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Athens in Five Districts

Although the economic crisis has left its mark in the capital, as some buildings along its central streets have become noticeably decadent, Athens is well worth visiting, and enjoyment is to be had in its marked array of contrasts.

If you’re on a weekend getaway, the best thing is to organise your short stay by touring specific districts in the capital. And, the easiest, fastest and cheapest way to get around is undoubtedly by metro.

1. Plaka

One of the most authentic districts in Athens, with a rich Byzantine and Ottoman legacy. Indeed, this is the city’s oldest quarter and all the historical architecture is strictly protected.

Its siting at the foot of the Acropolis, its quaint, Bohemian atmosphere, its narrow, cobbled streets and the absence of cars make this one of the favourite districts among sightseers. It is a veritable oasis in the heart of a chaotic city.

Plaka is full of street markets, shops and bars. It is the ideal area for buying traditional products and antiquities, or for tasting local cuisine. However, keep an eye on the prices! This quarter is your springboard for seeing ancient monuments, notably theAcropolis,the Acropolis Museum and the Roman Agora.

2. Monastiraki

Northwest ofPlaka, between theAgoraand theAcropolis, lies one of the city’s major commercial hubs. Monastiraki is also the name of one of the oldest and most centrally located metro stops in Athens. It also features the added value of an unusual display – the archaeological finds that emerged during the construction of the underground.

The city was also the site of a Turkish settlement for over 300 years, so that nowadays you can still see the influence of that culture in such spots as the Tzistarakis Mosque or the Turkish baths.

Landmarks in the historica lMonastiraki Square include such emblematic buildings as the Church of the Pantanassa, the Tower of the Winds and Hadrian’s Library, in addition to the Pazari or flea market with the most diverse wares on display in its open-air stalls.

Adrianou Street is a pleasure to stroll along, as it is lined solid with interesting shops and bars. Highly recommended is Collage, a cafe-restaurant where you can eat great food, listen to live music or sip a fine cocktail on their terrace, soaking up the cool ambience all the while.

3. Gazi

This is the most stimulating, switched-on area of the city. It revolves around Technopolis, its cultural centre, the largest in Greece, housed in a former gasworks. The district started coming to the fore after the 2004 Olympic Games. This is the most chameleon-like district of Athens with a proliferation of endless pop-ups. The cultural and leisure activities hosted here draw the most avant-garde, cosmopolitan movements to this part of town.

Gazi has undergone marked changes. Where prostitutes and illegal immigrants once roamed, we now see haute couture fashion parades, while brothels have given way to cultural centres. The once abandoned 19th-century buildings have been refurbished as innovative restaurants noteworthy for their striking post-industrial decor. Standout examples are Hoxton and Gazi College.

For enthusiasts of vintage decoration and second-hand objects, Gazi is teeming with stores to browse through.

4. Anafiotika

This quarter has an unusual history. In the 19th century, King Otto of Greece commissioned his palace to be refurbished by prestigious architects from the Cyclades Islands. They chose to settle in the Anafiotika quarter but, feeling homesick for their native land, they decided to build their new homes in the traditional Cycladic-island style. The result is that we can now admire the typical blue-and-white houses lining cobbled streets with a pronounced seafaring air. Together with the squares, viewpoints and gardens, the complex has become one of the most picturesque areas in Athens. It stands out as a pretty “island” in the urban sprawl, affording idyllic views of the city and acting as a vantage point for gazing at some unforgettable sunsets.

5. Kolonaki

This is the city’s chic district with its upmarket luxury and designer stores. The neoclassical and Modernist architecture endows the area with a distinguished, stately air which becomes evident as soon as you set foot in it.

Located here are some of the city’s trendiest bars, pubs and discos. Mind The Gap is ideal for having a bite or your first drink of the evening, while Dybbuk is perfect for dancing to good music until daybreak. Athenians love enjoying their social life, both during the day and by night, a fact we became aware of when experiencing the congenial atmosphere in the local venues, which always seem to be packed.

This district is adjacent to the famous Syntagma Square and is distributed around the foot of Lycabettus Hill, an excellent vantage point for taking in 360° views of the city.

Athens is a destination that should take pride of place on your calendar! Make sure you book your Vueling soon!

 

Text by Tensi Sánchez of ilovebilbao.com

Images by Aurora Loudeiro