How To Spend A Day In Athens
For those of us whose hearts beat a little faster every time we dream of a new travelling destination, there are a few things more special than the moment of arrival.
The plane touches down and as you are doing your best to squeeze in a quick look from the side window where the person sitting next to you is doing it’s best to completely block, you start to mentally prepare for the places you’ll visit, the sights, the smells and the tastes.
The moment of arrival while often loaded with expectations is still pure and uncontaminated by the realities of everyday life that fall upon us as soon as we leave the travelling transit phase and arrive at the place we will be staying.
The dreamy like quality and euphoria of having arrived at our destination can be lost when we fall back into the formalities and processes of acquiring transport, making our way to the hotel and organizing our activities. That is one reason why, even for the travellers that choose to live in the moment and make up their plans as they go, it is important to think back to the beginning of the trip.
Thinking back to the reasons that led us to pick that destination, to our mental (or handwritten) list of places we wanted to visit, to the childlike enthusiasm we felt when we announced our destination, and to the feeling of exhilaration felt when we first touched down.
If you have decided to visit Greece, there is a high chance you will be flying into Eleftherios Venizelos Athens International Airport. An airport like most others, it serves its purpose well by being busy, fast-moving and filled with the faces of thousands of excited visitors.
I tend to think of airports as the cocoon from where a lively butterfly will soon spring up. They are the necessary passageway through to what we have come to see. They can be restrictive, tight and uncomfortable but that soon gives way to the beauty of the land, the hills that surround the enveloped city landscape and the monuments perched like monopoly pieces on all corners that the eye can see.
Exiting the airport brings with it a wide range of options. Taxi? Bus? Metro?
If your trip has been organized by Definitely Greece you will be welcomed by a smiling face holding a piece of paper that leads to a vehicle that will effortlessly bring you to your accommodation. Sitting back and enjoying the ride are the only things to worry about at that stage.
If you are visiting Greece for the first time, chances are you will have plenty of questions about the architecture, the roads, the history and the people. If however, you have visited our country before you might be prompted to head straight to a bakery for some spanakopita and a good cup of coffee. Or maybe if your flight has arrived later in the day you will be more likely to want a souvlaki pita with all the add-ons, hold the onion!
Reaching downtown Athens is likely to take half an hour if you are travelling by car or taxi, traffic dependant and close to 50min if you are travelling by bus or metro.
A comprehensive guide of all transport options between the airport and downtown Athens can be found here. It includes approximate times and prices for buses and metro and is updated frequently.
It is important to note that English is widely spoken around Greece and particularly at the airport so if you are struggling to find where to go, ask away!
The metro system is fast, reliable and has greatly increased accessibility between the Airport and the rest of Athens. All signs are in Greek as well as in English and stops are announced in both languages.
As Soon As The Dust Settles
Your luggage has been placed in their appropriate place at the hotel. Maybe a little nap was in order.
If you are staying downtown then head out the door and start exploring.
If you are staying further out from the center, then head out the door and start exploring while slowly making your way towards downtown.
See what I did there?
Athens like many cities around the world is best enjoyed on foot. It allows visitors to become better acquainted with the intricacies of everyday life, the pulse of the city, the raw experiences. For a first time visitor or the first day in any destination not overdoing it with how much you can do or see will always be valid advice.
“make a plan then change it as you see fit”
One of the first things people notice as they walk around the city of Athens is the number of coffee places that can be found everywhere.
Whether it is early in the morning or 12 o’clock at night, there are bound to be more than a handful of coffee bars or “kafeterias” open catering to old and young.
The coffee culture in Greece can be talked about in vast detail so if that is something you are interested in then you can read more here.
No amount of words, however, can really describe the real experience so after walking around for a while and collecting some pictures of the architecture, the cute windows and the many more adorable kittens then pick a coffee place that fits with what you are looking for: busy or quiet, trendy or traditional and order one of the many refreshing options.
One suggestion for a morning, afternoon or late night coffee and dessert is the historical Kafeneion Oraia Ellas. The translation of which is Coffee Place the Beautiful Greece. It is perhaps fitting as a name more so because of the view that you are awarded after you walk up a set of narrow steps that in no way hints to what is there to see.
