Athens: a guide to the ancient city

Having visited Athens numerous times during my childhood, and it being the birthplace of my father, some might think I’d be bored of this city, but they’d be wrong. The ever-electric atmosphere of Athens continues to surprise and delight me in every way, from the trendy bars to the Greek culture that oozes through the deliciously ancient windy streets of Plaka.

It’s easy to see why Athens is fast becoming one of Europe’s top city-break destinations for 2018. To be honest, I never thought much of the city when I was young (maybe because I spent most of the time visiting family members and seeing just the inside of their apartments) but on this trip, I finally understood the gravitas this city has. As new meets old, exploring Athens is a real experience.

What to do in Athens:

  1. Acropolis

Standing tall above the city of Athens sits the Acropolis in all its glory; one of the most striking and complete ancient Greek monuments still in existence.

Not only can you be amazed by ancient history but the views of the city are pretty incredible too!

If you’d like to delve further into Ancient Greek history – pop into the new Acropolis Museum opposite the entrance.

Price: 10 Euros but you can purchase a 30 Euro ticket that lasts for 5 days and allows entrance to multiple historic sites across the city.

Top tip: Stay tuned to events happening at Odeon of Herodes Atticus – it’s an incredible experience to watch a show at this historic theatre.

  1. Lykavittos Hill

It’s the highest hill in Athens, making it one to definitely add to the list if insane city views are your thing. You can either climb it by foot or take the tram. Get up there when the sun sets to see the spectacular sight of the city in lights, including the illuminated Acropolis and many other ancient sites.

Perched on top of the hill sits the idyllic whitewashed chapel of St George, a Greek Orthodox chapel built in the nineteenth century.

You’ll also find a large open-air theatre known as Lykavittos Theatre at the top of this hill – a stunning spot to enjoy a concert or two in the summer.

  1. Anafiotika

Amongst the hustle and bustle of Athens, just north of Plaka, you’ll find the hidden village of Athens known as Anafiotika. Resembling the iconic homes of the Greek islands, this little village is an oasis in such a vast city.

Take a moment to wander through the tiny cobbled streets, take in the surroundings of white-washed cubic houses built of stone, flat roofs and brightly painted shutters and doors; a stark contrast to the rest of the city.

  1. Plaka

Plaka is the city’s most popular area for tourists, and you’ll see why once you take that first step into the old historical neighbourhood of Athens. Expect to be serenaded with the sounds of the Greek bouzouki as you wander down the sun-drenched streets filled with al-fresco, family-run tavernas, quaint churches and gelato shops. The restaurants will be jam-packed until the early hours of the morning as Greeks like to eat late, so take your time.

Plaka oozes that well-known traditional Greek charm you’re bound to fall in-love with.

Taken in Plaka
  1. Ermou / Flea Market

Hoping to spend a few hours shopping? Head to Ermou to find all the reputable European brands as well as a few Greek makes. Don’t be afraid to go off-course and down some of the side streets as you’ll come across some quirky cafes and shops.

Prefer to shop in more quaint shops and perhaps grab yourself a bargain? The Flea Market is for you, well connected to Plaka and adjacent to Monastiraki Square.

  1. Changing of the guards

You’ve all seen the pictures, the Greek guards standing inconspicuously still outside the House of Parliament on Syntagma Square – the perfect chance for a selfie. On Sunday at 11am the guards change for the week in a traditional ritual where the guards walk around the Houses of Parliament in that march they do. The road is closed and it’s a real spectacle, one worth watching but make sure you get there around half an hour before, it gets crowded by tourists and their smartphones.

Where to eat:

  1. The Clumsies – Praxitelous 30, Athina 105 61

A real trendy spot in the city. There is no sign outside the restaurant/bar so make sure to keep your eyes open! Channelling a slightly speak-easy vibe, expect to find waiters in braces and shirts, an incredible selection of unique cocktails accompanied by an even better menu, that’s also a little on the quirky side. I had the Greek Bao Burger and it was delish!

Also open in the evening, but it’s a little busy. There’s no crowd control in Greece so you’ll feel like sardines. I’d recommend a lunch or early evening session.

