The purpose of this article is to share my experience, opinions, travel memoirs and thoughts behind why Athens is quite boring in comparison to other European cities. I will also elaborate why it’s absolutely okay to miss or skip Athens from your travel itinerary to save you costs, energy, time and effort. Please note: do not take this seriously, as I am not attempting to ruin the Athens tourism industry.
There are of course others that will disagree with my opinion and local Athenians might take offence to this, but these are simply my observations. Perhaps, one day I will return to Athens again to see and experience it longer. This article is solely based on my observations and the experience I had acquired while visiting Athens for five days. Every individual has different desires and priorities concerning travel. I do not regret that I was able to see a little bit of what Athens has to offer to all tourists, though I wish we only stayed for three nights. What I love the most about Athens is that the people are so friendly and helpful compared to other European cities. Also, Greek food is delicious, especially eating from the local menus and restaurants.
The European summer had just begun during the month of June 2014. My fiancé (Vash) and I left the freezing weather of New Zealand and flew to Europe on our 2nd trip (Vash’s 2nd time in Europe and it was my 3rd time in Europe). We first landed in Milan, Italy as we fell in love with Italy from our first Italian experience back in 2011. By the end of June 2014, we flew with Aegen Airlines from Florence to Athens. Initially, Athens was not meant to be on our travel itinerary, as we really just wanted to go directly to Santorini from Italy. But in the end, we decided to stop off in Athens for five days (we needed to stop over for one night from Italy to Santorini as there were no direct flights from Florence to Santorini at that time). Since we had to stop over for one night, we thought why not just take the opportunity to stay in Athens for five days and explore most of the city.
Vash and I spent five days in Athens exploring all the strangely beautiful things to do and see beyond the typical tourist attractions (or tourist attractions that are offered in a standard travel guide books). As with any city, it’s obvious that some of these are still worth seeing and doing only if they tickle your fancy. However, I, myself could not have been more surprised at what goes beyond the misconceptions about Athens, and eventually found the place and dull scenery, sights and atmosphere for that matter boring. While on the other hand, Vash did really enjoy Athens, despite getting the flu which left us bed ridden in the apartment for two days (but more about that later). If you really want to visit Athens, I would highly suggest you stay only a few nights between 2-3 nights maximum and just explore as much as you can and take the opportunity also to experience the local lifestyle beyond the beaten path.
Read on if you want to know what to see in Athens or want to know exactly why Athens is boring and that it’s okay to cross it off your travel itinerary.
1. Athens doesn’t seem much of a Historical City for me unlike other European Cities:
I must admit that upon arriving in Athens just past midnight, the city didn’t charm me immediately. We were picked up by one of the best taxi drivers called Alex (who works for George’s Taxi). We had booked a taxi before our arrival, as we knew that we would be arriving past midnight, and we didn’t want to take the risk of catching the metro in the middle of the night (only to get robbed somewhere) as Athens is known as one of the most pickpocketed cities in Europe. We also read some stories how tourists got mugged in Athens even during the day.
As soon as we stepped out of the airport and sat in the taxi, I did not feel a sense of excitement that I usually would feel every time I land in a new country. Though, Alex was very hospitable and kind enough to share his passion and knowledge about Athens (his hometown). He even showed us the view of the Acropolis from the main roads from a distance.
When we arrived in Athens, I’ll admit that I was feeling a bit anxious, emotional and tired all mixed into one. Perhaps, it’s because many stories written by travellers about Athens and how they were mugged and that Athens is not the safest city in Europe. Vash and I were tired, as we were constantly on our feet walking, sightseeing and traveling around Italy before Greece. Vash and I love slow travel and staying in the city for a bit longer to immerse into the culture, foods, and language, but we didn’t do that. Back in 2011, we travelled for 3-4 days in each city and then we did the same thing again in 2014. We realised then that next time we travel we would do it slowly in order to get a better feel of the city and thus prevent us from getting too tired, emotional, sick etc.
