Around Town In Athens

3 Mar

It’s probably been a pit stop on a backpacking itinerary through the continent or, a quick connection to the islands beyond, just in time for a speedy tour of its ancient ruins, then off to the beaches of Santorini or Mykonos. Indeed, perhaps at some point in the not too distant past it lacked allure and all you wanted was to simply have the satisfaction of checking it off the list.

Well, a new day dawns in the Greek capital and Athenians want you to come see for yourself. Sure things have been a little testy lately and images of spirited protests in front of Parliament may not particularly serve as the best bait to get vacationers pouring in. Austerity Measures aside, however, and while the battle rages on to stabilize a terribly weak economy, visitors to this endlessly fascinating city will have lots to enjoy and take advantage of. I would say it’s even perhaps all the more reason to go; there are lots of deals to be had.

Arrival in Athens is at Athens International Airport (Elefthérios Venizélos). Getting into town is fairly straightforward via taxi and would run you roughly €35 (~$50), except late night hours (midnight to 5AM) when the rate goes up. Rail service is also available via Athens Metro as well.

You have a ton of options to choose from in terms of a place to rest your head at night when visiting this city as hotels are plentiful, in every price range. My pick, however, would be Athens Gate Hotel right smack in the middle of town. Its location can’t be beat (with both the Temple of Zeus and Acropolis mere feet away) and, it’s great value for money. See my TripAdvisor review here.

Athens offers something for everyone. It’s a practical haven for history buffs as the city itself could be a museum. And if that isn’t so much your thing, well, there are other activities here that’ll suit your desires. Start the day off by enjoying selections from Athens Gate’s impressive buffet offering (a mélange of omelets, pastries, cereals, fresh fruit, etc) at their roof terrace dining room. While there, savor the sweeping views of the city about you with the Acropolis and Temple of Zeus in clear view.

After you’ve eaten yourself silly (don’t worry you’ll walk it off), stow away valuables in your room safe and head out to the ancient community of Acropolis which is within walking distance, if you happen to be staying at Athens Gate. For the best value, you can purchase a ticket that bundles entries into multiple sites in the area for €12 (~$16). After taking in the sites of the Acropolis like the world famed Parthenon, descend down from the hill and head towards neighboring Ancient Angora, for addnl. awe inspiring monuments.

At this point you’ve likely walked off breakfast and are perhaps working up an appetite. Head off to neighboring Monastiraki, just off Monastiraki Sq., to an eatery popular with locals and visitors alike, O Thanasis. Service is quick and efficient and, the grub, simple and quite scrumptious. Souvlaki lovers: this is the spot.

After lunch, if you’ve still got the zeal to explore, head out to the Acropolis Museum. The vast property showcases some of Greece’s most prized artifacts from centuries gone by, at a fantastic value, just 5€ (~$7) for general admission. Give yourself a bit of time; there are lots to see.

Even for the most zealous, fatigue may begin to set in at this point. Head off to your hotel and grab a nap and/or freshen up, as cocktail hour soon beckons. After you’ve primped and prepped, make your way to Brettos in the lively neighborhood of Plaka. Whatever your drink, they’re likely to have it on the menu. Finding a place to grab dinner after shouldn’t be a problem as there are loads of decent choices in the area.

The nightlife here simmers, so if you happen to be a creature of the night, rejoice. And, if not, a quick after dinner beverage–you know, to wash down your delicious meal–never hurts. Hail a taxi or hop on the easy-to-navigate metro and make your way to Gazi. A plethora of bars and nightclubs–rivaling those you find in Paris or Ibiza–await. And, the citizens really do come out at night. You’d wonder if all is as gloomy w/ the economy as we’re led to believe. There’s something for everyone in Gazi, including Gay and Lesbian travelers; this is certainly the hood to dance the night away.

For most of us, no trip is complete without a little shopping therapy. In Athens, there are plenty of outlets for your indulgement (and I’m sure—given their current dire situation—they’ll be all too happy to take your currency, paper or plastic). Just off Monastiraki lies the main thoroughfare of Ermou, lined with all manner of shops. If you’re looking to do some serious damage, however, head up instead to the more exclusive neighborhood of Kolonaki, posh designer shops await.

After you’ve had your fill, pause for a little afternoon snack at Launderette café, 34 Voukourestiou str., then ascend the hill to nearby Lycabettus. The view from up high is pretty stunning and the sunset breathtaking. Provided you don’t have too many bags on hand from all your shopping, hike up the hill (instead of taking the funicular), it’s not as intimidating as it seems. A brisk hike should take no more than 15 mins.

Well, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable city that offers great value for money. If you haven’t visited, perhaps it’s time to give a go. And, if you’ve been before and weren’t quite taken, maybe it’s time to give it another shot.

Getting there from the NY area: Delta Air Lines offers nonstop service. Connections are possible via other domestic and European carriers.

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