Back when I was a younger traveler – both in age and experience – I was all about Lonely Planet guides. And they were all great until I had literally the worst experience ever in Ecuador with a LP guide that – upon research – had terrible reviews, inaccurate outdated information and generally terrible guiding in a country where you actually need it.
Whereas Latin America often requires a guide book since the tourist sites aren’t well marked or easy to get to, as an English speaker in Europe, you really don’t need a guidebook for the most part. The major sites are well traveled, they all have English information pamphlets and most of the picture/statuary legends are translated into English. Plus there’s the entirety of the internet for hotel and food recommendations so traveling advice is everywhere if you want it.
But I still buy guidebooks because I often don’t have internet access when I’m wandering about in a city and when I travel to Europe, I buy a Rick Steves guide because he has kick ass city walking tours. Really, that’s my main thing. I love a good tourist site but what I really want to do in a new city is walk around, see the neighborhoods, find some beautiful stuff and learn a few things. Overall, Rick Steves is great for that kind of traveling and I’ve had great luck with his guides in Berlin, Istanbul, Spain and Belgium.
The Rick Steves guide to Greece, however, has some great walking tours but he admits to bias for mainland Greece over the islands and he doesn’t like Athens. Weirdly, he wasn’t alone in that! He – and almost everyone else I talked to before I left – said “don’t stay in Athens any longer than you need to. Get in, see a few things and get out.”
I totally disagree.
Ya’ll, Athens is cool as hell. I found the city to be colorful and intriguing and full of a captivating cast of characters.
There were international groups of backpacking kids with 1 euro beers sitting in the Monastiraki square, rich European ladies dragging YSL luggage in their stiletto heels on cobblestones (!), craggy Greek men sitting around small café tables with permanently installed cigarettes discussing the world’s problems and crowds of young Greeks bustling about the business of life.
The city is full of street art. A lot of it is scribble but there are some really legitimately beautiful pieces all over the city.
It reminded me of Berlin. I suspect that with Athens’ economic issues, it’s like Berlin circa 1993 after the wall fell but before the city got back in its feet.
My favorite neighborhood was Anafiotika in the Plaka, a gorgeous neighborhood built by islanders from Anafi. It climbs right up the hill to the Acropolis
Via long sets of stairs
It’s a beautiful windy space full of cozy white buildings tucked into corners with blue shutters, blooming bougainvillea
Trees growing into the buildings
and always the neighborhood cats
I saw the best street art in the whole city up in this neighborhood, like these Three Graceful Harpies
This Humpty Dumpty reading
These lovers by our cafe table
These tiny murals
And this memento of the ocean
The views of Athens were stunning from this hillside perch
And I found myself dreaming of coming back here and living for a few months. I would rent a tiny place in this neighborhood and I likely wouldn’t ever come back with a view like this every day.
We only spent a few days in Athens but I would go back in a minute. I found the city easy to navigate, full of beautiful things and I wanted more time to explore the neighborhoods and find some decent food. We had crap luck with food until the end of our trip.
But for real, Athens you’re a stunner. I can’t wait to revisit you!