What do you see when you visit a city like Athens?
The grime and dirt, the scrawling graffiti, the homeless man with his bedding spread out in a shop doorway?
Or do you see the pretty lilac-coloured flowers of the jacaranda trees that line the avenues, the lively bars and charming restaurants, the colourful street art that brings the city to life, juxtaposed against a backdrop of ancient ruins standing sentinel, looking out across the sprawling city below?
Athens is all this and more. It is not the most beautiful of cities, it is not the most romantic but it is vibrant and enticing and above all else, it is a very welcoming city.
Having visited Greece a number of times as a young adult, I have many happy memories from tasting Greek food for the first time to learning to snorkel in crystal clear waters to visiting magical archaeological sites such as Mycenae, Epidaurus and Knossos – all a long, long time ago.
For some time now I had been yearning to go back and rediscover Greece so when I was invited to Athens I leapt at the chance. It was clear that while the country may still be reeling from the debt crisis, their tourism industry remains unaffected and numerous young entrepreneurs are taking the initiative, starting up travel-related businesses aligned to the digital era.
Here’s a round-up of the highlights from my trip to Athens, much of which was enabled by these digital travel companies run by creative young Athenians, eager to show off Athens to its full potential.
Things to do in Athens
Grab a comfy pair of walking shoes and hit the streets of Athens. There’s no end of places to explore, fabulous sights to see and enticing things to do.
The first thing you notice when you arrive in Athens is the graffiti. It is everywhere and rather than fight it, Athens has embraced it wholeheartedly to become a living, breathing art gallery.
Manos, from Dopios, an Athens based company that specialises in introducing travellers to locals in over 80 countries, took us on a colourful walking tour of the street art of Athens.
Did you know that you can drive from the centre of Athens to the beach in just 15 minutes? We spent a wonderful day at YaBanaki Beach, a private beach a little further out of town. The water was chilly so early in the season but it was crystal clear and so inviting that I just had to go in …twice.
We learnt the art of tsipouro tasting with Athens Insiders, founded by a group of avid travellers, offering tailor-made authentic experiences showing you Athens through the eyes of locals.
The traditional spirit, Tsipouro is an un-aged brandy reputedly first made by Greek Orthodox monks in the 14th century on Mount Athos in Macedonia, Greece. Ideally, it should be served straight from the freezer, in a shot glass, with a few mezze dishes. It can be served neat, diluted with water or with a few chunks of ice. It also makes an excellent hot beverage in winter.
The Museum of Greek Gastronomy
We were really lucky to be shown around the new Gastronomy Museum. As well as seeing the first exhibition, we also had a wonderful meal in their lovely courtyard restaurant. I’m looking forward to telling you more about this and all the other scrumptious delights I enjoyed during my stay, a welcome reminder of just how good Greek cooking really is.
A visit to Athens wouldn’t be complete without taking a look around the museum at the Acropolis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and then wandering around the ancient ruins themselves. I’d been here once before, over 25 years ago, and I had forgotten just how stunning the views of the city are from here.
More things to do in Athens
- Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC), beautiful parklands and gardens and a great view of the Acropolis
- Museum of Cycladic Art, home to more than 3,000 artefacts of Cycladic, Ancient Greek and Cypriot origin.
- Monastiraki Neighbourhood, a bustling network of alleyways teeming with rooftop bars, quirky shops selling arts, crafts and antiques and a huge flea market.
- National Gardens, a great escape for the hectic city streets
- Lycabettus Hill, one of the highest points in Athens reached by cable car or a hike through the trees and home to an open-air theatre, a picturesque church, and a gourmet Greek restaurant, Orizontes, with a terrace with the most fabulous view yu could hope to find.
- Plaka Neighbourhood, ancient narrow lanes lined with crumbling buildings and a plethora of tiny museums, churches, pretty squares and lively cafes.
- Cine Paris, an outdoor cinema dating back to the 1920s with a stunning view of the Acropolis (summer only).
