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8 things I saw on my trip to Athens

I’ve been to Greece many times before, but always to the islands – Corfu, Rhodes, Kefalonia, Skiathos and, most often more latterly, Crete.  Whilst I love the Greek culture – and of course, the food – visiting the mainland was something that was new to me and I wondered how it might colour my impressions of the country as a whole. This time I was in Athens – a city currently enjoying 3 million visitors a year (half a million of which come from cruise ships) and with over 400 hotels, around 30 of which are 5 star. I was in the capital for just three nights but, in addition to seeing many of the main sights, here’s a handful of some of the more unusual encounters. New opera house This is a development on a grand scale. It’s just a construction site at present but you can visit a centre, learn more about the project and see it from afar. It might not sound that appealing but there’s a short film that you can watch which helps to give you much more of an insight into what’s going on here. New opera house in Athens This is actually the largest building project in the whole of Greece right now and will be the home not only of the Greek National Opera with a 1,400-seat auditorium, but also the National Library of Greece and 42 acres of parkland. All this at a cost of 566 million euros. New opera house in Athens You’d be forgiven for pondering how Greece can afford a project on such a scale but it is being fully funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation – one of the world’s leading international philanthropic organisations that provides grants in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and medicine, and social welfare. Grafitti – lots of it I suppose this is one of the biggest contrasts I saw between the Greece I knew – the idyllic, pristine and unspoilt Greek islands – and the capital.  In Athens, there is graffiti everywhere. Much of it is a mess.  Some of it is actually quite artistic and has been done by someone who is clearly talented. Graffiti in Athens More still looks to have been specifically commissioned in the name of art.  Here’s one example that I stumbled upon on a quiet street just near my hotel. Graffiti in Athens They say that graffiti in Athens is old as the city itself (people used to carve into the stonework in ancient times) and indeed the word ‘graffiti’ of course comes from the Greek (γράφω). Again, you might think that in austere times, people would not want to spend their money on spray paint, but if anything the opposite appears to be true and instead the walls are often used to express discontent at Greece’s current plight. Apparently, the police in Athens rarely arrest graffiti artists – not unless you’re an anarchist or from the far right. Gastronomy Museum Here’s the entrance to a brand new museum in Athens – the Gastronomy Museum (oh, and a bit more graffiti for you, too!). Inside you can learn all about Greek food and wine, and even sample a little of both. Gastronomy Museum After hearing about Greece’s culinary traditions and the different wine regions in the country, sampled some appetisers and had an enjoyable meal. Pictured is chicken souvlaki with pitta bread and tzatziki. Gastronomy Museum Meat market Athens’ meat market has had something of a facelift in recent years since EU regulations have required it to have proper refrigeration. Sadly, I didn’t have time to explore the market on foot, but I did catch a glimpse from the top of a bus! I would love to have a proper explore next time – it looks like a great opportunity for some interesting photography and apparently you can find all manner of beasts for sale. It’s also not for the faint of heart, though, with severed heads and various other gory displays on show. Meat market in Athens Improvised Greek comedy One evening we went to Baraonda – a club/restaurant and city favourite. After dinner, we were treated to an improvised Greek comedy. It was all in English and, well, I suppose mildly entertaining. I can’t really say it was hilarious but it was certainly a bit different! Greek comedy Gasworks Museum Last year the Industrial Gas Museum opened its doors. It looks like the site still has some way to go before it is fully completed but the area that was once the source of energy to the city for some 130 years has been preserved for years to come, with a rich collection of photographs, old machinery and equipment, as well as some interactive displays. Gasworks Museum The site is perhaps best visited at dusk when two of the chimneys are illuminated and there’s the opportunity to capture some interesting silhouettes outside. Gasworks Museum Parkour at the Acropolis If you don’t at first see the man in this picture, take a closer look. Parkour at the Acropolis I’m not sure about the legalities of jumping on and off ancient Greek monuments (I suspect it’s not allowed) but was interested to see this guy hurling himself off the Acropolis and doing various somersaults as he practised his free running skills. Parkour at the Acropolis The future venue for TBEX Europe In October, around a thousand travel bloggers will descend upon Athens for TBEX Europe (TBEX = Travel Bloggers Exchange). And here is the venue where it will all happen – the Megaron Athens International Conference Center. TBEX venue With two conference suites, multiple break-out rooms and a banqueting hall, this ought to be a great venue for TBEX. And what’s more the WiFi connection there was easy to connect to and perfectly reliable. TBEX venue As you can see, there are some interesting developments going on in the city. Athens, despite its recent difficulties, is certainly a city with great potential. Of course, it is famous for its gastronomy – the famous traditional Greek cuisine – but there are also lots of options for international cuisine, with a number of Michelin star restaurants. But did you know that Athens is also the European capital with the most Blue Flag beaches? This birthplace of democracy, drama and philosophy is also close to the islands of the Saronic Gulf, enchanting villages and ancient historical cities. Rural Athens has many wine estates – wine tourism in Athens is becoming very popular. And the city has many new developments as well as those already mentioned, including the Acropolis Museum, the National Museum of Contemporary Arts, expansion of the Metro, the construction of the Onassis House of Arts and Letters, the new Cultural Park at the Faliron Delta and the proposed pedestrianisation of Panepistimiou Street in the city centre. Have you been to Athens? What did you enjoy most? Please tell us your thoughts on the city and the direction in which it is heading in the comments below.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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  1. Lovely Parkour picture Paul! It’s great to see Athens through your eyes. And I see you got the meat market picture!
    I need to go back just to see that market.
    PS: I thought the graffiti was amazing!

