Athens – A lot more than antiquity!!

Athens – A lot more than antiquity!!

Travel

Athens!! Acropolis, ancient gods, the birthplace of democracy… everything you (or at least most of us!) associate initially with Athens is connected to myths and stories from ancient times, the heyday of Athens. And indeed, today’s modern city is of course inseparable from these terms. But around it a vibrant, exciting metropolis with around 3.5 million inhabitants rises, whose outer districts pour out like lava flows from concrete, pouring onto the surrounding plains and hills, and in its center the Parthenon perched on the Acropolis like from another world.

Athens is loud, chaotic, full of smok and traffic but also sugar-sweet, playful, inventive and exciting. A paradox through and through, bewitching in the nights and ugly during daytime.

If you visit Athens (especially for the first time) you cannot avoid taking some time for a part of the infinite ancient sites. The Hellenic and Roman epoch simply belong to the city and have left its marks all over. And the wonderful thing is, that you will always explore the city in the end, because in the spacious center there is not the “ancient” and the “modern” Athens, but the one in the other.

You can certainly spend days exploring ancient sites and museums and always discover something new and exciting. Or you can integrate visiting the classic sights scattered over the center into your city walks, as we have done, discovering the old and the modern next to each other and experiencing Athens in its everyday life.

If you start at the centrally located Syntagma Square, which can be easily reached by public transport, you can actually move in all directions and bump into the most interesting city districts and sights.

The Parliament building is located directly at the eastern end of the square as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In front of it, the Evzones (elite soldiers of the Presidial Guard) are guarding 24 hours a day. They are wearing a traditional uniform, with skirt and red beaked shoes with black pompons, resembling more a folk dance group than military, would not be the rifles. Being selected for this elitist club is hard and the training of these elite soldiers is merciless. And all this, although they finally won’t be part of special units that will have to survive explosive missions at the focal points of the earth, no, the aim of the hardships is to stand like a statue motionless in front of the Grave of the Unknown Soldier come what may and to unwind the hourly changing of the guards, a spectacle which to us seemed rather grotesque! Lift the leg high, bend the knee, swing through, put down the foot clattering in several rolling movements, turn. Lift the arm up high and start again! Anyway, somehow worth seeing!

Further east, a small green oasis opens up in the middle of the hectic city, the National Garden.

To the South there is the Olympieion, once the largest temple of ancient Greece, which is also impressive in its present-day, only rudimentary form. And the Hadrian’s Arch, which represents the boundary between ancient Greek Athens and the new Roman Athens built by the Roman Emperor. In the South-East you can find the Panathinaiko Stadium, where the first Olympic Games of modern times took place in 1896 and which still exudes a certain fascination.

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If you leave the National Garden to the North-East you will get to the probably most noble part of Athens, Kolonaki.
White villas, boutiques and flagship stores of all luxury brands, jewelers, styled bars and fine restaurants characterize this district. The rich and famous and those who strive to be, stroll along the streets with Gucci or Chanel shopping bags and populate the cafes. From here you can walk up to the Lykavittós hill or take the cable car (about 7 €) and enjoy the view of the city from above. However, one must hope that there isn’t too much smog…

On the other side of the hill lies a part of town that could not be more different to posh Kolonaki.
Exarchia, the quarter of the leftist student movements, the anarchist scene, the Athens of the “Ochi”, the “No”. In these surroundings the clocks tick differently, it’s the hood of resistance. Already during Second World War, the front line between communists and bourgeois conservatism ran here. In 1973, the overthrow of the military dictatorship started in Exarchia. And even in the 21st century,  the district was the starting point of many demonstrations and protest campaigns, some of which were opposed to brutal police violence. In 2008, the police shot a 15-year-old during protest, which led to riots throughout the whole country. The other side of Exarchia is the alternative way of life of its inhabitants, the every-day solidarity, the aid projects for refugees even though the greek people themselves have little, urban gardening projects, exciting alternative nightlife with concerts, open air cinema or political and philosophical discussions on the central square. You’ll get beer and coffee at half the price of other quarters and especially in the evenings and at night, you feel like in an exciting melting pot while spending your time in casual student bars between people of all races and age groups. During the day, the district is absolutely worth seeing for its street art. And you do not need to worry about your safety!

On the outskirts of Exarchia there is another tourist magnet, the National Archaeological Museum (entry 2016: 10 €), which exhibits the probably most important collection of artworks and basic commodities of antiquity.

