Friends, I am back from Greece! Even though I’m so jet-lagged that I may need to prop open my eyes with toothpicks for the rest of this week, I had an absolutely fantastic time. It was my first visit there, and I dove headfirst into every historic site I could find. That included the glorious Acropolis, the ancient Agora, the Roman Forum, Hadrian’s Library, Keramikos Cemetery, and the Temple of Olympic Zeus.
Each of these places took my breath away. It wasn’t just the grandeur of the sites, or the thousands of years of history I was looking at. It was also the discovery of charming quirks, like the cats roaming freely around the ruins, and the realization that both Hadrian’s Library and the Keramikos Cemetery are guarded by… turtles.
My first piece of advice applies to every traveler planning to spend a few days in Athens: buy the combination ticket! The Hellenic Heritage e-Ticket saves you time, by letting you skip the ticket line at each site, and it saves you money. To visit the Acropolis costs €20; the combination ticket is €30 and lets you visit all of the sites I mentioned above. (Each site charges an admission of about €8 to €10, which adds up quickly.) Since you now have to book the timing of your Acropolis visit in advance — a new rule that came into effect in September 2023 — it really makes sense to buy the combination ticket online.
On the dining front, I ate incredibly well, starting with the breakfast at my hotel every morning. Athens has many hotels, and I ended up choosing one based on a few factors. Location was key: I wanted to be in Plaka, the oldest neighborhood in Athens, close to all of its ancient treasures. (The trade-off being that the streets wind around in confusing ways, with tiny sidewalks full of tourists, but it was wonderful nonetheless.) My husband and I scoured guidebooks and TripAdvisor reviews, and that was how we found a place called the Classic Hotel by Athens Prime Hotels.
Friends, it was perfect. To be clear, our room was tiny, as all guestrooms in Plaka are (space is forever at a premium in historic districts). But it was clean and well-designed, with amenities like a mini-fridge, a safe, a great shower, and a hot tub on the balcony. Even better? The hearty gluten-free breakfast I had every morning.
After booking online at the Classic Hotel, my husband and I wrote to them asking about the included breakfast — specifically, if there would be anything that a celiac could eat. Staff wrote back that while the breakfast included eggs, vegetables, fruits, yogurt, and cheese, they didn’t have any gluten-free bread or other specialty items. That was fine with me. But when I arrived, I discovered that the staff member in charge of the breakfast, Michaela, had gone out and bought some gluten-free items for me. I ended up with two different breads (one brown, one white), rice cakes topped with white chocolate and strawberry, and small crispbreads to pair with the fresh peach jam. Yes, I was spoiled — and very grateful. The Greek reputation for warm hospitality is well deserved.
I’ll be writing more about Athens over the next few weeks, because I ate extremely well there. But my first lesson was that it never hurts to ask a question — or to mention that you have celiac disease. I know some people feel shy or uncomfortable about doing so, but in my experience, it’s worth it.