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City Guide: Athens, Greece

Acropolis of Athens. Google images.

We ask people who have either moved or travelled to certain areas in Greece to provide us with relevant information to help those travelling to these destinations! We provide the traveller with the headings and the rest is written by them based on their own personal experiences! Happy reading and happy travelling!

Athens is the heartbeat of Greece. It’s always buzzing with energy and with people from all over the world. The beauty of Athens is that within easy reach of magnificent archaeological sites are breath-taking beaches and relaxed Greek tavernas serving everything from Greek beer, ouzo to grilled octopus. Not to mention that the nightlife and the vibe is on a level of its own. It truly is a city that never sleeps!

List and describe your top two ‘must see’s’ of the city. These can be tourist attractions, squares, galleries or whatever. 

It’s almost impossible to have a “top two” when discussing a city such as Athens. So instead, I’ll suggest the top sights. For more information, click on the label and you will be linked to a different site for information.

Stadium.

Stadium.

List and describe the food and restaurants available as well as provide your favourite. 

Well this one is easy. Greek food is all over, gyros pita, souvlakia, Greek-style fries, fresh sea food, crepes, pancakes and loukoumades are all over. In Monastiraki, Syntagma, Glyfada and Kolonaki you should be able to find these stores easily. For those looking for something classier, once again, in these areas you will find a wide range of classy restaurants to cater for your specific taste.

List and describe the bar/club life and where you would recommend going. 

There is definitely something for everyone in Athens when it comes to nightlife. From clubs and bars playing Greek commercial music, hip hop, commercial English music to, of course, bouzoukia or live performances by your favourite Greek singers. Athens is somewhat different to other places in terms of nightlife – expect people to only show up after midnight (sometimes later) if you want a vibe and be prepared for clubs / bars that don’t close before 10am the following morning.

Head to Gazi (get off at Keiramikos subway station) where you will find a mix of bars and clubs which cater both to students and young adults. It’s a square surrounded by many clubs, bars and restaurants which makes for a very convenient night out. Many well-known clubs are in this area as well as music halls where you can find your favourite Greek artists singing live if you’re lucky. You will find similar types of clubs, bars and restaurants in Monastiraki, Psirri and Thissio areas, the good news is that you’re spoilt for choice, the bad news is that you’re spoilt for choice.

In areas like Glyfada and Kolonaki you will find a similar mix of clubs, bars and restaurants but generally these cater to young adults and an older crowd.

In addition, in areas such as Glyfada and Palaio Faliro you can also find a wide variety of sea-side bars and clubs as well as bouzoukia and live artists. Make sure to google where and when your Greek favourite artists are performing so that you don’t miss out!

Bouzoukia 

List and describe the transport available/is it necessary/do you walk/is there a bus/taxi/uber/train/underground?

I walk and mainly make use of public transport. Public transport in Athens is generally very easy to use and highly accessible no matter where you find yourself. There are 4 different modes of public transport in Athens – the Tram, Trolley, Buses and Underground. Apart from the Google Maps app there’s also another useful app called “Moovit” which I highly recommend if you never want to miss a stop and/or want the quickest route. Although generally safe, watch for pickpockets on the metro and at the markets. With regard to taxis, there’s an app called “Taxibeat” which works practically the same way as Uber and is just as easy to use – definitely give it a try for those long distance / late night trips. If taking taxis without the use of an app (which I wouldn’t recommend if you can’t speak Greek), ask the driver to use the meter or negotiate the price in advance to avoid any unexpected surprises.

Your recommended amount of days to stay in Athens?

 Forever! But in all seriousness, it’s impossible to take in all the beauty of Athens in a single trip. I’ve been here almost a year and still discover new spots or “hidden gems” practically every day. If I had to recommend an amount of days to stay I’d say nothing less than two weeks. If you’re looking for a holiday, I would recommend that you break the stay in Athens after a few days with a visit to the islands as things are very quick-paced in Athens.

Recommended area to stay in?

This one is very budget specific. The top areas I’d recommend for beach-lovers are Glyfada, Vouliagmeni, Varkiza – however these areas can be pricey and are far from the center. The best areas to stay within the city centre are Syntagma, Monastiraki and Kolonaki. Student travellers tend to opt for accommodation within the Monastiraki area.

Glyfada Shopping Streets. Google Images.

