After disembarking at Pireaus ferry terminal in Athens we slowly made our way to our accommodation in Psyrri. Having stayed in the trendy anarchist neighbourhood of Exarcheia a few weeks back, we were keen to check out the old town.
If you only have a short stay in Athens booked, here’s what I’d recommend.
To begin, where all good things start: Coffee!
Get a coffee from any of the five coffee shops on this one block (Emmanouil Benaki), but our pick of the bunch was definitely Mr Bean. I’ve become somewhat obsessed with Espresso Freddo (iced coffee, no sugar, no milk) given the heat and – embarrassingly because – that’s what everyone else in Athens drinks, so why not… and now I’m hooked. Not to be confused with an Espresso Frappe, which just isn’t the same.
The croissants here were delightful.
Time for the Acropolis Museum & Acropolis
The daunting structure takes its rightful place high on the hilltop and looks down on the streets below, you can see it at every turn within the city centre.
I highly recommend visiting the museum BEFORE the site to give both the Pantheon and other important archaeological sites more context. Mostly, so you can understand more about what you’re looking at.
If you need some time in between the site and the museum, consider visiting again in the afternoon. Just do NOT do what we did and go at midday (with the tens of thousands of other people, mostly all on group tours). Save yourself the stress and go either first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Time for brunch.
A fifteen minute walk back to the Psyrri district will land you at Zampano for something other than fruit, Greek yoghurt, honey and walnuts for breakfast – something we’d been ordering and making at home since we arrived in Greece. We stumbled upon Zampano in desperation for a coffee and ended up staying for well over an hour, landing on a colourful and healthy plate of kale, avocado, quinoa and sausage – it did not disappoint.
Walk the food aisle of Psyrri
Time to walk off all that deliciousness within the streets of Psyrri. The unpretentious butcher-to-plate style delicatessens, the highly fragrant spice, nut and dried fruit shops line the street of Central Market district. You can sit down for tastings if you like or move slowly from one to the next.
Time for late lunch
Nearby you’ll find one of the oldest tavernas (about 130 years) in the Athens Central Market district. You won’t find a sign, or a menu, the only obvious feature that a restaurant exists is a set of steep stairs and the aroma of pureed chickpeas and oak barrelled retsina. Here you will find: Diporto.
Don’t expect to dine here for the latest in culinary experimentation, the taverna does about five or six dishes based on what’s in season and available in the nearby markets.
We had the chickpea soup, sardines and a vegetable stew, with a half litre of retsina. We barely had to speak a word, the waiter simply brought everything to us – easy I suppose when there’s not much choice!
Time for an arvo activity or simply relax
Feeling recharged surely, head across town, skirting through Plakia (Athens’ oldest neighbourhood) and walk to the top of Mount Lycabettus for sweeping, panoramic views of the city below. I read you can also get the funicular to the top if you’re not feeling up for the walk. You won’t be disappointed with the views.
Time for dinner and drinks
By now you should, by right, be starving. We rather un-glamorously decided against a formal dinner and opted for a quick bite at one of the many falafel bars dotted around the inner city. So fresh – so good. There really are plenty of options in the Psyrri area for dinner – but be warned – some of the menus were many pages full and in all languages (something we typically avoid).
But for drinks, we simply couldn’t resist ‘Barrett’, a cafe, bar and exhibition space. By day, Pysrri is the coffee sipping scene you see throughout Athens, but at night, it really comes to life with a harmonious blend of glamorous and grunge. We really enjoyed the music, the people watching and of course, the craft beer too.
Time for coffee
The next day, head towards the Exarcheia neighbourhood and pick up the local brew at: Foyer Espresso Bar. They have croissants you can eat in or grab and go.
Greeks, (like most of Europe) don’t have the same penchant for take-away coffee as us Aussies, so do as the Greek’s do and sip-in. I love watching the morning trade come and go along with the barista’s rapport with his regular customers. It’s all so familiar, but the language makes it feel that much more exotic.
Time for street art
Walking the streets of Exarcheia look and feel a lot different to that of Plakia and Psyrri districts and it’s well worth exploring it for that reason alone. Exarcheia has a painted history, and it’s full of life day and night. Moo and I left for an early train and the bars were still ten deep at six in the morning. The drunks were so well behaved, so quiet even – It was a sight for sore eyes.
The street art was something I enjoyed most, and generally speaking there was something impressive on every corner. That and the student vibe – there is always so much life in student quarters. There’s also a bunch of old record stores and bookstores if you have the time to browse.
By now your thirty hours is just about up! Enjoy Athens, I know we sure did. I know a lot of people tend to skip it, preferring to head directly to the islands, but for me (not your typical city lover) I actually really enjoyed it.
After a tearful goodbye, I bid farewell to Moo as he flew to Montenegro to go kite surfing for two weeks and I flew to Budapest for my big walk.
Stay tuned xo