Few destinations ignite in me the same combination of childlike wonder and intellectual curiosity as Athens, Greece. From my first glances of the new part of the city as our Jeep taxi drove us to our hotel, I knew this would be an adventure I would never forget. By adventure, I mean that each day on Athens was so amazing- the “ordinary” was so extraordinary to my tourist eyes- that by the time I left, I felt like I had traveled back in time and communed with the likes of Plato and Aristotle while simultaneously enjoying breathtaking modern art and design.
Athens, Greece’s capital since 1834, is located in the Attica prefecture, and extends all the way to the peninsula that reaches up to Central Greece. Geographically diverse, it is surrounded by the Ymmytos, Pendeli and Parnitha mountain ranges to the north and east, and the Saronic Gulf to the south and west. Athens tends to be very mild in the winter and extremely hot in the summer when we were there. The city is home to over 4.5 million inhabitants.
Athens is a very diverse city. Simply walking around the old Plaka, Thission, and Psyri neighborhoods is like attending a history or sociology class as you stroll by ruins, statues, tavernas mansions, and apartments from different eras. The Psyri is full of interesting shops, charming restaurants, and traditional churches. If you come here at night, you are sure to enjoy the thriving local music scene, especially at establishments such as The House of Art and Pinakothiki.
The nearby Thissio neighborhood is named after the Thission temple. To visit the Thission, you must purchase a ticket to the Roman Agora site and adjacent museum. However, once you get inside, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the variety of activities, tavernas, and reasonably priced souvenir shops.
The Monastiraki area is known for its flea market. However, even on non-market days, bargain hunters will still find a variety of independent, inexpensive shops to browse.
The tourist-friendly Syntagma Square area offers classy hotels, stylish eateries, and world-class museums such as the Benaki Museum (which houses Greek historical artifacts from the Byzantine period through 1922) or the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art (ancient Greek art).
One area tourists may want to avoid is Omonia square, an area that tends to attract drug dealers and prostitutes.
Piraeus, about 40 minutes from downtown Athens, is a beautiful area (technically its own city) with winding streets and natural harbors. This is also where you will find some of the best seafood restaurants and nightlife in greater Athens.
Now getting to all of these areas is even easier, thanks to Athens’ efficient and pristine Attiko Metro system (that has been in construction since 1991 and continues to expand throughout the city). The city planners and architects in charge of this project did a fantastic job of combining ancient archeological finds with modern transportation technology; the central Syntagma Square station is perhaps the best example of this artful aesthetic.
Kaló taksídi! Have a good trip!
Written by Caitlin Dwyer for EuropeUpClose.com