TRAVEL GUIDE: How to spend an amazing weekend in Athens
Everywhere around me I heard negative stories about Athens, as I told people I was about to go visit for a life-changing conference. It was dirty, ugly, busy and hot. Or so they said. Turns out “they” aren’t always the people to listen to. Because when I visited the city in autumn, I was swept off my feet by it.
I ADORED Athens. If you’re looking for a change from the classics in Europe (Paris, Rome, London), I can definitely this Greek Goddess. Sure, you’ll get lost every three minutes because the city is essentially a life sized maze with random wriggly figures they call ‘letters’, but it was also a place I never felt unsafe, and always ended up discovering cool new places when I went for a wander.
Athens does require a little guidebook on what to expect though. Athens is interesting. It’s not easy, like Paris. It’s a bit like the Shoreditch of Europe. Run down, dirty and chaotic, but with creativity and colors popping up everywhere, something I deeply enjoyed. Here and there an ancient building pops up, in the middle of a roundabout sometimes. No biggie. If you visit this right after the bliss of the Greek Islands, you’ll struggle to adept. If you visit this looking for a unique destination full of character in the spring or autumn: Athens should 100% be your next destination. Here’s what to see, eat and where to party in Athens.
Sights to see
– Monastiraki square
One of the liveliest areas in Athens is Monastiraki, a square right in the city centre. If you exit the metro to the square, you are immediately blown away by the business of the market stalls (during the day) or the street performers (during the night). Surrounding the square is food heaven (or rather.. lots of little restaurants) and a little sneak peek into the archeological sights you’ll find trough out Athens.
If you’re into old city centres with cute winding streets (and let’s be real.. who isn’t?) then Pláka area is the place to be. Yes, you will encounter a million tourist shops selling the same plastic poo, but the area itself is adorable. It takes you trough little alleyways and cobblestoned streets all the way to the top of the hill, from which you almost bump into Acropolis.
Shopaholics must venture down to Ermou street, a 1.5 kilometer long street that has all the major chains. About three quarters of the way in you’ll find Kapnikarea, an adorable little church. I love how they treasure these things in Athens, and how it can exist in between new shops and buildings. Be mindful of your belongings though, my blogging friend got pick pocketed in this street.
What happens in Psiri… stays in Prisi, the party area. This is where the heart of the city is for young people. During the day the streets are quiet, with quant little handicraft shops, and terraces, and smashing graffiti as a contrast. But at night this is where people come to eat and mostly: party!
It’s the Eiffel tower of Athens, the Big Ben of Greece: Acropolis. You don’t want to miss it, and actually can’t… you can see it perched on top of a hill from pretty much every balcony or street corner. For a long time the hill is where the population of Athens lived, and so that’s why you’ll find ancient temples there. The most famous one is Panthenon, which was built around 400 b.C. Find your skip the line & tour ticket here.
– Temple of Olympian Zeus
One of my favorite days in Athens was the sunday where I encountered a warm sunshine (so welcome after a couple rainy days) as I casually strolled along the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The marmer columns are so well preserved that it gives you a good concept of how massive this building was. I also died laughing at the entry gates. One of them says: ‘This is Athens, the old city of Theseus.’ The other one says: ‘This is the city of Hadrianus and not of Theseus.’ Haha. #BURN
Meeting up at the Agora can cause a bit of a communication problem, my friend Henry and me discovered. Turns out there is the ‘Acient Agora’ and the ‘Roman Agora’. Ofcourse, me being a bit of a derp, I walked in circles around the last one, while Henry waited for me at the first. It’s that one you mainly want to see (ancient trumps Roman… fact). The Agora used to be the meeting point, and thus the centre, of the city.
– Temple of Hephaistos
Close to the Agora you will find the temple of Hephaistos, one of the best preserved ancient temples in Greece. The temple was built around the fifth century b.C., and what impressed me most was that even the details on the ornaments on the sides were so well preserved.
– Olympic stadium
Want to witness some Olympic history (yes, you do). The old Olympic Stadium was built for the very first ‘modern’ Olympics in 1896. However, it was built on top of the remains of the ‘old’ stadium, that was built there in 330 b.C. The structure is made from marble and seats about 80.000 people.
– Bairaktaris & Thanasis
Giving anyone directions is not my forte. But I’ve managed to sent a reader to these two places with these directions (and he LOVED them) so I must succeed this time too: if your back is facing the Monastirai underground stop, then across the square you will see a street filled with restaurants. It’s most likely extremely busy, and good thing: lots of the business comes from locals! The first two restaurants on the right serve fantastic Greek food. The restaurants are called Bairaktaris (dinner with wine for less than €10) and Thanasis (the best souvlaki in Athens). The street is called Mitropoleos.
Everest is a chain of sandwich shops in the city. I had a super cheap and super yummy cheese & spinach pie. I definitely recommend it for a cheap and quick lunch (though Souvlaki usually doesn’t cost more than €3 too!).
– Coffee Island
For the best coffee in Athens, walk into Starbucks, punch yourself in the face, exit the building, and sit down at Coffee Island. This is a Greek chain of coffee shops with gigantic and absurdly good cappuccino for very little money.
– Terrace at the Acropolis Museum
For the best view of Acropolis and Athens you must visit the terrace belonging to the Acropolis Museum. They charge like you’re in Amsterdam or Berlin, but hey, you pay for the view. It’s the perfect spot to recuperate after hiking the Acropolis. You don’t have to visit the museum to get to the terrace.
Arcadia was the spot where me and another ten or so Dutch bloggers had our bloggersdiner in Athens. The food was served to us like we were giants who had just come off a juice fast. After a while we had to BEG not to get any more food, because the portions are just so big. But MAN, it was good. If my stomach was built for Greek dinners, I would’ve sat there all night just munching away. Definitely recommend. The Greek taverna is close to Acropolis.
€0,50 goes a long way in Athens, where you can buy a Koulouri, a traditional bread ring with sesame ring on every street corner. Great snack!
– Drunk Sinatra
I’m normally not much of a party-traveller, but in Athens I made up for lost time. You know, in the name of research. Drunk Sinatra is a small, narrow place, where -you guessed it- they play lots of Frank Sinatra music. Definitely a hipster spot, where you can chill outside too. Lots of fun!
For dancing you cross the street to Einstein, the bar right across from Drunk Sinatra. The decor reminds you of a university, with it’s walls covered in bookshelves. Wine is served in glasses the size of a bathtub. I might have bathed in it, I can’t remember.
Where to stay
One of the swankiest hotels I’ve ever stayed in was NEW hotel Athens. From the gorgeous design rooms, the central location, the impecable service and the yummy breakfast: if you’re ready to treat yourself to the coolest hotel in Athens, this is it. (Psst: It also has a rooftop terrace with a view of Akropolis..)
Athens is a major recommendation in my book and I can’t wait to revisit. With these tips your Athens experience is bound to be as good as mine!
Have you visited Athens?
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