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unexpected athens

Is Athens gritty and graffiti-ridden? Yes. Is it also rich in history, artifacts, culture, heritage and cuisine? For sure. Is it worth Visiting? Absolutely!


Athens is one of the oldest cities and longest inhabited cities in the world, dating back thousands of years. It has gifted the world with democracy, trial by jury, theater, the Olympics and clock towers.


Most people quickly stop through the Greek capital, en route to the islands, but it has a lot to offer and is worth a dedicated itinerary of its own.


Below are my endorsements...


Stay

The Foundry Suites: I initially looked at this hotel as a joke (my travel buddy and I both work for a company called Foundry). But, after clicking around only a short while, I booked it. Centrally located in Psyrri (a vibrant, edgy and gentrified district), this boutiquey accommodation is not your standard hotel. They have only 12 luxury, industrial-style lofts and offer a slew of cute amenities. TV's have been swapped for record players in the suites. For breakfast, which is included, you pick your menu and then an adorable picnic basket arrives at the time of your choosing, either to your room or to you on the roof terrace. A free welcome beverage, that you can enjoy any time during your stay, is provided. The staff are lovely and helpful. Oh, and it's super affordable!


Historic Sites

No trip to Athens is complete without visiting the Acropolis. I suggest booking your tickets in advance, for 8:00am (the first available slot), when there's a chance of smaller crowds. Don't bother showing up too early because they won't let you enter more than 15-minutes prior to your allotted time.


Leave your stilettos at home, ladies. Since 2009, it's forbidden to wear heals when you're touring ancient monuments in Athens, because of concerns about scratching and damaging the stones.


This ancient citadel consists of several important buildings, including the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena. During a visit to this iconic landmark, you can still see the age-old statues, beautiful ionic columns and old temples of worship.


I suggest also visiting the Panathenaic Stadium. It's far less busy than the Acropolis and really neat. You can buy tickets onsite, for €10. Built in 330 BC, this stadium was home to the first modern Olympic Games, in 1896, and remains the only arena in the world built entirely out of marble. Don't miss the “Memories from Olympic Games: Posters and Torches from 1896 till today” permanent exhibition, which can be accessed through the tunnel located towards the rear of the stadium.


Neighborhoods

Right under the Acropolis sits a little village called The Plaka. Most of the streets are car-free, apart from the occasional motorbike/delivery truck. It's commercialized but has clean, picturesque streets and a ton of bustling cafes. Spend an hour or so café-hopping and taking photos of all of the colors.


Adjacent to Plaka, you'll find the 19th-century neighborhood known as Anafiotika. The hustle and bustle of the city center melts away here. The cobblestoned alleys, white-washed walls, coloful doors and fuchsia bougainvillea will make you forget you're in the heart of a busy metropolitan city.


Food/Drink

If you're looking for one of the most Instagramable spots in Athens, look no further than Little Kook. It's not just a café; it's an experience. Serving mainly coffee and cakes, I don't necessarily recommend eating here, but definitely go have a look. The extravagant and quirky decorations change regularly and vary according to season (Valentine's Day, Halloween, Christmas, etc.).


The Athenians do seem to love a theme. And once they pick one, they really commit! Noel is another of these overly-themed venues. Here, the magic of Christmas lasts all year. It's a nice place to go and have a drink, if you're feeling festive.


I stumbled upon Thes "Greek creative cuisine", in search for lunch, and it was a great find! The flavors are fresh and bold, the atmosphere is chic and modern and the staff is friendly and attentive. Whether you’re in the mood for something light or something hearty, Thes has what you need. Make sure you order the Naxos Potatoes Triple Cooked.


Boo! is an all-day cocktail bar, right in the beating heart of Athens. Its combination of wooden furniture and unique furnishings creates an eccentric and cozy atmosphere.


Clumbsies is #19 on the World's 50 Best Bars list. Outside, it just looks like a house, with no signage. Inside, it's a cocktail lover’s paradise.


The Attic Urban Rooftop has a sophisticated, contemporary, bohemian design and an unobstructed view of the Acropolis. Visit for a coffee or brunch in the morning, a sunny lunch, a highly Instagramable sunset drink on the flower-decorated swings or a stylish-casual dining and some tunes in the evening.


Set in a restored neoclassical villa, Aleria is an elegant and delicious place to have dinner. The Greek cuisine is beautifully presented in two tasting menus (both with 5- or 6-course options): one 'Earth & Sea', the other, 'Garden & Nature'. The courtyard is beautiful, and the service is slick.

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The view of the Acropolis from Strofi's roof terrace is one of the most impressive in town. Expect classic Greek dishes, white linen tablecloths and romantic vibes.


Beach

The beach isn't usually what springs to mind when you think of Athens, but like so many things about this diverse city, it is one of the many delights on offer. If it's nice weather, be sure to spend a day in the Athens Riviera. I went to Varkiza Resort Seaesta, which took about 30-minutes by cab.


Athens is often overlooked and overshadowed by more glamorous European capitals and its own beautiful islands, but it boasts plenty of things to see, do and experience. Don't discount this destination for a city break.


KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:

  • Getting Around: People drive on the right-hand side of the road. You can use Free Now and Uber ride-hailing apps to get around easily and cheaply.

  • Electrical: You'll need standard European plugs/adaptors in Greece (two round prongs).

  • Tipping: There is not a strong tradition of tipping in Greece, particularly among the locals, but it's become expected that tourists leave small tips. 10–15% is standard.

  • Drinking Water: Tap water is drinkable.

  • Currency: Greece is a member of the Eurozone and its official currency is the Euro (€).


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