  1. The Balcony Restaurant & Bar – Veikou 1, Athina 117 42

A slightly more sophisticated restaurant experience to the traditional taverna, this is the perfect establishment for date night. The menu has a nod to the Greek cuisine throughout but is slightly more modern, and refined. The wine list offers some of the best Greek wine I’ve ever tasted – I’d highly recommend the Cretan Viogner. If you’re organised enough, pre-book a table so you can bag yourself a table on the gorgeous rooftop.

  1. School Pizza Bar Agias Irinis 8, Athina 105 60

The top spot for pizza in the city – just a short walk from Ermou, this is the place to be for a mid-afternoon drink in the sun. With an extensive cocktail menu and a good selection of DJs taking to the decks in the evening, be sure to pop by after dark too as this place has its doors open until 4am.

  1. KeveliΕπτανήσου 15, 11257 Athens, Greece

Now, you won’t find tourists here. This is where you’ll find delicious Greek cuisine, that’s tastier and more authentic than that you’ll find in Plaka and the like. Think saganaki (fried cheese) drizzled with honey, perfect souvlaki and delectable calamari all washed down with a cold Mythos. I’d download the Google Translate app as this restaurant is so authentic the menu only comes in Greek (who would’ve thought it!?).

  1. O Geros tou MoriaMnisikleous 27, Athina 105 56

Imagine traditional Greek dishes in a cosy, rustic dining room plus a picturesque rooftop dinning space, with pastel pink walls and an epic view over the ancient town of Plaka; you can even see a little peak of the Acropolis looming over the city. I’d recommend the Cretan delicacy of Dakos; barley bread topped with garlic, crushed tomatoes, feta and olive oil – delish!

  1. Hans & Gretel – Adrianou 48, Athina 105 58

THE spot for a sweet treat when wandering the streets of Plaka and Monastiraki; but get ready for a queue. Modelled after the witches home from the fairy tale of Hans and Gretel; you’ll find sweets hanging from the ceiling and staff dressed in traditional German attire. The best thing about this establishment is the quality of their desserts – not only is it tasty but it’s a bit of a spectacle too.

Bars and Coffee spots:

  1. A for AthensMiaouli 2, Athina 105 54

The place for rooftop drinks in Athens. Based in Monastiraki Square, it’s nice and central for a quick stop off for a decent coffee during the day or a perfectly balanced cocktail in the evening. The views of the Acropolis are pretty spectacular too.

  1. BrettosKidathineon 41, Athina 105 58

When visiting Athens, you can’t miss the hundreds of colourful bottles that decorate the walls of the oldest bar and distillery in Athens, which has been open since 1909. Located in the heart of Plaka, you’ll find this quaint and quirky bar full every evening as locals and tourists enjoy an array of cocktails or a speciality spirit brewed at this beautiful bar.

  1. Noels BarKolokotroni 59B, Athina 105 62

Probably one of the best bars in the city – this opulent bar and restaurant is a must. Expect throwback Motown tunes blaring out of the speakers, velvet walls and hundreds of clocks hanging from the ceiling…all washed down with an Aperol or two. Oh, and it’s table service…even if you’re standing, along with a free selection of nibbles. Perfection.

  1. MomaAdrianou 29, Κέντρο 105 55

The place for a coffee break. Expect your Frappe served in a beautiful cut-glass, 1920’s style glass making it taste all that more fancy whilst looking out over the ancient Roman market.

  1. Alexanders BarConstitution Square, Hotel Grande Bretagne, Athens, 10564

You’ll find this bar inside the Hotel Grande Bretagne, one of the most exclusive hotels in Athens. It is a little stuffy and full of politicians but the surroundings are beautiful. Costing only 12 Euros for a cocktail, it’s not a bad price for a ‘Ritz’ experience. We propped ourselves up at the bar and enjoyed a brief chat with the barman.

  1. Yard Bistro and Bar – Makrigianni 17, Athina 117 42

We only stopped off here for a satisfying glass of the Athenian larger, FIX, but we enjoyed every minute. The spot is a little touristy but you can look up at the Acropolis whilst enjoying an ice cold beer outside on the pedestrianised road. What more could you ask for? Our Airbnb was located just a five minute walk away, a beautiful two bedroom apartment that made us feel like real Athenians. I’d 100% recommend, the price was ridiculously cheap too!

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