Magic on a Cruise: Day in Piraeus, Athens Greece

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Trip Index:

Introduction
Getting there
Hotel Review: Hilton Rome
Taking the long way to the port
Embarkation
Review: Jade Penthouse Suite 10166
Day in Olympia, Greece
Day in Piraeus Athens, Greece
Day in Kusadasi, Turkey
Day in Istanbul, Turkey
Day in Naples/Pompeii, Italy
Hotel Review: Hotel Holiday

I awoke to a low rumbling noise as we were entering the port of Piraeus, Athens Greece. Peering over the back balcony I could see a ship right behind us. As in, almost touching the boat. It was following us in to port but I wondered why it was so close.

So close

So close

Ship following us in

Ship following us in

It was a little too early for breakfast for me when the ship docked at 7am so I decided to grab something once off the ship. Just like the day prior, my husband and I had made a car reservation with a local rental car place in advance – Hertz this time. We were among the first off the ship again, and as we walked through the deserted port building a lone dog trailed behind us for a bit.

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After passing through a couple large, empty parking lots we honed in on an open coffee shop just two stores down from Hertz which was only a 5 minute walk from the ship. We enjoyed some fresh orange juice, coffee and pastries while we waited for Hertz to open at 8am. The Spanakopita (spinach pie) was delicious and I highly recommend it. A few other patrons entered, and even though countries in the EU are not supposed to allow smoking inside establishments serving food this restaurant apparently didn’t care and a few guys lit up cigarettes inside without even glancing in our direction.

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Hertz opened, and unlike the disaster of a reservation at the Avis facility the day prior there was no issue this time. After a few minutes we were on our way. The car rental cost $39 for the day. We drove along the coast, stopping occasionally to take photos of the gorgeous views. Sunrise was around 745am so we enjoyed seeing the town right after it started coming up.

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Both of us had been to Athens before and been to a lot of the tourist spots. We had not, however, been to the Temple of Poseidon which sits at the southernmost tip of the Attica peninsula, about 42 miles away from Athens. The ship’s shore excursion form had a tour that matched perfectly, called “Temple of Poseidon & Scenic Coast” number 5811 for 66 EUR per person. The description of the 4 hour tour from the brochure was –

*Drive along the scenic coastal road with views of the Saronic Gulf
* Pass through Glyfada, Kavouri, Vouliagmeni, Varkiza & Labonissi
*Visit the Temple of Poseidon, standing 200 feet above the sea, built during the Golden age of Perkles’ Athens.
* Enjoy refreshments before your return to the ship

Our destination decided, I tapped it into GoogleMaps on my phone. The directions were a little more difficult to follow than in some countries because the writing was all in Greek but I just called out, “turn right now!” and used hand signals which worked ok. We passed through the coastal towns of Glyfada, Kavouri, Vouliagmeni and then the straight paved road gave way to a smaller rocky path that seemed to rise up and wound around and around the mountain, then twisted down smaller and smaller streets. We followed the directions diligently, and eased the small car through tight spaces that seemed meant for one vehicle at a time only. Finally GoogleMaps announced proudly, “you have reached your destination” as we came to a dead end. But…where was the Temple of Poseidon built in 440 BC?

Temple of Poseidon?

Temple of Poseidon?

We got out of the car and I spun around. I didn’t see anything even resembling the ancient structure. The street was silent save for a cat slinking down the alley. There was what looked like a church, and even though neither of us could read Greek we figured that it was also named Temple of Poseidon. Unfortunately, we were all the way at the top of a mountain and the temple we were looking for was no where nearby.

Temple

Temple

The views were beautiful from so high up so we took a minute to enjoy.

View

View

We decided to head back down the mountain using a different route, but were soon thwarted by a fence.

No Trespassing

No Trespassing

There were some really fancy homes alternating with minimal shacks, and as we sidled up next to one the Temple of Poseidon could be seen far down below. What a great view, and there probably aren’t many tourists that go all the way up there to get that view. The Sounion area has a lot of expensive summer homes that can reach into up into the 20 million euro range.

Mountaintop homes

Mountaintop homes

There it was! GoogleMaps suggested taking a quick route down the mountain and we were eager to go see the temple.

Temple of Poseidon

Temple of Poseidon

The car bounced along the rocky path which had taken place of the paved road, and it occasionally hit a larger than usual pothole. Deliberating whether to turn around or not, we knew that if we turned around it would now take even longer because we’d have to go all the way back up the mountain again, but if we kept going the small rocks on the path might become boulder sized. We slowed the car to a crawl and went a little further, dubiously. The path got rockier and suddenly seemed to dissolve before our eyes. Now we had to turn around, and start the rerouting over again. It did feel good to get on regular pavement again though, instead of off-roading in a car that had never been intended to do anything but cruise on smooth roads.

Once we were back on the regular road we rerouted and were soon back down on the main highway. From there it was simple to continue on to the temple. Once we got there, parking was easy and free right at the foot of the steps leading up to the ticket booth.

Parking

Parking

Tickets were 4 EUR per person (currently around 4.40 USD).

Entrance

Entrance

After paying, we walked up the path to the temple.