Any beautiful churches you have been to and suggest visiting?

 All over the city! In and around Monastiraki one can find a variety of churches (both new and ancient). The well-known Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens (which is regularly shown on ERT) is a 5-minute walk from either the Monastiraki or Syntagma metro stations. Monastiraki is a flea market neighbourhood where one will be able to buy anything and everything Greek (which includes komboskina, church icons and other Greek Orthodox products). The area is named after Monastiraki Square, which in turn derives its name from Church of Pantanassa located within the square.

Any close day trips that you recommend making time for whilst staying there? 

As regards islands, Aegina, Hydra, Poros seems to be a favourite day trip where one can get on a “hop on hop off” ferry. Another favourite amongst locals is to make a day trip to Nafplio (and the surrounding areas for beaching and food) Mycenae and Ancient Olympia. You may want to consider booking accommodation for a night and returning the following day as these places have a lot to offer. Otherwise a day trip to the beaches which are more outside Athens (Varkiza and further) is also a big must!

Any extra information you feel would be relevant to someone wanting to travel to Athens?

Crime has risen in Athens with the onset of the financial crisis. Though violent street crime is very rare, travellers should still be aware of visiting certain areas, especially late at night. Streets surrounding an area called Omonia have become markedly unsafe, there has been an increase of junkies and dodgy individuals in the area, avoid the area especially at night. In South African terms, the area is similar to Braamfontein / Hillbrow although still worth a visit during the day and only in selected areas within Omonia. It’s sad because Omonia was once one of the most beautiful and wealthy areas of Athens.

If you can, provide a suggested 3 full day itinerary:

Day 1 – Visit Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum (this usually takes a full half day), Lunch at Monastiraki Square @ Savvas Kabab (souvlakia) or surrounding Greek taverns, Shop at the flea market and Ermou in Syntagma and see all the various artefacts, history and churches, late afternoon sundowners @ 360 / A for Athens / Couleur Locale or a variety of other rooftop bars in the area.

Savvas Kebab. Rooftop Garden. Google Images.

Day 2 – Beach day: Take a taxi to Varkiza beach (or surrounding beaches) and rent a spot on the beach, sip on cocktails and enjoy traditional Greek souvlakia and a gyro pita on the beach, visit Galaxy Bar (Hilton, Athens) for sundowners or cocktails with a view of Athens at night.

Varkiza Beach. Google Images.

Day 3 – Visit the Benaki museum (Kolonaki) for your mix of culture, grab a bite of Greek food in Kolonaki, hike or take the teleferic up Mount Lycabettus and grab sundowners with a view of Athens, the Acropolis and the sea. My advice would be to hike up to see the beauty of Athens from all angles as you hike up and to only use the teleferic on your way down.

Interview questions answered by George Patrinos. Currently living in Athens. Some images belong to him and others are from Google images. 

 

Top 15 Churches in Greece

Article written and compiled by Eugenia Papathanassiu. All images have been sourced from a variety of websites. 

Around 98% of Greece follows the religion of Greek Orthodoxy (shocking, right!?) which means that Greece and its churches are like that chocolate doughnut covered in Byzantine, Cycladic, Venetian and medieval multicoloured sprinkles. Maybe you believe in Orthodoxy, maybe you believe in some other higher power or maybe you don’t believe at all – this plays no role. Greece’s ecclesiastical architecture and natural beauty is sure to excite travelers from far and wide. 

The Seven Martyrs, SIFNOS 

Picture a rock that is emerging into the Aegean and upon it sits an isolated chapel adorned in traditional Cycladic architecture – this is the uncharted Church of the Seven Martyrs. It is situated in Kastro Village in Sifnos and is accessible by a lengthy stone-clad pathway or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you could even swim there from the opposite side. This succinctly represents the style of Greece and how most of the time, only very minimalistic structures are required to compliment the fatherland’s natural splendour. 

Agia Fotini Mantineias, TRIPOLI 

One initially thinks that this ‘’temple-like’’ church is centuries old however its construction actually took place in the 1970s, assimilating design elements from Orthodoxy, Ancient Greece and the era of Byzantium. Actual pieces of ancient remains nearby were used as building material for this monument. Exploration takes place on pebble-mosaicked floors portraying religious, folklore and mythological stories. The slightly misplaced portraiture of figures such as Ariadne, Theseus and Medusa make Agia Fotini particularly unique as the church’s architectural paradox has ignited extensive controversy. Despite this, Agia Fotini shows clearly the beauty of whimsy and diversity.

