Piraeus, the port of Athens, Greece. is popular both as embarkation/disembarkation point for Eastern Mediterranean and Greek Isles cruises, as well as a stop (sometimes overnight) on voyages in that part of the world that originate and end in other ports.
Most passengers who come to Piraeus, opt for shore excursions to Athens that take in the Greek capital city’s highlights (about a half hour away from the port) including a visit to the ancient Acropolis where many visitors feel transported back in time to the Golden Age of Greece. Points of interest of the Acropolis include the Theater of Dionysos, passed on the marble walkway that leads to the top of the hill, and the iconic, 2,400-plus-years-old Parthenon, where in ancient times a colossal golden statue of Athena, goddess of wisdom stood. Other Acropolis highlights include the Propylae, the monumental gateway of the Acropolis; the Temple of Athena Nike where Athena was worshipped as the goddess of victory in war (nike means victory in Greek); the Erechtheion and its Porch of the Caryatids (its six graceful statues are replicas, with five originals residing in the New Acropolis Museum, and one, removed by Lord Elgin in the 19th century is housed in the British Museum in London). And, of course, from the height of the Acropolis, 230 feet over the city, the view of Athens and its surroundings is spectacular.
Typical Athens city tours include, in addition to the Acropolis, the sight of the ruins of the Temple of Zeus, with just a handful of its original 134 columns still standing but still making for a dramatic sight; Hadrian’s Arch, erected in honor of the Roman Emperor in the 2nd century A.D.; Constitution Square with the Parliament Building on one side of the Square, where recent demonstrations protested government austerity measures in the Greek capital; the Royal Palace, where the Evzones guards keep watch in elegant uniforms. Another stop on most city tours is the Olympic Stadium, built in 1895 for the 1896 Olympics, the first Games of the modern era.
The Plaka, an area of quaint, winding streets surrounding the Acropolis, beckons with many shops, restaurants and tavernas. Antiquities aficionados have the National Archeological Museum, in the heart of Athens, with exhibits chronicling the cultures of Greece beginning with the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations to the present.
Other popular shore excursions sold onboard ships include day trips to Cape Sounion in the southernmost point of the Attica Peninsula with the Temple of Poseidon, god of the sea dating from the 5th century B.C. with only some columns from it remaining. A colossal statue of Poseidon used to stand in the temple, but only parts of it have survived and are in the Archeological Museum of Athens. Visitors can see the word “Byron” carved on one of the columns –the British poet, Lord Byron, carved his name on the base of one of the columns during an 1810 visit to the site.
Flavors not to be missed include Greek pastries, made with plentiful nuts, fruits and honey –baklava, anyone? Other “musts” include a taste of the potent libation ouzo, of course, and iced coffees –particularly delightful as you climb the Acropolis and go about exploring. Before or after your visit to the Acropolis, stop for a coffee or other libation and a pastry at Zonar’s Café at the foot of the Acropolis near where tour buses drop off. The café has a terrace with a wonderful view of the Parthenon and complimentary Wi-Fi.
Popular souvenirs of Athens, in addition to ouzo, include excellent olive oils, handicrafts, carpets and leather products.
Passengers who have already visited Athens, or who have two or more days in Piraeus, may wish to spend a little time in this port city that has served Athens for more than 2,500 years and that was the setting for Melina Mercouri’s “Never On Sunday” film. Highlights of Piraeus include the Archaeological Museum with finds from the area, the Municipal Gallery with modern sculpture and superb seafood particularly at restaurants in the area of the small harbor at Mikrolimano.
Cruise lines that call at Piraeus include Azamara Club, Celebrity, Costa, Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Silversea and Windstar.
IF YOU GO – For additional information on Athens, visit www.visitgreece.gr.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun