If you read about why I’m trying to travel slowly in 2017 it will come as no surprise to you that I struggle to relax and take it easy when I’m travelling. I’m usually very regimented in my to-do list and like to tick off as much as I possibly can, even if – when I’m being truly honest with myself – I’m not having much fun doing it. I like to be completely in control when I’m travelling so I knew visiting Athens on the Spotted By Locals Spotters Weekend and having someone else take charge of my entire itinerary was going to be a challenge.
In line with the Spotted By Locals ethos we stayed away from most of the really obvious places and instead met with local residents who could show us some of the lesser-known city gems. Turns out it’s actually incredibly refreshing to let someone in the know dictate your itinerary, but it doesn’t make it particularly easy to compile a city guide when most of the places you visited aren’t easily located on the map.
But then I’m guessing you don’t come here to read rehashed articles from Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor. Unless you’re heading to Athens specifically for the history, my advice is to leave the guidebook at home and go in with absolutely no plans or expectations but you didn’t think I was going to travel somewhere and not blog about it, did you? So here are some dos and don’ts from my personal experience of the Greek capital.
DON’T pay to enter the Acropolis – when we walked out of the metro station and saw the Parthenon looming over us we were so excited to visit. It looked incredible from wherever we were standing so we thought it must look even better up close. In all honesty though I found visiting the Acropolis site pretty dull. It was packed, full of people taking pictures on their iPad (WHY do people do this?!) and the view is much better from Filopappou Hill. We visited on the first Sunday of the month when entry is free but I’d have been a bit miffed if I’d actually parted with 20€ for the fifteen minutes we spent there.
DO make some feline friends. There are a lot of stray cats in Greece but unlike some horror stories I’ve heard from the islands, in Athens they seem to be pretty loved. Volunteers from organisations such as Nine Lives will feed and give medical care to some of the city’s homeless kitties on the streets and you can tell when feeding time is near by the unnervingly large congregations of cats at various places throughout the city. You can also pledge to become a friend of Nine Lives and they will spay a cat in your name to help keep the population under control and reach even more felines in need.
DON’T visit during peak season. I think this is pretty sound advice for travelling anywhere, but I think Athens is a particularly good example of a place best visited during the low or shoulder season. We were there in November when the temperature hovered consistently around the low 20s and we were able to admire the street art and pretty buildings of Plaka barely bumping into another soul. It’s true that some bars and restaurants can lack atmosphere when there aren’t as many bums on seats, but on the flip side I think you can really get to know a city well when you’re dining out with the locals and jostling through crowds of other tourists.
DO eat lots of falafel. Particularly before a night on the aforementioned raki. I found being vegan in Athens difficult so hummus and falafel gyros was pretty much all I ate for four days. I can’t complain though, as the falafel I had from a dingy little takeaway in Plaka was probably the best I’ve ever had. Trust me when I say that is no easy accolade to earn.
It probably goes without saying but I obviously specifically asked waiters to hold the tzatziki to keep it vegan (and because it’s GROSS).
Other honorable vegan mentions include a cannabis pizza (yep) from a restaurant called Mystic, ‘Nutella’ pancakes from an ice cream parlour near the Acropolis and soy meat gyros from a place called Smile.
DO watch the sunset from Filopappou Hill. This spot will always have a special place in my heart after a really lovely evening watching the sun set with the other Spotters on our last evening together. I enjoyed the solitude and gorgeous views of the Acropolis against the dusky sky so much that the next time I took Tom with me to see it too.
DON’T underestimate the strength of raki. Especially when you’re already two bottles of wine down. Three months on and I’m still not over that hangover.
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