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6 reasons why you should visit Athens, Greece

Previously I had only visited Athens years ago when I had visited to see England play in a world cup qualifier but actually hadn’t had the chance to explore so it was great to return as a guest of Discover Greece and really see what the Greek capital had to offer. I have to be honest, Athens wasn’t somewhere that was high on my travel list although I’d heard it offered a superb collection of ancient ruins and some fine cuisine.

I’ve always been a huge Rome fan, even spending many years there teaching English but I’m now starting to feel that Rome has become very expensive and harder and harder to find a bargain. During the weekend trip I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between the two capitals – both are blessed with balmy temperatures, friendly locals who seem to have a real zest for life, excellent food, a thriving cafe culture and spectacular ancient ruins. The main differences though are that the locals in Athens seem to be pleased and honoured you chose to visit their city (instead of trying to rip you off!) and it’s much, much cheaper! I absolutely loved the vibrant city and can’t wait to return, here’s why I think you should visit Athens…

It’s not short on culture

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Athens seems to be packed to the rafters with ancient ruins – every time any building work takes place around the city something new gets discovered. Whilst the government wants to keep developing the capital for economic benefits, there are also agreements in place to ensure that the city’s heritage is preserved. A fantastic example of this is the High street clothes store Zara where you’ll find some excavated ancient ruins proudly encased in glass at the back of the shop! Other must-see sights include the mighty Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, Herodus Atticus Theatre, Hadrian’s Arch, Hadrian’s Library, the Partheon and the Temple of Zeus. They are all easy to access with the city and well connected with footpaths. I would recommend buying the excellent value four-day ticket that will allow you to get to see all of these for just €12!

The excellent cuisine

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I made the mistake of thinking Greek food wasn’t anything special after only having had it in England but after my first taste of real Greek food I discovered how wrong I was! Greek cuisine includes lots of meat or fish, olive oil, herbs, cheese and plenty of tasty fresh vegetables. In Greece, you usually kick off your dinner with meze dishes, but not over-ordering is definitely a challenge! I would recommend trying the classic dishes  ‘Moussaka’ and ‘Souvlaki’ during your stay with the latter being a great option for a cheap snack at lunchtime. Also, make the most of the capital’s fun cafe culture – there’s definitely no shortage of places to stop off and have a coffee (some with very trendy decor), although be warned – the traditional Greek coffee is very strong!

It’s fun after dark

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There is no doubt that the capital’s locals really enjoy their nightlife and drinks and entrance fees are very reasonable. If you want loud music and dancing with a younger crowd, then the best place to head to is Gazi Square but if you are more interested in busy bars with great music then Psyri is the place to go. Things start late here though – you are unlikely to find many Greeks out and about until after they’ve had their dinner – which is normally at around 9-10pm in the evening.

Central Market is a foodie heaven

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For a slice of real local life head to Athen’s Central Market (which we discovered on our Alternative Athens walking tour)I personally loved this place and it offers a very raw, realistic experience for food lovers. It’s a huge indoor market where you can buy fresh fish, meat, fruit and vegetables (although the meat section is probably not for the squeamish!). Located nearby are a good handful of highly regarded spice shops, so you can buy fresh ingredients for your whole meal.

The beach is a tram ride away

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Many travellers visit Athens for a few days and then leave to go island hopping, well an alternative to this is the beautiful Athenian Rivera which is just a tram ride from the city centre. A great Athens beach resort is Glyfada which has various luxury beach fronted hotels as well as lots of places to shop and eat. For those looking to swim then I would recommend the Kavouri-Vouliagmeni area. The sunsets are also pretty spectacular as we found out!

It’s easy to get around

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Athens made some really big changes to prepare itself for the 2004 Olympic Games so now the Greek capital is the proud owner of a newly revamped metro and tram system (which allows you to travel around the city at ease). If that’s not enough, many of the metro stations have free art exhibitions and mini-museums of artifacts which have been discovered around the city. For example, the impressive Syntagma Station, which is Constitution Square Station, has many interesting historical items that were found during the excavation.