    Thanks for sharing your experience…

  2. Paul,
    So great to meet and hang out with you in Athens, it is true there are some great developments going on there and I can’t wait to go back in 2017 when all the construction is done to see the contrast. Let’s meet back there then for a drink!

  3. Ditto…
    Not squeamish at all; I love meat markets and when I grew up, we had subsistence farming, so at least once a week an animal was killed to provide meat for the community.

  4. Athinas street is where the poor shop, all the way up to Omonia. The posh shops are up Ermou past through all the restaurants from Monastiraki towards Syntagma (the parliament). The Flea market actually has some good class shops (keep walking facing Acropolis and then along the pedestrianised alleyway of shops).

    Hoping the little train that also gives tours of Athens is still going from near Syntagma.

    Psirri is an excellent restaurant area for evening meals and coffee and cake. No cordon bleu just authentic excellent Greek cuisine. Walk in from Monastiraki, follow the bars and cafe lights.

  5. Really looking forward to heading back to Athens for TBEX. I haven’t been there for over 20years. Loving the idea of hitting the markets and getting stuck into that great Greek food!

  6. Is that guy not tethered? Crazy! Love street markets too, but more the farmers’vegetable variety. Can’t wait to visit Greece!

  7. Great alternative post. The graffiti looks really good. I think its a great way to liven up boring walls if done properly and not just somebody’s name. TBEX looks like it’s in a good venue

  8. Thanks, Gigi… you are welcome to copy the first paragraph and then link across to here for the full article. I would ask that it’s not copied in its entirety for duplicate content reasons.



  9. Unfortunately, I must push hard to say Athens is a city full of beautiful places and lots of things to do… . İt is still far from worth spending more than two days… Deniz B.

  10. I was in Athens just before the Olympics and the city was really in a shambles. It looks like they pulled so much of it together. Even though I don’t eat meat anymore, I have to admit my mouth was watering over the souvlaki shot!
    I recently visited Philadelphia where they have an outdoor Mural Arts Program with over 2600 murals around the city. It was pretty impressive, employs many artists and keeps graffiti off the walls of the city. I think many cites are trying to implement a similar program-maybe Athens is one of them.

  11. Great artcile Paul. Good to have met you too. I have yet to get to the Meat Market – they open early in the morning so after a long night out on the town, it’s good to head there for a bowl of entrail soup (I kid you not) – so I’ve heard.

    Whether I will actually partake in that remains to be seen!

    See you at TBex.

  12. It was a pleasure to meet you, too, Bex…

    …entrail soup, eh? I am in Shanghai right now and they tried to sneak a chicken claw into my lunch. I tried it but no… I’m sorry to say I just don’t get the fascination the Chinese seem to have with chicken feet.

  13. There is much more to Athens than the pictures shown. The only one of interest was the Opera House. Incidentally Maria Callas had to get out of a Greece to have any impact on her great career. She felt more at home in Italy. As for graffiti who cares? That does not a city make- just the opposite

  14. Get out of bed on the wrong side this morning, Bradley?

    Of course there is much more to Athens than the pictures shown. I was only there a few nights so this is just a snapshot from my visit.

    As for the opera house being the only item of interest… YOU might have no interest in the other items mentioned but that doesn’t mean to say that’s also the case for everyone else…

  15. I really enjoyed your post! I actually attended the TBEX conference and loved it as well as Athens itself. My first time for both! Happy Travels!

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