8 things to know before going to Athens

On December 2016, we got an opportunity to make a budget trip to Athens, so we jumped into it on the spot. As I’ve been in Greece say 4 times before, I didn’t anticipate any surprises, because: what could possibly be different? Wrong… I’ve been on the islands before and that made world of a difference. Don’t get me wrong, the trip was FANTASTIC and we absolutely loved the city and people, but I want to give you just a few tips before you travel to the capital of this wonderful country.

1. Check the current situation in the city!

Seriously, try to check the current political situation. When we arrived (07.12.2016) at 22.30 at the airport, we managed to get the last underground to the city center (18 euro per 2 people one way). We were incredibly lucky, as the day before there were some serious riots including the use of Molotov cocktails in the streets, which resulted in the massive strikes in almost every public sphere the day after our arrival. Had we arrived just a day later or before, we would have no way to get to the city via public transport, and the taxis at night can be quite expensive (around 50€) – not exactly the nicest way of starting holidays. Plus, when you get to the museum and hear that most exhibits are off for viewers due to the lack of personnel, who went on strike- this will probably raise your blood pressure as well.

2. Check the district in which you booked your accommodation

The obvious advice is: check how far from the city center your accommodation is and how you can get there. As with any other location, finding a cheap place to stay, but having to pay a significant amount of money and spend time on public transport may turn out to be not exactly the best deal. However, you can find fairly cheap hotels (40€ per night in a double room with breakfast/3* hotel) located even 700 meters  from the exact city center. That’s exactly, where we lived. Great, but… I’m generally strongly against any prejudices, but just keep in mind that you might end up feeling extremely uncomfortable on the small streets, especially in the evenings, surrounded by small groups of young guys in the neighborhood, where even the shops don’t always have Greek names. We’ve been offered several drugs without showing any interest in buying them (we even were chased by a dealer), some of which I can’t even repeat the name of and, unfortunately, we’ve seen the users of these substances with the syringes in their hands on our local street.  Seriously, my level of fear is generally fairly low, but I thought it would probably be wise not to go out running by myself even in the morning.

3. Try street food in the local restaurants

Time for a positive surprise. Before going, we read a lot about Greek street food, but we were honestly surprised by the popularity of this kind of snacks among the locals. It seemed that almost every other Greek was carrying some sort of a take-away snack, while rushing through the city. It was a good sign. The reality was even better… on almost every corner, there are lots of small restaurants (OK- mostly more like snack-bars, but doesn’t really matter in this case) with a variety of meals starting from literary 1€. Yeah… The average price of gyros is around 2-2.20€. The only thing to remember: try to stick with local dishes. The portion of French fries even in a bar can cost you at least twice the price of local food, but what you probably don’t know is that, in the majority of places, you’re going to get them inside of your gyros anyway. There’s absolutely no need to stick to sit-down restaurants, unless you’re willing to spend 3 or 4 times more for the same quality dish in which case: sure, go with it.

And one of the most crucial things for me: COFFEE. The Greeks seem to be equally addicted to this life-saving liquid as I am, so coffee can be bought absolutely everywhere, for the reasonable price of around 1,2 to 1,5€ (unless you visit Starbucks and pay more than for lunch…) But if you do wish to spend a bit more, but for a good reason, you should definitely try out one of the cafes situated on the roofs of the buildings surrounding the Monastriki. For a slightly higher price (4€ per latte), you can enjoy on outstanding view on the city life and the Acropolis.

4. Buy fruit and vegetable on the street market in the center.

Don’t make an assumption that the cheapest prices can only be found in supermarkets (which, by the way, are hard to be found in the city center- we only came across one…). We’ve seen a fish and meat market in the city center recommended on other blogs, but there turned out to be fruit and vegetables market right on the other side of the street as well, and there… MMMMmmm…. We came to Greece right in the middle of the season for citruses and the amount of fresh mandarins and oranges was overwhelming. And the price, I kid you not, 0,49€/kilo… Yeah…. And the guy just gave as a pomegranate as well and, I swear to god, it was one of the best I’ve ever had.

5. Be prepared that the ticket machines generally don’t work.

A good word of advice, especially when you always leave everything for the very last minute. If you want to take an underground or a train, look for the ticket office and stand in the queue, even though the ticket machines are almost everywhere. Why? They don’t work… Seriously, like none of them. It may be quite of an issue if you’re trying to catch the last train from the airport to the city and cannot buy tickets… For the same reason, you may consider buying a return ticket if you have such an opportunity, because sometimes finding an office in the smaller stations may be quite an adventure… Oh, but there are ticket machines, you may say… Oh yeah, they don’t work.

One thing that is absolutely great about Athens, that once you get to the city center everything is really close. If you want to hop from the Acropolis, say, to the Hadrian’s Library or one of the Agora’s- great, 10 minute walk and you’re there. We honestly only needed tickets to get to Piraeus (1,4€ one way), the rest of the city was perfectly walkable.

6. Ferries’ departure time

If you’re treating Athens as a departure point for Greek islands (which are wonderful, by the way…), you’ll probably be taking a ferry from the Piraeus Port (e.g. Athens-Crete- 40€). Well, I hope you’re not in a hurry and your patience level is fairly high… The delay for departure may be up to 2 hours. The lady in the ticket office will probably tell you to run, because the fairy is about to sail out, and then you stand on board for another hour or two looking for the trucks and cars being boarded. So just relax… The concept of time here is just slightly different.

7.  Scams

OK, first of all, we don’t consider the Greeks as being particularly greedy or anything. But, being in such a tourist-beloved place, the scams happen. Especially near Monastriki or, generally, in the city center.

The major two:

The guy approaches you and gives you the ‘fist bump’ or any initiates any other physical contact with your hand. Once you do this, he immediately puts a bracelet on your wrist claiming that it was already bought and that you should obviously pay for that. Our advice for that? Be polite but strict and don’t get into physical contact.

The other one is very similar, say you go on the street and a girl with balloons comes to you and asks if you could hold them for her. And once you do, it’s the same story as with the bracelets. And trust me, once you get those balloons, it’s hard to get yourself out without actually paying. So just in case, don’t touch them

8. Combine tickets for attractions

And the last advice concerns mostly travelling off-season. Firstly, if you’re into visiting all ancient ruins and dive into history, which is probably why you bothered travelling to Athens, there is a combined ticket, like: buy once, visit all ancient places: both Agoras, the Acropolis, Hadrian’s Library, the Temple of Zeus (not entirely true, as it does not include the entrance to the Olympic Stadium and, for instance, the Archaeological Museum).  Generally, it’s a great option if you’re going to visit those places anyway. However, this ticket costs 30€ (December 2016) and if you visit Athens in the off-season period, it’s possible that some of the attractions are closed due to renovation process. Make sure you ask about it before paying for the ticket, as it may turn out to be not the best option and only get on your nerves if half of the attractions turn out to be unavailable (which actually happened to one of our friends in previous February).

These are just some of the points that you might want to have in mind while travelling. However, going to Athens was a wonderful experience and we had such a good time there. It’s definitely a must see if you are in Europe!!!

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