“Nice, old, somewhat dirty city.”
— A Random TripAdvisor Review of Athens, Greece
Big Fan! – I liked these things
– *Thision Open Air Cinema: This wound up being one of my most memorable experiences in Athens! I had never been to an open air cinema, and it seemed like the perfect way to spend a summer’s evening in Athens. We arrived early to see Mama Mia 2 which wound up being the most appropriate film to see as it takes place in the Greek islands and we were heading there next. I cried a few times during the film, not only because it was sentimental, but because the experience was just so perfect.
I felt as though I caught a glimpse into how an Athenian may spend a typical evening with friends or family. The experience felt like an opportunity to see local life, but felt so familiar at the same time. Watching people laugh and cry together, people of all backgrounds, was one of those moments which made me realize why I love travel.
A destination can be so foreign, but whenever I feel homesick, there are these little bouts of circumstance that play out which remind me that people are people wherever you go in the world. Whoever these people were, they felt an emotional connection to what was unfolding on the screen the same as I did. They danced and sang to the music just as I had the urge to do.
This combined with the sun setting over the Acropolis and holding hands with my husband as we drank cool beers and hot popcorn made for an excellent experience. One I will never forget. We were all to ourselves as a newly wedded couple on a date, yet surrounded by people just like us. I can’t hear Abba’s Fernando without crying heavy, happy, emotional tears ever since this night!
– Acropolis: This one is so obvious that is almost feels insulting to put it on the list. Seeing the monuments atop the acropolis from anywhere whether it be dinner or the streets below is a hits you in the gut moment. The realization that this sight has been here for so many to see for centuries, the realization that so many people would do anything to see this sight and here I am seeing it from every angle is humbling.
I hate hiking and sweating with a passion. I hate when people say, “the reward is when you get to the end and see _____”…insert any non impressive lake, view, sight without a bar. This is the one and only time in my life where I felt that the prize for having finished an arduous hike was worth it. To be clear, when I say hike, I refer to anything where my ass isn’t being pushed around as a hike. There were literally people with canes and walkers doing the same hike as me, and beating me, guys. BUT, it was sweltering, and I was sweating, and I was tired, all the prerequisites needed for a hike were met on this day, so, let’s call a spade a spade.
From the point of ascent to reaching the top of the acropolis, it’s not hard to envision the ancient people (my vision has them all in white linen) pulling animals up the hill, chatting with each other, and praying to their gods. Besides one teacher I work with who still can’t figure out how e-mail works, the Parthenon atop of the acropolis is the oldest relic I have ever seen. Both ancient wonders leave me awe struck. I’ve seen memorabilia from the romantic age of literature and shivered at its antiquity and my proximity to it.
The feeling of being in touching distance of the Parthenon, coupled with its sheer magnitude and a never ending parade of questions about its being built is unfathomable. Considering hiking up the hill and being able to see this is something I consider a feat, I cannot imagine the swirl of pride that ancient Athenians felt having actually built the damn thing.
To see it from a distance is incredible, to see it close up is an incomparable experience. Despite the many tourists who were there to see the Parthenon (wait, you’ve all heard of this too?! not just me?!) it did not feel crowded. I really appreciated the fact that there were refillable stations for water bottles at the top, otherwise known by normal people as water fountains.
– Athens Food Tours: Why anyone would go on a walking tour where you don’t get to eat throughout it is beyond me. You would think that if one were given two options, walk for two hours with no food, or walk for two hours and stop every three minutes for food, the correct option would be obvious. Alas, there are people who don’t do food tours, evil does live among us, folks. The name of the company we went with is literally Athens Food Tours and it was an exceptional afternoon well spent.
My healthy and fit husband got to see that there is more to the culinary world than fruits, veggies, and steel cut oats, and I, got to eat like I was going to the electric chair under the guise of a cultural experience. In marriage, that is what you call a win-win. Our tour guide was the ever-amazing Georgia who was kind, knowledgeable, and bold. We traveled through some of the grittier parts of Athens and she faced traffic, cat calling, and other hazards like a bad-ass! Some of the highlights include walking through fruit markets and fish markets where Georgia got hit on, but I flipped my hair around and acted as if these compliments were hurled in my sweaty direction.