- Varvakios Agora, a fabulous food market in Monastiraki rammed full of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, spices and products from around the country.
- Temple of Poseidon, the remains of a marble built by the Ancient Athenians in honour of Poseidon. It’s particularly beautiful at sunset.
- The National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens’s answer to the Tate Modern.
Athens may be looking a little down on its heels but if you take the time to peel back the layers you’ll discover a vibrant, creative, eclectic city. The ancient and the modern stand hand-in-hand here and a movement of young Athenians whom, having lived or studied abroad, have now returned to play their part in rebuilding the city they so clearly love.
Athens is a city that takes a little time to get to know and I’m eager for us to get better acquainted.
I visited Athens as a guest of Marketing Greece, a privately funded, non-profit corporation, formed to promote Greek Tourism. My travel, accommodation and meals were complimentary.
For more information on Athens check out their website DiscoverGreece.com
My thanks to Marketing Greece, Aegean Airlines (especially for the impromptu wine tasting mid-flight), Yabanaki Beach and Pallas Athena, part of the Grecotel Hotel & Resort group.
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Athens looks like a city I’d enjoy! The city, the beach, great food.. all in one spot, who could complain?
You’d love it I’m sure. Hope you get to visit one day.
Love the title pic. I was there 20 years ago and I remember not liking the city much (except for the Acropolis). Tons of concrete, no trees, and hot like hell. We made our escape to Glyfada which has some great beaches.
I’m sure it’s changed some but I’m afraid you won’t see my running to get to Athens.
Thanks Frank. I guess most of the colourful street art wasn’t there 20 years ago which really does brighten things up but even without it there are some lovely little streets with pretty pavement cafes and such. I suspect it really depends where in Athens you go.
I’ve only been to Greek islands before never any of the main cities or mainland and would love to see Athens. I never really realised I even liked street art until discovering some in London and then in Buenos Aires and am now just fascinated by it! That street art photo looks amazing! Looks like a great trip and there’s something so irresistable about Greek food!!
Athen sounds like an interesting city. Your pictures help in visualizing its true beauty. The graffiti reminds of Khajuraho in India.
Thanks for the recommendations and info. Greece is definitely somewhere that I’m keen to see, particularly as the flights are so affordable from the UK. My visit to Puglia (Italy) earlier in the year was full of Greek influences and similarities (stunning turquoise waters, pretty buildings and amazing architecture etc), so I can’t wait to explore Greece, especially Athens.
The Greek Islands were the destination of choice when our children were young and I love them, the people and food. I visited Athens a few years ago and was surprised too at how close the sea is to the city – and the area has some fantastic restaurants – then there’s the culture, both ancient and modern with its street art. Such a diverse and fascinating city – fab post and pics.
Thanks Suzzane, I had a fabulous time!
I love how you showed the beauty of Athens in this post. I am so excited to be visiting the city this summer 😀 I am a huge street art fanatic so I cannot wait to capture the walls with my camera! Lovely photos and great tips!
Have a fabulous time. I look forward to reading all about it and seeing your take on the city. Do be sure to check out me next post on the street art – you’ll love it (the art, not my post!).
Wonderful! I will go have a look at it now 😀
Athens is a city we’ve never been to, but one we’re very keen on visiting. Your candid portrait makes us want to go even more. You’ve captured it so perfectly on film too.
Thank you, I hope you get to visit one day. Athens is an exciting up-an-coming city.
I’m an expat in Athens and I get way, way-over-top obsessed with showing off the city. Many people seem to have low expectations when they arrive, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve to make them fall in love with the place!
We found a few hidden gems ourselves and I’m hoping to go back again a bit later in the year so I’ll be picking your brains for your tips if I do.
I would be delighted to help in any way I can.
One of my absolute favourite places right now is a little tiny art cafe in a hidden lane way in the Exarcheia neighbourhood bit.ly/PurpleAthensGuide 🙂
Wonderful post Kat! This makes me excited to visit Athens again (which will likely be over the next few weeks). Although the first time was just for a day so it doesn’t really count! Awesome to see Christian in amongst this group too. We got to spend quite a bit of time with him in London. He’s awesome! 🙂
Thanks Jessica and yes, Christian is great and he inspired me to get an iPhone and do more instagramming. In fact the whole group was brilliant.
