Beautiful, historic Athens
Nick and I have been in Greece for the past few weeks, and our itinerary involved visiting Athens, driving around the Peloponnese region, doing part of the Menalon Trail, and then island-hopping from Mykonos, to Naxos, and then Santorini. When it came to Athens, I honestly didn’t know what to expect other than be met with a lot of history, evident from old ruins, and some good food. I think we definitely came away with a good and varied experience of different towns in Greece.
After we had a two-day stopover in Dubai, we arrived in Athens. The day we arrived, it was my birthday. I don’t care too much for celebrating but one thing we were definitely going to do on that day was meet my friend Pauline while she was on her travels (and working). I hadn’t seen her since 2019, and we were actually going to see each other in 2020 before the pandemic paused all travel.
After being welcomed into our Airbnb by our host, we explored the town and found a place to have coffee.
In general, Greece was very welcoming and we had no trouble navigating the places we visited as a tourist. People don’t expect you to learn Greek, and most Greek people know at least some English, and enough to communicate, but a few words to say “thank you” and “hello” can be helpful. We weren’t entirely sure about when tipping is prevalent, but it seemed that larger establishments or places more popular with tourists had the option for a tip, and smaller eateries didn’t ask at all.
Meeting Pauline again 🏻
In the evening we had dinner with Pauline at a tavern, and shared a bunch of meat and salad, Greek style. As I’m writing this, I am – funnily enough – not really sick of Greek food yet. A lot of the meat has been great quality and delicious, and the portion sizes are so large that I feel satisfied.
We went to a bar that Pauline recommended, which was close to where she was staying. It was a rooftop bar with incredible views of the Acropolis. We watched the sun set and had a couple of drinks, introducing Pauline to some cocktails she might like.
First full day: Food tour
On our first full day we did a food tour that we booked previously. We’d invited Pauline along and had a little hiccup because we bought our tickets separately and she almost missed out, but emailed the company (Greeking.me) and they opened up a couple more spots. The food tour was well organised and involved sampling a wide range of local meat, snacks, dishes, drinks and delicacies. We learned a bit about why this food is important to Greek culture, and definitely left feeling very full. There was more than enough food.
I don’t have all the photos of all the food, but that just goes to show how much we were enjoying it!
Later, Nick and I visited another of the historic sites that were included in our combo ticket, the Temple of Zeus. Unfortunately much of it was covered in scaffolding, so it wasn’t that impressive.
National garden and Panathenaic Stadium
We walked to the famous Panathenaic Stadium and spent some time checking out the museum there, that was dedicated to Olympic torches and promotional posters dating back to the very early years of the Olympics.
From there, we walked to the national garden. It was a nice break from the sun as it was quite shady. There are a few interesting things in the garden like some ancient ruins, a children’s playground, and an area dedicated to botanicals.
New favourite bar: Contrabando
Later that night we met up with Pauline for dinner in the neighbourhood of Psiri, which was one of the neighbourhoods that the food guide shared with us on the tour. While Nick and I were waiting for Pauline, we walked past a bar called Contrabando, that became out new favourite place. The drinks were great, the vibe was awesome, and the DJ was actually playing good music!
Pauline and I tried to request “How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston, and the DJ nodded and said “later”, but after a while, it was getting late and we decided to leave. We were waiting for him to play it! He must have just forgot, or by “later”, he really meant much, much later. The other highlight of our night was one of the bartenders really getting into the groove and dancing to a couple of the songs. He was a very good dancer! When we cheered him on, he gave us some free shots. 😎
An early start to see the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum
On our second day we started early so that we could see the Acropolis and avoid the heat. The summer days in Europe are long, with the sun being out for 14 hours of the day and only usually setting after 8:00pm, and the morning gets hot quickly. Unfortunately a lot of the Parthenon and Acropolis has some restoration and preservation work going on, so it’s more than likely you will see a crane, or scaffolding, or people doing work to help preserve the area for visitors.
We went to the Acropolis museum which gave us more insight into the archaeological ruins, and it’s also built on top of some of the foundations of what was discovered. You can exit the museum and go to a different entrance to actually see some of those foundations, and you can watch a video with more detail which plays on a screen in that part of the site.
The ancient Agora and Hadrian’s library
Athens’ summer heat was really getting to us at this point, so we were feeling quite tired, but made sure we visited the Ancient Agora and the Roman Agora (which was much smaller). Hadrian’s library was nearby so we had a look at that too.
We stopped at a restaurant for lunch. It wasn’t anything too special, as the area was mostly full of tourists, but it had a nice indoor setting.
Nick and I had heard of a neighbourhood called Exarcheia, which was apparently “where all the cool kids are”. We had a coffee on its outskirts, at a rather fancy looking coffee spot called Kolor. We spent some time exploring its streets and even ended up visiting it the next day again with Pauline.
We weren’t terribly hungry so we went to a bar and had some wine and a cold cuts and cheese platter, at a place called Warehouse Project.
Breakfast at a cafe and the Mount Lycabettus view
We didn’t have too much planned for our third day, but we hadn’t seen the view at Mount Lycabettus, the highest point of Athens. We planned to go there after visiting Zinglee, a breakfast and cocktail bar. But having breakfast, obviously. 😛 Their scrambled eggs were fantastic! I should add – I have really loved the prevalence of open-all-day bars which serve breakfast in the morning or during the day, and are open for drinks at night, but coffee all day – this is the kind of stuff that Australia does wrong. We close many cafes at 2–3 so you can’t get a coffee after that (unless you just want Starbucks).
There is a funicular, which from memory costs 8€ per person, so you can avoid walking up. I think you get a different view if you choose to drive, and are actually on another side of the mountain. We chose the funicular, since we weren’t sure how long it might take to walk up, nor did we know how many steps there were. We did walk the way down, though, and walking up seemed like it would have been pretty doable for two fit people. It was really not a terrible amount of steps and there were parts where the path was flat, so it wasn’t all steps.
We got amazing view of not only Athens, but beyond. We could see the sea and the area outside of Athens, for miles and miles.
Cafe stop, and the rest of our stay in Athens…
Nick and I went to Exarcheia again and I looked in some of the second-hand clothing shops. Pauline decided to join us as she moved one of her days off, and we stopped at a vegan-friendly cafe and had some coffee and snacks.
It was so hot and we didn’t have much else to do – or that we wanted to do in the heat – so we opted to browse a department store in the centre of Athens, which we knew to be air-conditioned. We spent a good while there and killed some time, then split to have a break.
After recharging in our Airbnbs we had dinner at a place that Nick remembered from an earlier day, because we walked past and the smell of the food was delicious. 😆 We all tried some ouzo, but didn’t love it.
We went to another bar that had some nice cocktails and Pauline and I got a bit too excited taking a bunch of outrageous selfies.
As it was our last day in Athens and we were leaving the city the next day, Nick took some photos of Pauline and myself. (We actually did end up meeting Pauline again – more on that later!)
Overall, I loved Athens, and there was so much to see and do, and the people were very friendly. It’s such an interesting city and I can definitely see myself returning in the future.
Stay tuned for the next instalment that begins our drive around the Peloponnese region. 🤩