Athens. The city of the ancients. Of myths and legends. The place where the sea meets the mountains. The capital city of Greece, it’s famed for places like the Acropolis (see my other “Places to go” article!) and Syntagma Square. Despite all it has to offer, it’s one of the most under rated cities in Europe. When it comes to European tours, Athens is often missed off the list, either because it’s not conveniently located in the centre of the continent, or it’s just not thought about in contest with Paris and Rome.
The recent financial crisis in Greece has definitely put off many potential tourists. Many of us see images on TV of riots and protests, and so we believe it’s an anarchic and dangerous place. However, we really couldn’t be more wrong – take a trip to Syntagma Square, and you won’t see a riot, only the hustle and bustle of Greek coffee culture. Athens is safer than many places familiar to us, certainly safer than London, but of course you still have to be sensible!
The Parthenon is the most famous image of Athens. After you’ve visited that, visit the Acropolis Museum, which is next door. A modern building, opened only 5 years ago, it gives you information about the massive landmark outside the equally massive glass window. There’s an awesome panoramic view, but the museum building itself (as well as its contents) is impressive too. Just outside, the glass floor reveals the remains of a Roman/Byzantine village, and you can see the foundations of a civilization that lived centuries before. It’s really very similar to what we’ve got today.
Once you’ve seen that, escape from the past and live in the present – walk around modern Athens, take in the lively and warm atmosphere, feel like a true Greek. Grab a Greek coffee at one of the many kafeneio, enjoy real Greek food at one of the many restaurants in the centre, or maybe go shopping for Greek food to take home with you. Monastiraki marketplace is one of the best places to do this, and it’s extremely well connected by public transport.
Even Athens’ metro system is worth writing home about. It’s clean, spacious and safe, something that can’t be said for many cities. It’s light and airy, and some stations such as Egaleo even have ancient artefacts within the confines of the station, which makes even getting around an educational and classically Greek experience.
Of course, no trip to Greece would be complete without a day on the beach. Happily, Athens has something called the “Athens Riviera”, which is there for doing just that. You can also catch a ferry from Piraeus port to most of Greece’s islands, with day trips to Aegina and Poros, and exceptional holiday destinations like Crete being slightly further afield. Bring your swimsuit!
After your long day of sightseeing, you can have a relaxing and romantic experience at one of Athens’ outdoor cinemas. As the sun sets over the magnificent Acropolis, bring some Greek snacks along and settle down in front of the screen as the warm breeze gently caresses your face and neck.
The city is alive 24/7, and it’s great for families, couples, students, kids, adults – all are given a traditional Greek welcome in Athens.
Photo credit: Alice Barnes-Brown