Advantages Fun, fascinating and altogether fabulous
Disadvantages Chaotic and confusing for the first time visitor
The first thing I should say is that I never visited Athens purely as a tourist. I lived in Greece for three years, and spent the first two in Halkida, on an island called Evia, about an hour and a half north of Athens (well worth a day out for seafood lunch, the beach and the bars but that is another review). We didn't go to Athens often, and when we did the first stop was usually Marks and Spencers to stock up our small English community on tights and underwear! After two years I moved to Piraeus and set about discovering the capital in all its glory.Now I'm not going to spend this review talking about the Acropolis, or Plaka, or taxis, or pollution, or any of the other things that are discussed in many of the other fine reviews on this site. Those places are very interesting to visit - the Acropolis is a must for the first time visitor - but what I want to do is to take you on a journey through my Athens, the places I visited with my friends, and which I believe will give a truer picture of the real Athens than the pure tourist trail.
Now you may notice there is a distinct lack of ancient ruins in this list. There are two reasons for this. The first is that with the exception of the Acropolis and the Agora alongside it, ruins are pretty much par for the course in Athens and you can find them all over the place - you don't really need to make a special effort to seek them out. The second is that they really don't change very much and once you have seen them a few times there is not much to do, whereas I have tried to concentrate on places I would enjoy visiting time and time again.I am going to start this description in the centre of Athens and work outwards - most of the places are south and east of the centre as that is where I was living at the time. I will try to explain how to get to places but please bear in mind that it is three years since I spent much time in Athens and I am reliably informed that the transport system has changed beyond all recognition. On the subject of the buses, tickets can be bought at the kiosks, or periptero, that you find on every street corner, but you must stamp your ticket in the machine when you get on the bus or tram - I forgot once and the bus was checked by the police - I had to come over all English in order to get away without a fine.
This is the smartest area of Athens. Full of smart cafeterias and designer clothes shops, it is where the beautiful people of Athens spend their money. You will pay through the nose here for a coffee, but the people watching opportunities are fabulous. One tip - which actually applies to the whole of Athens and not just here - is that if you don't want to be bothered by the locals, then dress up a bit. Carry a handbag not a rucksack, wear nice clothes and do your hair and make up, especially your nails. If you look like a tourist the local lotharios will assume you are out for a good time and do their best to show it to you. (If this is what you are after though Kolonaki is a good place to go - a much richer class of lothario here!)
Lykavittos hill is the highest point in Athens and from the top you can see right out across the city. It is reached via funicular railway, but you have to walk about halfway up the hill to get to the start, so the less fit Ciao members might want to consider a taxi. On top of the hill is a cafeteria - fabulous view but there is better coffee and atmosphere in other places and a small church. This is really pretty inside and even if you are not much keen on churches and religion in general is well worth a peek if only to compare it to your average parish church. If you are lucky enough to be in Greece for Easter then this is the best church to visit - following the mass at midnight there is a candlelit procession down the hill with fireworks going off all across the city - truly special and a real spiritual experience.
Neon on the other hand is a very different kettle of fish - in fact I have often thought it would do fabulously in central London, and other major cities around the UK. It is fast food but of a much healthier variety. You can buy burgers, along with salads, pasta dishes, fish and many others and as far as possible things are cooked from fresh in front of you, in a matter of minutes. It is cheaper than the far more traditional restaurants in Plaka and other areas, and the portions are nothing if not generous. They have a license, and will happily sell you a small bottle of wine, but are equally happy to dish up a cappucino or a glass of juice.I am told there are branches of Neon all over Athens but the ones I have visited are in Kolonaki, Omonia and Syntagma. The one in Syntagma was the one I used most often - there is an internet cafe next door where you can check your e-mails for a very reasonable rate, and it is large enough that you can sit quite comfortably by yourself with a coffee and not feel hassled - handy when you have a friend who believes that punctuality is a character fault!
For a more special evening out you may want to consider Psyrri rather than Plaka or Monastiraki. This area just off Monastiraki (walk down Ermou, then turn right up Athinas and strike off into one of the side streets off to the left) is a little less salubrious looking than many of the more salubrious areas and is aimed at Greeks rather than tourists, but search out a little and you will find delightful little tavernas, cafeterias by the dozen and bars where the dancing - to Greek music - will go on until the early hours. Not everywhere is great here - the atmosphere is not for everyone - but persevere and you should find somewhere you like.
5. NATIONAL GARDENS
Now when I lived in Athens I didn't have much money and neither did my friends, and one of the things we used to do was to go for picnics. The ideal destination was always the beach but as we lived on opposite sides of town it was not so easy for us to get to and so the National Gardens seemed the perfect compromise. I spent many a happy afternoon lying on a rug soaking up the sun and generally setting the world to rights.
This is the last of my recommendations in central Athens - the others are further out and somewhat less accessible but still well worth a visit in my opinion.6. VILLAGE PARK
7. EGALEO and CORYDALLOS
These are two areas to the west of Athens (get a bus or a tram) which are just chock full of clothes shops. They are the places the locals go if they want new clothes and as such are cheap and cheerful yet stylish in a distinctively Greek way. It might at first seem like you will not find anything you like - the Greek style tends to short and tight - but a little bit of searching will find you something you like. I would particularly recommend the shoes - wonderful styles for much less than you would pay in the UK.
This an area in the port of Piraeus where you can sit by the sea and drink a coffee or a glass of wine in perfect comfort. Now anyone who has been to the main port in Piraeus might be a tad surprised that such a place exists, but this is just a bit further round the coast and is a harbour for the boats owned by Athens' rich and famous. Awkward to find - take a taxi from the station - but well worth the effort - it is peaceful and quiet - something of an oasis in comparison to the bussle of the city and port nearby.
This is a district of Athens on the south coast close to the site of the old airport - thankfully now converted into various unused Olympic venues - which is full of shops, restaurants and cafeterias. Unlike the centre of town which is full of little winding streets for you to get lost in Glyfada is the perfect example of modern Greece at its best - open streets with wide pavements perfect for strolling along, food and clothes shops from all over the world, and smart marble apartment blocks looking out across the Aegean.
From here you can take a taxi to either of my next two recommendations.10. KAVOURI
11. LIMNI VOULIAGMENI
If Kavouri sounds a little rustic and basic for you then you can try Limni Vouliagmeni. This is not a beach but a private lake - it costs a few euros to get in - but sunloungers, showers, and waiter service are provided. It is absolutely beautiful - I just love to lie back and look around me but if you want to swim you will be sharing the water with a large number of small black fish - and the local diving and lifesaving club - handy as the water is deceptively deep. One thing about swimming though - they ask you not to swim with sunblock on as it will upset the mineral balance in the water - but this simply means you swim first and sunbathe second - and if you want to go in again just shower off first. The food is good but expensive - but as you cannot take in your own you just need to make allowances in your budget. Coming here was not cheap for me as I lived on the far side of town - but it was definitely my favourite way to spend the day.
12. ATHENS NEWS.
The Athens News is a weekly English newspaper published in English. It comes out on Thursdays and along with local and international news contains listings, a classified section and articles about living and working in Athens. Always worth a read (if only for the column Church on Sunday) it will keep you informed and entertained and can provide an valuable insight into a sometimes highly confusing city.
Attention, this is the first review from this author
Instead of giving a negative rating, consider:
Help this member by giving your advice
Report fraud (for example plagiarism) or other issue with the review to the Ciao support team
Add your comment