Our lives are short and the world is interesting so why do we spend so many of our weekends away in bland, well behaved cities? Athens is anything but.
The charismatic Greek capital - easily one of the most exhilarating cities right now - is often overlooked by travellers in favour of Barcelona, Berlin, Paris and Rome. Error. If good nightlife, bars and shops are your thing, then Athens is where it’s at.
Here’s 10 reasons to book a sun drenched city break….
There are many sites to explore in Athens, but the best is the iconic Acropolis - the greatest symbol of ancient Greece and a wonder of the world.
Crowned by the Parthenon, this epic monument towers over the city with a history that dates back to 447 BC.
Even if you’re of the opinion that you’re after a holiday, not a history lesson, it’s worth climbing the citadel for Instagram worthy views of Athens.
For more information, visit http://odysseus.culture.gr/
Despite being home to blockbuster sights such as the aforementioned Acropolis, Ancient Agora and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens isn’t about sightseeing per se but about exploring.
It’s about wandering around neighbourhoods like Kolonaki and stopping for a leisurely coffee in a people watching cafe.
Make no mistake: Athenians have great and enduring obsession with coffee. Coffee culture brings people out of their homes and into the streets cafes. Coffee lovers would do well to indulge their cravings at Da Capo (https://www.facebook.com/CAFFEdacapo/) which pours inarguably some of the best coffee in the world.
Behind heavy unmarked doors lie lively bars with courtyards and secret rooftops - the perfect place for some raucous antics in a city that exudes sheer joie de vivre.
Hip spots include Clumsies (www.theclumsies.gr), where you can enjoy the most gripping people watching in the world, and Drunk Sinatra (210 331 3733; Thiseos 16, Syntagma). The lines at the latter can be long, but they’re worth it for a mean cocktail at what is currently the hottest place gather post midnight.
Be warned though: bars only close when the last customer has left, so pace yourself as the nights are long. TNT never made it to bed before 2am - this is how Athens rolls - so it’s best not to make too many plans.
Chances are all this partying will make you feel hungry but fortunately food is a passion in Athens - just ask locals to recommend favourite spots to start a lively debate.
TNT can vouch for Nikitas (210 325 2591;
Agion Anargyron 19, Psyrri) - a tried and true taverna in Psyrri that serves reasonably priced and tasty, traditional food.
Chow down on dolmadakia (stuffed grape leaves), baked moussaka, mouthwatering mezze, succulent souvlaki, feta and Greek fava dip mopped up with delicious bread so good that you won’t be able to resist munching your way through the whole basket. You'll fast find yourself slipping into a food coma when in Athens….
What more could you want from a city break? Bargain prices? Well since you ask, Athens offers those too - great news for those whose budget is more push bike than Porsche.
The cost of a coffee or cocktail is embarrassingly low - especially if you’ve arrived from London - and we reckon that a long weekend in sunny Athens would cost you the same as a couple of hours in icy Scandinavia. Hmmm, tough choice.
Athens puts out the welcome mat all year round: the city basks in sunshine for the majority of the year, and even if you travel in the height of winter, you can expect temperatures of around 10 degrees.
TNT visited in mid November when it was t-shirts by day and jumpers by night. What’s more if you visit in autumn/winter, the weather is less stifling than in summer while going now also whittles down the crowds.
Move over dark and dingy hostels. Athens is home to a plethora of accommodation options that are worth your time, as well as your money.
We love Fresh Hotel (www.freshhotel.gr) - a boutique hotel in the hectic heart of downtown Athens - whose bright white balconied bedrooms are perfect for urban explorers who don’t like too much fuss. However the jewel in Fresh Hotel’s crown is the ninth-floor Air Lounge bar which serves up unrivalled views of the floodlit Acropolis, together with a decent drinks list.
A creaking calendar of events
Athens is a city that rarely sleeps. Each month of the year, there’s something happening somewhere - a festival, a show or an exhibition - and often at the same time.
TNT was in town for the Athens marathon - aka the mother of all marathons, whose finish line is in Athens’ magnificent Olympic Stadium (the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games).
According to legend, the race covers the same ground that the Athenian messenger Pheidippides ran when he brought news of victory from the battlefield of Marathon 2,500 years ago. All of which means that when you run the Athens Marathon, you run in the very footsteps of the ancient gods and heroes that gave birth to western civilisation.
To market, to market
Athens’ buzzy Central Market - a cacophony of shopkeepers, food sellers, scents and performers - is remnant of an older, miraculously unspoiled world
Put your bargaining skills to the test by haggling for spices and this year’s olive oil, then make for the famous Monastiraki Flee Market at Avissynias Square to barter for everything from books to paintings, clothes and trinkets. Even if you come away empty handed, listening to stallholders sing and shout about their wares is half the fun.
Athens is made even more inviting by its people who are happy to share their world with you. Charming and hospitable, they always have time to talk. Everyone knows somebody who has a friend, who has a cousin, who can help you out.
For more information on Greece, visit DiscoverGreece.com
To make the most of your time in Athens, pick up Lonely Planet’s Pocket Athens (http://shop.lonelyplanet.com/greece/pocket-athens-3/)
Words and pictures: Kaye Holland
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