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9 days in Athens: How the Greek capital stole my heart

Apart from maybe Paris, I don’t think there’s a city that I have heard more mixed reviews about than Athens. Over the years I have been told all sorts of things: It’s dirty, it’s the most beautiful place you could ever visit, it’s disappointing… Still, Athens was very high on my list of cities I absolutely wanted to visit, and as a lover of all things Greek mythology my hopes were high. This summer was my first with a boyfriend, and he’s even more into Greek mythology than I am (I swear he knows the details of all of these gods like they’re his family members) and so the destination of our first trip together (AKA The Big Relationship Test) had been decided.

To everyone who told me that Athens was a disappointment: Did we visit the same place? Even the first night, the very first walk through the city, I knew that Athens was about to snatch a place in my top 5 favourite cities. Honestly, what’s not to like? The incredible atmosphere? The amazing and cheap food? The breathtaking architecture? The fact that there’s cats EVERYWHERE?! I fell in love instantly.

Here’s a little overview of what our holiday in Athens looked like. Warning: As much as I enjoyed it, this trip did not go smoothly. What did you expect? It’s me. 

Where we stayed

We rented an Airbnb on a street called Kolokotroni. The location could honestly not be better. The studio was basically in the middle of the city and we were surrounded by restaurants and shops. The flat itself was lovely. It had a little balcony, it was nicely decorated and you could tell the owner had put a lot of effort into it.

Unfortunately, we did have some issues with the hot water. I had received instructions that you had to press a button every time you wanted to shower and then wait for about 30 minutes. That in itself is not a problem, although it’s not exactly ideal when you need to get up early and you want to shower as quickly as possible. But the bigger issue was that, even after the whole button-pressing ritual, there was not nearly enough hot water for both of us. The building itself also didn’t make me feel super safe, so although it was a great stay considering how affordable it was, I would not recommend it, especially as a solo traveller.

Day 1: Plaka

I arrived in the afternoon, ready to get to know Athens by myself. Since we had booked separate flights, my boyfriend wasn’t arriving until the next evening. I went to drop off my stuff at the studio and then went for a walk in Plaka. I got some ice cream, took in the many beautiful squares and soaked up the ambiance that was being created by the hundreds of al fresco diners. During my walk I also discovered a souvenir shop called Thiki. It ended up being our favourite shop that week. I think we went there about four times. We learnt that the owner takes care of a number of street cats. She had named them all! Anyway, I got some souvlaki and feta fries to-go that I enjoyed on my balcony. Lovely first day.

First things first!
Two of the cats that live at souvenir shop Thiki
Thiki

Day 2: Monastiraki 

I started with a walk around the Airbnb and ended up on this gorgeous square called Agia Irini Square. It is there that I would have many breakfasts and brunches. That day I had a great caesar salad at Tailor’s House, apparently one of Athens’ most popular coffee places. My favourite thing about this square? The fact that so many cats hang out there. My boyfriend was about to land that evening, so I had some time. I sat outside and read for a bit. The weather predictions for the rest of the day weren’t looking too optimistic, but up until that point everything was fine.

That is, until I continued my walk in Monastiraki. I was still having a jolly old time, meeting cats both outside and inside in shops, but it started to rain and it gradually got worse. I then went to a cafe with a nice view of the Ancient Agora, where I thought I could sit under the awning for a bit, until the rain turned into a storm and the whole thing came down so we had to flee inside. The street I had strolled down not even an hour earlier turned into a river and I saw doormats and chairs fly past. The water was knee-high, so I knew that I wasn’t leaving that cafe any time soon. Luckily, I had a good book with me. Then, my boyfriend texted me to let me know that his flight had been delayed because of the storm.

I was surprised to see that the water disappeared as quickly as it had come down. Within an hour the streets were fine again. At least in Athens, because I later heard that other parts of Greece had been heavily damaged. I then made the mistake of deciding to not go back to the studio and stay out until I could go and meet my boyfriend in the city. The rain stopped for maybe 30 minutes until it started again and I ended up in another cafe. I received an emergency alert that said everyone was strongly advised to stay inside as apparently Greece hadn’t seen a storm like this in a while. Great. I eventually had to leave the cafe and walk through the most intense downpour I have ever experienced. By the time I met up with my boyfriend, I was absolutely soaked.

Tailor’s House
Cat spotting
More cat spotting
Trapped in a bar
Hiding from the storm with a book and some apple crumble

Day 3: The Athenian Trilogy

We started our first full day together with a rainy morning, but luckily that was only the first hour and it didn’t rain anymore for the rest of the holiday. We went to check out the three impressive buildings that make up the Athenian trilogy: the university, the academy and the library. For lunch we went to a place called Mam that sells pastries with all kinds of filling. I went for spinach and feta but I have to admit I was jealous of the one with minced meat my boyfriend got.

We explored the Psyri area together and got ice cream from Kokkion. Delicious!

The Athens academy
The Athens academy
Pastry shop Mam
Monastiraki Square

Day 4: The Acropolis

The big day. The reason many people visit Athens. And they’re absolutely right, because the Acropolis is something you just have to see. Nothing I could write here would do it justice. BUT BE WARNED. This has to be the worst-organised tourist attraction I have ever visited in my almost 31 years on this planet.

Let me set the scene for you. About two weeks prior to our visit I decided to buy our tickets in advance, and I was delighted to see that the official website offered a ‘Skip-the-line ticket’ that allows you to not have to queue and just walk right in. Perfect!