Alex was also kind to drive us to pass some of the busy streets where tourists and locals were hanging out. Our apartment, which we rented out from Airbnb was just around the corner from the metro, Plaka (old neighbourhood) and the rest of the tourist attractions. It was past midnight, and it was still lively (only in the old district where you’ll find lots of tourists and locals are eating, dancing and socialising). Obviously, shops were closed. But, in most of the streets, all that I saw was dirty, vandalized and polluted. Some neglected old buildings didn’t charm me at all or even leave me to wonder what their history was about. There was too much graffiti lining the streets, which to me didn’t really seemed like art; instead, it was more like a ghetto in some parts. There were also lots of homeless people on the street during day and night. Even when we arrived at our apartment, which was located in one of the smallest and dodgiest alleyways, were homeless people and graffiti were everywhere to be found. Luckily, our host was very kind enough to wait for our arrival even though it was past midnight. Next to our apartment, some buildings were dilapidated, leaving us thinking whether it was safe to be around where we stayed at. Some buildings around the apartment were business owners (where you’ll find small supermarkets and retail shops downstairs), and some were residents.
We awoke the following day getting ready to sightsee Athens. It was extremely hot. The sun was shining, and the weather was even hotter than Italy (which we were lucky to have had good weather throughout our travels in Italy). We left the apartment and walked down to the old local neighbourhood to grab some Greek lunch. As we were walking, we quickly turned on our smartphones GPS to navigate to the right direction. Again, most old buildings that we saw as we walked pass were not maintained. I saw much more neglected old historic buildings. There were lots of side street shoe shops as well as bags and clothing shops. There were lots of vandalised side street shops and buildings with graffiti.
For the first hour, I was too anxious even to pull out my camera out of my bag to take some cool photos of the streets, buildings and shops. I was just too anxious, nervous and scared at the same time, as locals were continuously eyeing on us perhaps wondered where we were from. Obviously, we looked like tourists. Hahaha! We encountered quite a few shady characters, while we walked around to grab something to eat. Both Vash and I were anxiously alert and kept an eye out of our surroundings as we continued to walk around to look for the best meal to eat. Some locals were very friendly, as they greeted us with grace and a smile.
2. We finally found our first Greek Food / Restaurant
Surprisingly, we found our first excellent Greek restaurant on the first day of sightseeing. Wow! We couldn’t believe how awesome it was. We typically don’t find the best food or restaurant on the first day of sightseeing in a new country. We were surprised to have found a restaurant that made the best Greek food, which actually made us full with great satisfaction. We were so hungry, and we just wanted to sit in any restaurant that appealed to us. The staff was very attentive and did not take very long to serve our meals. We were seated outside under a shade awning as it was extremely hot and sunny. While we sat, patiently waiting for our meal it was also an excellent opportunity to watch people walk pass and just enjoy the ambiance around us. And of course, we took a couple of shots. For simple pleasures like this, it’s still very much worth visiting Athens. I can give credit to the Greeks and their cuisine, culture and warm people.
3. Exploring the City of Athens by Walking in non-touristy areas and streets did not really charm me.
After having our early lunch, we decided to take things slowly. We thought, why not just walk around the city and not rush into seeing the main attractions of Athens. We’re glad we saw quite a lot of Athens streets, which were not even considered as tourist attractions. We explored and walked around just like any locals in Athens. We walked around the beaten path or places where typical tourists most likely won’t go. We walked around the whole day and only returned at night for dinner.
We even didn’t buy the hop on and hop off tour bus or take the metro, as we really just wanted to see Athens by foot. It was worth it, even though the city didn’t charm me at all. While on the other hand, Vash loved Athens. He even said to me “I really love Athens and I can so imagine myself living here”. But he would still rather live in Rome. I then said to Vash “Athens is only worth seeing for 2 to 3 days.” Yes, that’s true or maybe not. I don’t know; it was just my opinion. Perhaps others would disagree with me. Maybe, I have to go back again and stay for longer or maybe stay for a few weeks, months or a year to really be able to express my opinion about why Athens is worth skipping in your travel itinerary.
