At the Edge of Ancient Greece—Athens
“It takes a lifetime for someone to discover Greece, but it only takes an instant to fall in love with her”.
– Henry Miller
It wasn’t easy to bid farewell to the city that had become my home for a brief period of time. As the days passed, the city of Athens grew on me, and I found myself falling in love with the place. With every turn, this city seemed to have a new story to tell, and I was a keen listener. Despite the reality of economic duress that it faces, Athens still seems to carry its yesteryear charm with grace and ease.
Similar to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or the Colosseum in Rome, the Acropolis towers over the Athenian skyline—a reminder of the power and prestige that was once associated with the city. The route to the Acropolis is an experience in itself. Cobblestone pathways surround millennia-old relics, and the scent of mouth-watering delicacies fills the air. The musicians lining the streets coupled with the breath-taking view, enchanted me as I spent hours exploring the vicinity, immersing myself in all things Greek. On top of the hill resides the legendary Athena Parthenon and the Temple of Athena Nike. The ascent along the North Slope includes the Theatre of Dionysus and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.
Next to the Acropolis is the Areopagus Hill, or simply, the ‘Big Rock’. After a long day, it is the ideal spot for one to gather their thoughts in solitude while enjoying a sprawling view of the entire city. Surrounding the Acropolis are a few other ancient sites, such as the Ancient Agora of Athens, which is especially engaging. Once a traditional Greek gathering place, it accommodates notable monuments such as the Temple of Hephaestus and the Stoa of Attalos. Another striking monument is The Temple of Olympian Zeus which is now in ruins, with only fifteen out of the original one hundred and four massive columns still intact. As I entered through the archway, it did not take much imagination to see why this once colossal temple was fit for the king of gods. By purchasing a five-day pass for the Acropolis, you can cover seven sites including the Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, Kerameikos Archeological Site, and Aristotle’s Lyceum.
Plaka, one of the most picturesque streets in the city, resides nearby. A great way to explore this area is to turn off Google Maps and lose yourself amidst the rows of shops selling all kinds of souvenirs and hand-made goods. Along the slope lies a lane full of restaurants with customers spilling onto the sidewalks and sitting along the stairways.
A haven for all tourists and pickpockets, the Monastiraki Square buzzes with activity regardless of the time of day. I would recommend exploring this area on foot as it gifts you little things that no blog or travel site mentions but which capture your heart nonetheless. It could be an underrated eatery that becomes your go-to spot, a winding lane with umbrellas in the air, or an ice-cream place that seems to be straight out of a fairytale. Every street surrounding the square is lined with shops, hawkers, and restaurants, teeming with activity. Taking a stroll along any of these lanes leads people to quaint and unexplored areas that both excite and amaze. As I approached the neighbourhood of Psyri, my eyes slowly went from looking straight ahead at the road, to observing the artwork all around me. The graffiti on these walls could have easily rivalled great works in state-of-the-art museums. This area has some of the trendiest shops, restaurants, and bars in all of Athens.
One of the most prominent lanes from Monastiraki leads to Syntagma Square. The heart of modern Athenian politics, the Hellenic (Greek) Parliament, lines one side of the square. As one walks through this area, there is a sudden shift from the tourist-like atmosphere to a more high-end and posh environment. The roads here are adorned with lavender trees in full bloom, adding a small slice of serenity to the heart of a bustling city.
On the other side of Monastiraki lies the vibrant and artistic Gazi. A contemporary locale in Athens, it is well-known for its nightlife, industrial history, and the unusual number of turtles found in the area. Gazi hosts many events, such as the Athens Street Food Festival, Jazz Festival, etc. As the sun goes down, the streets seem to awaken to the sound of a more youthful crowd as people gather late into the night to make unforgettable memories. The sky is lit with multi-coloured laser lights, and the air is filled with thumping beats. I still remember the first time I walked into this area and saw people salsa dancing at the side of the road free from all inhibitions. In Gazi, the distinctive Technopolis, formerly a gas factory, now holds various concerts and fests. Although Athens is a city with many beautiful areas and tourist spots, certain areas could be avoided. Exarcheia is a conundrum in this matter. A famed anarchist base, it also houses the best strip of bars in the city.
A little distance away stands Mount Lycabettus. Amongst the highest viewpoints in Athens, you can see the entire city stretch out below, all the way till the shimmering sea and the islands that lie beyond. It is by far the most magnificent sunset point in all of Athens. Though the climb uphill takes only about twenty minutes, the various stops to admire the view and click pictures can make the climb last up to even an hour.
At the edge of the city is the age-old port of Piraeus. Among the busiest seaports in all of Europe, this is the gateway out of Athens to the divine islands of Greece. Taking a walk around Marina Zea, it is refreshing to feel the sea breeze and enjoy a bit of quiet in an otherwise swarming metropolis.
Crossing out items from a listicle about the top things to do in a place is never enough if you want to truly experience a new town or city. The essence lies in the sounds and smells, the flood of memories each image brings, and the countless gastronomical delights. I didn’t just visit Athens, I lived it, and it was truly the experience of a lifetime.