Athens is a city like no other I’ve ever visited, a mish-mash of ancient and new, tourists and locals in equal abundance and always with something new to look at or a hidden corner to be stumbled upon. And, pals, as a true fan and strong supporter of going for a good wander, this is a city that I never got bored of strolling in. Whilst the transport network is pretty full on awesome, Athens is also extremely walkable and has so many layers upon layers of buildings and streets sandwiched upon each other (because they’re always excavating something new around here), that I preferred walking from A to B just to see what else I would discover each day. Don’t get me wrong, there are many more neighbourhoods to have a gander at than those I’m blabbering on about here, but I don’t have any actual personal experience of them…so who am I to give them!for goodness’ sake?
The Monastiraki district has a chaotic but downright marvellous vibe, a flea market, and all manner of people yelling things across the street at each other. I. LOVE. IT. Stalls and shops sell a mixture of knock-off designer t-shirts and Greek-themed snow globes, jumbled up with a mixture of antiques, art and a healthy handful of restaurants thrown in for good measure. If you want to soak up a good amount of atmosphere and have a classic people-watching session, this is the place to come.
This area is also home to Hadrian’s Library, originally filled to the brim with papyrus scrolls as obv books weren’t really a thing back in the second century, and an old Ottoman mosque from back in the days of Ottoman rule. These days the official religion of the country is predictably Greek Orthodox so the mosque houses the Museum of Traditional Art instead of being used for its original purpose.
Although still busy, Plaka is a rather more genteel affair than it’s neighbouring neighbourhoods so to speak. The oldest part of the city (aside from the obvious archaeological hotspots), people affectionately call it the ‘Neighbourhood of the Gods’ due to its location right next to the Acropolis. I exited the ancient site by the Theatre of Dionysus and found myself in a quiet corner of Plaka as if I’d landed there in a dream, without even meaning to or realising. Buskers and flower sellers roam the colourful streets, and the fact that the little roads are pedestrianised mean that crossing roads in this area didn’t give me the mildly panicked thrill that I felt crossing the road in other parts of the city. Which was probably a good thing, let’s face it.
This is the main tourist hub of Athens, stretching downwards from in front of the Parliament building towards Ermou, a long shopping street filled with the classic H&Ms and Zaras which every other town and city in Europe and potentially the world has. Consider it the Piccadilly Circus of Athens, if you will. (But without the neon signs, thankfully, as they’d just look plain out of place in this part of the planet.) Although this is tourist central station please mind the gap, and I’d strongly advise not stopping here for a coffee/drink/meal/anything you’re planning on spending your hard-earned dollar on, the massive pedestrianised centre of the square is a great place for a casual people-watching session. This is also the part of town you’re likely to arrive at should you arrive by public transport, as this is also considered ‘the centre’ of Athens for the old transport network purposes.
The beaut pastel yellow palace which is home of the Greek Parliament sits at the top end of the square, and it’s here that the changing of the guard takes place- a full ceremony every Sunday at 11am, and an hourly guard-change other than that. If you don’t know anything about what takes place I strongly suggest you look into it as it’s a full on amazing sight to behold.
National Garden and the president’s pad
The National Garden, which you can enter right next to the Parliament building, is basically an oasis of calm in the crazy-busy commotion that is Athens. And on the opposite side of the garden to Syntagma Square is the most expensive road in the whole city- Herodou Attikou Street. This badboy is home to the Maximos Mansion where the prime minister works, the Presidential Palace, and a whole load of super luxurious apartments; making it altogether a pretty stark contrast to the other areas of the city I roamed. Armed soldiers and policemen patrol the wide and pristine roads, (even a few of the pom-pom adorned Evzone soldiers guard the area around here), and it’s got a bit of a South Kensington vibe about it, if ya know what I mean. (The London South Ken, not the Toronto one).
Probably my favourite part of the city, Psiri is a bohemian kind of an area famed for its nightlife although I only really explored it during the day. Once upon a time back in the olden days- the olden days circa 1990 to be precise- this was not the safest or most desirable place to hang out, however a whole load of gentrification has occurred here in the last few years and it’s now filled with local-owned bars, shops and restaurants. Taverns and clubs stay open late and the area as a whole has a lively and artistic atmosphere about it which I really appreciated.
This is also the place to find the world famous Poet Sandal Maker, a true legendary fellow. (Technically you could maybe even say it’s in Monastiraki as the two are so close to one another but whatevs). Stavros Melissinos set up his sandal-making business in 1920, and then had a little side-hustle going as a poet from 1953 onwards, publishing poems and plays galore, some of which are now on the curriculum at US universities. A sign on the outside of his shop informs people that one of his plays, ‘Chastity Belt,’ was banned in Greece for political reasons, ‘of which he’s quite proud.’ He’s kind of a big deal, ya know!? Not only that but Stavros has been making shoes for celebrities across the world from his humble shop, from Sophia Loren and Jackie O to The Beatles. Obviously a trip to Athens just wouldn’t be right without a stop at this place, to be honest.
- It goes without saying that the more tourist filled neighbourhoods like Syntagma and parts of Monastiraki will be the more expensive ones.
- As a lass travelling by myself, I didn’t ever feel unsafe walking around whether in the daytime or at night, although like any city in the world that’s not to say you should head down any old dark desolated alley with your laptop on full display. Not that I even own a laptop. Basically, the centre of Athens is no less safe or unsafe than any other European city I’ve visited and the main thing to be aware of is probably pickpocketing.
- All of these areas are within walking distance of each other. For a more detailed idea of what to get up to…go here!