Athens is a divisive city. Not all visitors have walked away with fond memories and a burning desire to quickly return. On paper, that seems entirely unlikely. Athens is a historical minefield, its ancient origins visible to everyone strolling by, souvlaki in hand. For anyone with even a cursory interest in history, the city is utopia. To start, it is the home of the Parthenon. Despite centuries marked by disastrous fires, religious conversions, invasions and looting, the ancient structure has survived and still stands proudly atop the Acropolis. Even beyond one of the most famous temples that you can still visit, Athens is brimming with ancient sites, encouraging visitors to step inside and marvel at their magnificence. From Hadrian’s Library to the Ancient Agora of Athens, there’s no shortage of ancient sites and artefacts to gaze upon.
Spend hours wandering through ancient sites, and many hours more walking the corridors of the city’s numerous museums and galleries. If hunger sets in, fear not. When excavations in Santorini unearthed stone sets of barbecue skewers predating 17th century AD, it confirmed a truth many already took as fact: the Greeks are experts at grilled meats.
Mouth-watering kebabs, souvlakis and gyros are not hard to come by in Athens - just follow your nose. Brimming with a combination of tasty fillings (juicy tomatoes, chopped parsley, tzatziki and fried potato chips, to name a few) these moorish pita-wrapped parcels are available on every street for as little as €2.
For outdoor dining, there’s Psiri. In Psiri you’ll find antique stores with goods sprawling onto the streets and more graffitied buildings than anywhere else in Athens. Psiri is, perhaps, a little rough around the edges but looks can be deceiving. While the streets themselves might not be a visual delight, the restaurants of Psiri are a different story altogether.
The colourful decor and lively music of its restaurants draw you in, while the waiter’s welcome you to take a seat are nigh impossible to resist. From crisp Greek salads topped with generous servings of creamy feta to cheesy baked moussaka, these restaurants offer all of the traditional meals, as well as some lesser known yet equally impressive local dishes (try the salty grilled sardines with a squeeze of lemon). There is no shortage of bars in Psiri either, (including A for Athens, with its breathtaking rooftop views of the Parthenon at night) but for a evening drink in a picturesque neighbourhood, there’s Plaka.
Wandering through the attractive streets of Plaka, you'll soon find some of Athen’s best rated bars, like Brettos. Sip locally distilled ouzo or choose from a range of ouzo-based cocktails that are unlike anything you’ve ever taste before. Not only a nighttime locale, Plaka is a bustling lunch spot and a great choice for souvenir shopping. Local shops offer everything from natural sea sponges and olive wood servings boards to locally made canvas backpacks.
For more food, shopping and historical sites, there’s the flea market neighbourhood of Monastiraki. Lively and bustling, Monastiraki offers a taste of all that Athens has to offer. In one direction you’ll find restaurants churning out some of Athen’s most highly regarded kebabs and souvlakis, in another you’ll find stalls selling everything from specialty items and souvenirs to clothes and footwear. Cross through Monastiraki square and you’ll stumble upon Hadrian’s Library - the ruins from the 2nd century AD Roman library. All of this within just a few square blocks.
Allow yourself more than a quick stopover in Athens before setting off on your island escape, to really get to know this captivating city and find yourself quickly enamoured by its raw beauty. With history etched onto every building, flavoursome street eats and awe-inspiring ancient ruins -- every aspect of Athens invites further exploration.
A Bit About Costs in Athens
Shockingly, Athens is very reasonably priced. An Airbnb right in the center of the city starts from AUD $40 a night, which is cheaper than some hostels.
Street eats cost around €2 and beer goes for around €3. Ice cream is around €2 and a nice meal will run you up about €37, including a tip (that's dinner for 2 people consisting of Greek salad, bread with tapenade and eggplant dip, grilled sardines and moussaka).
The Acropolis Museum costs just €5 and to enter into all of the ancient sites in Athens, a combo ticket costs €30, to be used over 5 days.
Maybe this rave review is the effect of London life, but it still feels insanely affordable to me!