“Ugh, guys seriously, stop, I have a husband!” We visited a koulouri stand where Greeks running to work and hung over partier-s grab their breakfast, the so called, Greek doughnut made of sesame bread. We had a full sit down meal eating the traditional gyros on a cobble stone street as we watched the world go by. There were samplings of basturma, baklava, and halva.
My favorite was the onslaught of cheeses, honeys, and olives provided by a store which specialized in delicacies from Crete, a part of Greece known for its culinary wonder. The tour was an excellent way to meet others, connect with local culture, and learn more about the lives of Athenians. Foodie travel has become an insanely popular business as per the late Anthony Bourdain’s influence. I try to take a food tour everywhere I travel to, and it is an exceptional way of learning about another culture.
– Plaka: If you ever find yourself underwhelmed or actually, overwhelmed by the streets of Athens, head here. It is heavily tourist-ed, but aesthetically pleasing and relaxing. Picture dope street art meets cobble stone, car-free streets meets, low hanging trees with beautiful flowers. This was a great place to grab a beer, a platter of fried food, and to enjoy the beauty of the little buildings and nature around us.
A hip, Instagrammer’s version of heaven. Our waiter took the time out to really converse with us, to learn more about us, and to tell us more about Athens as we slowly became giggly and euphoric from drink. Whereas Athens tended to move very fast for me, Plaka seemed to move more slowly and peacefully.
– Temple of Zeus: Not much stands of the old temple to the big shot himself, but the pillars which do stand are tall enough to bump into the home of the gods itself. I found myself staring at it as I walked around yelling, “This is just…here!?” People drive past it every day, see it from their windows, and don’t even give it a second glance!
Again, one has to keep in mind that we’re not looking at a monument erected (have to continuously use this word as we’re talking about Zeus) in honor of something that happened long ago. You are literally looking at the thing built so long ago! THOUSANDS of years ago, and it still stands! It’s even crazier when you realize everyone has a least heard of Zeus.
He is the world renowned adulterer, rapist, child eater, womanizer, thunder bolt throwing boss of all the Greek gods. This is where people came to worship him, beg of him, and seek clarification to life’s mysteries. ”Dear Zeus, sexually assaulted by a swan, have a feeling you know something about this.“ It’s a fraction of a temple, that is all, but it’s something I found I could marvel at for hours.
– *Panathenaic Stadium: My husband is a fan of athleticism and sport, and I have at least tried athleticism one time, so we were really eager to see this. This was his find and it was a great one. The audio guide is a must as it explains the history of the site as well as the history of the Olympics. There are plenty of great photo opportunities and the whole place is full of stairs, AKA, places to sit which really suited me well.
While I used the stairs as respite and to take selfies, my husband ran up and down them to get his cardio in. This, again, is a great example of a win-win in marriage. To get to the inside you go through a tunnel and the audio guide does an excellent job of painting a scene of a gladiator coming out to see the crowd for the first time, or the ancient rituals which happened under the bridge, one of which involves topless women dancing in a circle.
Weird because when those girls did this, it was religious, when my friends and I do this, it’s “inappropriate” and “frightening to children.” The inside has a well laid out and captivating display of memorabilia from every year’s Olympics including prior torches, jerseys worn, signs hailed, and more. It was interesting to see the way the Olympics looked in different years and in different places, the huge variety in display is dizzying and kept us interested. I enjoyed this experience so much more than I thought I would have and I highly recommend!
– Theater of Dionysus: I remember being in my freshmen year of college and taking a world theater class. Despite learning about so many styles of theater, learning about the ancient Greeks and the way they celebrated acting and stories on stage captured my interest greatly. In any given school year there are a few things you will always remember, wonder about, and be interested in learning more about, this was ancient Greek theater for me.
