For the second year now, we planned a city break somewhere in February around Valentine’s Day (well, actually around Dragobete Day – which is the Romanian Valentine’s Day celebrated on the 24th of February). In 2014 we visited Istanbul and this year we spent 3 days in Athens.
We chose Athens thinking that it won’t be that cold outside for February and we can enjoy the city to the maximum. The weather was indeed good, as good as it can get for mid-February and it did allow us to wonder on the streets and see what the city has to offer.
Athens, with its 3.7 milion inhabitants is a mixture of new and old, hiding historical evidences of its development as a metropolis everywhere you look. Whether you think of Gods, mythical creatures, Olympic Games or democracy, Athens is for sure the first thing that should come into your mind. Because everything is actually related to this city.
Visiting Athens for a first time means checking out all the ancient buildings. They are quite a few, but they are all in walking distance one from another. Still it will take you several hours to explore them all, so start early in the morning, especially if you go during winter time as visiting hours are only until 5 or 6 PM. We did manage to see the Acropolys, where you find the Parthenon, the Erectheion, the Temple of Athena Nike, then the Ancient Agora, the Temple of Zeus, the Panathinaiko Stadium.
The Acropolys is probably the number one attraction of the city and if you are looking for a great spot to see Athens from above, than this is the right place for you. The panorama is just amazing, you can almost feel the movement of the city day by day.
This meant quite a lot of walking for our first day visiting the city, but we also took a city bus that saved us some time and allowed us to get to all these places in one day. As it was February, we were lucking to find a calm city, with not too many tourists wondering around the main attractions and we did enjoy discovering all the ancient monuments. Some of them were under serious reconditioning so the photos didn’t look that good. Also, bare in mind that all these monuments can be visited after paying an entrance fee, so plan that in your budget as well. Some were 12 euro, some 8 euro, the city bus was 15 euro.
Wondering around the city we also found The National Garden of Athens which is one of the main parks of the city. It looks lovely and it’s just perfect for an afternoon walk or for relaxing a bit after all the sightseeing.
On our last day we also took a quick walk around the Antiques Market in Monastiraki. For people passionate about old stuff, you have come to the right place. Everything from furniture to jewellery and clothes can be found here. It’s a delight to wonder around the small shops even if you are not actually collecting, so if you’re in the area, it’s definitely a place to check out.
Monastiraki is also the area with most bars and restaurants so expect to see a neighborhood with small streets, but full of people, especially during evening and night time.
In one of the evenings, we also took a walk in the Piraeus port and to the beach nearby for a lovely sunset. The port looks like the expensive part of Athens, with high class restaurants, but most importantly, with all sorts of boats and expensive yachts. Feels like you’re in a maritime museum, walking around the port.
Otherwise, I have to admit I found Athens to be rather unattractive and grey. And extremely crowded, all the streets are so packed with cars, people are driving a bit to aggressive. Most of the building are four-to six-story concrete buildings, lacking character and badly in need of a paint, but you have to have patience and try to look behind them to actually see the beauties of this city and to discover its charm.
Regarding food, well, this is an interesting story. When we got to our hotel on Friday evening, we asked the guy at the reception what restaurant close by he could recommend for a late dinner. He told us about I Kriti (Veranzerou 7, Athens 10677) which was just around the corner from the hotel. We enjoyed so much our dinner there that decided to go there for the entire trip. It was just amazing, all the dishes were absolutely delicious, from the vegetarian ones, to the ones with lamb, just incredible. It’s a place for Greek people who actually know what Cretan cuisine means. One of the evenings we also tried another restaurant somewhere in the Monastiraki area, but we were so disappointed about the food, that we decided to go back to I Kreti. The waiter there was very friendly and always recommended the best dishes. Combined with raki, some local drinks, every meal was just perfect.
our favorite dish was this special Cretan chickpeas salad
the famous and delicious lamb
As I am not a bit fan of sweets and deserts, I cannot give my personal opinion on this topic, but some of the friends who joined us for the trip assured me that Athens is a delight for sweets lovers. There are indeed all sorts of shops and cafes where you can find cakes and deserts and they do look very good in the window shop and it also seems they are very tasty.
As for the accommodation, we found a good offer on booking.com for Polis Grand Hotel, quite close to the main attractions and the city center.
This was our trip to Athens. To be honest, maybe I expected to interact more with the Greek culture and the Greek way of living, after seeing all the main touristic attractions. I still get the feeling I left there without actually understanding what Athens is all about, besides ancient history, Olympic Games and the inventor of democracy. But well, there should always be something left to be discovered for a next visit.