July 20, 2022 5 min read 1 Comment
Solo Travel in Greece. Couples vacation in Greece. Port Days in Greece.
I’ve been lucky to have all of these experiences and more.
For someone who considers herself well-traveled, how did I not know the name of this country is not Greece? The true name of this country is Hellas. So how the “Hellas” did I not know this (ok, that is a cheap one)? The answer is fairly simple. It turns out that the words "Greece" and "Hellas" both have Greek roots, but "Greece" was adopted by the Romans (as the Latin word "Graecus"), and later adopted into English.
There is so much to explore (and love) in the Greek Islands, so I’ll focus on two of my favorite travel destinations in Greece - Athens, and Santorini.
A year is not enough time to explore all the neighborhoods of Athens, even over multiple trips. Not long ago, during a one-week stay, my partner and I walked almost 100km while exploring (yes, nearly 63 miles). I believe this qualifies as having absorbed a good bit of the energy and feel of areas explored.
We rented a “loft” apartment in the Monastiraki neighborhood through Airbnb. I emphasize the search term “loft” because this area has many converted industrial buildings. Airbnb has an amazing selection of great lofts in Athens, many of which have private jacuzzis and even small pools with views of the city and its monuments.
Monastiraki is brimming with restaurants and coffee shops tucked away in unsuspecting places, which leads me to one of our favorite daily pastimes - exploring a new neighborhood on the walk to a late breakfast and hours of lively conversation. I don’t think I’ve ever been in any city with as many interesting places inviting you to come in and sit a bit.
Afternoons were spent visiting monuments and seeking new adventures on foot. These are a few of my favorite experiences. I promise none will disappoint.
While this is a given, the Acropolis Museum is not to be missed. Focused on the archaeological site of the Acropolis of Athens, the museum was built to house every artifact found on the rock, and on the surrounding slopes, from the Greek Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece. Phenomenal.
As I have a passion for libraries worldwide, I was definitely going to head here to see the remains of the largest structure erected by Hadrian. It was constructed in 132 AD on the north side of the Acropolis to house Hadrian’s papyrus books. Not just a library, it also held music and lecture rooms. Entrance is allowed on the same ticket as the Acropolis.
While I did not want to stay in this congested area (think Las Ramblas in Barcelona), it too is a wonderland of small streets and shops. The main street is called Ermou Street and has all the requisite shopping. I prefer to head closer to the Acropolis where the neighborhood becomes called Anafiotika. This is the kind of place that makes my heart sing. Tiny coffee shops, independently owned boutiques, and a vibrant rich texture of humanity.
You must visit a rooftop bar when in Athens. The overwhelming vista of old and new is not to be missed. We tried three or four but my favorite was “A is for Athens” overlooking Monastiraki Square.
In the end, my favorite neighborhood is Psyri (also spelled Psirri and Psiri). This funky neighborhood is filled with magnificent restaurants, coffee bars, and street art and it’s so colorful there is a bit of sensory overload. Think NYC’s East Village 25 years ago. Psyri is near Monastiraki and at times we were not sure which area we were exploring as neighborhoods weave together seamlessly.
I read somewhere that this Saturday Market is a bit like the Grand Bazaar in Instanbul but not so grand and not so bazaar. I had to go and have a look. Part locals going about peddling or buying goods, part the requisite Orthodox icon tee shirts and other tourist essentials. I loved seeing what the locals brought out of their homes to sell. I will return.
Our evenings were spent switching between casual stumbled upon places for a meal and destinations we had researched. My two favorite restaurants and a must-go-to coffee bar are listed below, and Athens has fantastic street food too..
This unique restaurant offers a culinary exploration of the Sephardic Cuisine of the Mediterranean. Gostijo means “sharing food” in Ladino, the traditional language of Sephardic Jews. And this is the aim of the restaurant – to share the traditional Sephardic recipes and the rich and ancient culture of Sephardic Jews by offering characteristic delicacies from Spain, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Greece, and other countries.
A fantastic gem hidden in a wall by the Acropolis. Opened in the early 1960s, you will find the owners’ passion combined with Greek hospitality and Greek traditional recipes made with pure Greek products..
Located in Monastiraki, Taf is my favorite coffee bar in Athens for people watching.
I loved the chai tea and coffee culture I discovered on this trip – a welcome discovery in a city better known for Ouzo and Patras. While muddy/gritty traditional Greek coffee is everywhere, it now seems a whole new younger and vibrant coffee culture has emerged. The baristas won’t hesitate to add a local twist like honey to your coffee or Greece’s popular Freddo iced coffee preparation. It is great fun to sample coffees on a day of exploration, and there’s amazing street art and an emerging restaurant scene.
As a predominantly solo traveler, I found Greek men can be more forward than say…the Brits or Germans, but they generally disappear when ignored or politely asked to leave you alone. Honestly, I feel you can generally travel in Greece safely.
After dark, Athens can be a different thing. Just as in any large city, there is an element of crime and you want to keep an eye on your belongings. Above, I referenced the neighborhoods of Monastiraki, Psyri, as my favorites. They have some of the most colorful and vibrant nightlife but the borders between safe and unsafe neighborhoods can be difficult to discern. Use the same common sense you would use anywhere else in the world. And a good, cross-body bag is always a smart choice.
By now, you’re probably ready to pack for a trip to Greece. Santorini is a marvelous place filled with beautiful vistas, amazing hikes, and delicious food. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Travel Destinations in Greece where I’ll share some of my favorite hidden treasures in Santorini.
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