Athens is most often associated with a city that is rich in numerous ancient monuments. However, the capital of Greece is more than that as it constitutes a place where modern culture intertwines with social life.
Although I became interested in Greece quite early, my journeys and student exchange programmes had always led to places located far from the Greek capital. Finally, when the chance to move to Athens for a few months appeared, I felt unease. Nevertheless, the city lived up to my expectations, and after discovering it, my decision to leave was no longer that obvious. Even though several months turned into several years, even now I discover fascinating, previously unknown to me places in Athens.
Monuments and sightseeing
Whenever my friends visit me, we devote one day to visiting places and monuments that are a must see for any tourist (Acropolis, Syntagma Square with changing of the guards, the Kallimarmaro Stadium, etc.). As I do not live in the city centre, I equip all the people visiting me in Athens even for as short as three days with tickets for all means of transport, except for the ticket to the airport for 5 days (EUR 9). This solution not only pays off, but also makes it easier to explore and get to other parts of the city such as Piraeus or Athens beaches. Sightseeing should not be limited to the Acropolis (EUR 20) only. The panorama of the city can also be seen from other hills, and on sunny days, you can also admire the sea.
Personally, I often choose Filopappou Hill and its surroundings (including the Pnyx). On weekends, this place is filled with Greeks who have picnics together with their families and friends.It is also worth climbing (or taking the cable car) Likavitos hill, but there you will mostly see tourists. It is also a good idea to visit Athens off-season, as is exceptionally nice to enjoy monuments and not be surrounded by a crowd of people. In addition, every first Sunday of the month from November to March, entrance is free of charge.Athens is no stranger to rain, and when it does rain there, it rains cats and dogs. In order to avoid streams flowing through the streets, it is best to hide in a café.
Cafés and taverns
There is a plethora of cafés in Athens. My favourite are the small ones with tables outside. I heartily recommend an interesting place in the picturesque area of Plaka, where you can often meet both tourists and the inhabitants of Athens, i.e., the famous Plaka Stairs located on Mnisikleous street. They are filled with people from the early morning to late night. If you cannot find a place at the tables in front of the café, do not worry, as most places offer a place on the roof from which you can admire Likavitos. Although it is uncommon for Greeks to order something sweet at cafés, coffee with a biscuit is still an option. In the evening, beer is served with a bowl of crisps, or nuts in case of wine. Cake shops in the city centre, often visited by tourists, have in their menus bougatsa (warm phyllo dough with milk semolina filling and sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon),
original Greek yogurt served with fruit in syrup or honey with nuts, or other Greek sweets, which are twice as sweet as their Polish counterparts. In the evening, it is imperative that you go to a tavern. I mostly choose bars remote from the typical tourist spots, e.g., “I Kriti” by Kanigos Square. The servings are quite large, which is why it is worth putting plate in the middle of the table, so that everyone can try every dish. In a good tavern full of Greeks, you can order any of the offered dishes, and be sure it will be delicious. The Greeks’ favourite meal during the day is souvlakia, i.e., gyros meat wrapped in pita bread, usually served with tzatziki sauce or a different one, tomatoes, onions, and obligatorily chips. Athens is swarming with taxis. You do not have to call for them, or look for a taxi stand – just put your hand out, and you will definitely stop one.
Places worth getting lost in
The places in Athens worth getting lost in are the surroundings of Plaka, Anafiotika and Psirri, the last one especially recommended for fans of street art. Interesting works can also be found in the famous, anarchist Exarcheia district. Markets (laiki) are opened almost every day in various places. You should definitely visit the market located next to Athinas street. I like listening to shouting dealers trying to advertise their products.In the season from May to September, it is mandatory to go to one of the open-air cinemas.
My favourite is Cine Paris at Place. Foreign films are shown with Greek subtitles and they have not voiceover, and therefore tourists who know English can visit the cinema. Inside, there is a fully equipped bar, tables with chairs where you can drink beer or wine and have something to eat. The Acropolis can be seen from the terrace, but the lit citadel can be a bit distracting when watching a film.
When visiting Athens for a longer time, it is necessary to rent a car. Athens is a great base camp both for one-day trips to, e.g., Cape Sounion, Laurium, Acrocorinth and Nafplio, and longer journeys deep into the Peloponnese. Moreover, from Piraeus you can easily get to most of the Greek islands. When visiting Athens, it is worth buying tickets for all means of transport. This solution not only pays off, but also makes it easier to explore the city.