The winding streets, the monumental ruins, the friendly people, the endless markets; this whitewashed city completely captivated me.
I met so many people on my travels last year that strongly disliked Athens and as much as I understood their arguments, I disagreed. So today I’d like to share my argument. I spent about 5 days in total in Athens and I’m going to tell exactly why it’s one of my favourite cities I have visited.
I arrived in Athens late at night. It was my first stop on my first solo trip. I surprised myself by finding it relatively easy to navigate the metro system, and Athens surprised me by how nice it was. Far nicer than the London underground I was used to. It took only 30 minutes to get to Monastiraki Square, and I knew the place I was staying was nearby. I was so excited to finally be there – in a city that both of my parents loved and had fond memories of. The truth is, I loved it before I even arrived. The Acropolis was lit up way above the bustling square. It takes your breath away. I walked along countless streets of restaurants trying to entice me, and markets about to shut away for the night. Some people I met found the Greeks slightly annoying or even rude for trying to get you into their shops or restaurants. I’ve never found this. It’s their livelihood, they have every right. Instead I found it quite charming and felt as if I already had friends in this new city. I’m always polite to people who talk to me; and I like to greet them in their own language. After a while I found my hostel and fell straight to sleep.
I could go on about my hostel at this point, by I’ve already written a page about it. If you’re interested in what I think is a pretty fab hostel please read this.
The next morning I planned to go on the free walking tour – and boy am I glad I did! You can’t beat being shown around a new city by a local. Our guide was so genuine and relaxed and let us go at whatever pace we wanted, and leave the tour whenever. He told us countless stories about his home and listened to ours about our homes. He first of all took us around the back streets near Monastiraki which were covered in Graffiti. He explained how this artistic expression is almost as old as the city. Travellers and locals alike will complain about it but actually its characterful and unique to Athens. It’s different and I really quite enjoyed wondering the vanadalised streets. He then took us up through the historical neighbourhood of Plaka. It rises up through tiny houses and restaurants, alleyways and gardens, up towards Filopappou Hill which eventually becomes Acropolis Hill. The huge expanse of greenery and hills encompasses so many monuments and beautiful views of the city.
We walked up to the Acropolis and onto a popular hill for a view of Athens. Some people left here but I stuck with it and walked with the guide and some other travellers towards our hostel. We walked through market streets and the guide gave us tips on things to do and see in Athens. He was so very helpful and affected my time in Athens very much.
Later that day, on advice from the guide I took a walk up another hill. Lycabettus Hill. It’s 300m above sea level and gives stunning views and also the peace and quiet that I desired at this point. I won’t lie; it took me an age to find it. I walked much further than I needed to and eventually turned back and found it no problem. There was of course a very obvious sign that I had missed. I enjoyed the long walk though, because the further out of the centre you go; the more of real Athens you see. You can walk up the hill or you can get the cable car. I chose the car because I’d been walking all day and to be honest I thought I’d probably just get lost again. When I eventually made it to the top I thought it was truly wonderful. The views were absolutely stunning and at this point realised how hard it would be to beat Athens.
It was a busy day but after a gyros for dinner, I took a stroll back up to the Acropolis to watch the sunset. Second to sunrise, it’s my favourite time of day, and here it did not disappoint. The rock was busy but it didn’t take away from the peacefulness I felt watching the sun disappear into the hills in the distance. Beautiful.
The next day I decided it was time to pay the Acropolis a proper visit. The architecture was completely captivating, especially for a budding architecture student. The only thing I didn’t like was the crowds. Obviously it’s a huge attraction so I had expected nothing less, but when I go again, it won’t be in the height of summer. One regret I have is that I hadn’t researched this incredible collection of buildings more before I visited them. After studying history of architecture on my course for a year now, I appreciate it so much more. I must go back!
After the Acropolis I went in the (very modern) Acropolis Museum. It’s really incredible and I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around and learning more about the history of the buildings I had just seen. It’s one of the best museums I have ever been to and this actually shocked me! It’s also free for students (as is entry to the Acropolis).
I still had the afternoon to spare and didn’t have anything planned so I decided just to walk. I ate back at the hostel and then made my way down the line of shops and street vendors towards Syntagma Square which is overlooked by the incredible grand Parliament. I sat and read in the sun and watched Athens walk by. It was so spacious and even though it was bustling with people, it was very relaxing.
I walked around by the Parliament building and came across a beautiful park, actually called the National Gardens. I had seen it on the map but hadn’t planned to visit. It was full of tree lined paths, and flowers and bushes. There were plenty of benches and again I took the chance to immerse myself in my kindle. This was one of my favourite parts of Athens.
At the end of the park, as you are walking towards the Acropolis standing high and proud up above you, is the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The free entry enticed me in and it was really incredible. I only stumbled across it, but I am so glad I did! There were hardly any people there, but it was wonderful. The photos will describe it better than I ever could, but it is a must see.
That evening I took a walk along the road that wraps around the Acropolis. It comes alive in the evening when it’s full of stalls and buskers. My photos are blurry by I have some from the daytime!
For 2 days in Athens I saw a lot. I enjoyed it so much and it made me very excited to go back. I stayed in Athens again after 6 weeks volunteering, which I will tell you about in my next letter.
PS. Please give Athens a chance, you might love it.
Round up of the things I did:
Nighttime wander around Monasiraki
Sunset on the rock
Temple of Olympian Zeus
Dionysiou Areopagitou (road around Acropolis)