Path leading to temple

Path leading to temple

Even though I didn’t see it, somewhere in one of the column bases was a carved inscription of his name believed to have been made by poet George Lord Byron in the early 1800’s. He also mentioned Sounion in his Isles of Greece poem –

Place me on Sunium’s marbled steep,
Where nothing, save the waves and I,
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep…

The Cape of Sounion was indeed very quiet, save for a gentle breeze of the wind. I couldn’t hear the waves down below but I certainly could have heard a tiny pebble roll down the windswept hill since there were no other tourists visiting the site at the time.

The view at Cape Sounion was impressive, as was the temple.

View at Cape Sounion

View at Cape Sounion

Only 15 columns of locally-quarried white marble stand today, but when the temple was originally built it contained 34. Because the ancient Greeks had no electrical power such as we have today, shipwrecks were much more common. Poseidon as their god of the sea was very powerful, and the temple was a place where mariners left gifts for Poseidon. This was done in hopes that they’d remain in good favor and avoid drownings and storms, seeing as the wrath of the gods.

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For those not familiar with Cape Sounion according to Greek Mythology is where Aegeus, the King of Athens thought he saw a black sail on the horizon that belonged to his son Theseus’s ship. Believing that his son had been killed by the Minotaur on Crete, the King threw himself off the cliff, overcome by grief. Unbeknownst to him though his son had beat the Minotaur and had simply forgotten to raise the white sail in his haste to get home and share the exciting news with his father.

Cape Sounion

Cape Sounion

On the way back to the car, as soon as we passed the cafeteria a huge group of tourists on the ship’s organized tour bounded up the steps. We had been lucky again, and missed the prime visiting time! Even though we hadn’t planned it that way especially with our mistaken routing in the early morning, it had worked out perfectly. I really prefer to visit a site by myself so that my thoughts aren’t interrupted by a constant stream of chatter. I try to imagine the place as it was hundreds of years ago, and that is tough with a ton of people around. Plus, it makes for better photos when there is no one to try to angle around.

Cafeteria

Cafeteria

We got back on the road and headed back to town.

City

City

Deciding to enjoy some local lunch rather than eat on the ship we returned the car and the walked down a random street until we found a shop that looked interesting. We ordered some sandwiches and breads to go, and found a lovely little green park area to sit and enjoy our lunch in while looking at the docks.

Lunch

Lunch

While we were enjoying the sunshine and food, a guy came out of no where (the bushes?) and asked us brazenly if we wanted to buy an iPad. Neither of us did, but he showed us the box to back up his claim that it was new. We declined again and he disappeared. I’m sure it was stolen.

Lunch

Lunch

After we were done eating we walked through one of the large parking lots on the way to the ship, and we saw the same guy trying to peddle his stolen goods to someone else. Having failed, he came over to us and tried again, asking of we wanted to buy an iPad. Uh, Hello! You already asked us. After we looked at him strangely he sort of backed away, no doubt looking for the next person to pass by.

Back on the ship I freshened up in our suite and sat outside on the deck while watching the colors slowly change from green, white and brown into pink, purple and orange.

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The Norwegian Jade had a really cool “room service” option where you can order a pizza for $5. We did that, and happily dug in as the ship’s horn sounded three deep notes and we headed back out to the open seas.

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Back out to sea

Back out to sea

Here is the daily breakdown – Doing our own excursion it was 39 EUR for the car, 4 EUR per person for admission and about 10 EUR for lunch with a total cost of 57 EUR or 62 USD. The walk to the car rental facility was easy and it was nice to be able to walk down a random street for lunch and have a local meal. The ship’s organized tour would have been 80 USD per person with “refreshments” included, so no food but admission to the temple. The ship’s official excursion would have been 160 plus food, while in a large group of people. We saved at least 100 USD by doing our own thing.

Reader Martin pointed out that sometimes ship excursions make sense because they offer peace of mind in case something goes wrong. Our journey had thankfully worked out just fine even though we had gotten slightly lost, because there had been more than enough time padded on either side as a buffer. We didn’t take any chances and allowed plenty of time. Plus, I got to see the Temple of Poseidon from a vantage point that few tourists probably do. However, I certainly understand that for some folks the extra security outweighs the money saved when doing your own excursions.

Next up: Day in Kusadasi, Turkey

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  1. Ang
    Reply

    Loving your cruise reviews! I am a cruiser myself and I’ve always been scared to rent a car in another country and go off on my own. It’s nice to know you haven’t had many issues with it so maybe I’ll try it next time. Do you need an international driver’s license foe the car rental? How do we go about getting one? Will our GPS’s from state side work over there?

    • Melinda
      Reply

      Ang, you don’t need an international driver’s license anymore to drive in other countries, just your regular state-issued one will do. Usually American GPS won’t work overseas so I recommend renting a GPS from the rental car company, usually about 10 USD a day. Alternately if you have a free unlimited international roaming plan on your phone than that would work great. Thanks for reading!

  2. Claire
    Reply

    Hi – Enjoying your cruise report! Will you consider reviewing the ship itself? (Amenities, common areas, dining, etc.)

    • Melinda
      Reply

      Absolutely Claire! I’ll review the restaurants, ship, and do a conclusion as well. Thanks for reading!

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