Athens. As the capital of Greece, you would imagine it would have a lot to offer: here’s what it’s really like and why you should think before you visit in the off-season.
Meeting at Gatwick on a March Sunday afternoon, we were very ready to leave the UK behind in favour of a sunnier city.
However, our excitement did not last long, as at the gate, we were greeted with an announcement that the flight was overbooked, and pleads for volunteers to get a on later plane. After a mild panic that we would be sacrificed, we were very happy when we made it onboard.
…but those feelings soon changed once we became acquainted with our plane pal in the seat next to us.
At first glance, he seemed a lovely Greek gentleman. But after about five minutes, we had already had enough. He would not stop chatting to (at) us. And so we unwillingly heard every little detail about his life (he has two daughters; one got an ancient history degree from Durham, a masters from Leicester, and now works in a museum at the end of the Jubilee line in London, and he was heading to Athens to get them Greek passports for post Brexit, and would likely be there until Saturday, if you’re interested).
We were not five minutes in and I had changed my mind: not even desperately looking out the window would make him relent. I was fully ready to offer myself up as a sacrifice to the overbooked plane.
Nevertheless, a loooong 4 hours later, we touched down in Athens.
We were staying at an Air B’nB, and the host had kindly arranged us an airport transfer. This was very handy, as he took us door to door, and when driving around some of the streets at night I was very glad we didn’t have to walk any of them (and should have remembered this in 24 hours time). This is because it became apparent that one street was dilapidated, with graffiti and boarded up buildings, and the very next looked up market and thriving; there seemed no rhyme or reason to the areas.
Luckily, arriving at our Air B’n’B apartment block, it was clear it was in one of the latter, nicer areas. In fact the apartment itself couldn’t have been nicer. Fully equipped (including breakfast), and with an iPad incase we wanted to book restaurants and other local activities (or watch Scottish dubbed adult themed Peppa Pig on YouTube, you know, whichever one you wanted to use it for). I honestly couldn’t recommend the host Aris enough: we already thought he was fantastic, but then he also gave us 30 euros back for a very minor ‘problem’ in the bathroom that didn’t actually affect us at all.
The apartment also had access to a fantastic roof terrace, with a stunning view of the acropolis, and was only a three minute walk to a square with lots of bars and restaurants in that proved to be a fantastic night spot.
We wasted no time in heading out into this square, and enjoyed people watching with a well deserved (looking at you, plane pal) glass of wine.
Our first full day gave us the best weather that we had the whole trip; it was sunny and blue and boiling, and we spent it well, collecting our city passes (not worth it unless you know for sure you are into ruins and want to go to every single ruin museum), before heading out to see the sites. First stop Temple of Olympian Zeus. This is the ruins of what used to be the temple of the centre of Athens. It’s amazing how much of it hs withstood the test of time.
Then we wandered up a few nearby streets and found ourselves at the old Olympic running track. There are lovely park areas, and it’s very easy to have a stroll around.
The city is great in terms of walkability, and everything is easy to get to. Next, we wandered over to the Acropolis: the main site to be seen.
The Acropolis paths can be slippery, and are quite steep, so beware if you are not a confident walker. However if you are able, go to the top because the views over the city are stunning. Around the Acropolis, you get a full 360 of the city, and if there isn’t a cloud in the sky, you can see for miles. You can also see Lyceum Hill, another fantastic spot for views, and particularly good for watching the sunset/rise (and that is stunning with the Acropolis in the foreground)
We were told that the Acropolis Museum was an absolute must do, and that it would take about two hours to see it all, so we decided to spend the early afternoon in here. However, although it is undeniably incredible that they were able to build and carve all these statues so many years ago, old bits of stone are not really up our alley, (I think it would’ve helped if they were in context rather than each bit separated all together in just in a big room), and so we were in the museum for around twenty minutes (including looking at what was on offer in the cafe and using the toilet), before deciding our time was better spent elsewhere; for example, eating moussaka.
The restaurant we chose for said Moussaka was disappointing as it appeared to come straight out the freezer. But when in Athens I guess…
The waiters were not very attentive and it took us getting up as if we were about to walk out for them to come over (in a panic) with the bill. After some souvenir shopping (they love a penis themed gift), we headed home for a quick chill, and to get ready for our first proper evening.
After a game of cards, we headed out into the square in search of a bite to eat. Stopping off in a bar on the way, we enjoyed a cocktail, before deciding on a pizza place for dinner. It was a very impressive place, and they even advised which wine to pair the pizza with for the best experience. As we were about to leave, the waitress offered us a shot. She claimed she would do one with us if she could but she was working. She seemed keen for us to do them anyway, so reluctantly we accepted them although we definitely didn’t want them. Becca was brave and was forced into doing her shot because she was facing the waitress- and she did an excellent job at putting a brave face on. I opted for the other method… tipping it into my water glass and pretending to drink it. Both of us were convincing enough (or she was stupid enough), to think we enjoyed them and she offered us another, even offering to do one with us (even though she was still working??).
Instead of this, we hurriedly left and headed towards some alcohol we actually did want to drink. We had done some research (a quick Google search of ‘good bars in Athens’), and although it was a Monday night, had faith in TripAdvisor that the one we had selected would be as described: good.