 

 

Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, PATRA

Also known as the titan of Greek Orthodox churches being the largest in Greece and the third largest Byzantine-style church of the Balkans, Saint Andrew’s is certainly a significant destination for christians or ecclesiastical-enthusiasts worldwide. This dazzling basilica is home to a shrine of relics of the apostle Saint Andrew himself, namely his small finger, a portion of the top of the apostle’s cranium as well as pieces of the cross upon which his martyr took place. This is a must-see for spiritually-inclined historians. 

 

 

Agia Sofia, KYTHIRA

Kythira’s Agia Sofia differs slightly from the other churches on this list in the sense that it offers a wide variety of stalagmites and stalactites in addition to the occasional religious worship here and there. Yes, Agia Sofia is situated inside a cave and was allegedly named either after the fact that the body of the saint was found there or possibly after the church’s dedication to the ‘’wisdom of God’’. The sometimes-spooky cave overlooks wild landscapes and the Aegean and is decorated with fresco icons from the 13th century. 

 

 

Agios Ioannis Kastri, SKOPELOS

Fans of ABBA, Meryl Streep or musical theatre in general may recognize this idyllic white-washed chapel edged on a cliff over the ‘’ατελείωτο μπλε’’ i.e. the endless blue. This chapel is indeed the very one pictured in the wedding scene of Mamma Mia! and has gained immense popularity since the film’s release in 2008. Reaching the chapel, however, is no easy feat due to the 110 rocky steps in the way but the athletic exertion from a round trip can be adequately eased with a refreshing trip to the small beach that has formed beneath the rock.  

 

Our Lady of Tinos (Panagia Evangelistria), TINOS

Our Lady of Tinos is a shrine to the Virgin Mary and was established around the discovery of a miraculous icon of her which was found due to a vision experienced by the nun Pelagia. In this vision, the Virgin appeared, revealing this icon’s location. Many pilgrims travel from the port all the way up to the monastery complex on their hands and knees – there is even a red carpet covering this distance to prevent injury. The icon is almost entirely covered in jewelry and other offerings representing prayers from various pilgrims. The periods of the discovery of the icon and the political establishment of modern Greece coincided, thereby advocating Our Lady of Tinos as the patron saint of Hellenes and the state of Greece.

Panagia Makrini, SAMOS

Yet another cave-encased church makes this list. It is believed that Panagia Makrini was built during the 10th century as part of a larger monastery and bones from previous ascetic monks were also found here. Visiting this incandescent site involves an easy hike through a lush forest and cool caves surrounded by turquoise in typical grecian fashion because, after all, life is more about the journey than the destination.

Hozoviotissa Monastery (Panagia Hozoviotissa), AMORGOS 

This monastery is nestled in a rock 300 meters above sea-level on the charming island of Amorgos with roughly 300 steps to cover en route. The monks that live there offer fresh water, raki, loukoumia and friendly conversation to visitors upon their arrival. There are also many welcoming cats that keep the visitors company as they enjoy breathtaking views and gentle winds. Appropriate attire is required, so if you plan to visit the monks of Hozoviotissa during the summer months, be sure to cover up. Men are required to wear trousers and women must wear skirts. 

 

Panagia Kapnikarea, ATHENS

If you’ve been shopping on Ermou or exploring the old Plaka district, it is very likely that you have bumped into one of the oldest churches in Athens. The external elegance of this small piece of Byzantine architecture contrasts the informal hustle bustle that surrounds it. Panagia Kapnikarea differs vastly to most of the churches on this list as it is not in some remote location enveloped in Mediterranean aqua. It is very easy to access, yet it still maintains the same kind of mystery, if not more, than the grand monasteries we have been discussing on this ecclesiastical journey through Greece. 

Panagia tou Bourgou, RHODES

The terms ‘’gothic architecture’’ and ‘’Greece’’ rarely coalesce, but when they do they fuel a talking point – especially in the Dodecanesian island of Rhodes where styles of Italy, medieval Europe as well as traditional and Hellenistic Greece have mingled. The island on which Panagia tou Bourgou sits is already so culturally rich, but the dramatic impression made by this church simply introduces its observers to the alluring architectural legacy of the island. Although the church does not operate, there are many cultural events that take place there. 

