Discover one of Europe’s most historic cities that is rapidly regaining its popularity thanks to hip hangouts, a sun-soaked climate and friendly locals.
The Greek capital of Athens is steeped in history and boasts some of the oldest iconic landmarks that you can find anywhere in the world. With awe-inspiring architecture at every turn, cultural hotspots and family-feel restaurants, the city will captivate your imagination from start to finish.
The city is now even easier to access for us in the southwest as Bristol Airport are offering two flights a week via easyjet – no need to travel to London airports for this one. Once at Athens International Airport, the heart of the city can be accessed easily in just over an hour using the metro service for just €10,00 which runs every half an hour.
Two of the most popular areas to stay in are the districts of Plaka – the city’s oldest neighbourhood – and Makrigianni. Both sit just outside the perimeter of the Acropolis and hotels here boast less than 20 minute walks to many of the other main points of interest that you’ll be looking to see during your stay. It’s in these areas that the majority of the well-rated restaurants reside too so you can relax knowing that at the end of the day you’re never far from good food and friendly faces.
Food is a huge part of a trip to any new country and Greece is no different. Tuck into an authentic Moussaka, enjoy a gyros – usually shredded veal, lamb or beef wrapped in a flatbread with tomato, onion and tzatziki – as part of a quick lunch stop on the move, and be sure to treat yourself to the traditional Mastiha ice cream served on Kataifi pastry for a unique dessert with a nest-like texture and plenty of taste! So many of the restaurants are welcoming and make you feel as though you’re part of a family. Liondi was a particular favourite, with our servers introducing us to our surrounding diners and the chef even popping out regularly to ensure we were all enjoying our meals.
Of course the main reason for any visitor coming to Athens for the first time is to see the awe-inspiring historic sites of ancient Greece, including the unmissable Acropolis. Get yourself a multi-site ticket for €30,00 from the Acropolis ticket office. Just €10,00 more this ticket will grant you additional access to the Roman Agora, Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s Library and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. At over 2,000 years old, these structures offer an insight into life long ago and it is incredible to see how the stacked stone columns and intricate architecture have remained intact. If you can resist, I’d recommend saving your journey up the marble steps to the Parthenon until last for a truly spectacular finale to your day of sightseeing and to beat the crowds of tour buses!
The new Acropolis Museum (€5 entry) showcases many of the treasures once housed there and offers a welcome retreat from the heat and a top-up on your history of Athens. The museum at the Agora is also well worth a visit to see many of the more relatable salvaged items – pots, trinkets, combs and even preserved bones.
Don’t miss the Evzones – elite guards – performing their ritualistic routine in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside of Greek Parliament in Syntagma Square but do be aware of any strikes or protests that usually occur in this area. The Greeks are a passionate nation who have survived some recent hard times. Although you’re unlikely to be bothered, protests are often announced ahead of time so it’s always sensible to avoid these areas out of convenience.
Spend an afternoon exploring the characterful streets of Plaka and discover unique shops and boutiques as well as the flea market before climbing Philopappos Hill, passing Socrates prison, to catch the beautiful sunset from this high point overlooking the city.
If you’re brave enough to tackle the deluge of scooters darting in and out of Athens’ chaotic roads then hire a car and take a scenic 1.5 hour coastal drive to Sounion’s Temple of Poseidon overlooking the Aegean Sea. The first ten minutes getting out of the city are a little hairy to say the least – nervous drivers here should definitely look at other options of travel – but once you’re out it’s one simple road all the way south and will reward you with stunning views and independence over an organised tour. Stop off at Vouliagmeni Lake for a warm dip on the way!
Turbulent times are fading fast. Athens is returning to the popular, historic European hot-spot that it once was with the added benefit of modern, trendy hangouts and a sun-soaked climate.
Words & gallery images: Jake Tucker