There are more than a few ways to get a dose of culture in Athens. After all, it was dubbed the first cultural capital of the EU in 1985 and is considered the cradle of Western culture, the birthplace of art, oh, and rated one of the top 25 most expensive cities in the world in 2008. Are there any cheap breaks in refining yourself in this city? Why yes there are.
The first Parliament room of Athens, still used for special events today
How Cheap Is Cheap?
Many people are surprised to see that Greece’s widely publicized “economic crisis” hasn’t done more to lower prices, but good value can be had. Most museums have entry fees around €5, the Archaeological Museum reaching the max at €7. While the ticket to see the Acropolis might seem steep at € 12, keep in mind that the tickets to five other ancient sites are included in the pack, averaging the entry to each at €2 ( just over $3.) As tempting as it was to use that argument for writing a detailed entry about one of the ancient sites, the angel on my right shoulder reminded me about something equally as intriguing for the same amount, eliminating the need to jump through loopholes in the $5 cultural challenge.
The Best $5 You’ll Ever Spend
The first Parliament building of Athens and now houses a gem of a history museum
with an entry fee of just €2. Advertised is a large costume collection ranging through two hundred years and across dozens of regions of Greece, the beautifully restored speaking room for parliament, the uniform of Revolutionary war hero, Theodoros Kolokotronis, the belongings of one of Greece’s greatest prime ministers, Eleftherios Venizelos, an incredible collection of old weapons, flags, and armor dating back from the middle ages all the way to World War II and some other strange and interesting objects belonging to notable Greeks. The most moving cases display things used by common men.
The personal belongings of a World War I Greek soldier
This museum reads like a storybook, using each room to tell about the slow and oft-times painful realization of the Greek National Identity from the fall of Constantinople (present day Istanbul) and then focusing on the events leading to the Revolution of 1821. Each room presents a carefully selected array of portraits, personal belongings, period-specific weapons and sometimes pieces of war ships or even the earth of a battlefield. My favorite was the room of figureheads from old ships, staring wide-eyed at you through splintered faces.
The hall of mast heads from 18th century war ships
Now You Do It
The museum is open from 9am until 2pm, closed on Mondays, free on Sundays. Start to the left with a glimpse into the speaker’s hall then wind your way around, lingering in the doorways to read the introduction to the collection inside each room. Don’t forget to move upstairs and see the special exhibitions as well as a bird’s eye view of the chandeliers in the speaker’s hall. The gift shop sells beautiful reproduction jewelry. Buy postcards showing photographs of the original 1896 Olympic Games or bookmarks featuring fashion at its most complicated.
A gallery of fashion both colorful and difficult to assemble.
What to Do With Leftover Change
At the time of writing, spending two euros amounts to 2.76 USD. That means you still have 2.24 USD to go spend on a hot and flaky pie at Ariston’s bakery
, where the traditional tiropita or “cheese pie” is €1.60. Read the local flavor blog about Ariston’s
if you need more evidence to blow your last dough.
If You’d Like to Splurge
Make it a cultural two-fer and visit the Athens City Museum
just a little further down Stadiou Street at Klafthmonos Square. The museum is housed in two mansions, one of which was the home of the first king and queen of Greece, King Otto and Queen Amalia. The rooms are still resplendent in nineteenth century aristocratic fashion, and as an “easter egg,” see a painting of the Acropolis made before the Turks and the Venetians renovated the place with a game of “Catch the Cannonball.”
If you prefer your splurges more on the sinful side, buy a few pieces of hand made Greek chocolate at Le Chocolat
on Voulis Street, just down from Ariston’s Bakery.