Athens is not a glamorous city but it is full of beautiful things. It’s a place I often find myself defending, because I think it’s cruelly overlooked in favour of more polished European cities and the more idyllic Greek islands. When I spent two weeks in Greece last summer, Athens was our final stop before our flight back to New York. It was my third trip to Athens, but David’s first, and I couldn’t wait to show him the parts of Athens that I love.
We stayed in Monastiraki, which is a convenient neighbourhood for walking to the famous Monastiraki Flea Markets and the nearby Acropolis.
On our first morning, our first stop was Monastiraki Square and to find a frozen yoghurt shop. Athens is a tight maze of stone streets and stone buildings, which traps the heat and bakes in the scorching summer sun. It feels noticeably warmer than the islands, due to a lack of sea breeze in most of the city. A frozen Greek yoghurt is the perfection solution, not to mention one of my favourite treats.
Monastiraki Flea Market
The Monastiraki Flea Market is one of my favourite markets in the world. You can find local designers, like the shops where I bought a handmade gold bracelet and a backpack made in Crete, but I really love the jumble of antiques piled up in the flea market stalls. I am still kicking myself for leaving no room for homewares in my suitcase.
Walking Tour of the Exarchia Neighbourhood
I am a huge fan of Intrepid’s Urban Adventures walking tours. I’ve taken their tours in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Miami and San Francisco, and to say thank you for sharing my experiences on the blog, they kindly offered me a free tour when I was in Athens (we paid for David’s spot on the tour). They have lots of great walking tours of Athens, but I was the most intrigued by Sweet Sins & Anarchy walking tour of Exarchia, one of the city’s most infamous neighbourhoods.
I’ll write a separate blog post to cover this tour in more detail, but I learned so much fascinating, and at times, shocking, history of modern Athens that completely changed the way I see the city.
It introduced us to the darker side of Athens modern history, including shocking government & police violence towards citizens in the late 20th century. The tension between locals and the police in the neighbourhood is still palpable. It’s not an area I’d recommend visiting without a guide or a local friend, if you’re a tourist, but I felt very safe with our guide. I just wouldn’t want to be wandering around, looking so clearly like a tourist and not knowing in which streets it would be dangerous to take photos.
Along the way, we had several sweet snack stops, and a coffee break inside a charming neighbourhood coffee shop with one of the most impressive pastry cabinets I’ve ever seen.
Like most hotels in Athen’s historic centre, our hotel rooftop had a bar & restaurant with dazzlings views of the acropolis. We hadn’t reserved in advance, so a table at the restaurant was not an option, but sitting in the sun with a glass of wine was the perfect way to relax after a few hours of walking around in the heat.
Dinner & Drinks in Monastiraki
We started the evening at a bar I visited on my last trip to Athens, six d.o.g.s. It’s an all-day and night cultural centre, with a cafe, bar and restaurant and gorgeous terraced garden which becomes the main hub at night. We took a table on one of the higher rungs of the terrace, which has a lovely view over the rest of the garden. The cocktail menu reads like a mythological fable, which is entertaining and demonstrates careful consideration and impressive expertise.
We had dinner nearby, at Η Αυλή, a fantastic neighbourhood restaurant that is cheap, cheerful and extremely popular. Dinner was fresh, affordable and the setting was lovely. These are the kinds of restaurants I love finding when I travel!
Our final morning was spent at the Acropolis. We wound our way up the hillside, through narrow streets lined with restaurants, to reach the site at the top of the hill. These pretty streets, although probably overwhelmed by touristy restaurants, make for some of my favourite urban landscapes in Athens.
We arrived at around 9am, and there was already a long queue, because the ticket machines weren’t working. We hadn’t purchased a guided tour but I wish we did. On my first visit to Athens, I was with a Contiki Tour group and the local guide they had hired was painfully boring, but unfortunately the plaques dotted around the site focus on the restoration works, rather than the history of the place before it became a giant artefact. I highly recommend finding a well-reviewed local guide, if you’re going to visit the Acropolis.
Even without a guide, the Acropolis is one of the most magnificent ancient sites in the world.
After the Acropolis, it was time to check out of our hotel and kill some time before we took the train to the airport. We sat at an outdoor cafe in the neighbourhood we were staying in, and spent a couple of hours people watching while taking cover from the blazing sun. I’d recently read about a photographer who would spend hours in one place, photographing only people who had dressed the same. The results are surprising, and so David and I tried our own experiment, counting the number of people we saw in the same outfit combinations. Even in a few hours I was surprised at how many we counted! Unlike in New York or even in Melbourne, there was no rush on the tables in Athens. As our guide, Theo, explained to us the day before, it’s common to buy a two euro coffee and then spend three or four hours lingering over a table. It was a fitting way to end our time in Greece, slowly savouring the moment rather than living life at full throttle in a New York minute.
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