If you leave Exarchia to the South-West, the next district you reach is Psirri. This centrally situated , former quarter of the immigrants and the lawless, has developed into a district of craftsmen and traders and you’re likely to find everything you need (herbs, household goods, ropes, building materials, fabrics, food…) in one of the small retail stores. And over the past years, it has developed into a trendy district, with a hip nightlife scene and you can explore small pretty shops, hidden galleries and lots of street art during the day.

South of Psirri the next quarter is Monastiraki. It is especially known for its “flea market”. In addition to classic souvenir shops, clothing and shoe shops, you can find rare antiques, devotional items, kitsch and all kinds of scrap and you can buy everything the collector’s heart could wish for! And on Sundays the whole thing becomes a real flea market.

Few steps later you’ll find yourself in the heart of the ancient sites and Byzantine churches. Within just a few hundred meters the Hadrian’s Library, the Roman Agora with the Tower of the Winds, the Agora with the best preserved temple of Greece and the magnificent Agora Museum and further east the ancient Cemetery of Kerameikos, the Byzantine monastery Moni Dafniou and numerous museums on all kinds of topics. And in the South, the Akropolis towering above it all!

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The Acropolis (which means city fortress), a 157m high, flat hill, rises over the city and can be seen  day and night from all central places. It is dominated by the Parthenon, the temple in honor of the city goddess Athene and houses a total of 21 more or less well-preserved ancient buildings. Even if it may be crowded, a visit is an absolute must! It is best to visit in the early morning or in the evening during sunset. There are several ways to go up or come down.

One of these routes can be combined with a visit to Plaka, the old town quarter north of the Acropolis. In this district you will find a very special mix of taverns, souvenir-shops, tourist rip-off and Athenian tradition!

And from this location you can stroll through the narrow streets of a small jewel up to the Acropolis. Anafiotika, a tiny quarter on the north-eastern slopes of the Acropolis. Founded by and named after the immigrants of the island of Anafi in the Cyclades. They were known as skilled stonemasons and in the middle of the 19th century got hired by King Otto to build his palace. They have created their own small residential quarter, which suddenly places you on a Greek Island, in the middle of white houses with colored windows and doors, walled gardens with mediterranean vegetation and narrow alleys which snake their way up the hill.

If you intend to plunge yourself into the nightlife of Athens, you can head for the Gazi district in the west of the city, or the classic Monastiraki, the alternative Excharia and the hip Psirri. Around the old gasworks in Gazi, which has been turned into an art and cultural center, you will find countless restaurants, bars and clubs. You can find every imaginable kind of food and entertainment: Tzipouro and meze in classical Greek tavernas, all kinds of international restaurants, electro clubs, live music, theater, and so on… Or you can already start the party during the day in one of the Ibiza-style beach clubs, that line up along the coast from the port and industrial center of Piraeus to the beach district of Glyfada, only interrupted by marinas and some public city beaches.

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You’re definitely not gonna get bored during your stay in the city and no matter whether it is a financial or a state crisis, the Athenians have such an obvious love-hate relationship with their contradictory city that it will always be kept running, day and night, every season of the year.



Sights:
  • If you want to visit the famous ancient sights, it is worth buying the AKROPOLIS PASS (2016: 30 €/p.P., Validity 5 days). The visit of the Acropolis alone costs 20 €, each further smaller attraction min 6€. It includes the following entries: 

Akropolis with North- and South-Slope, Roman Agora, Ancient Agora, Olympieion, Kerameikon, Hadrian’s Library, Lykeion

  • explore the city on foot
  • stroll through the various city districts and be impressed by their diversity!
  • marveling on street-art in Excharia, Psirri, Monastiraki and Thiseio
  • take a rest in the National Garden
  • climb on one of the hills and look down on the city (Lykavittós, Pnyx / Filopappou)
  • enjoy the summer at one of the city beaches (Glyfada) or in the numerous beach clubs
Camping:
  • Have a look at our extra article here!
Food and Drinks:
  • Our absolute favorite: AVOCADO (Nikis 30, Syntagma)                                                           

Small, fine cafe / restaurant with the most delicious vegetarian / vegan / gluten-free kitchen. Even for non-vegetarians absolutely recommendable.
The food is great, as well as  the cakes and the juices / smoothies!  
   

  • Otherwise there is an enormous amount of choices in Athens and like this it is hard o recommend something specific! Tastes are so different … So let yourself be carried through the city and see where your nose takes you!