After having seen the off the beaten path and non-touristy areas and streets of Athens, I can say that there aren’t many beautiful or magnificent historical buildings that remained to this date, except the ones of Plaka (the old neighbourhood). There are many dilapidated historical buildings, and some were not updated to restore its structure and appearance. Some streets were just not as lively, especially where most residential and small shops are. It was just too quiet and boring for me. I’m not so much into very crowded places, but at least it has to be a bit lively with beautiful views of different old buildings. I am also into old historical buildings (and these should at least be restored or maintained in its structure and appearance). In Athens, there are far too many modern buildings nowadays, most of which are either commercial or apartment buildings. Whereas, in other European cities, you’ll see that most of the historical buildings have been maintained – that’s what I love about Europe. Not just the old remaining of ruins or the typical museums. I’m not an expert in history and art either but at least I like to learn and immerse myself in these things. And I also have my lovely fiancé, who loves to share his knowledge about history.
4. Exploring Plaka, Monastiraki, Acropolis and other touristy attractions in Athens did charm me
Again, I’m not here to judge the city because there are some beautiful things to see in Athens like the Plaka (the old historical neighbourhood), the Monastiraki and of the course the Acropolis. These are the main highlights that you should not miss out on while visiting Athens. The following day (our second day), we couldn’t really do much as Vash and I both caught the flu and cold. It led to us developing some bacterial infections and as a result, we both ended up with fever and body aches. So we both stayed at our apartment for two days to get as much rest. We were so sick that we couldn’t even get out of bed. We had no food in the apartment. We experienced chills throughout the day, and we didn’t have enough warm clothes to wear. As we all know that when we get very sick with infection and fever our body starts to ache and we also get the chills. Even though the weather was extremely hot but it felt like it was so cold. Thank god, we brought lots of Paracetamol and some Robitussin Syrup for the cold. Also, we had some Lempsips. We always take lots of medications for emergency whenever we travel. Trust me on this; you really have no energy to get out of bed to find a Pharmacy and get some meds to aid you.
So anyway back to the main highlights of Athens. The fourth day of our stay in Athens, we managed to get out of bed even though I was still a bit sick with a cold. But the fever subsided, it was manageable for me to go out in the heat and explore the rest of Athens. Though, I made sure I drank plenty of fluids and ate adequate foods. We also managed to get some more medications such as Paracetamol and some Antibiotics from the Pharmacy. Can you believe, it’s so easy to buy Antibiotics from the Pharmacy in Athens? We didn’t even have to go to the doctor for a consultation. We consulted the Pharmacist about our sickness. We knew we had an infection because our throat was painful to swallow; our jaw was aching, our ears and everything else. I also had tonsillitis. Paracetamol did help reduce the pain temporarily. But as soon as we took the Antibiotics, within a few days we felt much better.
We are finally in Monastiraki and Plaka – the most visited tourist attractions of Athens.
We managed to see the rest of Monastiraki and the Plaka, which both adjoins. In Monastiraki, we noticed that majority of young people hang out there. Also, be vigilant of your belongings, as this area is very common for pickpocketers. What I love about the Monastiraki is the abundance of boutique shops and Greek restaurants to eat and indulge the afternoon. I actually found a really good deal on crossbody bags in Monastiraki closeby Plaka. Plaka, which is known as the old historical neighbourhood of Athens is also known as the “Neighbourhood of Gods”. What I know about the history of Plaka is that this neighbourhood was built on the ruins of Ancient Agora of Athens. Back in 1826, Plaka was temporarily abandoned by its inhabitants, due to severe battles that took place. In these days, Plaka has become so popular and in fact is one of the best highlights of Athens as it’s visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. There are so many things to see in Plaka including the many museums, the remaining and restored residential buildings filled with old historical buildings, souvenir shops, some boutique shops, cafes and restaurants. I fell in love with Plaka the moment Vash, and I set eyes upon it. Plaka is so colourful with a rich history behind the scenery. If I were to choose to live in Athens, I would definitely pick Plaka. We took so many photos on every corner and streets of Plaka. What we also noticed is that Plaka is very touristy, so prices on foods in the cafes and restaurants tend to be pricey. Also, restaurant owners around Plaka appear to be pushy mostly towards tourist walking pass. They literally came up to our face forcing us to eat at their restaurant. We didn’t like that at all, as we didn’t go there to eat but to walk around and experience the atmosphere and ambiance it has. Plaka is also just at the bottom of the Acropolis, so you definitely can’t miss it, as it’s passable.
