Andy Mossack takes to Athens’ less trodden paths to uncover what lies beyond the city’s ancient past.
Here’s the thing about the Acropolis. It’s like a beacon. Visible from every part of Athens, from the rooftop restaurants and apartment balconies to the Mediterranean port of Piraeus. An ancient sentinel that’s perhaps a constant reminder to Athenians of their illustrious past; the birth of democracy, theatre, and philosophy. Pretty much western culture as we know it.
It’s a given that any visit to Athens must include a walk in the footsteps of Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates to discover her ancient past and, of course, a clamber up to the Acropolis to take in the majesty of the huge Parthenon temple of Athena.
That said, the Athens of today manages to fully embrace her modernity while still comfortably holding hands with her past.
If you’re finding yourself all tapped out with ancient ruins here are some cool things to experience in Athens beyond the Acropolis.
Take an Athens Street Art Tour
Athens has a fabulous street art scene. From full building murals to tiny stencils, Athens’ artists manage to creatively express themselves in many different ways. Alternative Athens offers a three-hour guided walking tour around the city’s coolest neighbourhoods. I met up with Nikos aka rude, a talented street artist himself, who got me looking at Athens through a completely different lens. He took me to some of his favourite pieces, gave me the back story on graffiti, and demystified the complex world of tagging and bombing.
The tour kicked off at Thissio station, ironically right next to the ancient Agora and we took a walk up Emou heading for the now-gentrified neighbourhood of Gazi, the site of the old gasworks. We passed by a warehouse entirely covered by a mural of colourful hands. “Zero painted that one,” said rude, “what do you think it’s saying?” After a few minutes debate, he told me, then said “it’s not Zero’s best work in my opinion, but many people love it.”
Opposite the old gas tower which now houses one of Athens’ popular radio stations we paused. “This is one of my favourite murals,” he told me. “Look across the street.” We turn and face a painting the entire length of a long wall. “it’s actually three paintings by INO.” Indeed it was. A scene representing the Last Supper, the eyes of the Mona Lisa and Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Rude again, “Very political, beautifully executed.” I won’t spoil the meaning behind it, but it made a great impression on me.
We walked deeper into trendy Gazi and saw another huge mural designed around Heineken beer. Rude explains “major brands now sponsor street art because it can connect with the perfect demographic.” Behind us, an artist was on scaffolding finishing another mural while a drone buzzed around his head. PLAY has no limits screamed the headline. “Playstation sponsored,” said rude. Enough said.
We covered art on buildings, in alleyways and even on wheelie bins. Canvasses you would normally walk straight past.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable walk and one I would gladly repeat. After all, there’s new art going up every day.
Explore the island of Anafiotica
Above Plaka, Athens’ oldest neighbourhood, and almost within touching distance of the Acropolis hill, you’ll find Anafiotica. It’s just a few narrow streets but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for as a visual and sensory treat. Built by labourers from the Agean island of Anafi brought to Athens to upgrade King Otto’s palace in the mid-nineteenth century, it was meant to replicate their island home so they wouldn’t feel homesick.
The narrow hilly streets and white-walled cottages covered in bougainvillaea leave you in no doubt this was meant to be a small village on a Mediterranean island. It is a world away from the hustle and bustle of central Athens. Climb up the white steps and make your way to the top and you’ll be rewarded with a fabulous panoramic view of the city. There are reputed to be only 45 residents left here, but this is a magnet for artists and cute little tavernas.
Explore the Athens Riviera
Just fifteen minutes out of the city by train or tram will take you to the Mediterranean and Piraeus, the start of the Athens riviera. All along the coast are small marinas, fishing ports and resort towns, many with sandy beaches. One of the prettiest areas of Piraeus is Kastella, high up on a hill overlooking Mikrolimano, a horseshoe harbour lined with fish restaurants. Kastella is full of neoclassical mansions, some lived in, others crumbling away but all reflect a monied neighbourhood with stunning views right across the bay.
The lovely boutique Alex Hotel with its rooftop restaurant is up here and it could be a lovely place to base yourself if you want to stay outside central Athens. You can take a tram from Neo Faliro station and as it hugs the Med, ride right around the bay and explore a few of the beaches. You’ll also pass by the old airport, long abandoned, but about to be redeveloped as a new hub for hotels, restaurants and a casino.
When you return you can walk down to Mikrolimano harbour and have dinner at one of the many seafood restaurants right on the harbour.
Wine tasting tour in Attica by The Wine Connoisseurs
Greek wine has been thousands of years in the making so it makes perfect sense to explore the diversity of terroir and grape available so close to Athens. I spent a memorable lunchtime enjoying a wine tasting session at Domaine Laziridi courtesy of the Wine Connoisseurs who run private wine tours close to Athens. Just a 45-minute ride from Piraeus brought me to the fresh air of Attica and Domaine Laziridi. They have a fascinating museum here chronicling the history behind winemaking in Greece with artefacts dating back to the 17 th century. There were displays that brought the vinification and distilling processes to life plus something of a surprise by giving me a small taster of some very impressive 15-year-old Greek balsamic vinegar.
Of course, the star attraction was the tasting with some delightful red, white and rose wines sampled over a plate of cheeses and cold cuts. It was a delightfully decadent way to spend lunchtime. The Wine Connoisseurs also run full-day tours including lunches and dinners with hotel pickup included.
All images (C) Andy Mossack except eye image (c) Alternative Athens.
Tell me more about Athens beyond the Acropolis
Please go to Visit Greece for full details about how to explore Athens.
Alternative Athens Street Art Tour €49 for adults €39 for children aged 6-17. Children under 6 are free.
The Alex Hotel in Kastella A lovely boutique hotel with 180-degree panoramic views across the Athens coast and the Acropolis. Rooms from €89 per night.
Asomaton Hotel A century-old building transformed into a contemporary boutique hotel right in the trendy Thissio district. Rooms from €89 per night.
Where to eat
Zorbas restaurant Mikrolimano harbour has always been a firm favourite.
Tzitzikas & Mermigas near Syntagma Square is a rustic no-nonsense rustic semi-traditional taverna offering large portions, massive chunky salads with huge wedges of feta.
Mpirmpilo Excellent taverna frequented by locals with some very tasty traditional dishes. Highly recommended.
Getting to Athens
Olympic Holidays can organise week or long weekend breaks or simply flights via easyJet direct to Athens from the UK.
Parking at Gatwick with APH
Airport Parking and Hotels offers a wide range of parking and overnight hotel stays at all major UK airports. One week of Meet & Greet airport parking at London Gatwick Airport costs from just £68 in December 2021. For the latest prices and to book, call 01342 859442
Eurofins Covid Testing for International travel
Eurofins offers UKAS Accredited coronavirus testing via a network of drive-throughs, sampling sites, and home testing. The fastest turnaround of a PCR test will be delivered from Eurofins’ drive-through locations in London and Livingston, sites that are close to their own testing labs. Turnaround times are within 12 – 24 hrs of the test being completed. The cost of a test is £39.90. Eurofins sampling sites offer similar services to the drive-through locations, however, the lead time is slightly extended. Eurofins aims for all samples collected on a day to be reported the next day. Eurofins runs a 24/7 operation across the lab network and customer services to ensure fast & reliable service to all its customers.