of Perama, which offers the finest, freshest sea urchins with lemon, clams and every sort of fish, all in a charmingly rustic, old-fashioned setting.

If turf is more your craving, Base Grill, in the formerly working-class area of Bournazi, serves up some of the best steak and other meaty cuts that we’ve ever had. (Be sure to reserve, as the place is always packed.) This steakhouse has two famous specialties. The first is a rather refined take on a plain dish of French fries with fried eggs. The fries make a kind of nest, and the eggs tucked within are broken up at the table with a spoon so that the yolk runs deliciously all over the potatoes. The dish has been so successful that it has been copied by restaurants all around the city. The second specialty is obviously meat – every single steak and cut is carefully prepared in a specific way to bring out its best qualities.

We really can’t recommend either of these places enough.

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