Often cataloged just a transit city for the Greek islands either by plane or ferry, I decided one year to stay in for 4 nights. And i still do not regret, although a maximum of 3 nights is enough. I leaved from Athens to Santorini with mixed feelings of excitement and disappointment or in fact more of regret for what this once magnificent city, birthplace of democracy, became.
Here are my top DON’Ts about Athens and at the end some DOs or in fact MUSTs.
- don’t expect a version of Rome neither antic, renascence or modern. Nowadays Athens is a small city, quite dirty, poor, sometimes dangerous in some parts, in the shadow of the ancient ruins. It sometimes gives you a feeling of disappointment. Web images are better than reality, unfortunately.
- don’t be careless – take your time if you have only few hours between flights.
- don’t over-pack as the weather is good, mild in autumn and spring, and the Greeks are not fashionistas. Check the weather and remember that if you forgot something you can always buy as the prices are affordable.
- don’t take accommodation out of city center, but avoid Omonia Square (pickpockets, dangerous) and Syntagma Square where the Hellenic Parliament is (scene for demonstrations and some related violence). I found great flats on Airbnb.
- don’t use taxis as everything is at walking distance and the metro system is very good if you want to go to the Pireus harbor for the ferry or beaches nearby.
- don’t rent a car if only for Athens. Ok if you want to see the surroundings.
- don’t do island hoping from Athens. Greece is a country to come back, quite addictive, so take your time. One island per holiday is the best. Be laid back like the locals and you have a real holiday.
- don’t worry about the language. This is a tourist friendly country so English is common even on road signs.
- don’t eat European or Asian while in Greece. It’s an offense as Greek cuisine is marvelous. Just choose taverns where locals eat, out of tourist paths, with pic menus to understand – but they can explain so good. I recommend Gazi area and Psiri. Plaka is wonderful for walking and selfies, but quite expensive.
- don’t visit contemporary art museums. This is a city to visit Acropole and in addition contemporary art is not fantastic.
- don’t visit museums without some preparation in advance, to really understand and to choose. In this kind of museums Less is More. Don’t visit without a guide. Buy online, skip the queue. It is unbelievable how time consuming in a holidays are museums queuing.
- don’t limit yourself at fridge magnets as souvenirs or pornographic ancient drawing ( i know…but you will see). Be imaginative as there are so many options.
- personally i don’t do shopping in Athens. Mass consumer goods are not my thing. We usually buy things we don’t need just to please others or our self esteem. Buy one that lasts … forever.
- don’t joke about EU, Turkey, Macedonia and orthodox religion. It is really nothing to joke about. Please understand their history, and understand it’s a proud country, always independent and the birthplace of democracy.
Why a 3 stars destinations? I consider one star for over-rated and 5 for exceeding my expectations. It’s a great city for discovering history but a shadow of it nowadays. Not so affordable but ok to have some experiences. Sometimes too of a hassle, too poor, too messy or derelict, too many beggars, sometimes dangerous opposite to the islands. But some amazing ancient relics and architecture.