And finally in Acropolis, where you’ll find the highlights of the remaining of temples fell into ruins.
Next stop was the Acropolis of Athens, which is situated above the city of Athens. The Acropolis consists of all the remaining historical ruins, one of which is the Parthenon being the famous former temple. Vash and I walked, passing by Plaka and all the way up to see the Acropolis. But prior to walking up the mountain, there was a security patrol and a gate, and we had to pay for our entry to the Acropolis. The area is highly monitored so not anyone can easily walk up and there is also a curfew. Please be prepared to go up the mountain as it’s quite high, and requires a lot of energy to walk up and it also requires a good pair of shoes to prevent foot pain. Bring a bottle of water if you plan on going in the middle of the day, as the sun and heat can definitely dehydrate you especially in the midst of summer. We walked up there later in the afternoon (must have been around 3:30 pm). It was still hot and sunny, and the heat was almost unbearable. Luckily we had water with us.
We finally arrived at the top of Athens, seeing all the ruined temples. Vash and I were both amazed at how incredible and fascinating they were. There were lots of tourists of course as well as staff roaming around the area making sure that no one would steal part of the ruins or that no one would attempt to go inside the ruins, as they were not completely restored. It was also not safe to even lean on or go inside the ruins to pose and take multiple shots. Pictures below do not do any justice. It really is beautiful and interesting to be there. The floors were made of marble stones, which is quite slippery especially if you don’t have the right shoes with extreme traction. Some parts of the Acropolis by the Parthenon, the white marble stones were just incredible and magnificent, as it looked as if it was made with pure ice. It was shining in the daylight.
After seeing the Acropolis, we headed down to the next level of the mountain where everybody gathered to watch the sunset. Again, we had to climb the very narrow and steep stairs and filled with rocks along the way. We sat there for awhile watching the city of Athens and as the sun started to set away. It was breath-taking and worth being there to experience it. We also found out that the stone rocks where everyone gathers and sit to watch the sunrise or sunset are also very popular amongst tourists and locals. But unfortunately, I will not recommend anyone with unstable gait or mobility to walk up there, as you can easily injure yourself.
After seeing the Acropolis and taking a rest to watch the sunset, we headed back down to Monastiraki to find something to eat for dinner. It was approaching dark, and we didn’t want to walk too late back to our apartment, as it felt it was too shady. Upon our return to Monarstiraki it suddenly flooded with locals and soon became so lively full of live music around the area. We hanged around a bit just to get a feel of what it’s like being there at night time. We grabbed something to eat as well and then walked to our apartment.
5. Last Day in Athens
It was finally our last day in Athens. On our 5th day, we didn’t do much touristy things as we just again wanted to see the rest of the streets. We had planned to take the tour bus and go to the beach. We also planned to meet some friends at one of the islands nearby Athens but it would take 5 hours by boat, and we had to have an early night to pack and sleep as we had to leave early in the following morning for our next flight to Santorini. We tried looking for a proper supermarket to buy some food and see what sort of local food Athens have in store. But it was so hard to find a local supermarket where we could actually buy some groceries. Unlike other European cities, it was so easy to find them. We gave up in the end but we did find some small local shops to buy some fruits and biscuits, but we would have loved it if it was in the proper supermarket.
