If my bank account would allow it, I’d spontaneously plan trips all the time. So here I am, mid February, freezing in gloomy Bucharest, editing photos of blue waters and sunny landscapes from Malta. I would have given anything for a few warm sunny days! So out of nowhere I find myself browsing Ryan Air website looking for a quick getaway. With a few clicks I just booked my first solo trip to Athens. I could not believe that with 110€ (accommodation included) I was going away for 3 days in sunny Greece. It’s not beach weather, but going from 0º to +17ºC felt like getting out of hibernation.
So why the good, the bad, the ugly? To be honest, Athens is pretty much a mix of all of that. Unfortunately the economic and refugee crises left deep marks on this beautiful ancient city and chipped away from it’s mystical aura. Of course I did my research before going and found quite a few articles that didn’t put Athens in the best light. But hell… what do these people know. Ancient city, cradle of civilization and culture, all those ruins… Athens can only be amazing… or so I though. But there is a silver lining at the end. Promise!
Because I don’t want to leave you with a bitter taste at the end of this post, I’ll start with the bad, to get it out of the way.
I’ve been in my share of crowded cities and had my share of warnings “Beware of pickpockets”. I’ve bow my head down in shame seeing Romanian gypsies beg on the streets of Paris, Rome, Florence or Barcelona. Acting like I don’t understand what they are saying. Though maybe I shouldn’t. They don’t represent me, or my beautiful country! And on the other hand, not all are coming from Romania, but I won’t start this debate here.
So here I am, getting in the subway, squeezed in between 4 construction workers (Romanian gypsies), trying for dear life to grab a bar and keep my stability. I knew better, so all my valuables – money, id, phones were neatly tucked away in my breast pocket. Just 2 subway stations later, I get out at Monastiraki only to discover my backpack was about a quarter open. But like I said… I knew better. I only had my tripod and a jacket inside… so nothing went missing.
Fair warning – be careful what you carry on yourself and where you keep your valuables. I feel like this warning should be a no-brainer. But here I am emphasizing in again.
When I was a kid I LOVED the ancient Greek stories with heroes and Gods, temples and ancient wars. So my imaginary Athens vanished the moment I stepped off the bus at Syntagma and headed toward Monastiraki. The bad graffiti, the homeless people sleeping on the streets wrapped in blankets, the sketchy streets… this is not what I had envisioned at all. My expectations were already deflated. Was this all? This was what Athens had in store for me? I mean this is a central area… I didn’t want to imagine what I would find once I left the center.
Yes, there were beggars, sketchy streets, bad graffiti, a feeling of uneasiness here and there. I hope I didn’t turn you off completely from Athens, because, like I said, there is a silver lining. So here is the sweet to counter the bitter and the reasons why you should visit Athens.
I am an ancient history geek and if I had the choice to go back in time, I’d chose either Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome. Maybe for some people Acropolis is just a big pile of ancient rocks, but for me, it was a chance to actually follow on the foot steps of Socrates, Plato or Aristotle.
The one benefit of traveling solo… well I got to have Acropolis all to myself. No pressure to move faster or rush my photos. I ended up spending about 3 hours among the ruins, taking it all in, getting lost in my imagination and chasing the cats of Acropolis for some nice shots. The best part of my trip is that it was off-season. So the ticket to Acropolis was just 10€ (half price) and it was not crowded at all. You could actually enjoy the ruins without getting trampled.
2. The panoramic views
Athens looks breathtaking from above. So if you are on top of Acropolis, Mars or Lycabettus hills get ready to be swept of your feet. Day or night, Athens looks amazing from high up.
3. The good street art
I feel that good street art gives a city more personality. Desolated by all the bad tags and random text graffiti, I was on the hunt for something more pleasing to the eye. I knew Athens had some real gems in terms of street art, so after a hefty lunch I was ready to uncover it. Hidden in parking lots, on the side of buildings, through narrow streets, around Psyri, Exarcheia, Anafiotika – Plaka, Metarxourgeio and Gazi, you will find some amazing murals. Here are a few that really stuck with me.
Smiling faces by Alexandros Vasmoulakis – fragments of faces put together giving the mural a vintage fake happiness feel, similar to the 40s, 50s, 60s ads. What’s your take on it? _______ . . . #jauntingtrips #athens #athensgreece #athensvoice #loves_athens #ig_athens #igersathens #topathensphoto #topgreecephoto #visitathens #visitgreece #loveathens #athena #great_athens #discovergreece #unlimitedgreece #athensvibe #ancientgreece #discoverathens #thisisathens #femaletravelbloggers #gltlove #ftb #athensstreetart #lonleyplanet #lppathfinders #psyri #monastiraki
4. The Greek food
Food makes everything better. And Greek food… well… if you haven’t had any until now, my God you don’t know what you’re missing! I’m no stranger to Greek food, one because it’s really popular in Romania and second because being part Greek, it was on the menu while growing up. As soon as I stepped out of the plane I already had my thoughts set on a delicious souvlaki. I haven’t had one in such a long time, and while on vacation no one is counting calories.
Another favorite dish that I absolutely had to try was moussaka. I can’t count how many times my mom made this delicious dish. I usually say nobody cooks better than my mom, but here I am sitting at a Greek taverna in middle of Psyri having probably the best moussaka I have ever had. Sure the place looked touristy, menu in six languages, so you might say that “it’s not real Greek food”. Well, news flash, whole Athens is touristy! So it’s all real Greek food.
On my way to the Greek taverna my eye caught this amazing HUGE desert, so of course I made a mental note (highlights and all). But after a huge lunch I couldn’t find myself wasting what look to be an orgasmic culinary experience. So I decided to make some room an hike up Lycabettus hill, snap a few shots and come back to Psyri for dinner and that desert. And let me tell you it was worth it! Forget baklava! This decadent chocolate almond cake with a huge scoop of Greek ice cream, swimming in a moat of fudge, rightfully named “Love cake” was absolutely amazing. So if you find yourself in Athens, visit Nancy’s Sweet Home and get a Love cake!
Sure, this might not have been my ideal solo getaway. And Athens fell a bit short of my expectations. Would I give it another chance? Hmm… I am a firm believer in second chances. So I think I would, but for sure not as a solo traveler. Athens is one of those places you shouldn’t enjoy alone, because I really don’t think you can actually enjoy it by yourself.
So my dear Athens, this is not good-bye, this is see you later.
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- It might sound redundant and you might already “know better” but watch out for pickpockets. Keep your valuables close and protected.
- At night stay in the popular areas like Plaka, Monastiraki, Anafiotika and less in neighborhoods like Omonoia and north of it. I didn’t do my research too good on this and I wish I had. I would have felt more at ease for sure.
- Make sure you take the official taxis and ask them to put on the meter. Also, if they offer to take you around the city for a tour so you can take pictures, be sure they are setting you up for a scam. You’ll find these jackals near the main attraction points. For more information about taxis in Athens check this guide.
- Make sure you try at least once the Greek street food – gyros, souvlaki, spinach pies – it’s cheap, delicious and it will give you that boost you need to explore Athens by foot.
- Swing by Nancy’s Sweet House to try the Love Cake.
- Hike up Lycabettus Hill to catch the sunset over Acropolis and an amazing night view of Athens. It might look a bit sketchy, because of the low light or no light hike up the mountain, but Kolonaki is one of the safest neighborhoods in the city.
- Travel to Athens off-season. It’s warm enough to enjoy it, and you have the added benefit of not getting trampled by hoards of tourists.