Me and my good friend Kimmi spent a week exploring Greece’s ancient capital city, Athens. Before arriving, I’d heard that Athens was dirty, ugly and overly busy, but I have to disagree with this. I adored it. Ancient ruins, quirky street art, endless markets, gorgeous food… its one of my favourite European cities. The streets are a total maze, made worse by the fact that the road signs are in Greek numerals, so navigation was a slight challenge. It took us a couple of days to get our bearings, although I find that getting lost is always part of the fun! We stayed in a budget hotel called Aristoteles Hotel, which was located a short walk from Omonoia, a square away from the city centre with a large metro station with good links, which came in handy. I do recommend this hotel as it was situated a little away from the busiest parts of the city, was kept very clean and came with free breakfast. In this post, I will share my highlights from the ancient city.
The Acropolis is the one attraction in Athens that you simply can’t miss. While it is very touristy and very busy, the architecture is astounding and I really enjoyed exploring the complex. The site contains the remains of the ancient city, thought to be constructed somewhere between 495 and 429 BC. It contains the Parthenon (the temple constructed in Athena’s honour), the Erechtheum, the theatre of Dionysus, as well as many other structures which all form part of this ancient city. You can spend a good day exploring the site and admiring the architecture without getting bored. My favourite part of the Acropolis complex was Mars Hill, a large rock formation which is situated northwest of the site, and provides a fantastic view of the city and of the actual Acropolis. Apparently, Mars Hill used to function as a court for homicide.
We took a trip to one of the lesser visited archaeological sites: Kerameikos, the ancient cemetery of Athens. We very much struggled to find the place due to poor signposting and almost gave up searching for it. However, when we found it, it turned out to be a hidden gem and well worth the long search. It was a beautiful area, and we spent a good couple of hours looking around the tombs and sitting enjoying the scenery (yes, it was strangely scenic for a cemetery). The tombs have been dated to 4th and 5th century BC, which shows just how ancient this site really is. The place also contained a museum which featured a range of burial related artifacts, from large marble statues to jewellery and pottery. It surprises me that many tourists who come to Athens do not visit Kerameikos- I highly recommend it.
Monastiraki Square and Flea Market
Monastiraki is a neighbourhood located in the old town of Athens, with close proximity to the Acropolis. This neighbourhood is famous for its flea market, which contains a whole host of products, from clothing and jewellery to bongs and street food, and we spent an afternoon browsing the stalls. The main square is one of the busiest areas of Athens, with strips of food stalls, restaurants, cafes, shops and bars nearby. We came back to Monastiraki most evenings for food and drink, and enjoyed sampling Greek cuisine and the traditional drink Ouzo, which is made from grapes, berries, aniseed, licorice and mint.
We spent an afternoon exploring the national garden, a 15 hectare public park in the centre of Athens. It was like an oasis in the middle of the chaotic city, complete with a mini zoo and lots of beautiful, exotic plants. I think pictures will be worth more than words here.
Filopappou Hill and Mount Lycabettus
We took it upon ourselves to walk to the top of Filopappou hill just before sunset one evening so we could get a sunset view of Athens. When we reached the top, it was very quiet and we shared the summit with only a couple of others; we sat in the quiet and enjoyed the extraordinary view. We then decided we wanted another sunset view and so the evening after, we also hiked to the top of Mount Lycabettus just before sunset. Lycabettus was substantially higher than Filopappou but it was a pleasant walk to the top, where we found it was packed full of tourists trying to get a photo of the sunset. It turns out there was a lift that took you up to the summit, which might explain why it was so much busier. There was also a restaurant at the top of Lycabettus, where we ate after watching the sunset.
Day Trip to Aegina
We decided that seeing as Athens is a short distance from the ocean, we would get a train to Piraeus and book a ferry to a nearby island. We decided to visit Aegina, and you can read more about this in my post here.
Ermou is a lively, 1.5 kilometre long shopping street with lots of major chains, boutiques and gorgeous cafes. You could spend hours shopping, or even just people watching here, and there’s also a little church called Kapnikarea which you can visit. On Ermou Street (Ermou 65) is a cafe called Meliartos, which we visited for lunch three times, and I highly recommend it- its possibly the nicest cafe I’ve ever been to, with its lovely atmosphere and large selection of pastries, pizzas, desserts and coffee.
I can’t finish this post without mentioning our visit to the Cycladic Modern Art Museum. I thought this women had fallen down the stairs and seriously hurt herself; turns out she’s made of plastic and is “art.”
Have you been to Athens? If so, what were your favourite things to do? Leave a comment letting me know!