Athens is an absolutely marvelous place, no doubt about it. We thoroughly enjoyed our recent visit and definitely plan on going back at some point in the future. Nonetheless, it is not a perfect place. No place in the world is. I have alluded to the three sides on our postcard post, but l will delve into it a little more.
As tourists, we often gloss over the great parts of a place and rarely see the true local side of said place. It’s understandable, after all, you’re on vacation and world problems should not be on your mind. Regular readers know l try to present what l see in all its glory, and crappiness, This will be no exception. I present to you our observations on the good, bad and ugly sides of Athens.
Good, Bad and Ugly Sides of Athens Greece
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Athens is the capital of Greece with a population of just over 11 million people, so yes…very crowded. The heart of the city is Syntagma (Constitution) Square. This square is definitely the most famous part of Athens, a lively part of town.
The Parliament building is located here. Once upon a time, it used to be the King’s Palace. Built between 1836 and 1840 by King Otto, who had daddy (Ludwig I of Bavaria) pay for it. Fun fact: The original plan had been to build the King’s palace on the Acropolis! Thank god it never came to pass. Can you imagine tearing down that history to put up a dime a dozen palace? Syntagma Square is where all the protests and parties (New Year’s Eve etc) happens. Among the government buildings, there are tons of shops and cafes.
Here’s a video l did on the changing of the guard, a fun thing to see in Athens. Sorry for the shaky hand in the beginning, but l rarely do this :-). I love how they imitate the movement of horses.
The Good side of Athens:
Food and drink:
Food and drink is a good side of Greece as a whole. It is hard not to eat well. The food is hearty and delicious. We had lots of really good traditional food. We had an amazing foodie tour and we sampled lots of coffee drinks that we enjoyed thoroughly.
I have never been a huge fan of drinking to excess or pub crawling, but l do enjoy a good glass of wine or cocktail. The area of Athens we stayed at, called Psyrri, is a bohemian and artsy neighborhood. About a 20-30 minute walk from Syntagma square.
Iroon square, which is the very heart of the Psyrri neighborhood, has tons of eateries with live music, and lots of bars. I mean bars with proper tables and chairs with dark interiors and great music. I confess l don’t know what they become after 11 or so because l am in bed :-), but during the day, they are wonderful to hang out in. Some had Greek music, some jazz, my favourite were the ones with bossa nova music. We actually went pub crawling, going from one to the next, having coffee drinks (mostly Federico) and cocktails (mostly me). Absolutely loved it.
We found cute little off the wall places to eat, everything from kebabs to gyros. I can’t remember eating anything bad. The fact that the prices were reasonable was an added bonus.
The people were very friendly, warm and smiled a lot. Everyone was eager to help when we got lost, sometimes even walking us to the metro station. It was pleasant haggling with the traders, they weren’t aggressive like in Marrakesh, which was a nightmare for Federico, but fun for me..felt just like home!
Athens – Home of the Greek Gods and Goddesses:
Greek mythology is alive and well. Being able to see where it all began is a joy. If you can afford it, I think everyone should visit Athens at least once in their lifetime. Sightseeing in Athens is mind blowing. Places such as the:
Some of the best things to see in Athens include: (Things to do in Athens Greece)
- Acropolis – 5th century hilltop temple of the gods that includes the Parthenon with its magnificent columns.
- Acropolis museum where you can discover the treasures unearthed from the Acropolis
- Temple of Zeus dedicated to the Greek god Zeus
- Monastiraki – flea market neighborhood located close to Syntagma square
- Temple of Hephaestus
- Temple of Athena (definitely one of the top things to see in Athens. It’s magnificent)
Athens tourist attractions: If you’re looking for Athens tours, we recommend GetYourGuide tours, which we have personally used on our trips.
It seems like there is a temple dedicated to every Greek god! 🙂 . This time around, we didn’t really seek them out much as l’d already visited them on my first trip to Athens.
Street Art in Athens:
When they’re good, they’re very good. We found some great street art in Athens in the neighborhood of Psyrri, right off the main square. There are some very talented artists. If you’re interested in a taking a street art tour, reserve your spot here.
Athens weather is pretty good year round. There are few days of rain and the average temperature is 84 degrees which is quite nice. August is the hottest month to visit Athens. In the winter, the temperature drops to about 59-62 degrees which is still hot for some. Weather in Greece in October is about 74 degrees and October, along with April seems to be the best times to visit Athens.
The Bad Side of Athens: (Bad Things About Athens)
- Drug Abuse
- Stray Cats
Drug Abuse in Athens:
The two often go hand in hand l know, good and bad. It’s hard not to notice the increased number of drug addicts that are in Athens. Eating outside on the sidewalk is a thing in Europe. Neither one of us like this. The sidewalks are often dirty and l hate people passing by peering at my food, dogs sniffing and doing their business or peeing in front of me, and boy..the sidewalks are dirty and stink! (worse in Spain).
We saw at least five separate instances where drug abusers were tweaking and it brought back nasty memories of my pharmacy years. Tweaking is when meth users (tweakers) become unpredictable, paranoid, and might be dangerous, usually at the end of a drug binge.
One woman was screaming because she felt something/someone was hurting her, was scratching herself furiously and taking off her clothes as she walked, all her teeth were rotten. A man was trying to calm her down, but he looked in the same sad shape.
