Is Athens worth visiting? If you search assorted travel blogs talking about Athens, you will find that emotions run strong- you can’t be indifferent when it comes to the capital of Greece. Visitors seem to either fall in love with this eternal city and its unique beauty or become disappointed and frustrated.
How can that be? Sometimes it sounds like the travel bloggers visited completely different cities, the way they write about Athens!
The answer lies in the core of what Athens is: it is a city where history and modernity blend organically, vibrantly, and truthfully. Instead of a fully gentrified, manicured but pretentious city, when you visit Athens you will visit a capsule of everything that Greece has been through. In essence, everything that Greeks are: stubborn, in love with art and science, dealing with hardships and the terrible disasters of history, striving for better days, and seeking beauty in everything.
To be able to appreciate Athens, and be able to unlock its treasures, you must be looking for more than superficial tourism and veneer- which you will find abundant but won’t be the most prevalent element in the city.
Athens reveals her treasures to those who look for vibrant, living beauty, culture, and history and can look beyond the surface to find unprecedented, unique treasures that will be found nowhere else!
So, is Athens worth visiting?
Absolutely. In fact, it’s worth making Athens one of your key destinations to discover those treasures already mentioned. It’s even better to secure the help of a local friend to guide and introduce you to the Greek capital’s wonders. But you can do it on your own, too!
7 Reasons Why You Should Visit Athens
The History: Archaeological sites
Without fail, the Acropolis with the Parthenon is the jewel in the crown of Athens’ archaeological sites. It’s a must-see, not only for the astounding ruins but also for the breathtaking view you will be treated to once there.
You will see scaffolding too, and other repairing and restitution work. You will perhaps be astounded at the state of the Parthenon.
It pays to know the history of how it got the way it is- it will surprise you to learn who was responsible for nearly demolishing one of the ancient world’s Seven Wonders, and it wasn’t the Greeks nor, ironically, the Ottomans.
Do invest in a guide of some sort to give you a tour of the different temples of the Acropolis, to better enjoy the significance and history of what you are looking at.
Pro tip: opt to go really early, just after the sunrise, or just before sunset. That’s when the sun is the most forgiving, especially if you are visiting Athens during the summer, and you’ll have a better experience.
However, there are a lot more Archaeological sites than simply the Acropolis, strewn across Athens. You have the option of getting a combo ticket and visit them all at your leisure and at better prices. Don’t neglect to visit the Ancient Agora, Kerameikos, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus to name but a few of what there is to see.
The History: The Museums
Visiting the famous Acropolis museum is, again, mandatory if you are a history buff. It’s also a great place to be during the scorching hours of noon and early afternoon. You will be treated to more art, insights, and information presented in interesting displays about the Acropolis and Athens in general.
Then, there’s the Archaeological Museum of Athens, with tremendously important artifacts on display, such as the famous Antikythera Mechanism, the bronze statue displaying Zeus or Poseidon throwing his trident or lightning, the mask of Agamemnon, and many more.
But, as with most things in Athens, there are a lot more museums, enclosing a lot more history than that. You cannot miss the Benaki Museum of Hellenic Culture, where you will be treated to displays of amazing works of art from Greece’s entire history, including medieval and modern times.
There is also the War museum to visit, where you will be able to see embattled Greece in all eras, and displays especially regarding Greece’s feats of military valor in the 19th and 20th centuries. There’s also the National Gallery of Art with extremely important collections of paintings of international renown.
Take the time to research the existence of several smaller museums with remarkable displays, such as the Museum of Ancient Technology, the Criminology Museum, and a lot more!
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The City: The Gorgeous Architecture
While Athens is a city that grew without discipline in the 1960s and 70s, there are pockets of astounding beauty and very iconic, characteristic architecture for you to enjoy as you walk the streets.
The heart of Athens, the historical center, is the place to start. Walking through the streets of Plaka you will be surrounded by traditional buildings dating as far back as the 19th century, some with great historical significance, such as the original building of Athens’ first university, built in the 17th century and renovated in 1837.