I enjoyed imagining the ancient Athenians sitting in the amphitheater with their bread, cheese, and wine while theatrics and the magic of acting was literally invented right before their eyes. I remember learning about Dionysus and his association with wine, food, theater, and entertainment. I’ve googled photos, search up stories, and watched countless documentaries on all these things just for the sake of wanting to learn more and enjoyment.
Seeing the theater of Dionysus itself was a pinch me, tears in eyes, heart in throat moment for me. I sat where all those people I dreamed about had sat before. I sat in the same place where they were overtaken by the spirit of creativity and joy of wine, both of which overtake me nearly every day.
I stared out over the trees and roads, imagining ancient people excitedly coming to sit for the show. To be fortunate enough to visit a place I’ve heard about and dreamed about for so long…there are no words to describe my gratitude. If there’s one thing I love to do it’s dream and imagine, what a perfect place for such activities.
– Public Transportation: In the travel-sphere there is a shit ton of emphasis lately on living like a local. I’m pretty much good on that. I kind of get what sleeping in a yurt is like, I’d rather sleep in an air-conditioned hotel and go to Starbucks. To live like a local, you should follow someone to their job every day. Drop their kids off at daycare. Pay their water and electric bill. I think it’s kind of stupid this idea of “living like a local.”
I live in Brooklyn, and the local experience is not going to a restaurant three meals a day. It’s me re-heating leftovers for dinner and taking a nap on the couch shortly after. I think what travelers really mean, is a glimpse of local life, which is much more feasible. It’s the chance to go to a nightclub where locals blow off steam, it’s buying your meat from the butcher up the block, it’s staying in an apartment where other native people to the area live. I hear taking public transportation talked about a lot, in travel…I don’t know that a lot of people actually do it.
We took Athens version of the subway to and from the Acropolis and it provided me with a brief glimpse into local life. I knew there were mostly locals on the train because my not knowing how to do anything and wide eyed wonder girl look at the list of stops made most of them sigh annoyed-ly and roll their eyes…just like in New York!
I’m AWFUL at taking public transportation. Drive-able, or I’m not going is my motto. I’d rather spend big bucks on a cab than two dollars on a subway ride, and I’m really not ashamed to admit that publicly. I don’t like being crammed into tight spaces with others, I don’t like the feeling of no air, and I hate standing in a pee filled subway cart being verbally harassed by weirdos when I can sit comfortably in a car.
So there, I’m the world’s WORST human and traveler, whatever. However, there are a few places where the public transportation system is fairly straight forward and so I don’t mind taking it. Athens was one such place for me. Fairly clean, fairly safe feeling, fairly straight forward. I recommend.
Not a Fan! (BOOOOOO!): – (I did not like these things)
– Walking Around at Night: To be fair, this isn’t just an Athens thing, this is a boo for most cities. I always think, how would I feel as a woman walking alone here at night? The answer is pretty scared. There were certain areas that were desolate, not well lit, and shady. Not to mention, the uncomfortable stares and remarks made to me. If I felt afraid walking around at night with my husband, I really don’t think I’d enjoy walking around at night by myself. Be smart, be alert, and take a cab to and from anywhere you need to go in the evenings. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
– Food overall: I did an amazing food tour and I had some pretty good meals here. I visited a number of cafes and restaurants while in Athens across many different neighborhoods. I wouldn’t say that the food I had overall was bad, but it wasn’t what I expected. There are certain places in the world where people rave about the food.
In Charleston, for example, I did not have a single underwhelming meal. I just feel as though there was nothing that I could rave or rant about in terms of meals I had. There were certain places where the concept was cool, or the atmosphere was impressive, but do I recall a single stand out meal that I had because of the food? Not really.
Greek food is something people rave about, like Italian food, and for that I felt a bit disappointed. Feel free to comment with your culinary experiences or gems of restaurants I missed! If you want to tell me that the experience I had is offensive to you…direct all e-mails to your nearest trash can.
Food for Thought – Top Foodie Experiences
– Coffee: Here is an area where Athens really shined. The coffee scene has something for everyone. Want to feel like you’ve just smoked an entire pack of cigarettes? Try a black coffee here. Want to keep up your buzz AND energy levels? Try your coffee with booze. I could not get enough of the iced coffees and frappes. Creamy, sugary, deliciousness cool and refreshing on a summer day? Yes please.
