I was not really sure what to expect about Athens. As a cultural traveller I was looking forward to exploring the birthplace of Western Civilisation and visiting the city’s archaeological gems like the Acropolis and the awe inspiring Temple of Hephaestus. Also as a ‘more for less’ traveller, I had heard great things about the city’s legendary streetfood scene. Beyond that, I had little clue. Given the recent economic woes, I was curious. I was curious to see how the locals were coping under the impact of the harsh austerity measures.
I am happy to report that I came away pleasantly surprised. Despite the weight of economic uncertainty, Athenians were getting on with their day to day lives. People were pleasant, friendly and welcoming wherever we went in the city. Thanks to record tourist arrivals, the city seems to be coping well. I can’t remember seeing such a high concentration of cool chic bars, cafes and restaurants in one city. Athens has a thriving nightlife scene to rival Barcelona and Berlin. Thanks to the free this is my Athens greeters scheme, I met the fantastic Andreas and Magda who gave me a tour of the hip (non touristy) districts of Metaxourgiou and Koukaki. No tips. Just passionate locals who are keen to volunteer and show their city to visiting tourists. How cool is that?
On the recommendation of Andreas, I discovered that Athens has a beautiful stretch of beaches and sleepy seaside towns popularly known as the Athenian Riviera. Just 45 minutes away by tram, me and Sofia swam in clear, warm aquamarine blue waters at an almost empty beach in Piraiki. This was followed by a cracking, very affordable seafood lunch there. I will reveal the whole itinerary soon in a 72 hour guide of Athens but until then, I will leave you with a photoessay of our time in Athens which gives you an idea of what we discovered on the trip. 40 ( think maybe more!) of my best pictures from the trip. Hopefully, they will inspire you to visit this amazing city very soon.
Day 1. Sunrise at Parthenon, Acropolis. Tip: Beat the crowds and go early at 8am when the Acropolis opens.
Cutting our way through the Ancient Agora on the Panathenaic Way. This is one of the world’s earliest road signs for the Panathenaic Way. It was named after the procession which took place during the festival of the Panathenaia. This festival was celebrated once every year and the procession was led from the Dipylon gate to the Acropolis via the Agora.
The Church of the Holy Apostles, Athens. This church is particularly significant as the only monument in the Agora, other than the Temple of Hephaestus, to survive intact since its foundation, and for its architecture: it was the first significant church of the middle Byzantine period in Athens
The restored, epic two storeyed Stoa of Attalos which was probably the world’s first ever shopping arcade
TAF: Bit of hidden gem this one. An old backyard turned art exhibition space + bar with great drinks and some of the best coffee in town
At TAF, I sampled an Athenian favourite: Cappuccino Freddo. Lots of ice, sugar: a delicious frothy concoction
Visit to the Monistiraki Flea Market is a must when visiting Athens. You can find all kinds of stuff here. My great find was a bunch of DVD’s including the classic Notting Hill. Each DVD for the princely sum of €0.50
Souvlaki at Kostas. 65 years of serving Athenians probably the best souvlaki in town.
Loved dinner at Klimataria: home-style cooking in an intimate old-school rustic restaurant with stone walls & live Greek music.
Day 2: Wondered the colourful streets of Anafiotika in the morning. Blissfully quiet and devoid of tourists, yet tucked right at the foot of the Acropolis.
Anafiotika: Cute kitten heaven
Anafiotika: A touch of Cyclades in the heart of Athens
Late breakfast in Athens at cafe, bistrot. Yiasemi. Thick medium sweet Greek coffee with grapes in syrup. They do a fabulous range of pies ( tart with eggplant, feta & basil for eg) for just €5
Temple of Olympian Zeus
Kafeneio in Kolonaki is a must visit : traditional, home made Greek food in an intimate, simple old-school diner. Okra in tomato, garlic paste was sensational.
Kafeneio: Superb, fresh seafood
This is the Benaki Museum, established in 1930 by Antonis Benakis in memory of his father Emmanuel Benakis. Museum is housed in the Benakis family mansion in downtown Athens, Greece
Personal highlight of my visit to the Museum: The flint flakes from the Middle Palaeolithic Period. Dating from 40000-50000 BC, it maybe the oldest manmade thing you will ever see in your life.
At the foot of the Acropolis lies the grand Acropolis Museum. A spectacular glass edifice with great views onto the Acropolis, the museum displays the remaining treasures of the Acropolis. It gives you a great perspective of what the Acropolis would have looked like in its former glory. From the 160m frieze of the Parthenon to the replica of the missing Parthenon Marbles: everything is here. In the mezzanine, you’ll find the 5 caryatids , the 6th of which is in the British Museum.
In the evening, thanks to the free ‘This is my Athens’ Greeters scheme, I met Andreas and Magda-two passionate locals who showed us a different side of Athens,an Athens slightly off the beaten path.
Andreas and Magda took us to the lesser known neighbourhood of Metaxourgiou. Located north of the historical centre of Athens, between Kolonos to the east and Kerameikos to the west, and north of Gazi. Metaxourgeio is a neighbourhood of immigrants and one in transition. You’ll find plenty of interesting anonymous street art pieces that have both English and Ancient Greek sayings, containing statements such as “Art for art’s sake” (Τεχνη τεχνης χαριν).
Seychelles: Great value food at a reasonable price. One place definitely worth checking out when visiting Athens
Andreas insisted we try another variation of the Souvlaki at hipster paradise , Elvis. It was a good decision. Delicious food and great people. Plus super cheap.
This is our guide, Andrea’s favourite joint: the Bel Ray Bar in Koukaki. This is a completely non touristy neighbourhood but filled with great bars and places to eat.
Andreas is a legend and if you do take advantage of the free greeters scheme ask for him or Magda-both lovely people and passionate locals
Last day in Athens: we headed to the Athenian Riveira. Just a 45 minute ride by tram brought us to the sea. We went to Piraiki and swam in these beautiful warm clear blue waters. Heaven.
Afterward a great swim, we headed for a seafood lunch. There was restaurant after restaurant serving seafood here but we chose ‘Ta Vrachia tis Piraikis’ on the recommendation of Andreas. It was AMAZING. Fresh mussels and fried anchovies -excellent.
Happiness is dipping bread into a delicious Greek salad. Take me back to Athens right now!
Temple of Poseidon for sunset. This place was wow. Such a memorable setting and beautiful structure. Perfect half day trip from Athens.
Back in Athens we headed to the party district of Psirri. We visited a local bakery: To Koulouri toy Psirri that makes the most delicious donuts I have ever tasted in my life. They are freshly baked and served to locals from 4am and the perfect hangover cure. At just 50 cents a piece, this was a delicious treat. Not to be missed.
Discovered more cool street art in Psirri. Street art scene is amazing in Athens. One of the best in the world.
Winding down our day with a quick beer at the hip six d.o.g.s : packed with Athenians all day/all night + an entertainment centre that combines a Gig Space, a Project Space, a Bar, a Foyer, and a Garden.
Ended the trip in style in probably my favourite bar in Athens: Drunk Sinatra. Best bar DJ in the world and fabulous cocktails-do not leave Athens without a drink here.
For more about Athens and the free local greeters scheme, visit the This is my Athens website. My trip was sponsored by the The City of Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau and the campaign was developed by the Destination Marketing Agency, Toposophy. I flew to Greece with Aegean Airlines. You can travel you from 100 destinations around Europe and Middle East to Greece, and then onwards to 34 Greek destinations. Fabulous airline. Also a big thank you to Best Western Pythagorion Hotel for hosting me and the wonderful (great value for money) innovative taxi app, Taxibeat for transporting us around Athens
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