Athens city guide. Tips for neighborhoods and hotels.
There are several stereotypes about modern Athens. So, reading references of those who visited it, you might get an impression that it is about several cities.
Some tourists remark that Athens is a clean and cozy city, beautiful buildings, people here are polite, sea views, plenty of cafes, bars, restaurants with friendly staff. On the contrary, another visitor's opinion might somehow note only the dark side of the city life, such as demonstrations against crisis and austerity measures, homeless people sleeping on the street. More or less you will face such icons in almost every big city of the world, but only in Athens you will detect how the past is intertwined with the present, like you are travelling in an a time machine. In summary: Athens is a living organism, and all this inconsistencies are simply components of its unique charm.
So, there is the Solonos Street (named after the famous ancient Greek philosopher and legislator), which begins from the Omonia district and it ends in Kolonaki area. If you measure the distance between these two points, you will have only a few kilometres length. But two completely different worlds are co-existing along it.
Omonia area is the old centre of Athens, its heart. Until the end of the 80s Omonia was a trade market and partly also the administrative centre of the city. Not far from here is located the central railway station, and as there was no underground till 2004, the main passengers stream passed through this single area, using different kind of transportation, mostly busses. As it was an extremely busy area, no wonder that exactly there we can find a lot of hotels, concentrated on a relatively small piece of land. This reflects the economic and demographic map of Athens until the end of the 80s. The situation gradually changed in 90s, when other new business artery developed in the city. Since then the meaning of a “business centre” was not applied to Omonia anymore. And just before the Olympic games 2004, the new metro lines appeared and changed significantly the "city map".
Of course I will not affirm, that the Athens Metro is the most beautiful worldwide, but conceptually, it is perhaps the most extraordinary underground in Europe. As an example, the central Station of Syntagma is actually a small archeological museum.
The appearance of a subway and the increase of highways through all the city, just abolished Omonia as centre of the city. But many hotels remain there. Just before the Olympic Games 2004, because of government subsidies the biggest part of hotels in Athens, and of course those which are located at Omonia, had been renovated, without affecting the status of the area in general ( unfortunately ). Comparing to several other areas of the city, the average real-estate price in Omonia remains quite low. That explains, why this area is inhabited mostly by emigrants from all of the world.
Because of the same reason (low real estate price) all this good hotels at Omonia offer low-cost, good level, services to their visitors.
Walking up along the Solonos Street, you leave the Omonia district and now you are behind the building of the city University. Turning on the right, you will get into Exarheia, the most “left” ( the term “ most leftist” passes even better) quarter of the city. In this area are concentrated representatives of all kinds of the far- left political beliefs, mostly of young age, in the wide meaning of this word. By "wide meaning" of the word “youth” we mean those people, who even in the age of around 60 year old position themselves as youth: it is about how you feel you see. And don’t forget, in this country the average life expectancy remains one of the longest in Europe, so it is not a surprise that some people still feel young in their 60ies!
Walking till the end of the Solonos Street till the foot of the Lycabetus Mountain, you will reach the Kolonaki area. Here you will be able to see the glamorous and sophisticated Athens. Elite boutique shops, classy restaurants, where on the next table to you it is quite possible to see many celebrities from the business or politics world; places, mostly visited by the so called “golden youth” .
On the top of the Lycabetus Hill is located one of the best city restaurants called “Orizontes”
From the observation deck, on the top of Lycabetus Hill you can have a divine panoramic view of all the Athens in front of you.
The distance between Kolonaki and Omonia is only few kilometers, but if in Kolonaki (prior the crisis ) the price of real estate was average 6-7 hundreds Euros per square meter, then in Omonia real estate became so cheap, that the maintenance cost makes real estate extremely unprofitable. Don’t be surprised therefore that some land lords simply abandoned their houses.
Something intermediate between Kolonaki and Omonia is the Syntagma area, the modern center of Athens. Before of the Olympic Games 2004, the Constitution Square ( “syntagma” means “constitution” in Greek) experienced one more phase of renovation.
Along the perimeter of the Syntagma district there are located the most significant monuments of the city, such as the Athens Acropolis, the old town called Plaka, Monastiraki area, pedestrian streets with bars and restaurants.
Where to stay. It is better to choose the hotel for your stay in Athens using the search engine www.booking.com There you will find the largest numbers of reference of tourists from all the world, the best criterion by choosing the hotel to stay.
What to see. Lyssipos ( who, as it seems, had been one pretty famous worker of tourism branch at his time) perhaps by making the presentation of the sightseeing tour of Athens & Acropolis, expessed his passion to this city just in one sentence: “You're a chump if you have not seen Athens ! If you've seen it and not admired – you are a donkey! And if voluntarily left Athens - you are a camel! ".
There is the remarkable difference between the Greek touristic product and similar touristic products of other countries of this geographical region: Greece “includes all”, when at the same time in other countries of region mostly we see the “all inclusive”. It would be strange, being in Greece, to shut yourself just in a bounded space of even the most luxury hotel. Of course, opinions differ and are respected. But! Here in Greece, right on the corner behind of your hotel, you suddenly may discover a place, marked simply by the sigh like ”The History Was written here” ,or “That Legend Born Here”. What’s more exiting? And you haven’t been in Athens, if you haven’t see the Acropolis. The word “acropolis” mean’s “the top of the city”, so by visiting this sacred place, you actually lift up yourself to the hights, where the human and the divine simply coexists!
Of course besides the Athens Acropolis, there are many other sights in Athens worth to visit. Many tourists wonder, why only ancient monuments , how about medieval ones? Many tourists have the impression that the antiquity was only one splendid page of Greek history, but all what followed was just the pale reflection of it.
On the other hand, other cities, such as Rome (because in Europe only Rome can be compared to Athens in terms of history) has many amazing monuments from both the middle age and the modern time. Against the background of Rome, Athens looks like an uncompleted painting: If we wish to see it only as an illustration of the history of Greece. Then it looks rather sketchy – antiquity , and then the contemporaneity. Such a stereotype appears, because people often miss up the geography of the modern Greece as a state, and the geography of a Greek culture and Greek civilization.
In fact, because of many and different circumstances, the most significant monuments of the medieval phase of the Greek history remains outside of the territory of modern Greece, and concretely – on the territory of modern Turkey. First of all, it’s about the Constantinople (Istanbul). Greeks themselves realise that quite well, so don’t be surprised, when you will never here from Greek people the name of Istanbul. This city is called by Greeks only by its historical name –Constantinopole.
A funny scene you can see at the Athens international Airport, when the departure to “that” city is announced. On the scoreboard is written “Istanbul” in Latin letters, then the nameplate gets replaced and for Greeks in Greek is written “Constantinople”. Poor tourists! They are getting confused, hardly trying to understand, where exactly they are finally going to go. Such a travel adventure!
What about the combination of Athens and Constantinople, so just try to imagine such a situation, when by fate the city of Paris turned to Spain, but the capital city of France becomes Lyon. Then after the visit of both of them, the tourist would ask, of-course, where is the Louvre? Or Versailles? Athens is like the city of Lyon in the Greek history, Athens mean’s Acropolis plus the four million cities around of it. And in a similar way, as the history of France is not only the history of the city of Lyon, Greek history is famous not only for Athens, but particularly for Athens.
Where you can travel and what you can see more in Greece, please see in a chapter “Travel Guides in Greece”.