Last week I took a short break to the beautiful capital city of Greece. Athens is full of amazing sites, restaurants and exploring opportunities and as a first timer I wanted to make the most of my flying visit there.
I had read that Athens had been running a campaign called #ThisisAthens for a while and had launched a great scheme that allowed visitors to the city a look around through the eyes of a local Athenian. It is completely free and open to everyone, I had a one on one tour with a lovely lady called Vicki who (even though the weather was pretty awful) took me around some fabulous places in Athens.
Did I mention this tour is free!? Usually you can expect to pay €20+ for a guided tour but I got a personalised tour just for me, the scheme is ran by volunteers with a passion to show visitors a different side to the city. As I mentioned the weather gods were not on our side so the 11am tour started a little later than expected. We were given a couple of tickets to the hop on hop off tour bus to keep us occupied whilst the rain ran its course. I’m not a big fan of these buses because 1. they can be quite expensive for what they are, and 2. I prefer seeing a city at my own pace. It kept us out of the rain for a while and I managed to catch a glimpse of some of the famous landmarks and buildings I hadn’t managed to see the day before and with Vicki as my tour guide I found out some interesting facts about the different architects that had designed the amazing buildings scattered around Athens.
When the rain finally stopped we hopped off the bus and started to explore a small section of Athens. I live in a city and I’ve visited a few in my time but you would need at least a week to see all the different areas of Athens, it’s a big ‘ol city with plenty of secret little places that only a local would probably know about. This free tour definitely covered a lot of ground but if (and you should) take the walk up Mount Lycabettus you will see just how vast Athens is.
We wandered through the ‘party’ scene of Athens and saw some of the underground ancient parts of Athens that are dotted around the city. It was strange walking past an office block that had a bit missing because they couldn’t build over the ancient ruins. I wish more of Ancient Greece was preserved as I find it amazing that these structures are still here today.
I was then showed the neighbourhood of Monastiraki, it comes alive at night but in the day you get to see it’s real hidden gems. The street art around this area is actually astounding.
Tall buildings are decorated in amazing pictures and drawings that I would be tempted to punch anybody that dared to call it graffiti. I found Athens as a whole was covered in some amazing street art and Monastiraki had some of the best. Vicki also took me to the famous street that has a cute collection of lamps hanging in between the buildings that I’m sure looks amazing at night, in the day you could see all of the different kinds of lampshades people had used. There was everything from a watering can to coca cola bottles, if you want to see something really hipster, go to Monastiraki.
I picked up a 50 cent simitia which is basically a donut shaped bread covered in sesame seeds and is very tasty. They are sold all over Athens but Vicki assured me this shop sold the best simitia in town…
After filling me with lots of knowledge on the history and sites of Monastiraki we then walked past the Ancient Roman market to the quaint little town of Anafiotika. This place is not known by many tourists so is very quiet and peaceful compared to the hustle and bustle of the other more well known areas. It is right beside the Acropolis and has the look of the houses on some of the Greek islands (think Mamma Mia) They are very square and mainly white with pretty blue doors and windows, as you wind through all of the houses they are encased in flowers and surrounded by cats pottering around the town. I felt like I was being let in on a secret passage scurrying through the streets of Athens, Narnia eat your heart out.
It also gives you one of the best views of the city, once you’ve got to the top of Anafiotika you’ll get a gorgeous view with Mount Lycabetus right in the middle of it. This is when I realised how big Athens was. Vicki pointed out how far we’d walked and it was barely a quarter of Athens even though we’d been walking for a good 2 hours. We then strolled to the top of another hill (the tours are great for your thighs!) and got a better view of the magnificent Acropolis. I asked Vicki how she felt about the Gods and she compared them to Santa Claus (she’s not crazy I promise!) she said that the idea of Santa Claus must have came from something, there are pictures and myths that prove this so once upon a time he was real, maybe not in the sense we know of but in some way it was real. I found this really interesting (as a cynical brit) I realised that as hard as it is to believe there were mystical beings 7000 year ago there’s a reason why all of the ancient ruins are there, and who am I to say the gods weren’t real, it’s nice to believe in something magical…
Lots of cities offer local tours but getting shown around by someone who has so much knowledge and personal connections to a place is very special. I really felt like Vicki had personalised it to my needs and had taken the time to realise what she thought I would enjoy. I would recommend anyone heading to Athens to sign up to one of these tours, I usually find it very difficult to take in lots of historical knowledge from museums and tours but not only did I take away a plethora of facts and figures but a new friend as well!
A big thank you to Vicki for being patient and repeating all of the things she told me twice over and I hope your opinion on us brits is a little bit better than before!
You can book your own tour on the tourism website so if your heading towards Athens make the most of this amazing free feature they are offering!
Have you ever been on a really good tour around a city? Tell me in the comments if there are any you would recommend.