We think that Athens is grossly underrated as a city to visit. We have been there a couple of times and will gladly return, as it’s a friendly and open city with loads of sights to explore. In fact it’s two cities in one, the antique ruined city that seems to pop up everywhere , and at the same time a modern picturesque city with great food and drink, great museums and great sceneries. And super friendly citizens. Its closeness to the orient, both geographically and culturally is a bonus and a spice to taste.
The gateway between the old city and the modern is the magnificent Acropolie Museum, not very far from the flattopped hill where the temple complex is situated, but below, in the bustling city. Here you’ll see excavations going on right under your feet. Beneath glass floors ancient walls and streets are uncovered, and on the upper museum floors the old ruins on the hill are brought to life.
Athens is a wide city between forested hills, easy to climb and enjoy the magnificent views. Our favourite is Filopappou hill with its radiant light. It is found almost in the middle of the city and is a must to visit when strolling through the narrow quarters that surround it. It’ sometimes called the “hill of the muses” because in the antique days it was believed that the goddesses of song, music and dance gathered here. This we can definitely believe!
On our first visit to Athens we stayed in a house at the foot of Filopappou hill, a house where once a legenadary Swedish radio correspondent lived. She was active during the years when Greece was ruled by a military junta, and she bravely reported to listeners in Sweden about the atrocities of the dictatorship and the people’s resistance. Today this house is open to Swedish writers and journalists who can stay and work here.
To walk up to the Acropolis tempels you need quite strong legs, but hey, it’s just a thing you really have to do. We recommend that you visit the museum before climbing up the hill, because there’s not a lot of information up there, The walk through the ruins and the rubble can be a bit confusing as to what is what. Acropolis is really impressive but at the same time a bit depressing. How was it possible that the antiquity robbers from Western Europe could claim and ship away boatloads of statues and other objects, even from the great Parthenon, to museums in England and France? It’s insane!
In the lower parts of the hill there are other remnants of the old city, among them amphitheaters in different states of dissolution. But also picturesque quarters with narrow winding streets and cosy taverns. And you’ll find something similar around the Monastiraki tube station, very popular taverns and restaurants and bars in rows on both sides of the street. There’s also a flea market here.
A group of antique houses that we regrettably haven’t had the time to see yet can be found on the so called Agora, an open space west of Monastiraki. There’s the impressively long house (Attalos Stoa) right by the entrance, today the site for a museum that shows the elements of daily life on the Agora. It was the political center of Athens but also a market and a general hangout. At the opposite side is the temple of Hefaistos, the most well-preserved temple in Athens. Well see it next time!
So what about modern Athens? On our first vist the hot spot was “Gazi”, a former gas works plant turned into a super hip quarter with restaurants, bars and nightclubs. The pulse there was always fast and steady. But we have learned that there are several hot spots in this city and which one that is the hottest at the moment you’ll have to find out for yourself. Ask the hotel!
An always well populated stretch is the road leading around the Philippou hill on its eastern side, towards Acropolis. Or check out the blocks north of the Agora, between Monastiraki and Thiseio tube stations. We strongly recommend eating at Kuzina, They have splendid food and a great night view of the nightly lit facades of the Acropolis.
Athens doesn’t have a harbour, you’ll have to go to Pireus to find the ferries that go to all parts of the vast Greece archipelago. It’s a nice trip and you can go with the tube all the way. In Pireus you’ll also find dangerous bars where gangster bosses dine on french fries and whisky while their security guards populate the nearby tables. And maybe a bozouki player sits in a corner, playing songs oozing with melancholy.
We always leave Athens with that kind of melancholy. Even if we have been victims of pickpocket gangs or grumpy ATM:s, Athens still has a special place in our hearts.