If there is one city in Europe that truly has something for everyone, it is the historical city of Athens. Architecture, history, great food, nightlife, street art, shopping, music dens, beaches, and even mountains… the list goes on and on! Not to mention the spirit of hospitality and cultivation that permeates the walls of this ancient city. Chaotic but bursting with character our enigmatic city of Athena, immortalized by Socrates, has famously charmed the likes of Byron, Leigh Fermor, and De Benieres; now is your chance to let it charm you!
If you travel around the city by underground, you will notice that at some of the stations there are large areas of excavation where the remnants of antiquity have been carefully uncovered and protected. A wonderful and unexpected sight for a visitor, this is the everyday norm for the Athenians traveling to work. Yet it is symbolic of what Athens represents and what lies in store for you should you choose to visit this extraordinary city. As you stroll around the neighborhoods of Athens make sure your eyes are well and truly open because every street corner and every square has some undiscovered treasure.
Plaka neighborhood - credits: Anastasios71/Shutterstock.com
Whilst famous for its archaic and early to late antiquity era, Athens also has many architectural marvels from the Byzantine and the Neoclassical Age which are absolutely worth the time taken to see them. Ensconced in the greenery of the National Gardens lies the impressive Zappion building, one of the first buildings in Europe specifically designed for exhibitions and conferences. Joining us on our Neoclassical Athens Tour this is but one of many striking and magnificent landmarks that you will see. The Byzantine age has also added to the melting pot of Athens’ architecture. As you shop for the latest beachwear on the bustling street of Ermou, you cannot help but stop and appreciate the craftsmanship of the church of Panagia Kapnikarea, one of the oldest churches in Athens, sitting humbly in the very center of commerce. From the place where Paul the Apostle brought Christianity to the ancients to the last remaining Turkish bathhouse in Athens, we urge you to seek out the legacies left behind from the pivotal Byzantine era.
No discourse on why you must visit Athens would be complete without giving due deference to food! Athens and indeed Greece prides itself on produce that is consistently fresh, on delicacies that are decadent yet comforting and coffees that cater for every taste! Undoubtedly, food is at the very heart of Greek culture. Locals can often be heard discussing their favorite taverna or the newest place in town they want to try. In fact, some of the best places to eat are often quite well hidden or in neighborhoods not often frequented by visitors. So, it’s always worth seeking out a local who can show you the culinary gems of the city.
For a farmers’ market lover, an absolute must is going to a ‘Laiki Agora’ or a farmers' market. The produce is fresh and abundant and so is the banter! More than just a grocery shop this is as entertaining as it is impressive. These markets are on throughout the week at various different places in the city. With very often a ‘taste before you buy’ policy, forget the pre-packed salad and discover what’s in season! On the subject of markets, antique lovers and bargain hunters rejoice because lining the streets of Monastiraki is the ‘flea market’. From vintage cameras to books on every subject to tourist wares and old military uniforms, the Athens flea market is truly a must-see!
Fresh fruits in a 'Laiki Agora' - credits: Caron Badkin/Shutterstock.com
“Cities, like cats, will reveal themselves at night” once said Rupert Brooke and so it is for Athens. The squares come alive with music and laughter and the streets glitter and glow with the bright lights of cocktail bars and the warm lanterns of tavernas. Many shops also open for the evening hours and open-air cinemas complete with tabled areas and a well-stocked bar is but a sample of things you can choose to spend your evening doing. If you’d like to avoid the crowds during the day, the Acropolis Museum opens late on Friday nights and the view from the top floor restaurant is really quite striking. After a long day of sightseeing, a glass of wine may be in order and there are plenty of rooftop bars to choose from with truly stunning views of the Acropolis.
For a breath of fresh air, a chance to get back to nature and escape the noise of the city head to Mount Parthina. Just one hour away from the city center lies the beautiful national park of Mount Parnes. Whether you’d like to walk the numerous scenic trails or drive up the winding roads for a truly spectacular view across Attica, it’s a must-do which is missed by so many. Perched halfway up the mountain is a little shelter/ café name ‘Mpafi’ where you can enjoy a coffee or a delicious meal with stunning views. There are even places to stay on the mountain so, with a little prior preparation, you can spend a few days here. Quite unexpectedly there is also a casino on the summit! It offers glorious views and even if gambling is of no interest to you the casino cable car is quite possibly the best way to get a panoramic view of the park.
So my friends, if you’re planning a trip to Greece and are considering Athens as nothing more than a transit stop on your way to the islands, then we urge you to reconsider. Athena, in all her humble glory, has much to offer you!