“Nonfiction is the Real Thing!” This motto was the big posted tagline in the back of my classroom at Infinity (shoutout to Allison!), and I felt like I was living ‘the real thing’ being in Athens as we were experiencing the ‘topography, vegetation, and water’ of this ancient city. I was excited to see the Acropolis up close as I taught my sixth graders about ancient Greek history and culture back in Harlem.
The center of the city is called Athens, and the Acropolis is like a beacon seen from every neighborhood and lane. Attica is the surrounding area of Athens and is full of apartment buildings and storefronts that are most akin to strip malls. These neighborhoods are mostly beige colored buildings and there is a lot of tagging on the sides of the walls. Some of the blocks are lined with citrus trees that create small sunny green spaces, but about a third of the shops on the outer blocks are run down reminding us of the struggle that Greeks have been facing for the past decade. On our long walks, we did find neighborhoods that were lively- full of art, evening hangouts and baked goods. And each time we remarked on the lovely weather with a neighbor or driver or server, they cheerily responded ‘Of course… it’s Greece!’
Our airbnb was in the Makryianni district, an easy walk into Athens. We started our ventures with a very late lunch at Manh Manh. This pulpo appetizer that could have been a meal on its own, and we had a great white wine.
From lunch we went onto the Acropolis museum, and we had a little over an hour to explore the three floors. We’d suggest visiting the third level first as this level is floor to ceiling windows making it a great setting for sunset. On the third floor, I also liked watching the Parthenon video before visiting the ruins as we didn’t have a tour book to guide us when we were at the site the following day. I told Corey stories of the Greek gods and goddesses as we explored the friezes, metopes, and sculptures on the remaining floors.
For me, Plaka, the old town center, had similar vibes to some of Rome’s narrow lanes: waiters beckon you into their restaurants and the main stone road is packed with souvenir shops. Strolling the labyrinth of streets gave me the feeling that our evening would be long and relaxed. Greeks don’t go out for dinner until about 9/10pm, but instead of dinner, we found Lukumades, and devoured a snack of fried dough balls smothered in honey.
The Agia Irini Square was buzzing, maybe similar to the lower east side but in a much, much smaller space. We were on a mission to hit up Clumsies, a recommended cocktail spot! It’s actually rated as one of the top 50 bars in the world (!) according to the website called worlds50bestbars.com. The crowd gathers as the evening goes on, but the vibe is very laid back and the music was basically a playlist of the original songs that many current hip hop and r&b artists have sampled. The Siren was my favorite drink of the night!
Today was Acropolis day (and any other ruins that we could walk to). Unbeknownst to us, the first Sunday of every month means that you get free entry to all of these sites! We couldn’t believe our luck! We started our walk up to the Parthenon by 8.30am. The East Slope near the Acropolis Museum allows you to see Dionysus Theater and the Odeon of Herod the Atticus, both early amphitheaters.
The temperature was cool as we walked the path and we could see the view of Attica was breathtaking even though we were only half way up the hill. The 2500 year old Parthenon has been destroyed and rebuilt many times due to fights between religious groups and rulers. The story goes that Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and Poseidon, the god of the sea, were dueling over Athens to give the city a name. Athena gave the best offering to the people, the first seed of an olive tree in the ground, and thus became the patron saint of Athens. The Parthenon is dedicated to her, and ancient Greek citizens would enter the lines of Doric columns to visit a towering statue of the goddess.
The walk down to the Roman Agora and the Ancient Temple of Haphaestus is lined with olive trees, green brush and rolling green space. The Roman Agora illustrated how ancient the city actually is, with very few of the ruins remaining on the green quad. An agora is a meeting place where ancient Athenians would share their artisic skils, their athletic talents, and their philosophical ideas.
You walk through the large flea market of Monastiraki, full of bric-a-brac and also elderly gentlemen who’ve saddled up to their friend’s stall to have their morning coffee together. The ancient Agora listed on our map showed many other temples dedicated to various gods, but when we arrived, we realized many of these ruins were almost invisible. The map was really just illustrating where the temples would have been standing had we visited thousands of years ago.
The Temple of Haphaestus was the only temple still standing in the ancient Agora. He is the god of blacksmiths, metalworkers, and is also known as one of the ugliest gods, which is important in his myths as he was married to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. The Stoa of Attalos is also still standing, though rebuilt by American architects in the 1950s from what I can remember. This long corridor of columns became a marketplace for many Greeks.
We wandered north through the neighborhood of Psyrri with various walls of graffiti art, and modern coffee shops and bars coexisting with warehouses and older apartment buildings. We lunched at Kavika, a spot on the promenade near the ancient Agora, but I’d venture to go back to Psyrri for food the next trip to Athens.
We endeavored to hike up Lycabettus Hill after lunch, but the walk up to the trailhead itself proved enough of a trek in the afternoon sun. With so much sun, we opted instead to visit the promenade of Flisvos Marina, where there are expensive yachts and young and old are out having frozen Greek yogurt similar to Pinkberry.
The tram is easy to catch to Piraeus, where we were on the hunt for a seafood restaurant suggested by Corey’s colleague. The section of Piraeus we visited felt like a cove surrounded by bars and restaurants with large bay windows looking out on the sailboats. While the suggested restaurant was actually closed when we arrived, it’s easy to choose another spot for dinner just based on the number of people inside of each location. We were excited to grab a corner table looking out over the pier while the sun was setting!
We rented a car for the last day to take a day-trip along the Attica coastline. But first, we had to hit up the Temple of Zeus and the original modern Olympic stadium! How were these only a 15 minute walk from the car rental place?!
The Temple of Poseidon, out on Cape Sounio, was our actual destination, but with the car, we’d be able to stop along seaside towns as we pleased. It’s about an hour drive out to Cape Sounio, and the roads wind along the seaside cliffs similar to Route 1 along the California coast. The air is seaside fresh at the Temple of Poseidon and you can look out and begin to imagine how lovely a trip to the Greek islands must be.
We dipped our toes into the sea on a short pitstop and then headed for Vouliagmeni lake, a thermal spa sunk into the side of a mountain that is warm year round. For me, it was painted as an idyllic getaway where I’d be seeped in steaming waters. However, we arrived in the car park and saw the likes of a swimming pool with one side full of plastic chairs. We voted no on the lukewarm pool.
Instead, we had lunch and then drove to Glyfada, a popular seaside hangout for the “in crowd” of Athens. This basically means there were wide pedestrian sidewalks with plenty of boutiques to get lost in. We weren’t too interested in shopping at this point, so armed with gelato, we waved goodbye to the shops, the sea, and made for the airport.
- Eat lunch or dinner at Manh Manh
- Order a round of fried dough with honey at Lukumades
- Cocktails at Clumsies
For Sights and Neighborhoods
- Dedicate one day to the Acropolis! Definitely include the museum if you can.
- Plaka, Psyrri and Monastiraki neighborhoods
- Head to the sea to see: Flisvos Marina, Piraeus, and even Cape Sounio for the Temple of Poseidon