Good to hear you are going back to Athens – I’d highly recommend checking out the digital travel companies I’ve mentioned to help you make the most of your time there.
It’s hard to imagine some one not embracing all Athens has to offer. On a recent trip to Philly I saw how the city has taken street art to a whole new level and it has actually discouraged graffiti artists in general, maybe Athens is following their model. Your photos are lovely and it is so encouraging to see destinations embracing bloggers in such a creative way. Sounds like they put together a really thoughtful trip for all of you. I look forward to seeing more.
Yes, we had a great time and I’m looking forward to sharing more about it.
When I went earlier this year, Athens wasn’t adorned with the lilac flowers but I still had an affection for the city despite the grime. Some of the graffiti is actually quite a sight to behold (although a lot of it is just a mess tbh)… but there’s so much more to Athens than that. There is actually a lot going on there at the moment and the site of the new opera house (the biggest construction project in the whole of Greece at the moment) is going to be quite something when it’s finished.
There are clearly so many cool things to experience in Athens, many of which I was unaware of before reading this post. Of course visiting Athens wouldn’t be the same without a trip to see the Acropolis but one surprising aspect is that YaBanaki Beach is so close and looking at your picture – how gorgeous is that!!
I am sure that Athens is going to be a very popular spot later this year when TBEX heads there, unfortunately we can’t make it but we are going to TBEX Cancun instead!
I have always been intrigued by tsipouro and wondered what the taste of this was like. To achieve this ambition of trying it out is another great reason to visit Athens!
We are flying to Athens in October and then heading to the peloponnese for the vast majority of our trip. It does sound like we should make time for a day here as it looks more varied than I had thought…. Especially the gastronomy museum – genius idea!!
Yes, you must give Athens some time. Keep an eye out for my forthcoming posts for more ideas of what to do and see there.
Love the article Kathryn! I have been to Athens a few times and I have a big connection with Greece, having travelled to the islands from the age of 13 and I also worked in Crete for one summer season. So like yourself I have fond memories. I also like the Greek people very much, and their culture, and their food. I think a lot of people, mistakenly in my opinion, underrate Greek food. Have you ever been to a proper Bouzouki?
Thank you Jackie. I adore Greek food too and ate very well indeed during my recent visit! Everyone was very welcoming.
And no, I haven’t been to a Bouzouki – proper or improper (thought it was a musical instrument!?!)
Delighted to know your also adore the food. Google Bouzouki nights and check the images, that will give you a flavour. There seems to be a restaurant or two playing on the name/subject, but the images of people dancing on tables says it all 🙂
I remember a few nights like that on Crete and dancing on the tables when I was in my twenties. (Also remember dancing on a bar or two – have a photo somewhere!)
Well it has been over 20 years for me and I’m looking forward to visiting during TBEX so that is exciting..love your photos and the tour Kathryn
Thanks Noel. I’m sure you’ll enjoy re-visiting Athens and hopefully I’ll see you there too!
I absolutely love the street art. Totally different from Berlin’s walls. I am also a big fan of Greek cuisine so I simply can’t wait to make it there in October. Are you going to attend TBEX this year? If so, I would love to go explore the city with you one afternoon!
Oh you will LOVE Athens!! Hope to make it to TBEX. Would be fantastic to meet up and explore with you. We will have to do some serious food research while there too! 🙂
I have been having the same feelings of returning to Greece as it has been a long time since I was there last; 1986 to be exact. I know! I look forward to reading your future stories and hope you made it out to Paros as that is where I lived for a while. Greece is an amazing country and with all its economic troubles I am sure added tourism dollars will be a great benefit.
Afraid I didn’t get to Paros this time but I’m hoping to go back again later in the year and in October I’m also going to Santorini for the first time – can’t wait.