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Traveling to Greece in winter time February 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece, Greece Athens, Greece Islands, Greece Mainland.

A week in Greece during winter time offers history and bustle on a budget

View of Athens, Lycabettus Hill as seen from Thission and The Attalus Arcade 

Lycavittos or Lycabettus Hill, Athens’ highest point, offers 360-degree views. A short fenicular (tram) ride gets you to the top.

Tell someone you’re vacationing in Greece in the winter and you’re likely to get some questions: “So, um, what’s the weather like?” Answer: Cool but comfortable. “Do people go to Greece in the winter?” Answer: Yes. “Why not wait until July? Their beaches are famous, you know.” Answer: It’s affordable in winter.

Greek civilizations began more than 5,000 years ago, so with a little planning and flexibility, a visit to Greece can be an unforgettable experience in ancient history and modern culture. Here are seven secrets for a memorable winter Greece experience:

Spend a week > Many travelers to Europe plan multi-country hops, but considering that western civilization began in Greece, why skip an opportunity to experience this amazing country? Sure, two to three days in Athens can get you a quick sampling, but that’s just one city in a beautiful country.

Do spend three days in Athens > Take in the awe-inspiring Acropolis, fallen Temple of Zeus and ruins of the Agora and enjoy a 360-degree view from Athens’ highest point,  Lycavittos Hill. Swing by Syntagma Square to watch the hourly changing of the Greek Guard at the Parliament Building’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Take in a night in Plaka, where you’ll find numerous cafes and restaurants.

Plan ahead > There are hundreds of archaeological sites and temple ruins to see in Greece. Do your research. Many ancient sites are just a footprint of once-majestic temples. Sometimes what you go to “see” isn’t really much to see at all.

Take the midnight train to Thessaloniki > Head north to the hills of Macedonia, where the nation’s second-largest city provides a full day of historical sites and modern experiences.

The Archaeological Museum and Museum of Byzantine Culture provides a detailed review of ancient western civilization’s early start and the impact of Christianity spreading into the Middle East. Don’t miss the Arch of Galerius (A.D. 297); the five-story-high ruin marks Caesar Galerius’ victory over the Persians. Step inside the White Tower (15th century), the Ottoman Death Row where Janissaries carried out notoriously gruesome executions, and finish with a healthy hike to the top of the city, where ancient walls, five stories tall, protected the town’s original Acropolis from foreign invaders.

Ride a ferry > Hourly ferries shuttle locals to and from Athens to Aegina Island, a bustling fishing village. Order dinner from one of the small restaurants and witness the chef walking into the market to buy fresh mussels for your meal. Feeling adventurous? Try octopus, grilled tableside for all to see and enjoy.

Take a day trip to Delphi > The center of intellect, the Oracle at Delphi greeted ancient worshippers and wisdom seekers until 800 B.C. Though the temples have mostly crumbled, the ruins continue to inspire and intrigue.

Dive into the culture > Fortunately, most of the places you’ll visit are touristy enough that the Greeks will speak English. But don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path to discover local restaurants and markets that offer a more authentic culture. Greeks take pride in their hospitality and may even approach you if you seem a bit confused or lost. If offered a sip of Ouzo, Greek national liquor of choice, drink up and always say thank you.

Travel Tips
* Use your ATM card. Any Visa or MasterCard ATM card can work in Greece and give you euro currency. You’ll find in most cases you get a better conversion rate than going to exchange booths at the airport. Get as much as you will need the first time, though, because your bank will charge you a transfer fee. Feel free to pay for meals and other expenses with your American credit card to conserve cash.

* Buy a seven-day unlimited Athens metro pass. At 10 euros, it’s by far the best deal in the city. Athens has a tremendous transit system of trains, buses and trams that make getting around easy and cheap.

* Get up early. Historical sites tend to open by 8 a.m. and close by 4:30 p.m.

* Don’t plan to shop, plan to socialize. A weak dollar against the euro leaves limited bargains in Athens. Certainly shopping is bountiful, but trinket souvenirs provide the most value. Save your euros for enjoying Athens’ restaurants, Greek wines and late nights in the city’s numerous cafes.

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