Falling for Athens

In general I’m not fond of modern cities. Bring me to any modern city, and they’ll look all the same to me. Sure some cities have more order and some may be less polluted, but modern architecture all look so similar these days. Sure you’ll see something different every now and then, but the general structure remains the same. So what would make me like a city? It should have a sense of history. There has to be historical structures and buildings mixed with the familiar urban landscape. This is the main reason why I loved Rome so much, in spite of the fact that it’s the capital of Italy. Sure, a lot of cities in Europe have well preserved historical monuments, but of all the cities I’ve visited nothing came close to Rome. That was until I set foot in Athens. Now I can’t seem to decide which one I like more.

It all boils down to my interests. Some people may be in love with the Renaissance period and would therefore fall in love with other European cities. I am more interested though in the period of Classical Antiquity. This trip to Greece has been long overdue. I should have gone here on my first trip to Europe. But I’ve always thought of Greece as a place for honeymooners since those romantic islands are frequently featured on all travel sites. But I figured the mainland isn’t a place for honeymooners, and it’s quite close to the Balkans which was my main destination on this trip. It made sense to finally visit Greece. Athens specifically, since it’s the center of ancient Greek culture.

If you’re going to do a lot of sightseeing, it would be best to stay in a place near the Monastiraki  metro station. It won’t be hard since there are lots of cheap hostels and hotels in the area despite the fact that this location is very touristy. That way, you’d be within walking distance to all the attractions in Athens. You’ll also be near the metro station so it would be easy to go elsewhere in the city. From the airport, it’s easy to get to the city center via the metro or via bus. A bus ride costs 6 euros, while the Metro costs 10 euros to get to Monastiraki. I chose to take the Metro since it’s faster. A bus ride can take anywhere from 1 hour 30 minutes to more than 2 hours depending on the traffic situation. If you take the metro, you’ll be at the city center in a little over an hour. The X95 bus stops at Syntagma Square which is only a few minutes away by walking from Monastiraki so you’ll pretty much end up at the same area whichever option you choose.

As with other European cities, you’re gonna find a lot of free walking tours being offered. Whenever I have time, I join these walking tours even if they only take you to free places in the city. It’s a great way to orient yourself on your first day. And if ever you find something that interests you, you can easily go back later. Since I was already checking out the couchsurfing app for locals and fellow travelers that I can hang out with, I decided to join this free walking tour that was organized by a couchsurfer named Nikos. If you have the app installed on your phone, you won’t miss him. He posts his walking tours daily and it always appears on the nearby events tab. He knows a lot about the city and he’s gonna take you to some places that are off the beaten path. it starts at Syntagma Square, which is a very popular attraction. A lot of tourists stay here and wait for the changing of the guards. After the tour he invites everyone to join him for late lunch. I didn’t join any other walking tour in Athens so I have no point of comparison, but yeah i’d recommend him. I did learn a lot about the city after his tour, and he was incredibly friendly and helpful to everyone.

Now of course those free walking tours won’t take you inside the best attractions so i reserved an entire day for all those. The most popular attraction in Athens is undoubtedly the Acropolis. I’ve read online that it’s advisable to buy tickets in advance, but i found that unnecessary. Tickets only cost 20 euros if you buy em onsite (even cheaper during the winter months), and it’s more expensive if you buy em online. Others say it’s advisable since the lines to buy tickets are long, you’d have to wait for 1 to 2 hours. I dunno if that’s the case during the morning, but I checked it out on my first day and there was barely a queue at around 3 PM. When I went on my second day at 11 AM there were only 5 people ahead of me at the ticket counter. And this was during the last week of August, still considered peak season for tourists. If you want to avoid a queue, just buy tickets during those times that I went.

Since you would probably be checking out other ancient sights, buying a special ticket package for 30 euros would be a better deal. This also gives you access to the Ancient Agora among others. Also, if you see a long queue at the ticketing office by the Acropolis, you can buy this ticket package at the other sites instead where there are barely any queues!

Now some may think that 20 euros to enter just one site is quite expensive, but to me it was really worth it. Expect the place to be very crowded. I expected less people at noon since I assumed people wouldn’t want to be fried under the intense heat of the sun during summer. Boy, was I wrong. I imagine it would be even more crowded early in the morning or late in the afternoon. The most iconic structure is perhaps the Parthenon— that’s where all the people were taking selfies. You’ll get to see other structures too. In the citadel, you’ll see the Erechtheion besides the Parthenon. And by the slopes you’ll get to see the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the Theatre of Dionysus. Seeing those four structures up close is worth more than 20 euros.

The Ancient Agora is less popular, but I believe it’s as amazing as the Acropolis. This used to be the center of ancient Athens. You’ll see a lot of ancient structures here too. Perhaps most notable is the Temple of Hephaestus located on top of a hill, and you will surely marvel at its intricacies and  its degree of preservation. Sticking out like a sore thumb is the Church of the Holy Apostles— the only building left on the site when the others were demolished when excavation of the Ancient Agora was started. Entrance to the Agora costs 8 euros if you didn’t buy the package ticket. That’s a really good deal. In my opinion they should be charging more.

Walk down the hill and you’re bound to find the ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. If you’ve already bought a ticket to the Acropolis, entrance to this site is included in the package so you might as well check it out. Since there are only a couple of pillars left, many people find it underwhelming. However, once you get close to the pillars, you would have an idea of the temple’s enormous size back in the day and there’s no way you wouldn’t feel impressed. If you just plan to visit this one site though, i agree that it’s not worth the 5 euros they are charging. Especially since you can have a good view of the ruins by the fences.

The entire old town of Athens is a marvel in itself. You can keep walking for hours and still you would feel as if you haven’t seen everything. It’s amazing how well preserved everything is. If it weren’t for people wearing modern clothes, no one would blame you if you feel as if you’ve been transported back in time. Sure Athens as a whole is far from perfect. The traffic is horrible at times. A lot of places are dirty. Petty theft is commonplace. And according to one local, the political situation is still a huge mess. But spend a few days in the old town and you might just forget all about those negative things about modern Athens. Thanks to the old part of town, Athens is now one of my favorite places in the world.


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