HERE’S THE TRUTH: I have never once dreamed of going to Greece. Sure, I’d seen the picturesque Instagram posts of girls in flowing dresses surrounded by clear blue sea water and a skyline of purely white and terra-cotta-roofed buildings, but none of that really struck a chord with me. When I think of Greece, I think of two things: First, a country with a less than booming economy and second, really old stuff. So, when my girlfriend offered to take me with her on a business trip to Athens, I happily jumped at the opportunity to take a break from my 9-to-5 job—but wasn’t really over-the-moon excited about our destination.
Spoiler alert: I was totally wrong.
What I actually found was that Greece (and particularly Athens) was an amazing place filled with kind (and very LGBTQ-accepting) people. The city had some of the best seafood I’ve ever had in my life, and it proved to be very forgiving on my wallet. So, for any other skeptics out there, here’s my first-hand guide on how to do Athens right—and how to fall in love with Greece while you do it.
NEED TO KNOW
Upon arriving in Athens, I noticed one major thing: English is everywhere. I’ll admit, I didn’t exactly read up on the Greek language before I arrived, so I was relieved to find that my ignorance was tolerated in this country. While you can absolutely get by without knowing a single word of Greek, I would suggest coming more prepared than I did. By day two of my journey, I had picked up on at least one word that allowed me to enter a store or restaurant without seeming too obviously American: Yassas (pronounced Yah-Sas). It means “hello.” And if you’re really lazy, you can shorten it to a sweet but simple “yas”(pronounced YAHS). This worked out well for me because all I had to do was channel my inner Valley girl and I could pretty much get away with smiling and nodding the rest of the time.
WHAT TO DO
Setting foot into Athens is like entering a piece of history. It’s actually quite remarkable how the city has managed to maintain so much of its old-world charm while still catering to the Starbucks and H&Ms of the modern-day world. I highly recommend dedicating at least two days to viewing The Acropolis, The Parthenon, Pláka, The Temple of Zeus and the Panathenaic Stadium (which hosted the original Olympic games).
If shopping is your thing, take a trip to Ermou. Located just off of Syntagma Square, Ermou is basically a larger version of the Santa Monica, Calif., 3rd Street Promenade. Personally, I prefer vintage shops. And while Athens hasn’t quite caught on to the vintage craze in the way that the States have, the city definitely offers some ace second-hand stores. A quick five-minute walk from my hotel led me to Yesterday’s Bread (106 83, Kallidromiou 87)—a small, but fierce vintage boutique that sports a punk rock vibe. There you’ll find all the ‘80sstyle jackets and Converse your wildest dreams could imagine.
If you’re more of a high-end vintage shopper, check out Kilo Shop (Ermou 120). Located on the outskirts of Ermou, Kilo Shop is a Parisian store that offers vintage clothing priced by the kilogram. I visited the store three times during my stay in Athens, and even convinced my model girlfriend to spend a few hours trying on second-hand clothing while there.
WHEN TO GO
Most people will tell you that the prime time to travel to Greece is in the summer. This is because the best (and quite frankly, the ONLY) thing to do during the summer is to travel to the Islands. The average temperature during tourist season (June-August) gets to around 80-to-90 degrees Fahrenheit. During this time, the Greek Islands of Crete, Santorini and Mykonos (to name a few) are flooded with tourists from all over the world seeking refuge from the hot city climate. I didn’t visit in the summer; instead, I traveled to Athens in March.
While I definitely missed out on the sunbathing weather, I found that this was the perfect time to explore some of the more touristy destinations in Athens. Not only were places like Acropolis and the Temple of Zeus less crowded, but hiking up to the giant structures was a pleasant (and non-sweaty) experience. Even strolling through areas like Pláka—the oldest neighborhood of Athens—normally filled with street vendors, tourists and high-priced street food—seemed casual and occasionally empty.
I’ll probably go back to the Islands one of these upcoming summers, but I’ve been told by my local Greek friends that during the season, you’re practically cheek-to-cheek with other sun-seeking tourists on the beach. And, quite frankly, this New Yorker would rather visit paradise when less congested and more accessible.
WHERE TO STAY
My girlfriend, Rain, and I stayed in a hotel near Pedion Areos Park called the Radisson Blu Park (Leof. Alexandras 10, rbathenspark.com). To be honest, our hotel was complimentary and averaged about 100 euros per night, but when doing research, I found that housing in Athens was incredibly affordable. A private home in a very safe neighborhood in Athens would run you anywhere from $30 to $50 per night on Airbnb.
Our hotel was conveniently located about a five-minute walk from the Victoria Metro Station. If you’re familiar with the NYC or DC Metro systems, you’ll have no problem navigating Athens’ public transportation. That being said, most cabs between the touristy parts of Athens will run you about 5 euros, which is a small price to pay for convenience.
Pro tip: Always make sure your cab driver starts the meter. And if he or she tries to charge you anything over 5 euros for going from one tourist destination to the next, ask for a receipt and I guarantee they’ll come clean with the real price.
WHERE TO EAT
I’m going to be honest: If you’re a vegetarian, I have zero food suggestions for you in Athens. While in Greece, Rain and I gorged on souvlaki and many other traditional Greek meat-based dishes. That being said, the Greeks do salad right. It’s basically some fresh-cut tomatoes, onions, pepper and olives doused in olive oil with a huge slab of feta cheese on top.
My favorite restaurant was one we discovered from a few locals called Αυλή (Avli) (12 Agiou Dimitriou). If seafood is your thing, I highly recommend visiting the Greek Islands. We didn’t have time to take more than a day trip, so we settled on a quick hour-long ferry ride to the island of Aegina. Aegina is an amazing town full of beach-style shops and classic Greek restaurants. Rain and I found a small restaurant located across from a fish market called Geladakis. For under 60 euros, we feasted on shrimp, calamari, a whole Gilt-head Seabream and more wine than I can recall.
The area of Kolonaki has some of the most vibrant nightlife. It’s a neighborhood in central Athens that’s known for its shopping, fashion
The area of Kolonaki has some of the most vibrant nightlife. It’s a neighborhood in central Athens that’s known for its shopping, fashion statements and clubbing. I kept asking where the gay bars were in the city and most people just laughed and said every bar had a gay scene. I’m not sure I totally believe this, but during the five nights of partying in Athens, I sure did see a lot of lesbians.
One of my favorite experiences of the entire trip was going to Greek Night at a bar called Rock n Roll (Kolonaki 14 Square). It was kind of like going to a ‘90s-themed party in which everyone knew the words to every single song and danced like no one was watching.
Sierra Jiminez is the Senior Video Producer at Elite Daily.