Neoclassical buildings are everywhere in the center of Athens, while in neighborhoods like Koukaki and Exarchia, you will find Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles blending well with the 1930s style blocks of flats.
Byzantine architecture is also everywhere in the city, with several iconic Byzantine churches dating from before the founding of the Neohellenic state, and remnants of the Ottoman rule with iconic mosques and the famous Bathhouse of the Winds are there for you to explore and photograph.
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The City: Graffiti, Grayness, and Grunge Aesthetic
As mentioned already, Athens is a sprawling city that exploded in expansion during the 1960s and 1970s. Most of this expansion was done with blocks of flats towering on either side of relatively narrow streets, weird small streets and side roads, and a general feeling of gray and concrete reigning, despite the green splashes of color at the sidewalks and on balconies.
As hardship and turmoil hit the city, especially when the economy took a downturn, this began to show in abundant graffiti all over the city. There’s graffiti literally everywhere, with several political messages, different calls to actions, and assorted images.
Some of those images though are to be admired, as Athens has one of the most vibrant street art scenes you will find! Gorgeous works of art on the walls of old or abandoned buildings, on the bland sides of huge blocks of flats, and on little nooks and crannies you don’t expect, wait for you to enjoy them.
Tromp l’oeil, surreal scenes, political cartoons, evocative fantasy, and tributes to Greek history or current events serve as inspiration for an army of talented street artists. So much so, that there are now programs entirely dedicated to the maintenance and preservation of these works of art.
This entire blend of different eras of anarchy yet thirst for beauty give Athens its grungy, underground feel, which goes great with the several different pubs and cafés of the city’s intelligentsia and which you should definitely visit!
The Food: Athens’ Irresistible Cuisine
One of Athens’ unrivaled attractions is, and always will be, the food.
From humble, simple street food like souvlaki or gyros wraps to morning staples like spinach pie (spanakopita) and the ubiquitous koulouri (a round, sesame covered ring of fragrant bread), you have the unique chance to taste some of the tastiest street food you’ll ever have, most of it healthy as an extra bonus!
Moving from street food, there is traditional Greek cuisine which is considered one of the healthiest in the world as it is the epitome of Mediterranean Cuisine and diet. Sample a wide range of different dishes, from meat platters and cold cuts to purely vegetarian and vegan even if you are not in a vegan restaurant.
Visiting and eating at a taverna is an experience, as they differ substantially from your standard restaurants in culture and etiquette. Bonus points for the ones with live music and dancing.
Athens also has excellent restaurants, several with international accolades and renown, if you are into fine dining.
International cuisine as well as fusion cuisine is also everywhere around you, so if you plan it right, you can eat something different every day for the indefinite future!
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The Coffee: Cafes
Greeks value their coffee just as much as they value protection from the heat: as a result, there are at least three types of iced coffee for the hot summer days that you’re not likely to find elsewhere: frappe, cappuccino freddo, and espresso freddo.
There’s also the traditional Greek coffee to sample, and a whole range of different blends and varieties that have become part of the Greek experience even if they originate from abroad.
Takeout coffee in Athens is a staple. You will find a place to get yours more easily than you will find a water fountain!
And then, there’s the cafés. Athens has so many cafés it’s impossible to visit them all, which is sad: Athenian cafes are a culture in themselves. From authentic and traditional to intellectual, modern, fusion, historically themed and everything in between, you will have your pick of them, and every single one will be unique.
The Nightlife: Bars and Clubs
Athens is a city that never sleeps, like any metropolis. Athenian nightlife is diverse and vibrant, just like everything else in the city!
From dedicated areas where you can find clubs of various styles, music repertoires, and types of patrons, such as Gazi and Bournazi, to whole avenues whose name has been associated with partying until dawn in night clubs by the seaside, you are guaranteed to find the nightlife that suits you.
Bars are generally a little tamer in exuberance, with an astounding collection of local and international beer, wine, and cocktails. Make sure to visit at least a few as each one is unique in style and atmosphere. Some are super modern and high tech, while others are time capsules of Athens during different eras, and still, others are themed according to niche tastes, such as art, cinema, and more. The oldest one, Vrettos, is over a hundred years old!
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