Thursday, May 19, 2016

When a good friend recently asked me for traveling advice to Athens, I cringed.

Well, I told her, Athens was not my favorite city. I found it dirty, rundown and bloody hot during our August visit nearly five years ago. Compared to Istanbul, Athens disappointed me – BIG TIME!

However, always trying to see the glass-half-full kinda thing, I decided to look back through my hundreds of photos and come up with good reasons to visit Athens.

1. Ancient Ruins
Of course, wandering through the Acropolis and seeing the ancient columns of the Parthenon lit up at night on the hilltop was AMAZING! What’s also cool is the numerous restaurants in the Monastiraki neighborhood that featured rooftop dining. Here you could enjoy a Greek salad, freshly caught fish and the fine views of said historical ruins.
The Parthenon, the largest Doric temple to be completed in Greece, truly captures ancient Greece’s glory. The temple featured eight Doric columns in the façade and 17 columns lined each side.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a stone theater, built in 161 AD by Herodes Atticus, who constructed it in memory of his wife, Regilla. During the Athens & Epidaurus Festival, when it’s open to the public, you can see performances of music, dance and drama here.
We were fortunate to see the newly opened Acropolis Museum, which houses Acropolis artifacts and preserved marble carvings, at night. Check to see when nighttime visits are allowed.
The Parthenon lit up at night as seen from the Acropolis Museum.
2. Pork, Pork and More Pork
Since we were living in Turkey, we rarely got to eat pork. Sure, we could find expensive pork at some places and maybe bacon for breakfast, but generally we would stuff our suitcases full of pork on our European travels! However, in Athens, we were in pork heaven and ate it nearly every meal on our 3-day trip!
If you love pork like we do, don’t miss out trying the pork souvlaki skewers or shaved pork for döner kebabs. Add a Greek salad on the side to make your meal a bit healthier.
3. Greek Iced Coffee
August must be the worst month to visit Athens! We found half the city’s shops and restaurants shut down because people were on vacation, and the temperatures were unrelenting at mid 30s C/90s F. The blazing hot, dry weather made us thirsty! My go-to drink was a Greek Frappe, an iced coffee drink made with instant coffee granules and slightly sweetened. A frothy frappe is the perfect pick-me-up in Greece!
(NOTE: we never would have chosen to travel in August, but we were traveling with US friends who were on vacation.)

Why Athens Disappointed Me
While standing atop the Acropolis was a fantastic experience, wading through hordes of pushy tourists was not.
I also was disappointed to see the Parthenon and other ancient structures covered in metal scaffolding and nearby construction cranes. I understand that the Greek ruins are old, but I had gotten so used to seeing historic Greek, Roman and Hittite ruins in Turkey in their more natural states. To this day, my favorite ruins we’ve seen are located in the ancient city of Aphrodisias, with a massive stadium dating back to 1st century AD!

During the summer, Athens becomes a sweltering, dusty, landlocked city. There’s no relief from the constant sunshine until nightfall. In Istanbul, even though temperatures do get just as hot, the city is located along the Bosphorus and the Black Sea so you have the cooling sea breezes to provide relief. In Athens, you have to drive about 30 minutes to reach the Mediterranean Sea.
It’s difficult not to have expectations of a place that you’ve heard and read so much about over the years. Athens was like that for me. I’ve read a few other bloggers, such as Dangerous Business, express similar feelings as me. I just expected Athens to impress me.
So is Athens worth seeing? Yes!

Would I visit again? Maybe. I still haven’t done the Greek islands properly, so that’s always a possibility.

Maybe it’s better NOT to have expectations. What do you think?

This post is linked up with #WeekendWanderlust by travel bloggers A Southern GypsyA Brit and a SouthernerJustin Plus Lauren and One Modern Couple. Hop on over to their blogs to see more travel stories or link up yourself!

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jaz@octoberfarm said...

anywhere hot is not for me. i just don't like hot. i think in general i am just really over traveling. too much for too many years and flying is no longer a pleasure.

Joy said...

Hi Joyce, yes hot is difficult to do especially when travelling! Well at least you had fun traveling when you were younger. No worries! :)

Noemi of Pinay Flying High said...

What you felt about Athens is what I felt about Paris when I visited it the first time. I guess I was expecting something else from it. But yeah, I do get why Athens didn't impress you - summer can be horrible and super touristic.

In my case, I live in the Middle East so I guess I didn't mind the heat in Athens at all. LOL.

Joy said...

@Noemi, Interesting...and I've loved Paris...been 3 times in the last 6 years! :) We just found out that some expat friends are moving to Athens, so we'll probably visit again, just not during peak season!

BacktoBodrum said...

I think Athens impresses if you haven't been to Istanbul before hand.

Joy said...

@Annie, lol...That's a good point! We'd already been living in Istanbul for 1 year and seen Pergamum, Heirapolis, Aphrodisias, etc. which are all quite impressive ruins. :)

We have friends moving to Athens soon so we may have to visit them!

Ruth said...

Difficult to admit but I feel a little bit the same about Athens. I think summer is not the best time to visit if you do not like heat and crowds. For me, Athens is good for foodies. The food is good and cheap. I am not that into shopping but I found good, unique things in there. In addition, I think the city will be better appreciated with a local.

Diane said...

I've never been to Greece but have heard similar things about Athens. From what I've read, the islands are worth it and just a day or two max in Athens is fine. The iced coffee looks heavenly!

Heather | Ferreting Out the Fun said...

I actually enjoyed Athens! I was there for nearly a week in September (several years ago), and the place felt surprisingly uncrowded compared to most Italian cities. I was hugely impressed with the ruins and how well-kept they appeared. Restaurants were great and, again, blissfully uncrowded. I'd take Athens over Rome any day of the week!

Anonymous said...

While I can see why Athens disappoints its visitors at first sight, I believe it's a great city. I've lived in many places, Istanbul included, and for me Athens is the most fascinating place I've been. The life style is open, relaxed and intense at the same time. The locals are light spirited, friendly and know how to enjoy life. The landscape is superb, beaches and mountains at hand, night life and art around. Greeks have theater in their blood. There are hundreds of shows in the city but every night. I have seen theater in London, in Broadway, but I have never seen audience with such connection to the show. It wasn't a love at first sight but the city grows in me. I am really glad I left Istanbul which as I hear becomes gloomier every day.

Agatha Singer said...

Thaere are so many prettiest places in Greece beyond Athens and Santorini! As for me, Rethymnon is one of the most beautiful Greek cities! Really long beach, nice golden sand, lifeguards on patrol, showers, duck boards, shallow entry to sea... A perfect place for a family vacation!

Emily Wilson said...

Athens is such a beautiful place. I cannot wait to explore this alluring place. Oh! The upcoming Rockwave festival is at the top of my list.

Harleen said...

Great Post! And the Pictures are astounding. Visiting Athens has been on the top of my bucket list since last five years. And now, finally, I am going to Greece next week. I am so excited to get there!

Hotels in Athens said...

Difficult to admit but I feel a little bit the same about Athens. I think summer is not the best time to visit if you do not like heat and crowds. For me, Athens is good for foodies. The food is good and cheap. I am not that into shopping but I found good, unique things in there. In addition, I think the city will be better appreciated with a local.