Cut to us arriving at the entrance that morning (which of course is quite the climb in itself) and taking in three extremely long lines, although one was clearly the longest and looked like it went almost all the way down the hill again. None of this mattered to us though, I proudly exclaimed, because we had skip-the-line tickets! Until an American woman next to me said ‘Yeah, that’s not a thing.’ Scuse me?

Turns out when they said ‘Skip-the-line ticket’, what they actually meant was ‘Queue-for-three-hours-instead-of-six’. Also, there are zero signs that explain what the different lines are for, where you have to go, nothing. We eventually figured out that we had to take the middle, second-longest line to have our digital tickets printed. And so we spent over two hours in the queue either batting away tour guides who promise to take you up there immediately but you basically have to pay all over again, or explaining to other confused visitors that they still had to queue. Yes, even with a ticket. Yes, Sir, I know it says ‘Skip-the-line’, so does mine…

Again, it is absolutely worth the hassle. You would just think that one of the world’s biggest tourist attractions would be better organised. After this adventure we visited the Acropolis Museum, which was almost just as spectacular. In the evening we went for dinner in a stunningly decorated restaurant called Tazza. We also had an ice cream parlour in our area called Le Greche that we went to for dessert almost every evening!

Theatre of Dionysus
The Parthenon
The Parthenon
The Acropolis Museum
The Acropolis

Day 5: The Agoras

We bought the Athens Pass, which gives you access to the Acropolis and five other sites. I would definitely recommend getting one of those as you’ll save money even if you only visit two of these sites. On the way to the Ancient Agora we bought Loukoumades, dough balls that are covered in whatever toppings you want. We went for white chocolate. So good!

We visited both the Ancient and the Roman Agora. Both are impressive, but the most main thing to see here is the temple of Hephaestus at the Ancient Agora, one of the best-preserved ancient temples in Greece. Unbelievable!

Our last activity of the day was Hadrian’s Library. By then I had also purchased cat food that I had in my bag wherever I went, so a good amount of our days were filled with me feeding cats I ran into. Did I mention I was living my best life?

Loukoumades
The temple of Hephaestus
The temple of Hephaestus
Feeding cats
The Roman Agora

Day 6: Day trip to Delphi

Time for our first day trip! Delphi HAD to be on the itinerary, so we woke up at the crack of dawn and got on a bus that would get us there. Let me tell you one thing: No matter where you go, a day trip with a bus full of elderly tourists is an experience you won’t easily forget. First of all, there was our morning break at a motorway restaurant where we accidentally left a member of our group behind, so we had to go back to pick them up.

But the absolute highlight happened when we were at the site itself. Two older women lost it at the tour guide because their headphones weren’t working properly, after which the guide spent the rest of the tour making snide comments about the ladies under her breath, but also still loud enough that everyone with working headphones could hear it. This whole thing was almost as entertaining as Delphi itself. Also an absolute must, by the way. The history of that place is beyond interesting and the view is stunning.

View from Delphi
Delphi
Delphi

Day 7: Temple of Zeus & Lycabettus Hill

Our last full day in Athens. After a visit to the Temple of Zeus, another site that’s included in the Athens Pass, we decided to have a relaxing afternoon so we chilled in the national garden for a bit. We still had an exciting evening activity planned though! We went to the top of Lycabettus Hill to see the sunset, which was absolutely packed with people, but breathtaking nonetheless. When I say ‘we went to the top’ I mean we had to climb for about half an hour and then took the rickety cable car that made both of us fear for our lives so many times that I almost regretted not walking all the way up myself, which is saying a lot. The sunset more than made up for it though. It was a perfect way to end the day.

Temple of Zeus
Back to my favourite activity
Lycabettus Hill
Lycabettus Hill

Day 8: Day trip to Aegina

For the last day of our trip we decided it was time for another day trip. There were several options and I still had things on my list that I really wanted to see (the temple of Poseidon being the main one), but we were also really craving a more relaxing day and we were both desperate for a swim. So we took the ferry and arrived in Aegina about an hour later. This is just a gorgeous island with several beaches, great restaurants and the best pistachio ice cream you’ll ever eat. The island is famous for its pistachios, so of course I had to try my favourite ice cream flavour here. Those couple of hours just swimming in the sea felt so nice after all of those activity-packed days. On the ferry ride back we had another stunning sunset.

Aegina
Aegina
Trying the famous pistachio ice cream
Sunset from the ferry back to Athens

Day 9: Saying goodbye to Athens and its cats

My boyfriend had the earliest flight, so after dropping him off I had six hours by myself again. I also had my luggage with me, so I couldn’t really do much (not being able to leave your luggage at the hotel when you arrive before check-in time or when you leave after check-in time is definitely one of the downsides of an Airbnb for me). And so I basically ended the week the same way I had started it: by having a long lunch at Tailor’s House and watching the cats on Agia Irini Square.

Saying bye to my furry friends
One more, because why not?

My five favourite things to do in Athens

  • The Acropolis (buy the tickets in advance but don’t get your hopes up when they mention skipping the lines)
  • The Ancient Agora
  • Have lunch on Agia Irini Square
  • Delphi
  • Go to Thiki for the most unique souvenirs that you will actually use

I think it’s clear by now that I would 1000% recommend Athens. Let me know if you have ever been, if you would like to go, and if you will use one of my tips when you do!

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