Athens, the ancient city of philosophy, democracy, and ancient gods, is dominated by the awe-inspiring Acropolis looming over the roofs of the city. But there’s more to the vibrant metropolis than this ode to Athena. While the Acropolis should certainly be on your “must-see” list, don’t forget to explore the rest of this city’s gems.
Just down the hill from the Acropolis is Plaka, the “neighborhood of the gods” that is now full of charming winding streets and a wide assortment of restaurants and bars. The most distinct part of Plaka is Anafiotika, a sliver of Greek island style in the heart of Athens. This neighborhood’s white-washed houses, blue-painted doors, and abundant bougainvillea hint to its history as a place of refuge for Greek islanders. Now, it’s a respite from busy city life, right in middle of everything.
After Plaka, wander a few streets over to the funky neighborhood of Psirri, which is recovering from a run-down period to become a funky and hip hub. Filled with street art, bars, cafes, restaurants, hotels, and people enjoying all of these things, Psirri is where to go to get a sense of the life of Athens. While there, make sure to visit the Museum of Gastronomy, a start-up museum-restaurant hybrid that celebrates both art and Greek gastronomy.
Not far from here is the Varvakios Market, full of butchers gleefully slinging raw meat and fishmongers selling glistening octopus. This covered market is lively and loud, filled with strange smells and animal parts and enthusiastic Greek shoppers looking to get the freshest meat in the city. Not for the faint of heart or for those put off by raw meat, the market regardless is a highlight of Athens and is one we visit during our food tour of Athens.
Slightly farther afield but worth the trek is the National Archaeological Museum, a celebrated gem brimming over with Greek history and ancient relics. From the well-preserved bronze statues found in shipwrecks to the ancient Greek masks that later inspired the Cubist portraits of Picasso and Braque, the scope of this museum is impressive. One of the highlights here is the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient analog computer from 150 BC. Found in a shipwreck in 1900 and not recognized for what it was until years after that, this machine is awe-inspiring, even today. The museum makes a wonderful visit for families, as children discover Greek gods and goddesses among the artwork, making it the setting for our family walk in Athens. Just behind the Archaeological Museum is the neighborhood of Exarchia, which is worth a visit to see its celebrated activist street art.
Another site removed from the city center but well worth a trip is the ruins of the Platonic Academy, located in a green and fragrant park in an Athens neighborhood. The ruins are mostly unprotected, which allows you to explore unencumbered. While signage is scarce, our Socrates, Plato, & The Pursuit of Happiness walk with a trained classicist is a great way to learn about the history of the ruins.
With so much to see, why limit yourself to the Acropolis?