But as soon as we started walking towards this bar, we regretted it. We were only about two streets away from the square, but the streets just suddenly seemed scarier: darker, and with dodgier people hovering around and staring at us (told you I should’ve remembered what I felt in the taxi the day before). We should have taken this as a warning sign to turn around, but we were stupid enough to say ‘we’ve made it this far, let’s just keep going’, and so we did: the fact that we would have to eventually walk back playing heavily on my mind.
We made it to the Mo Mix, our venue of choice, and whilst we were able to see it would’ve been great on a weekend when it vibey and full, it was a bit of a letdown.
The drinks were VERY strong, and we managed one each, before heading back out to the original square we had come from. Psyching ourselves up to leave, we headed out into the night. No sooner had we stepped out of the bar, a dodgy guy walked round the corner: just what we needed. With a pact to put our heads down and walk with purpose, we carried on- after all the whole situation felt dodgy but we were together and we were used to it. It wasn’t until we got closer to him and he stopped to speak to us, that we started to get a little freaked out. ‘Please’ he was begging, ‘please you. Please can you’. It looked like he was holding something, and I looked down to see what it was… and I wish I hadn’t.
It was infact his penis.
Ah right, I see what’s going on here. No thankyou, I absolutely, really, reeeally cannot.
We hurriedly walked round the corner, where I half in shock, half in hilarity, asked Becca if she had seen what I had, to which she said she hadn’t! (??!?)
We walked the rest of the journey back terrified of something worse happening, but eventually made it back to the safety of the square.
The next day, the weather took a turn, which made the atmosphere of the whole city change. It was quiet and empty, and very grey.
We took shelter from the rain in the Museum of Illusions which is a great way to spend an hour. I mean, just look at how much fun we had.
Following this, we went to Starbucks (forever soaking in the culture), before boarding a sightseeing bus at Syntagma Square, which is the main square in the city.
The bus took us all around the city, taking in all the sights, and really giving us a feel for the city. We even ventured into Omonia, which didn’t look as bad as it supposedly was (amongst his shit, the plane guy had told us to avoid this neighbourhood at all costs).
After disembarking, we were at a loss of what to do next (Athens is not a city full of rainy day activities). We stumbled upon the ‘happy train’, and even though we had just been round the city on one mode of transport, decided to get on board. I can see why it is called the happy train, as you can’t help but be happy on board… however I am sure local drivers don’t see it this way, and more likely refer to it as the anger train, as it drives on the roads at about 10mph, and just generally gets in the way. We saw all the sights again, this time on a slightly different route, as the happy train was more compact, and was able to squeeze down side streets and cute cobbled roads that the bus was unable to reach.
After a fun evening in the Hard Rock café, it was time to go home and pack, but not before watching our new favourite Greek show; ‘Survivor’. (A love island-shipwrecked-boys vs girls challenge hybrid show: fantastic entertainment. It’s almost worth going to Athens just for that.)
The next day, it was time to move on to Istanbul for the second half of our trip. We were picked up by the same taxi driver that had dropped us off at the start of our stay (Aris was the best Air B’n’B host), and got to the airport in plenty of time.
After queuing at check in, we reached the front of the queue. We were flying with Turkish Airlines, who have a strict 8kg cabin baggage limit, and we knew for a fact that we were over it. Plastering on our best smiles, and blondest hair, we were ready to try our luck. Luckily, luck was on our side, and we had a lovely check in man. To be honest, we weren’t expecting them to take it as seriously as they did, and he asked us to put our cases on the scales one at a time. Shooting each other a worried look, Becca put hers on first. It was 9.6kg, and we thought we were screwed. He told Becca she could check it in (onto the same plane with the same weight anyway?), but then when she didn’t jump at the chance, he softened and told us that they would allow up to 10kg. PHEW. Feeling more confident, I popped my bag up and prayed. The scales read 10.3kg, and I took a deep breath, plastered that smile back on and said sweetly ‘oh, my friend has 0.3kg to spare, can I put 0.3 in her case?’. Rather than watch me unpack my case and transfer some items to Becca’s case, he did the sensible thing and let us go as we were (thank you!).
After enjoying a sandwich in the airport café, a branch of the Greek equivalent of Costa ‘Gregory’s‘, we were preparing to leave, and I headed to the bin to put my rubbish in. Just as I was doing so, I heard a ‘HELLO! HELLO!!’ that I felt was directed at me. I looked up, and I could barely believe my eyes…
…as I was met with the cheery face of THAT old man from the plane. I braced myself and headed over to greet him. Nervous that he was about to announce that he was indeed now also off to Istanbul, I tentatively said ‘Oh, I thought you were staying until Saturday…??’ Luckily, he was just heading home early (he told me exactly what time and exactly what bus he was getting after), and we left him, with his new friend that I felt very sorry for.
Athens airport, much like the city itself, is not one to be stuck at for long periods of time, as there is not a huge variety of shops, or other entertainment. Luckily, our plane was on time and soon we were off to Istanbul.
Although Athens is the capital of Greece, and one of the first cities from civilisation, it doesn’t particularly feel like it. I found there was surprisingly not a lot to do (we were done by 2.45pm on day one).
I would recommend going, as it is a place steeped in history and culture, but perhaps in transit to another destination, as you do not need more than 24 hours to get it seen.
I do know however, of a lot of people that have been and had a much different, more positive experience; going in the peak season definitely makes all the difference.