Agios Spyridonas, SANTORINI

How many times have you marveled at that classic image of the epitome of Cycladic architecture? You know, the one offering panoramic views of Santorini’s caldera and scatterings of white-washed villages on the hills? Yes, that famous blue dome that you often see on post cards belongs to the church of Agios Spyridonas and just behind it is another blue domed church, Anastaseos (Resurrection). Just imagine making a pitstop at this sanctuary as the sun drowns itself, dramatically in the blue horizon. It would be a very utopian moment.

 

Mount Athos, KOLPOS AGIOU OROUS

Mount Athos is a remote peninsula up in Northern Greece, housing around 2000 monks and 20 Eastern Orthodox Monasteries. One can see bearded monks and priests performing daily activities along bright hued streets. Entering this monastic state is rather difficult, however, and not because there are hundreds of steps in the way. All visitors are to submit a copy of their passports to the Pilgrims’ Bureau of Mount Athos and must wait to be admitted. Women and children are also not permitted – even female animals haven’t cracked the nod. That’s right… Mount Athos does not have cows or chickens. 

One reason for this is that it was believed that the Virgin Mary converted the region’s inhabitants after having been wafted toward them on a ship during a storm. Over centuries, the monks have dedicated the land and their lives solely to her. Another reason for no women is simply to make the celibate lifestyle of the monks a little easier. 

There was time in the 1821 revolution against the Turks, however, when women and children were taken care of by the monks in the Holy Mountain as this area was protected due to an agreement between the monks and the Turkish authorities. The women and children were then transferred to the Aegean islands during a period of safety. Thank goodness for photography though!

Agia Sofia, MONEMVASIA

Wars and ages have periled this ‘’living museum of Byzantine, Ottoman and Venetian history’’ situated at the highest point of Monemvasia (a tiny island connected to the Peloponnese via causeway) which overlooks the Aegean and the village below. One can notice multiple architectural amendments due to the turbulent past that surrounded this significant church. It was once a Catholic Convent during Venetian times, and was reverted after the Greek War of Independence by being dedicated to ‘’the Wisdom of God’’ i.e. Agia Sofia. Don’t forget to take some sunscreen and water on your way up!

 

Agia Paraportiani, MYKONOS 

An all white Byzantine church on a Cycladic island begs many questions: Why is it so simple yet so fascinating? Why does it look like a stack of illuminated marshmallows that have melted on a blue tablecloth? Do people come here to repent for their sins after a night at Tropicana? Not all of these questions can be answered, but the allure of Paraportiani lies behind the moment in which you randomly bump into it on your way back from Little Venice or the famous windmills. You are taken by surprise and you feel intrigued by the pink bougainvillea, the frosty finish of the walls and the rippling water. Excellent Instagram material, if you ask me.

 

 

Meteora, KALAMPAKA

Last, but certainly not least with its gargantuan appeal, is the Meteora and its six monasteries constructed upon composite pillars formed naturally by the surrounding rock. Monks and nuns would climb up to various caves on ropes and they would become hermits and pray. Every few days, they would lower the rope to collect food from their monasteries. The hermits would eventually die very young  in their pursuit of sainthood due to hunger and exposure to the elements.

Visit the Meteora if you enjoy hiking to the less accessible monasteries (the easiest one to access is the nunnery, Roussanou), if you are seeking peace and mysticism or if you feel like walking through something out of Game of Thrones. The cliffs of the Meteora – reaching heights of up to 400 meters – are the perfect place to seek isolation and spiritual elevation. Upon entry of the monastery, proper attire is necessary but visitors who are not dressed accordingly will not be rejected as skirts and shawls (for the women) and long pants (for the men) can be loaned. 

 

 

7 Days of Holy Week: A Cheat Sheet

Holy week is approaching and although we all participate and engage in the traditions that come with it – do we know what each day symbolises and why we do the traditions that we do, on these days?

We put together a ‘cheat sheet’ of the 7 days of Orthodox Holy Week with a description of the symbolism of each day. Click on the link below and have a read!

Let us know what you think in the comments below! 🙂

Have a blessed Holy Week!

Link: 7 Days of Holy Week: A Cheat Sheet

Infographic compiled and designed by Eugenia Papathanassiu