During the 5th day in Athens, I also did a lot of reflections, as to why it was okay to have missed Athens from our travel itinerary. After seeing different non-touristy streets of Athens, local areas, the tourist attractions and some of the best highlights of Athens like the Plaka, Monarstiraki, Acropolis and the Syntigma there was really not much to see in Athens. Even though we did a lot of walking, seeing different streets of Athens, I still felt underwhelmed. I usually do get quite amazed when in a new city and wondered: “Why was I not so fascinated by the travel adventure I had in Athens”? I was a bit sad and disappointed at myself, as I was not expecting that at all. I thought I made such a quick judgement of the city that I didn’t even give it a chance to explore it much longer before concluding my opinions. This is how I look at it! First impressions do matter to me.
Usually, when I arrive in a new city, I get thrilled just by the natural beauty, smell, culture, food, scenery, buildings, language and the people around. And these usually leave the first impression on me, and that’s when I can tell whether I like the city or not as soon as I arrive or within a day or two. But Athens did not leave me with this kind of impression. I don’t know how else to explain this, but I hope I explained enough above.
I soon realized that I kept comparing Athens to that of Rome, Florence and the rest of Italy. There is so much history to absorb in Italy, and nothing can compare to that. Also, Italy has a lot more fascinating historical buildings that have been maintained and restored. Even the streets of Italy you can easily find beautiful historic views of buildings and apartments that can easily make you stop to take photos, say “WOW” and even leaving you out of curiosity to finding out more about its history. But never did I have the same reaction in Athens except maybe the Plaka.
Please don’t get me wrong. Athens still is a wonderful city. It still is worth visiting but perhaps for a few days, not more than three days like we did. If you have been reading or love the history of Athens, then it really is worth seeing and absorb into the culture and history. But if you think that you must stop by Athens, as it’s in your bucket list to see then I think it’s okay to miss it. The airfare to Athens from Italy or wherever you are from is not that cheap, but it’s still affordable. But again, I cannot stress enough, I’m not here to prevent you from seeing the beauty of Athens. I just shared my story and opinion about Athens. There are places that many travellers will have their views about. Whether they like it or not. I also asked one of my friends who’s been in Athens on a cruise boat. He also didn’t like Athens, as he found it too boring for his taste. As mentioned above, Vash really enjoyed Athens. He loved it and he would like to go back there again someday to explore the rest of outside the city of Athens. Perhaps, Athens is much more beautiful outside the city. I don’t know I can’t express my opinion on this, as we didn’t bother exploring outside Athens.
I did contemplate whether to submit this post on my blog, as it might be a sensitive topic to some. But then I realised, it’s my blog, and I should be allowed to express my opinion on a particular city. That’s why travel blog exists because people who have been traveling to any city are there to be able to write travel stories and share their experiences. And I’m just one of them. I don’t consider myself as a professional or an expert travel blogger, writer or traveller. But I have travelled to many places and I think it’s safe to say what I think overall of the places I’ve been to. We all have our own opinion as an individual. Even Vash has his own opinion about Paris. I’ve been to Paris a few times. Vash did not like Paris during his first trip. He found the city absolutely boring. He enjoyed Spain and Italy more than Paris. But of course, I disagree because I love Paris and have always been in love with the city even before seeing it. I loved it more after seeing the first time and even enjoyed it more the 2nd and 3rd time round 🙂
Overall, Athens is not a bad city, but I can’t lie that it is a boring city. Well for me anyway. One day I might go back again and give it another chance to see more of Athens. And yes it’s okay to skip Athens from your travel itinerary or perhaps go and see it for yourself. It is still worth seeing the city for 2 – 3 days at least. This is my experience and solely my observations of Athens, so everyone has a different opinion (I must repeat). I still want you to see, explore Athens and experience it for yourself and see if your opinion aligns to mine. Until then, see you next time and I hope you can share your experience with me.
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What do you think of the city of Athens? Have you been there yet? If you have, did you like it or find it too boring? Share your experiences below, as I’d love to hear.
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