From the iconic Acropolis rising majestically above the city to modish galleries and lively bistros, cafes, restaurants in gritty downtown backstreets, bustling Athens is a delightfully quirky clash of past and present, a city that confronts and surprises. The weather was amazing, everyday was warm, springy and sunny.
“The way to enjoy Athens is not to visit here for five days, but to live here for five days” – author Patricia Storace so eloquently opined. It was not love at first sight to see Athens. There are so many monotonous concrete mass of sprawling apartment blocks, homeless people and the air can be quite smoggy sometimes. But after we enter the historic centre, the city becomes far less intimidating. Central Athens is best explored on foot. There are 19 neighbourhoods (Syntagma, Akropoli, Makrygianni, Plaka, Monastiraki, Psyrri, Thisio, Keramikos, Gazi, Rouf, Omonia, Metaxourghio, Exarhia, Kolonaki, Mets, Pangrati, Piraeus, Kifisia, Glyfada & the Coast) that look like small villages next to each other.
Our favourites were the Syntagma (that is the city’s central hub) with the Parliament and marching guards, the National Gardens that is a beautiful green park, kind of like a getaway spot from the busy streets of central Athens.
Acropoly and Makrygianni is where the main sights can be seen and you can not miss this. Acropolis is the “most perfect building, built by the world’s most advanced civilization and even though we have been studying it for centuries we are still not sure how they did it” (Matt Barretts). The neighbourhood is lined with graceful buildings, tourist shops and its promenade is always bustling with tourists and Greek families.
Plaka and Monastiraki are the oldest and most atmospheric neighbourhoods of Athens extend from the busy Monastiraki flea market to the wonderful streets of Plaka, on the eastern edge of Acropolis. Plaka has an undeniable charm – this is where we found our favourite cafe – bistro, Yieasemi too. Main sights in this neighbourhoods are the Ancient Agora, Areopagus Hill, Hadrian’s Library and Roman Agora.
We also liked Omonia although it is not the best introduction to Athens but it is colourful, part of the city’s commercial district. One of its main streets, Athinas leads to the bazaar-like central market (meat, fish, vegetables, fruits).
On our first evening we looked for a quiet, Greek taverna to have dinner. We found Platanos, a village-style small taverna in Plaka area. It serves delicious home-style food. We ate tzatziki, Greek salad, patates to fourno (oven-baked potatoes), spanakopita (spinach pie) and okra cooked in a bit spicey tomato sauce. Everything was so delicious, we loved it.
We walked back to our hotel with mixed emotions. We could not decide if we like Athens for the first time or not. We liked it more than not but there were some parts we didn’t. 🙂
Stay tuned… more to come!