Summer is now gone but the transformation of Athens as a central European hub for fun, openness and innovation remains in full swing in the fall. The weather is still giving a helping hand for walking and the city’s sun guarantees that your photos will not need to be filtered so as to be uploaded in your social media accounts!
Athens, as a whole, is a city culturally on the rise after having sustained years of recession. But which are the neighborhoods that carry this transformation on their shoulders? What are the new areas in the Greek capital that have become seed beds for this positive change?
So, you want to come to Greece in the summer but you have heard a bunch of stories that revive scenes out of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ in your mind: you are being baked by the scorching sun, in a barren archeological site, dying of thirst, seeing mirages of oases and ice-cream-offering Karyatides girls, holding iced beer kegs on their heads…
Well that’s a tough one. We will try to warn you about driving on Greek roads and at the same time not scare you away from the wheel (or handlebars).
There aren’t many places which showcase so perfectly the multi-layered mix of cultures which we call Greek civilization, like Monastiraki square. It is situated north of Plaka, the traditional neighborhood under the Acropolis, and right next to the busy junction of two central streets, Ermou and Athinas.
Of all the little islands in the Saronic gulf, this one is kept off the tourist map as an Athenian’s little secret; a small island just 35 kilometers from Piraeus, covered easily with a 40-minute Flying Dolphin (hydrofoil) ride or a 75-minute trip with a ferry. Such a short trip means it is “no big deal” for Athenians to get there, while the island itself is so beautiful that it had the Huffington Post declare it “the most beautiful Greek island that you haven’t heard of”. Being so near the Greek capital, it is ideal for a day-trip but, at the same time, it is an interesting place where you can easily spend a couple of weeks.
It sits under the sun, a bit less than 70 kilometers south of Athens, like a rock thrown in the middle of the Argosaronic gulf; popular among Athenians for the perfect romantic getaway, or a calm, relaxing weekend in a soothing place of such beauty. Hydra is a place bursting with architectural character, history and – most interestingly – devoid of cars. Yes, it sounds strange but motorized vehicles are not allowed on the island. Two small garbage trucks and some fire-fighting units are the only motorized vehicles allowed on the island. A host of ever-posing Greek donkeys – their modeling careers challenged only by the island’s hundreds of well-fed cats – is responsible for most transport services. Water taxis can take you around the island to – otherwise inaccessible – beaches or to the coast of the Peloponnese.
Athens with kids & no nagging?
Totally doable! You get them walking like an infantry soldier from archaeological sites to “must see” places and countless museum halls. Places they don’t understand or simply don’t consider “cool”. So at some point your kid’s patience might run out and the nagging is inevitably going to start. To make your life a lot easier we gathered a handful of ideas, for things you can put in your visit and sightseeing program to avoid underage mutinies during your vacations.
Three must-see places in walking distance from Acropolis and the city’s center.
A few years back, it was a quiet neighborhood with cheap, old apartments rented by students in the nearby Panteion Social Studies University and small local businesses. Koukaki was named after George Koukakis, a business man that in the old days opened his shop, dealing in metal beds, there. One of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, once full of neoclassical houses – with some of them still standing – it used to be called “little Paris” in the past. The place always maintained a rhythm of its own as it was kept hidden from the speeding world by Filopapou hill and the buzzing noise of Syngrou Avenue but at the same time alive, thanks to the students of the nearby University. Being such a cheap and quiet area near the center, it attracted artists who set up their studios and workshops, next to the commercial center of the town, until the economy folded.
It stands in the middle of the city, bearing the same name since the age of Pericles. Lycabettus – in Greek “Lykavitos” – means “the path of the wolves” or “where the wolves go”, indicating it was populated by wild beasts in the distant past. It is the highest hill within Athens and it’s the ideal observation point. You can’t miss it, if you lift your head up, while walking around the city’s center. And, yes, there have been no wolves up there for a long time now…
by Athens Insiders
It is said, and maybe not unjustly, that Greeks have a serious case of iced -coffee addiction. As a non-Greek friend pointed out on his first visit in Athens, “everybody seems to always have a glass or plastic cup in hand, with a straw sticking out and some foamy, brown liquid in it!” No matter where they are, or what they are doing: relaxing in a café or driving a tractor, selling fruit in a farmer’s market or addressing a group of students in a seminar hall.
A visit to Acropolis is somehow “mandatory” during a visit to Athens, but the long walk up and around this rock is an almost equally rewarding experience. Of course, the area surrounding the Acropolis and the Filopapou hill (facing across it from the southwest) has not always looked as it does today. It was transformed to the landscape you can currently see by one of the most ingenious and influential Greek architects, Dimitrios Pikionis (1887-1968), between 1954 and 1958.
Warning Note: Always specify the level of sweetness you prefer; “Sweet” or “Glikos”, as it is pronounced, means (usually) 2 teaspoons of coffee and 4 teaspoons of sugar. Medium or “Metrios” means 2 teaspoons of coffee and 2 teaspoons of sugar). Plain or no sugar or “Sketos” means 2 teaspoons of coffee and no sugar. And no, it is not easy to add as much sugar as you want later cause of the foam and the fact that the ice cubes will make it hard for the sugar to be dissolved.
by Athens Insiders
Zagoria Villages in Epirus
A magical territory with suiting, pagan-sounding place-names. Like the “Gamila” (camel) mountain, which guards this cluster of small villages made of stone, called “Zagoria”, so picturesque that they seem to belong to a fairy-tale. Or the mesmerizing color of “Voidomatis” (the Oxeye), the clearest river in Europe where you can dive and go rafting, floating through places beautiful and isolated, which you cannot see in any other way except by paddling. Then, you can take a walk to Vikos Gorge, with its breathtaking views and unique plants, once home to druid-like spirit-doctors that healed people with rare herbs they gathered there, or go on a 4-hour hike up to the Dragolimni (yup it means Dragon Lake) an Alpine magnificent small lake inhabited by little tritons, on top of Tympfi mountain. And live on a diet of homemade pies, local free-range meat and fish fresh from the river. Oh, and tsipouro spirit of course.
Many years ago, during a Rockwave live concert by the sea, on the south shore of Athens, rock band Garbage came up on stage for their first time in Greece. Their lead singer saluted the crowd and yelled out “Athena… born out of a man’s headache? I love this city!”.
That was when it hit me. Yeap, “Athens”, Greece’s capital is named after the ancient goddess of wisdom and knowledge. But why? And when?
A great part of the tourist world thinks of Greece like a theme park. With summer as its main theme, they think that it closes down with the first drops of rain in October, to be opened again just in time for the first heat waves in late May. Well guess again my friends, the place is on and buzzing with good vibes – and in some cases even better than the summer ones- during the November-to-April ‘off’ season. And there are very good reasons for that.