Islands, Schmislands: Why You Should Visit Athens
Most people who head to Greece go straight to one of the country’s many islands. And I can’t help but feel that these people are missing a trick. I wasn’t as much of a fan of Corfu as I thought I would be. I’m not the only one – there are many reasons why Mykonos is overrated as well. We’ll just pick on those two islands for now.
Yet, it pains me now to admit that I’d never wanted to go to Athens. No, that’s not true – It’s not that I hadn’t wanted to. I wasn’t actively against it. More that it had never crossed my mind to travel to the Greek capital. I was drawn to the beauty of the islands and my thought process generally hadn’t progressed beyond that.
I guess it’s like saying: “I really want to go to Australia, but forget about the mainland – Tassie is the destination for me!”
Except I’m pretty sure no one has said that, ever. And that’s coming from a gal who is a little in love with that tiny island state. (It’s the place I mentally picture when I’m stuck on the Tube in London during peak hour. It calms me!)
In any case, I digress. Let’s get back to the part where I convince you to add Athens to your Greek itinerary. And if you do find yourself nodding along by the end of this article, here’s an Athens travel guide for you to check out.
Point 1: Athens has decent beaches (with sand!)
I’m the first to admit I’m a dreadful snob when it comes to beaches and I’m sure any other Australian would feel the same way. I remain convinced that my country has the most beautiful beaches in the world and I won’t believe anything otherwise until I see solid evidence for myself. It’s like saying that other countries do Fjord’s better than Norway, the Middle East has sucky deserts and Switzerland is the ugliest place in the world. It just ain’t gonna fly.
I had peer-pressured my poor boyfriend into coming to Corfu with me because I was utterly gagging for some beach time. However, the weather conspired against us, when our allocated “beach day” came over cloudy, cold and grey. I was rather despondent when we flew to Athens… only to then be rewarded with days of brilliant sunshine and 27 degree weather.
Upon arrival, we immediately caught the tram, riding it in and out of the city until we arrived at a stop by the sea. And there was indeed a beach. A beach covered in cigarettes, crawling with vendors trying to sell their wears and mildly polluted waters… but still swimmable.
All was tolerable apart from the vendors. The worst was one bloke who was trying to sell peanuts. He lingered in front of me for awhile, from a distance – I was reading and ignored him. He then STOOD IN MY SUN for a good couple of minutes, before coming to shove his bags of peanuts in my face. It took three or four ‘no!’s’ to get rid of him. I do not like peanuts. They hurt people I love.
The next day we stayed on the tram for a few more stops and found ourselves a sandy beach that was somewhat empty, lacked cigarette butts and had water in which we could see our toes. Score!
Point 2: Athens doesn’t have an on/off season
Athens is the capital city of Greece and therefore isn’t so much interested in catering solely for tourists. It feels like a city for the Greek people, in contrast to the island of Corfu.
It doesn’t feel like there’s any season such as “tourist season” so I imagine you could easily visit Athens anytime of the year and not be in want of things to do.
Point 3: The food is NOT ENGLISH
I don’t eat tomato (crazy, I KNOW!) or beef (just doing my bit for the old environment), so I was a bit challenged by the food in Corfu, to say the least. Fortunately, I’m not at all opposed to eating my body weight in bread and cheese. Let’s just say I survived… and then some.
Who knows what our problem was, but we struggled to find a decent meal in Corfu. I believe the worst point was walking along the main street of Ipsos and seeing restaurant after restaurant that catered purely for English tourists. Where’s the novelty of indulging in some English Breakfast if you’re not in England?
I was so relieved to get to Athens and finally get into some good eats. We enjoyed the food scene so much that we pooled our Euros together to splash out on a gourmet meal at a really lovely restaurant. I’m also going to take this moment to say if you came here looking for pointers on budget backpacking, you’re definitely looking at the wrong website.
Maybe (probably) we just didn’t look hard enough in Corfu, but Athens certainly trumped it as far as decent eating went.
Point 4: There’s a bit of a hipster scene going on
Opinions I’d initially heard of the city of Athens itself ranged from “dirty and smelly” to “dangerous”. Okay, it did smell a bit in places, but it’s an old city. London too has its moments where it smells utterly repugnant.
I never felt unsafe walking the streets (although crossing the roads was a bit scary at times!) From what I could see, Athens was mostly grungy and a bit hip. All the best cities are, in my humble opinion!
Plus there are some pretty neat bars to explore – like Six d.o.g.s in the Psirri district.
Point 5: The history is INTERESTING (albeit, currently covered in scaffolding)
I can’t quite comprehend the extent of human history in places like Italy and Greece. It just goes back too far for my puny little Australian brain to process. Walking the streets of these country’s cities and taking in monuments which have held fast during wars and stood fierce against erosion from the elements for hundreds of years… it’s a little hard to comprehend.
I was pretty damn excited to step foot onto the Acropolis, which was ruined somewhat by the fact that it was covered in scaffolding. (As everything in Europe seems to be at the moment – I wish they could time these things a little better!) This did take away from the experience somewhat – it’s hard to imagine the Parthenon in its former glory when there’s a giant crane parked in the middle of it. That being said, restoration is obviously required to keep these buildings intact for future generations. They were a magnificent sight to behold, regardless.
And my favourite part of the experience? Hearing a member of the group of four Australians who had walked up the Acropolis alongside us say wistfully to his friends: “You know what’s missing from this situation? We’re not all wearing our flags.”
Point 6: The public transport is cheap, straight-forward and easy to navigate
I love a no fuss public transport system. We didn’t catch any buses, but the trams were easy enough to navigate and the train took us straight to the airport – for a reasonable price to boot. You hear that, London?
So in conclusion, don’t dismiss Athens as a holiday destination. It’s got a lot more going for it than you’d originally think.
Have you been to Athens? What was your opinion? Hit or miss?