Athens is so old that one would be forgiven for trying to make a “Yo’ mama” joke. From myths, gods, war and philosophy to today, Athens — and Greece — have come a long way.
The Greek economic crisis not only gave rise to hoaxes about Disney buying the country, but has also made travel cheaper — locals prize tourism more, hotels are cheaper, the gas prices have reduced traffic (incredible but true), and yet, the good stuff—great food, fantastic scenery and the grandeur of history – are still there and as alluring as ever.
Start with a free walking tour of the city. See major attractions like the Acropolis and the Parthenon and discover why Greece really is the perfect country – every year, from November 1 to March 31, Sundays bring free admission to the various sights and attractions. Which means that if you start your Sunday nice and early, you can actually see almost everything for free.
What a wonderful world! In between Sundays, you can station yourself at Syntagma Square, sighing in lazy satisfaction with every ceremonial changing of the guard as well as at the many pedestrians heading to the nearby uber-busy metro station.
Take a walk in the National Gardens and feed the ducks or urge the turtles to go faster. History is also free at Athens, with sights like the Roman Baths, Hadrian’s Arch, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and even Aristotle’s Lyceum — all either visible from the road or open to the public.
Or take yourself off to museums – the National Archaeological Museum is particularly fine, and oh, yes, free on the first Sunday of the month from November 1 and March 31, Kanellopoous Museum, housing jewellery, clay, icons, figurines and more, and, at the foothills of Plaka, the nearby Centre of Folk Art and Tradition. The Museum of Greek Popular Instruments in Athens is also free.
If you’re itching to spend some cash, take day-trips to local weekend favourite Aegina Island, an hour away. You can also flaunt your (imaginary) wealth on the Athenian Riviera, or the Apollo Coast beaches with clear waters and breathtaking scenery.
LEAVE ON A JET PLANE: Return flights start at 506USD from Mumbai and New Delhi.
VISA: 68USD, plus a VFS service fee from 13USD.
GET AROUND: Athens couldn’t be more perfect, it has a convenient, easy public transportation system of includes buses, trams and the metro. Get a tourist ticket that will get you an airport round-trip, and travel on all public transportation, valid for three days. If you’re in Athens for more than three days, buy a five-day ticket that’s valid on all modes of transport.
STAY: Try City Circus Hostel, Athens Backpackers or Athens Choice. If you prefer hotels, The Omonia area is a good option – it’s central and has many budget hotels. Despite its less-than-sterling reputation, it’s relatively safe as long as basic precautions are followed.
EAT AND DRINK: Restaurants are expensive and may deplete your funds fast. Street food in Athens is cheap and delicious. A gyros is really filling. Another great option for breakfast is bougatsa, a delicious, custard-filled pastry. Souvlaki (grilled meat in pita, like a shawarma) is also a cheap and filling option. If you want to be even more canny, or plan to stay longer, buy basic non-perishables and cook.
Most hostels have communal kitchens that you are free to use.
WHEN TO GO: Avoid the months of July and August, when hotels and the weather will try to fleece you. April to May and September to October are much cheaper, and less crowded. The water is also much cooler then.