Before going to Athens I had many preconceptions, which this amazing city changed in a heartbeat. It's less about the history and more about the atmosphere, which is immensely romantic. This city is too often overlooked by travelers!
I got Athens wrong! The German image of Athens is that it's exceedingly dirty and loud and full of traffic. I didn't think I would need much time there. Well, the Germans got it wrong. The traffic situation over the last years has improved immensely. There are three modern metro lines and quarters like Plaka are mostly car-free.
Before I went, I thought Athens was about the ruins and the history. But it's really about the food and the atmosphere. It's lively and chaotic and romantic and beautiful. It quickly became one of my favourite cities ever. And I'm almost reluctant to share this because I would like to keep this a secret. So Athens will stay my hidden place - mine and the 7 million inhabitants.
Fortunately, my planning was loose enough so that I could make many adjustments on the fly. And to be honest, my bucketlist2life app helped quite a bit.
A hostel located close to Monastiraki Square is a great choice. It's close enough to all the sights and the touristy areas but also very close to the local areas.
Doing a free walking tour gives you a great overview of the highlights and hidden gems as well as the history and geography. And in my case, it led to one amazing find: a free food walking tour. This is where I fell deeply in love with the food in Athens. We tried feta cheese and olives and bougatsa and so much more. But almost the best thing about this tour were the restaurant recommendations.
And this is where my bucketlist2life app came in very handy. I could quickly save markers using my GPS location for every place that looked interesting. And some of these places weren't even on Google Maps! I tried several of them and none of them disappointed.
For me, the historic sights of Athens started to play a secondary role as soon as I got there. Walking there through the little alleyways, sitting down in lovely cafes on the way and soaking up the atmosphere was just as nice.
Don't get me wrong, the Acropolis is amazing but it's definitely dangerous to overhype places. And that had happened to me. The thing is: you don't see historic significance. You only see old buildings. The information onsite is sparse, so I would recommend you to read up before you go so you don't have to do it in the immense heat - there's barely any shade at the top and very few seating options.
I would still recommend buying the special ticket package. I really enjoyed the Ancient Agora and the Kerameikos. Hadrian's Library, the Roman Agora, and the Olympieio were nice quick central additions. Next time, I would skip the Lykeion because it's a bit out of the way and again - you don't see historic significance.
It was amazing just strolling through the little alleys of quarters like Plaka and Psiri. A real highlight of Athens is the Anafiotika area just beneath the Acropolis. It looks like a Greek island and is immensely romantic.
Additionally, there are some great sunset views in Athens. Many hotels and restaurants do have rooftops where you can overlook the city and see the Acropolis. My favourite sunset spot was Areopagus hill right next to the Acropolis. The atmosphere is super lively and after the sun has set you can walk over to the other side to see the lights turn on on the Acropolis.
If you're seriously into photography or want a bit more history, you could also climb Philopappos hill, but in my opinion, it's not really worth the climb.
Like I mentioned above, all the recommendations from the free food walking tour were amazing. Additionally, Mark Wiens pulled through again. Because of him, I ended up going to an underground restaurant where an old man serves the dish of the day without a menu. And I went to the amazing central market, where you cannot only buy your fresh meat, fish and produce but also have amazing food.
What really surprised me about Athens was the sheer amount of instagramable cafes and restaurants. I fell deeply in love with Little Kook, a fairytale themed dessert restaurant. Surprisingly, the food was great and reasonably priced.
Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way that these restaurant recommendations made a huge difference because I ended up going to quite a tourist trap on my last evening. I had gotten too brave because all other restaurants I had been to were great.
So what do I do about this? After my beach trip, I will come back to Athens! And probably many times more...