– Acropolis View Restaurants: If you’re going to splurge on anything in Athens, let this be it. Sitting at a table at night, eating an incredibly expensive platter of cheese and meats while sipping wine and seeing this view? Most people only see this in their dreams. It’s an experience where I constantly had to ask myself what I did to deserve such privileges in life.
Then I remembered that I deal with teenagers all day long and that I definitely fucking deserve this moment. There is nowhere else in the world where you can eat dinner and have the Acropolis as your view other than Athens, Greece. It is the pinnacle of reward for working hard, saving up, and getting yourself here.
Any other day you can eat cheap souvlakis and get on line at Burger King, but at least for one meal and one day, anyone coming to Greece needs to have this experience. It’s a complete paradox to the less than rave reviews that Athens gets and its always good to see the other side of the coin.
– Little Kook: I almost regret putting this on the list as I don’t want to see it become a Buzzfeed video. Little Kook is the coolest and most unique restaurant I’ve been to anywhere in the world. Every few months it completely changes themes, and when I say completely changes…this isn’t putting holiday decorations in an out of a box.
EVERYTHING changes, the wait staff’s outfits, the menus, the plants, the decor, everything. The atmosphere and decor could honestly give Disney World a run for its money, I’m probably as impressed by this place as I am by the Parthenon. It seemed to be dessert centric, and so I got a giant milkshake with an entire doughnut on top. What better way to unwind after an entire food tour? My words about this place and its vibrancy pretty much render useless, it needs to be seen to be believed!
Digs – Where I crashed
We stayed at a chic and cozy little apartment found through Air BnB. It was the perfect size for two people and offered a small balcony to sit and watch the neighborhood below. Some of the strengths include plenty of closet space, a full size make up table, and a kitchen where the host has ice cold water waiting in the fridge, this was much appreciated in the throws of summer!
The host was a friendly and warm woman named Haroula who was everything I hoped a Greek mother or grandmother would be. While the apartment was not centrally located to the Acropolis, it was easy enough to hop on the underground train and get there (maybe about seven minutes in total.) Plenty of adorable restaurants and cafes in the area. ALL IMAGES OF AIR BNB PROPERTY BELONG TO PROPERTY HOST AND WERE NOT TAKEN BY ME!
Listing title: Central, Cozy & Vintage, Perfect for two!
What I Learned…
Athens gets a bad rap. Anyone looking to travel to Greece is always told, “Ehh, a day or two in Athens is fine, but leave immediately after. Actually, just fucking skip it. It’s a war zone.” As up front as I am about the seediness of Athens, I love grit and I love big cities. Big cities are often talked about in terms of their homicide numbers, public health detriments, and lack of cleanliness. Anyone who lives in or has spent time in big cities knows that there is so much more to a city, and it is no different for Athens.
No, Athens is not one of Greece’s famed islands. Athens is where you experience pockets of local life, street art, and the plight of the average Joe (or average Constantine I guess in this case.) School is where you hear history, Athens is where you see the history you’ve learned about, an experience that for most people only exists in BBC documentaries and textbooks.
Yes, Athens is dirty streets and creepy men, but it’s also green grasses, beautiful flowers, picturesque restaurants, and stunning, unparalleled views. Athens is seeing triple from a single shot of ouzo or raki while you listen to loud chatter and even louder music. People say to run out after one day, I can’t believe I only spent three days.
There is so much to see and do, and much to do beyond the guide books and TripAdvisor suggestions. Everyone wants to be Anthony Bourdain, yet they shutter at the idea of exploring the people and ‘mean streets’ of places with grit, like Athens.
If your purpose in traveling is to take pretty pictures to make your friends jealous, by all means, snap your selfie at the Parthenon and bounce on over to Santorini. If your purpose in travel is to connect, to learn, to explore and maybe get a few physical and emotional cuts and bruises along the way, as any good explorer does, spend some time in Athens.