Another time, a man in a red shirt was in a fit, just rolling on the floor and yelling angrily, and went about punching the tree shrubs, he was quite close to the diners. I was a bit scared honestly, and would have moved had Federico not been with me.
I did notice though, that the employees come out in full force, to gawk, but to also probably make sure that their clients are not disturbed, which is kind of re-assuring. We didn’t take any pictures because l really don’t care to showcase human despair.
There is some compassion with the bad side of Greece as we noticed that quite a few of the cafes feed the homeless. We made sure to revisit the establishments that did that. The homeless people would stand at a particular spot and wait. When the waitress/waiter had a spare minute, she would bring out food for them, they would take it, and go away.
There was only one exception. A waitress had given a man a sandwich but he defiantly refused to leave. He just stood there eating. Now, this guy looked like a hobo, matted hair, torn clothes and l’m sure smelled badly. We weren’t very close to him, but l could tell it was disturbing to the nearest diners.
She called another waitress who came out and talked to the guy firmly in an angry and raised voice and that made him finally leave. It was sad to see, and while l feel sorry for them, I just would rather not be exposed to that. If that makes me a cold, unfeeling twat, then so be it. I think it’s just a part of everyday life there and the people just get used to it, it is however quite jarring for visitors to Athens.
Probably the biggest reason is my fear of cats! They are freaking everywhere. I will overturn the table if one gets close! 🙂 Anyway, we prefer to eat inside. Sometimes, depending on how the exterior seating is, we will seat outside and have drinks. If you are not fond of cats, you should probably get seated inside as they will bother you.
Homelessness in Athens:
One of the bad things about Greece on the whole is the rampant homelessness. The country still hasn’t recovered from the world crisis when a lot of people lost their money, housing and life. I had previously mentioned the high amount of homeless people that were sleeping in the doorways of houses in the area where we stayed.
There were also lots of homeless sleeping in the nearby parks. I can only imagine how much worse the refugees have it as this was mostly a locals area. We saw people sleeping during the day in the porticoes just off the beautiful Monastiraki square. I assume the situation is only going to get worse.
Graffiti in Athens:
When they’re bad, they are simply horrible! The bad art makes you think Athens is ugly. Does this look good to anyone except to someone in a drug induced haze? They cover the houses, stores and streets with it. The same can be said for a great part of Spain, and l think it’s terrible too. I’m not sure when defamation became art :-)!
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The Ugly side of Athens:
Survival Sex: Prostitution in Athens
What happens to most of the refugees fleeing war torn countries that end up in Athens? A bleak life with no end in sight. Syntagma square for all its beauty, also has a dark side. A side where these young men turn to prostitution to survive. It’s so disheartening to read these stories.
Here is a video that does a better job than me of showing you how things are that l watched recently. These boys are trapped in a world where the only way to survive is to become male hustlers. We were told by both our host and our food guide to stay away from Omonia Square (this article made me aware of that before we arrived) especially at night because it’s ground zero. We took the advice.
A quick Google search will bring you tons of stories on how hard life is for these young boy. It’s a growing problem. When a 16 year old says he wished he could die that very night because he has no future and his advice to future refugees? Don’t come. It’s better to stay and live with the war. They keep getting younger too. We hear about the girls, but the boys are caught up in the same vicious cycle.
Overall thoughts on the good, bad and ugly sides of Athens:
Should you visit Athens, Greece despite all this?
Of course you should! Now that you know the good, bad and ugly sides of Athens, you are more prepared than ever for your visit. The beauty and the history alone should make you want to visit, not to mention the people. Once again, no place is perfect. It’s no different than any city in America with the drug abuse and prostitution. Would you not visit New York because of Times Square? Thankfully, unlike the U.S, the people in Athens don’t carry guns.
Tourism, apart from shipping, is the biggest money maker for Greece. After a devastating economic downturn, the country is slowly recovering and they need that money. There are so many cities and islands to visit in this diverse country, you’re bound to find someplace you’ll love, like Heraklion , Crete where we spent some time and had a fantastic time. We spent a total of 15 days in Greece on our holiday and are eager for more. Is Athens worth visiting? The answer is a resounding yes! There are so many things to do in Greece also besides Athens, so get out there.
Where to stay in Athens Greece – We stayed in Pysrri and we really liked it. It is funky, bohemian and artsy. We stayed at a rental studio flat which was very central and had a stunning view of the Acropolis. My only complaint would be the bathroom which is tiny, but apart from that, it was spotlessly clean, had everything you needed. The WiFi was super fast and the A/C was insanely efficient. I don’t know if it’s the best place to stay in Athens, but we really liked it and would stay there again.
Essential tips for Athens travel:
- Comfy shoes are a must. Those cobblestone streets are no joke, and make sure they have grip.
- A hat is a great idea, especially if you’re follicle challenged like us :-). Federico ended up purchasing that hat because he forgot his.
- Suntan lotion. I shouldn’t even have to tell you that :-), but it’s easy to forget.
- Portable charger for your phone. Trust me on that one!
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Don’t forget your travel insurance!
Have you been to Athens? or any other part of Greece? What were your observations? Did you see the good, bad and ugly sides of Athens?