The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Athens, Greece

As is the risk these days with the widespread nature of the web & gorgeous photos of exotic places, we overestimated our time in Greece.

On our travels, we try not to look up to many photos of our destinations before we arrive for fear of ‘pre-living the moment’ and stealing its thunder, which is all too easy to do these days. In the case of Greece however we had little choice; through schooling I’ve been taught about Greece and its importance my whole life and visiting as a child had only served to store the good memories and forget the bad.

Which is to say there definitely is good memories to be found, there are gorgeous sights to be seen and there are spots of historical significance to be walked but travel photographers have worked too hard to frame and gloss the cities just how they want you to see them. Leaving out all that there is to be improved. So as is our role as travel bloggers we seek to take the raw data and transform it into something informative; to create information. As such we have created a list of all that we found to be good, all that we found to be bad and all that we found to be downright ugly from our stay in Greece; we hope you enjoy.

Good:

The Acropolis

The one big must do of anyone’s trip to Athens. Its the focal point that a relatively modern city has built itself around. I remember visiting as a kid and thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the spot. Surrounding the Acropolis (and thankfully included in the ticket price – €12) is the Agora (former marketplace) and lower acropolis amphitheatre. Combined these attractions provide plenty to do. In the Agora, you’ll find the best preserved Greek temple in existence and a museum containing the only Spartan Shield left in existence. Also, for any Bible buffs out there, just down to the left of the Acropolis ticket office (facing the office) you’ll find a rocky outcrop with some stairs leading up it; this spot not only gives an excellent view over the city but is Mars Hill, a famous setting in the book of Acts.

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Athens Free Tour

We had an awesome time being shown around the city by Bill an Irish guy, with a voice like Liam Neesan who has lived in Athens for nearly 30 years. Bill gave an excellent commentary, some great inside tips and was an all-round nice guy.

The Plaka

A lot of downtown Athens has become very commercial and not all that pleasant so we reccomend checking out the Plaka suburb at the foot of the Acropolis. Once you reach the Plaka district, keep heading up the hill, the further up the Plaka the better, as you ascend the hill you’ll encounter some stunning restaurants, where the locals go and at the top in the Anafiotika section you’ll encounter houses that feel straight out of Santorini (this is the poor-mans Santorini for those who are short on time or funds).

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Athens Public Transport

Thanks to some handy European Union funding and a bit of Olympic Games incentives you’ll find that the metro system of Athens is one of the most impressive that you’ll encounter in Europe. While not as extensive as the likes of London or Paris, its very clean, very modern, cost effective and most stations hold some of their own ancient artefacts for you to marvel at.

Palace Guards

These guys are ridiculously hilarious. Surely they must be the inspiration behind the ministry of silly walks. Worth a look though, free and entertaining.

Bad:

Short opening hours

Greece has the weirdest opening hours known to man, the locals seem to know the rhythm but as visitors it’ll leave you puzzled. A couple of hours in the morning a couple of hours in the evening, depending on the day, who knows, we couldn’t work it out. Also beware, in Athens, many of its main attractions close early (especially in winter usually between 3-4pm). So if you’re night owls like us who like to do most of your attraction hunting in the afternoons, this may leave you scrambling to see everything.

Overpriced attractions

Maybe its because we’ve spent the last wee while in Eastern Europe, or maybe its just because it heavily relies on tourism but other than the public transport we found Athens to be very expensive.

New Acropolis Museum

If i had an ‘ok’ section, I’d put this in that. On the whole it works as a good complementary visit to the Acropolis, showing many of the original works including the Caryatid columns, and at €5pp one of the cheaper attractions in Athens. However, other than the cafe on the second floor which features an impressive view of the Acropolis at reasonable prices, I found myself being more impressed with the architecture of the museum than some of the contents. Also, I’m not sure why (and its probably our fault for dragging our feet) but something in the make-up of the building caused Jenny and I to give each other static shocks each time we touched each other or something metal. I’d love to hear if anyone else has had this experience

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Ugly:

Loo-paper disposal

This actually goes for much of the Balkans but to mentally prepare you (as I was very much unprepared), in many parts of this region you are required to not flush your loo-paper post use. Instead you are asked to dispose of your loo paper into a communal rubbish bin provided. This is mainly because the local sewage system is fighting a losing battle as it narrowly navigates its way through various layers of archaeological digs everywhere. This may seem like easy change but over all is a bit icky to those who are not used to it, I prefer to put a bit a bit of distance between me and the loo paper post-use.

Tagging & rubbish everywhere

I’m into street art (usually with permission but at least pieces that enrich otherwise bland concrete walls) but not not tagging (those people who un-artistically write their name everywhere, almost always without permission). Athens has a huge problem with the latter. The worst we’ve seen in Europe. Perhaps its to do with the economic crisis, I couldn’t say for sure, either way its hugely noticeable and big eyesore. The same goes with rubbish, the place feels a little run down and in need of a tidy up.

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Architecture

Ancient ruins aside, Athens is not a beautiful city. I’m sure it becomes more charming the more you get to know it but over all; its very utilitarian. A lot of people packed together in one place with little pre-thought.