The view is all Athens. Which means one thing, the Acropolis.
Visitors describe this traditional little gem as having taken a step back in time and being transported back to the Old Greece or Old Athens.
It is decorated tastefully but lavishly with pictures, antique pottery jugs, postcards, paintings and embroidery.
In addition to the abundance of refreshments and traditional treats, sweet or savoury, there are many opportunities to enjoy traditional Greek live music on Friday and Saturday evenings as well as Sunday afternoons.
For Hungry Tummies
Walking serves a lot of purposes. It allows us to explore, to frame the best pictures and to work up our appetite.
As far as options go, Athens is one of those cities where you are spoilt for choice. Greek people love to eat, but more importantly, people use food as an opportunity to head out, to meet with friends and to socialize. That becomes obvious by the fact that even the smallest of coffee bars will offer a selection of food, even if they include sandwiches, pastries and sweet teaspoon desserts.
Wherever you are sitting, you are never more than a few strolls away from a bakery that is bound to be packed to the brim with pastries, sweet cakes, cookies, sandwiches, and ice creams.
You are also extremely likely to be within smelling distance of a taverna, or gyradiko. The first offers a sit-down service similar to that of restaurants around the world with a variety of dishes that is a great opportunity to taste cuisine typical of a Greek home like vegetable and meat dishes, salads, fresh fish, dips, and appetizers.
The latter is what is now commonly referred to around the world as a kebab shop. It gives you the choice of meat wrapped in pita bread or maybe a tortilla and filled with a choice of toppings. They are fast, cheap and extremely filling.
One place that fits into both categories, and is centrally located in Monastiraki Square, offering both a traditional taverna setting with a sit-down menu as well as the opportunity to order and go, is Thanasis.
At Thanasis, we usually order the classics. A plate of sizzling hot fries. A spicy feta dip that goes well with the aforementioned fries. A few plates of chicken and pork souvlaki, which are the bite-sized meat pieces on a skewer. And the yoghurt kebab or giaortlou! For those of us that are fans of grilled tomato, this is the meal that makes your mouth drool in anticipation.
No meal is complete in Greece without the entrance of dessert. Provided free of charge from most establishments as a treat, often accompanied by a little jug of alcohol it signals the end of the meal and relaxes our heightened senses.
For tired visitors having just had their first full day in this busy city, it also signals the time for a little afternoon nap.
Time For a Nighttime Stroll
As far as the nightlife and entertainment options are concerned, Athens is the gift that keeps on giving. Having the accurate reputation of being a city where the people like to stay out late, party till morning or at the very least go out for a drink after work.
It is not uncommon to see people out and about late after dinner whether summer or winter. However, the spring and summer months are obviously best suited to nighttime wanderings and rightly so since the hot summer sun makes it hard to enjoy the city streets during the day.
For our nighttime drink, we headed to one of the many rooftop bars that give you the ever stunning view of Acropolis hill.
A for Athens is centrally located, frequented by locals and tastefully decorated. It ticks all the boxes regarding food, drink, style and character and is reasonably priced similar to other rooftop bars in the area.
For a first night, it is a great opportunity to get out and about see how locals spend their time and enjoy some cocktails. A second option, worthy of a first introduction to the whirlwind that is Athenian nightlife is Noel Bar.
Unbecoming to the wandering eye, Noel is located between a variety of restaurants and shops and is partly hidden beneath a red and white tarpaulin that hangs low enough to conceal what is behind. A collection of different rooms that bring with them a theme that is both unique as well as united by the spirit of Christmas, Noel saw an opportunity to create a space where everyone feels comfortable and homely.
Described in their words as “sensual, nostalgic, romantic, lovable and lively… that manages to marry together all of the arts creating an atmosphere that carries with it a French touch“. A recently updated menu includes a collection of cocktails that include ingredients such as wild mountain tea, mastic gum, pear, honey, pineapple and spices. All incredibly refreshing, well made and intricately presented.
However, the Christmas decorations that abound take center stage and will become the highlight of any visit that will ignite, whatever the season, that magic spirit that only Christmas can bring.
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