Welcome to Part 1 of a three-part series: Helen and my birthday/honeymoon vacation. Over the span of two weeks, we visited two countries I’d never been to before – Greece and Italy – and three cities: Athens and Hydra in Greece, and Catania in Sicily. First up: Athens, the capital of Greece and the birthplace of democracy.
Hotels and Hostels in Athens, Greece
Helen and I stayed in two different places over our two weekends in Athens, both within walking distance of the Central Municipal Athens Market (Κεντρική Δημοτική Αγορά Αθηνών): Evripides Hotel and Athens Hawks Hostel.
Both had their charms, including rooftop bars, though Evripides was a bit closer to the action (and therefore not as deep into the undeveloped area. Many reviews for Athens Hawks mentioned female solo travelers not feeling comfortable there; your mileage may vary). One of the first things that endeared us to Evripides was the views of the Acropolis and the Parthenon. So omnipresent were these monuments, in fact, that we joked of being sick of seeing them. But they certainly made for awe-inspiring backdrops.
After settling in to the Evripides Hotel (our first weekend accommodations), we struck out into the city. This trip, we spent most of our time around the Psyri area exploring, eating, drinking, eating, and eating. There’s surely a dozen or more national cuisines that can claim to be among the best in the world, but Greece must be a frontrunner (Italy as well; we ate a lot on this trip).
We found ourselves in the midst of blocks of trendy restaurants and bars. It turns out Exarcheia, the neighborhood whose northern border we were staying at, is both one of the coolest neighborhoods in Athens, and one that a lot of people avoid for its scuzzy appearance and reputation for anarchy. Think Brooklyn’s Williamsburg mixed with Madrid’s Puerta del Angel.
Though there are some sketchy areas around Exarcheia (especially past its outer edges), any visitor to Athens would be missing out if they didn’t visit. In addition to the Instagram-craving cafes and novelty eateries, there’s a nearby market where you can pick up secondhand books (if you can read Greek), art, clothes, antiques, and plenty of Athens souvenirs.
On our second weekend, we branched out a little farther from Exarcheia to visit a brand new rooftop bar in the Keramikos area that had only opened a few weeks before: The High Bar. We were among the only patrons in the new establishment, and we had the best views in the house for sunset as we drank our cocktails. Stop by if you’re visiting Athens, Greece anytime soon.
The Best Food in Athens, Greece
Speaking of great Athens establishments: Athens restaurants treated us very well.
Our first meal in Athens was in Monastiraki at a restaurant clearly pitched more toward tourists, not locals. That didn’t stop the saganaki (fried cheese) from being delicious. Over four or so days in Athens, we ate quite possibly a literal ton of food in various restaurants and cafes. Not everything was life-changing, but even mediocre Greek food is delicious.
We had multiple great meals, but I think Helen and I both agree the best food in Athens (that we tried, at least) was from O Kostas (Σουβλάκι Κώστας συνταγμα), which has served Greek street food since 1950. We each ordered a single souvlaki (or kalamaki as you might see it called): grilled meat on a skewer that is then served in a pita with vegetables and the best tzatziki sauce we had in all of Greece, which is saying something. We immediately regretted not having ordered two or three. The best souvlaki in Athens, Greece? Almost certainly.
Among the runner ups were Avli (Εστιατόριο Αυλή), a hidden gem of a Greek restaurant you have to seek out because it’s located on a side street (a couple blocks from the Evripides Hotel) and the signage is small. On our last full day in Athens, we also had a fantastic meal at Nikitas, and though we were basically stuffed from a week of non-stop eating, it was still a delicious mix of dolmades (rice-stuffed vine/grape leaves), pork skewers, and, of course, more fried cheese.
I also have to mention Savvas Kebab, which is a tourist spot, but nonetheless has excellent gyros and baklava. And then there was the James Joyce Irish Pub, where we were able to watch Liverpool FC win their last match of the Premiere League season surrounded by British expats and fellow travelers.
If we had any complaint about the food in Greece, it’s that we never figured out how to order a small amount. Even when we thought we were just ordering a miniscule portion, we’d end up stuffed (we weren’t going to not eat it).
The Monuments of Athens, Greece
Beyond the food, of course, Athens is known for its numerous ancient monuments, including, most famously, the Acropolis and the Parthenon. Even before we left for our trip to Athens, we booked our tickets to visit the Acropolis for the second weekend. For our first weekend, we opted to visit Lycabettus Hill, which, at 277 meters above sea level, is the highest point in Athens, Greece.
We rode the cable car up to the top (itself a pretty trippy ride) and then walked about, taking pictures of the views and the Holy Church of Saint George that stands at the top of Lycabettus Hill. They were spectacular views, to say the least.
For visiting the Acropolis, we bought our tickets online (€24.50 each) and left early in the morning to try to beat the crowds, which we mostly did. We also got up there before it was too hot in the day. It was still hard to get photographs of the various structures – the Parthenon being the big one, but also the Propylaea, the Ancient Temple of Athena, the Erechtheion, and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus to name most of the big ones – without fellow tourists in the background.
Regardless, the Acropolis is an impressive sight, especially considering that these ancient structures predate the New Testament. It’s nearly unimaginable that so many man-made objects could still be standing, albeit with centuries of wear and tear.
Saying Goodbye to Athens, Greece
There were plenty of other landmarks in Athens, like the Academy of Athens, that just popped up when we turned a corner. Athens is a fascinating city to walk through, mixing the ancient with the merely old and the recently revitalized. There’s certainly a conversation to be had about gentrification and what that means for the citizens, but any visitor to Athens will be in for stunning sights (and sites).
There’s, of course, much more I could write about Athens, and so much more that I didn’t see in my relatively short time in the Greek capital. But that should give you a taste. Next time, I’ll be writing about our five days in Hydra, or as we came to know it: Cat Island.