I hope you enjoy Athens as much as I did!

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Scott started his travelling life back in 1999, when he headed off on a solo jaunt to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia with just a backpack, a camera and a spirit for adventure. After that, the travel bug bit hard and now he is always seeking to head off somewhere new. Over the years he has lived in Italy, Qatar, Ireland and the UK but his spiritual home will always be Rome as this is the city which most satisfies his unrelenting craving for culture, good food and football. Scott loves nothing better than to be behind the camera and has also just started his own blog called Bars and Spas. As well as Rome he also counts Melbourne and Tel Aviv among his favourite places and now permanently resides in Dublin. Follow Scott on Google+ and Twitter

23 Comments

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      Scott Balaam

      17 March, 2016 at 4:29 pm

      Thanks Gary – it’s a great place with so many great opportunities for pics. A city with something for everyone – you can easily spend the days chilling or visit all the cool sites.

      Reply
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      Scott Balaam

      17 March, 2016 at 4:30 pm

      Thanks Emma – the ruins were incredible. I love cities with cafe cultures and the Greeks love their coffee! A very chilled place!

      Reply
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    Lily La

    9 March, 2016 at 9:42 am

    Can’t say I’ve ever seen Athens, but I do LOVE Greek food! It’s fresh, light and healthy. I made it to Crete a few years ago, and I was in love with the markets and the food!

    Reply
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      Scott Balaam

      17 March, 2016 at 4:34 pm

      Lily – the food markets were incredible. I wouldn’t suggest that the meat and fish markets should be visited for veggies but for meat lovers it’s an incredible place! Having not really eaten a lot of Greek food before I was impressed!

      Reply
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      Scott Balaam

      17 March, 2016 at 4:36 pm

      Yes – I agree! I really want to go back! December was a brilliant time to visit but I’d like to try it in the summer as well!

      Reply
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    Suze - Luxury Columnist

    7 March, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    How nice that you can get to the beach via tram! I’ve visited Greece a few times but never Athens, I’d love to go

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    Agness

    6 March, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    I’ve been to Greece and trust me, the Greek food is the best! I was digging into Greek salad every single day, drinking smoothies and enjoying fresh seafood dishes. I did not manage to visit Athens (flew to Crete), but if I came to Greece once again I would head there directly! 🙂

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    Sand In My Suitcase

    5 March, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    We were really impressed by Athens on our latest visit – as you note, it’s definitely been cleaned up! (It was quite gritty when we first visited some 20 years ago.) We spent almost a day at the Acropolis Museum – very impressive! The beautiful Caryatids you see there are the icing on the cake.

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      Scott Balaam

      17 March, 2016 at 4:45 pm

      Hi guys – A nice article. There is so much culture in one city. I really felt it is an excellent alternative to Rome! I plan to go back as I still have so much to see!

      Reply
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    Marc

    5 March, 2016 at 2:42 am

    Scott, Greece is always a great destination. The food ambiance and the people are unique. I always loved visiting it. And you are right, Athens is very easy to get around.

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      Scott Balaam

      17 March, 2016 at 4:46 pm

      Thanks Marc – A great atmosphere around the place with a decent transport system. People seem to really enjoy their lives! A lifestyle I could certainly be happy to have!

      Reply
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    Hung Thai

    5 March, 2016 at 12:06 am

    I’m not sure why you needed to 6 reasons. There’s really only 1 reason needed to bring visitors to Athens: EPIC history and sights. I’d be sold if that were the only thing you were writing about.

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      Scott Balaam

      17 March, 2016 at 4:48 pm

      Thanks Hung …

      And yes that’s the big reason to come as you say but Athens has so much more than ‘just’ culture. It’s got the balance of culture, great food and a really fun nightlife.

      I aim to get back there to see more!!!

      Reply

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