This is one of the great cities of the world and an unmissable one. If you have never been to Athens then a trip to Skopelos provides an ideal excuse for exploration of this historical marvel. The metro system is wonderful and there is also an excellent over ground suburban train service and three tram lines. Not wishing to make the place sound like Switzerland means that we should point out that many of the other aspects of Athenian life remain as charmingly chaotic as ever.
It is an ancient city, starting life around 3000 BC as a settlement around the Acropolis and eventually becoming one of the great city states, but it was the victory in the Greco-Persian wars which led to the golden age of Athens and left us so much to marvel at today. The destruction of many major buildings during this war led to the construction of much of the Acropolis (particularly the Parthenon) a site that everyone should visit at least once in their lives. It is open usually from 8.00 am and closes about 7.00pm (or sunset in winter) and is generally very busy (tickets €12). The best way to have “quality time” there is to go first thing in the morning and, as most tour groups are lectured as they climb up towards the Parthenon, on various interesting points, you can walk straight past them and have the place virtually to yourself for the first 20 minutes. Also there are many views of the Acropolis which are stunning and the Hill of the Pynx is recommended for a late evening sight of the white marble structures turning from yellow to gold to red as the light fades.
Of course there are many other antiquities to see in Athens; temples, agoras, monuments etc abound and the city itself, although often seemingly a 70’s concrete nightmare, harbours many gems of the neo-classical city which developed from the middle 19th century (when Athens was rediscovered and became the capital of Greece).
Athens is in general a safe city, there is little serious crime, but petty crime is unfortunately increasing (and of course there are always scam artists in any big city). It’s not as bad as many southern cities but it’s best to be aware and just be sensible. If it’s too hot or it rains another world class visit must be to the newly restored Archaeological Museum which even for museumphobes carries some artefacts and statues which are wonderful and should be seen. It is on the corner of Alexandras Ave and Patission, not far from Omonia Sq and of course the magnificent new Acropolis Museum is worth the trip by itself.
Eleftherios Venizelios Airport is most peoples first sight of Greece but it is situated some way out of Athens. However the metro into Athens is approximately every 20 minutes and it takes about 35 minutes to reach central Athens. The metro is usually the best bet as the road system remains in the slightly chaotic bracket and although taxis can be quite cheap they can easily take longer than the metro. At night between 11 and 6.00 the metro closes. There is also an express bus service into town but I am at a loss to know why anyone would take it in preference to the metro which only costs six euros for a single or eleven euros for a single ticket for 2 people. Check your ticket into the machine before you get on.
Athens is a big city with many districts all different in nature so the choice is from chi-chi to red-light depending what atmosphere appeals.
Most tourists stay in the Plaka which is the old town of Athens strewn around the base of the Acropolis. It is certainly charming and definitely aware of its target audience. There are thousands of tavernas and even more gift shops if that’s what you are looking for but it is central and close to other districts which are a little more real.
Right next to Plaka is this ex industrial area which is great for restaurants, bars, cafes etc. It’s a real mix of traditional and modern and not very touristy at all, a bit of a hidden gem and at night is thronged with the cognoscenti.
Also next to Plaka and with the eponymous metro station that serves all three of these areas, this is an interesting place that encompasses some red-light activities as well as major archaeological sites, tavernas, cafes and night life.
Also a good area to stay in the same central cluster as those above.
Or Constitution Sq, this houses the most famous hotel in Athens, the Grand Bretagne where Churchill amongst many others stayed. It does have reasonably priced hotels too. The metro station is one of the best in the world housing many artefacts unearthed when construction of the new metro was underway and is worth a visit in itself.
Think posh, think Chelsea, this area is for the affluent but worth while sitting in a cafe and watching the rich at work, drinking frappes and eating ice-cream, however, there are good restaurants and many are reasonably priced.