"Athens, Greece" Athens by SWFC_Fan
Athens Travel Guide: 4,493 reviews and 10,325 photos
Athens is the capital city of Greece. It is a large metropolis covering over 150 square miles and is home to somewhere in the region of 5 million people.
How to get there?
Athens has good air connections to many major cities in Europe and all over the world. The newly built (within the last 5 years or so) Eleftheros Venizelou Airport handles flights operated by dozens of major airlines. I flew to Athens with Alitalia from Manchester (via Milan).
The airport is situated some distance from downtown Athens and the journey into the city can take up to 40 minutes (or more during rush hour traffic).
If you are arriving in Athens by sea you will most likely be arriving at Piraeus, the city’s main port, although you could arrive at Rafina or Lavrio. Again, getting into the city of Athens from Piraeus will involve a journey of around 30 minutes or more. Taxis, buses and the Metro system all transport passengers from Piraeus to the heart of the city.
Where do I begin? Athens is a huge city, packed with history and interesting sites, but is also a modern European capital.
The following is a brief summary of some of the things that I saw and experienced during my 5 days in the city in October 2005.
You think of Athens, you think of the Acropolis. Well, I do anyway! And judging by the hordes of tourists there, I don’t think I’m alone. This was the first place that I headed when I arrived in the city. I often find that the most hyped tourist attractions in the world turn out to be a disappointment…but not in this case! After paying my 12 Euros entry fee, I set about taking photos of the Parthenon – no matter how many photos I’d seen prior to my visit, nothing compares to seeing it in real life. From this vanatge point, I also appreciated for the first time just how large Athens is…sprawling suburbs can be seen in every direction stretching to the mountains and the sea. Even more impressive than seeing the Parthenon close up is seeing it lit up at night, standing above the city and looking more imposing than ever.
Other ruins in the city
While the Acropolis (and particularly the Parthenon) is undoubtedly Athens’ most famous ruin, there are plenty more remnants of Athens’ glorious past littered throughout the city. Just a few of the impressive ruins that I visited during my stay were the Odeon of Herodes Atticus (on the slopes of the Acropolis), the ancient agora (at the foot of the Acropolis), Hadrian’s Gate, the Temple of Zeus and the Panathaneic Stadium. Other ruins (many of which I’ll need to look up in a guidebook to identify) are scattered around, some incongruously set amongst busy shopping streets and residential areas.
Another of Athens’ favourite tourist attractions is Syntagma Square. This is a large open square with benches, flower beds, fountains and cafes and seems to be a focal point for tourists and locals alike. Busy shopping streets branch out from all sides of the square and the Greek Parliament building lies at the top end of the square. Tourists flock to the Parliament building, especially during the changing of the guards, and are outnumbered only by the thousands of pigeons!
Plaka is a characteristic, old part of the city, located in the shadows of the Acropolis. If you’re staying in Athens, there is a good chance that you’ll be in a hotel in this area. If you’re visiting as part of a guided tour, there’s a good chance you’ll be shepherded around the souvenir shops and tavernas here after you’ve completed your visit to the Acropolis. For me, this is the most atmospheric, traditional part of the city, especially after dark when traditional Greek music can be heard in the tavernas, the brightly lit Parthenon can be seen overhead, and the daytrippers have got back on their tour buses, leaving the streets a lot less crowded.
As well as being a key transport hub (there is a train and metro station here), Monastiraki Square is also a hive of activity, with street sellers manning their stalls, tourists and locals mingling in the cafes and tavernas and all manner of goods for sale in the adjoining flea market. Along with Plaka, this for me is one of the most atmospheric places in the city and a great place to sit and watch the people and the activity all around you.
Hills and mountains
When in Athens, the best views can be had by climbing one of the many hills and mountains. With many of the roads clogged with traffic and many of the streets and tourist attractions clogged with tourists, climbing a hill is also a great place to get a bit of peace and quiet! I personally enjoyed climbing up the Hill of Muses (from where there is an unbeatable view of the Parthenon) and sitting on a rock overlooking the city…with the noisy traffic just a distant buzz. I’d also recommend climbing Mount Lycavittos for outstanding views over the whole of Athens – if you didn’t already know how big Athens is, you’ll soon realise when you get up there!
A few observations from my 5 days in Athens:
The traffic in Athens is horrendous. I’ve experienced heavy traffic in other major cities (London, Brussels, Dubai…), but nowhere compares to Athens! Don’t assume that you’re safe just because you’re walking on the pavements – moped riders, frustrated at the standing traffic, will seize any opportunity to ride at full speed along the pavement to jump the queue. Don’t ever assume that you have right of way – you don’t! Pedestrian crossings are merely for show! The consequent pollution from all these vehicles is also a major negative point, and I returned home with a throat infection (although this was not necessarily caused by the traffic fumes). Don’t let the traffic and fumes spoil this great city, but beware of mopeds from every angle!
Another of Athens’ less appealing traits is the presence of numerous stray dogs wandering the city, especially if, like me, you’re not a dog-lover. To be fair, the problem isn’t as widespread as I’d been led to believe and the vast majority of dogs seemed happy to sleep in the sun (attacking people would have been far too much effort!). However, on a couple of occasions I turned into quiet side streets, saw groups of dogs ahead and decided to take a different route. It’s unlikely that you’d be bitten or scratched by a stray dog (and extremely unlikely that this would lead to rabies), but if you don’t like dogs just be aware that you may encounter them in the street. As with the traffic, don’t let this spoil your stay in the city.
Scams and dodgy people
As in any major city (especially one with so many tourists), there’s a good chance that you’ll run into somebody who will try to rip you off. This may be somebody selling counterfeit watches or somebody trying to exchange fake bank notes. The common scam in Athens seems to be targetted at single men walking around the Syntagma Square area after dark. On a couple of occasions I was approached by middle-aged gentlemen (who would approach me on the pretence of wanting to know the time) and invited to go to their pub for “just one beer my friend”. I didn’t know the exact details of the scam but it was clearly dodgy and I politely brushed aside their invites. I’ve since read the nature of the scam on VT: these guys basically lure you to “their” pub and buy you a drink; the barmaids are pretty and friendly and you start to relax. Another round of drinks is ordered, maybe a few bottles of champagne. People start to leave and you’re suddenly left alone with a huge bar tab to pick up. If you don’t fancy paying up, the heavies on the door may “encourage” you to do so! Just be on your guard – if something seems suspicious it probably is!
- Pros:Great history, loads to see and do, thriving city
- Cons:Traffic, pollution, stray dogs - but don't let that put you off!
- In a nutshell:One of THE great cities of the World!
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