I first visited Athens last April in 2016 with a close friend and have since gone back twice already. At first I wasn’t sure what it was about the city that I loved so much, but the more I visited, the more I realised it’s the rawness and realness of the small ancient city that I love. Athens reminds me of Madrid. A lot. I lived in Madrid on my Erasmus in 2010, in the midst of the Spanish economic crisis and it’s the same sense I get from Athens every time I visit. On one side you have the beautiful history of the Acropolis and the Parthenon, then you go down another road and you’ll be in a street with graffiti covered buildings in the leafy streets. Luckily I get to go back often for work and want to share the reason’s why I love Athens.
So if you do go to Athens, and I mean when you go, make sure you don’t miss out on these…
If there is one thing you need to see in Athens, it’s the Acropolis. A UNESCO World Heritage site, that dates back to the 13th Century BC, it sits in the centre of Athens 150m above the sea level. Entry to the site costs €20 and includes the Acropolis Museum.
Plaka is by far the best area of Athens in my opinion. It’s gorgeous narrow streets, pastel painted houses and the infamous stairs. Not to forget the brilliant Taverna Platanos.
3. Monistiraki and it’s Rooftop Bars
Monistiraki square is home to two super cool rooftop bars you should definitely have a pit stop at, especially if you’re visiting in the middle of summer – Athens can get hot! These are A for Athens and Bar 360. Here you can order your classic cocktails and other cocktails with a twist. 🍹 Prices range from €9/€11 onwards.
4. Athens Cooking Class
I love Greek food. It’s lush and comforting and.. ok you get the point. But being the cook I am, I wanted to learn how a real Greek would cook their traditional dishes. If you have enough time in Athens I can’t recommend this enough. The host is very welcoming, and educated us on not only the Athenian culture and history but the history of Greek food. Did you know that Moussaka actually originates from Iran?
Check it out on Trip Advisor.
5. Varvakios Agora Food Market
I visited this food market on my 3rd visit to Athens by chance not knowing it was a true hidden gem of the city. The Varvakios Agora market runs in the centre of the Psyri district nestled behind Monastiraki Square. It reminded me of my trip to Marrakech with a middle eastern influence with a huge variety of nuts, spices, alcohol and olive oil. I bought tzaziki and moussaka spices, which I use to marinate chicken/ pork/ salmon.
Places to avoid:
So as beautiful and as much as I do love Athens, I learnt the hard way of districts to avoid…
Exarcheia – I stayed here in July when I did the MedExperience Greek Island Tour. And boy it was ROUGH. we got in the taxi from Athens Venizelos and directed the driver to the hotel. He took one look at us as if we were crazy. As we approached the area I understood what he meant. Apart from the graffiti which is the norm in Athens there was a square which was renowned for Heroin taking, the taxi driver told us. I have come across a few rough areas in my time so I wasn’t phased and I was with my friends so I wasn’t put off, it was Athens after all! So after having a google search, I found out that Exarcheia was the area where the illegal immigrant camps were.
Omonia – another slightly less privileged area of Athens. I stayed here during my trip for work last November when Obama visited Athens. It can get a bit dodgy at night and I wouldn’t recommend taking a metro at night if you’re on your own and don’t speak Greek.
This is only a snippet of my 5 top things to do in Athens. I’ll be back in Athens in a month so stay tuned! 🙂