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Contemporary Athens

Ever since the first event in 1955, Documenta has been held in Kassel every five years. As the fourteenth edition approached, the modern cultural event packed its bags and moved to Athens for the first time. Under the title “Learning From Athens”, the 2017 event has adopted proposals with political connotations. Running from 8 April to 16 July, this the largest and most important contemporary art exhibition in Europe is being co-hosted by both Athens and Kassel. As Documenta lands on Greek soil, we leave behind the Acropolis and venture into the heart of a more contemporary Athens.

National Museum of Contemporary Art
The main Documenta exhibition is housed in the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST Museum), which was inaugurated in 2014. An exhibition featuring works by over 80 artists will form the backbone of a journey with dark overtones from colonial times to the economic pragmatism of today. One of the leading and most interesting galleries in Greece, the museum is located on the premises of the former Fix Brewery – built in 1962 and designed by architect Takis Zenetos in collaboration with Margaritis Apostolidis. The brewery closed down in 1982, having produced what was the most popular beer in the country for decades. Kallirrois Avenue & Amvr. Frantzi Str

Those interested in counter-culture should make a point of visiting the Exarchia district. This bastion of anarchism in Athens has often been the scene of major demonstrations during the most difficult moments of the economic crisis. Exarchia is the closest thing to one endless, open-air art gallery. It is a striking display of street culture, with every single stretch of building frontage acting as a potential canvas; indeed, you are unlikely to find any patch of wall not covered in graffiti. By way of an Athenian version of Barcelona’s Gothic quarter, Madrid’s Malasaña, London’s Camden Town or Berlin’s Kreuzberg, Exarchia also boasts some of the best cafés in Athens, as well as the most highly recommended book shops and stores selling comics, records and second-hand clothing.

In the Gazi district of downtown Athens you will come across a huge cultural centre which was founded with the aim of promoting the art scene and enshrining the site’s industrial heritage (it houses the Industrial Gas Museum, dating from 2013), as well as arousing public awareness about social issues. Built in 1857, this complex was originally a gasworks. Amid chimney stacks, furnaces and huge gas tanks, attesting to the site’s recent past, Technopolis is the venue for virtually daily must-visit events in the fields of music, cinema, theatre and the visual arts, such as Fashion Week or the Athens Jazz festival. 100 Pireos Street

Embros Theatre
A self-managed theatre with one of the liveliest cultural agendas in Athens. The Embros Theatre is housed in the former headquarters of one of the leading publishers in town. But, when the business went to seed, the owners were forced to sell the building, which was acquired by a popular theatre company and turned into one of the most frequented theatre venues in Athens. However, the venture was short-lived. The company split into two and the building fell into disuse. In 2010 the auditorium was acquired by the Athens City Council but, in view of it hosting zero activity, it was occupied by a group of actors. Ever since the theatre has been hosting all kinds of artistic and cultural events, as well as operating as a social centre. Riga Palamidou, 3

Former Gestapo Prison
Surprisingly, a place bearing such a historical burden as this former prison has been overlooked by most tourist guides. It is located on Korai Street, opposite the Panepistimio metro station. Visitors can venture into what once concealed a clandestine prison of the Gestapo. Now designated a Historical Memory Site, under the German occupation during World War II it was where communists and other members of the Greek left-wing were incarcerated. It makes for an emotionally charged visit, of which the highlights are the picture gallery and the carvings made by the revolutionaries during their confinement. 4 Korai Street

Booze Cooperativa
One of the trendiest venues in town. In the morning, this multi-purpose space operates as a specialty café and a refuge for the bearded crowd working on their laptops. After lunch, which in Greece ranges from three to five o’clock in the afternoon (and the Booze Cooperativa cuisine is highly recommended), it turns into a bustling bar and stays that way until the wee hours. But, the great draw of Booze Cooperativa is the exhibition room hidden in the basement. On display in this gallery are works by some of the most evocative names from the local alternative art scene, while the theatre room on the floor above is the first choice for upcoming, alternative Athenian playwrights. 57 Kolokotroni Street

After so much art and culture sightseeing, the time always comes to replenish your strength. And, talking of good food, there is nothing quite like Greek cuisine. There are dozens of spots where you can get delicious traditional Greek fare in Athens, but Avli tops them all and it’s set in one of the most picturesque yards in the city where you can taste all the homemade Greek specialities. And, in between helpings of keftedakia, loukaniko and moussaka, be a daredevil and have a few sips of ouzo. Locally made, this is one of the most popular drinks in Greece, characterised by its high alcohol content (from 37% to 50% proof), strong flavour and liquorice aroma. 12 Agiou Dimitriou

Monastiraki Flea Market
All trips tend to end off with a round of shopping. And, when you’ve been on an alternative tour of Athens, this should be negotiated at the Monastiraki Flea Market. Monastiraki is renowned as one of the major shopping hubs in Athens, and it also features numerous boutiques. However, on Sundays, this area, particularly along Ermou Street, becomes one huge flea market where you can pick up practically anything, from antiques to out-of-print books, vinyls, second-hand clothing, furniture… This rounds off your perfect Sunday morning programme, after having tucked in to a whopping breakfast of cheese or spinach pastry, washed down with a Milko (the Greek Milo chocolate drink) or a huge frappé coffee (although this is the speciality in Thessaloniki).

Texto de Oriol Rodríguez

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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

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Gazi. The trendiest neighbourhood in Athens.

Full of life, Gazi neighbourhood (Γκάζι) is one of the most cheerful in Athens. This is the place to taste the nightlife of the Greek city, a labyrinth of narrow streets full of multitudes to enjoy a great offer of leisure.

This was the first neighbourhood hosting gay-friendly clubs and, after time, became the trendiest place in Athens, with an energy that cannot be seen anywhere else in the city and its own rhythm.

In Gazi there are the modern cocktail bars, night pubs, new cafés and restaurants, also museums, galleries and theatres. The main spot in the neighbourhood is an old gas factory that was reopened in 1999 as an elegant arts centre named Tecnópolis.

Gazi means exactly that, gas factory, and is at this factory where there are exhibitions, concerts and festivals regularly. The building is from 1862 and includes cultural spaces, a big patio, the María Callas Museum, the city radio and a cosy café.

This might be one of the few gas factories that remain after World War II. The reason is that is near the Acropolis and the old archaeological setting of Keramikos and the nazis, who were into classic culture, were afraid to bomb this area.

At night, the relaxed cafés of Gazi Square and the streets around, like Iakou, Persephonis, Dekeleon and Voutadon, become modern bars and restaurants.

Go to Mamaca's in Persephonis street. It’s a classic around here, the place to eat great Greek food. At the same street, The Butcher Shop, an excellent psistaria, typical Greek tavern specialized in roast and grilled meats. Both restaurants have tables in the streets.

In Vitonos there is Thalata, a great restaurant specialized in seafood. Even it’s a little bit expensive for the Greek standard, the quality is great and you won’t feel like you’re in a fake place made for tourists. Walls are painted with the beautiful colours of the Cyclades and you can get the advice from the owner to get the freshest products.

In Athiri you have a great weekly menu, made of gourmet courses, for about 25€. The restaurant was awarded several times so is a safe option, with fresh products, organic olive oil and homemade desserts. Even the bread is homemade!

To go for a drink, Gazarte is the most famous place to go. Getting a cocktail at the roof, with great views over the Acropolis, is so refreshing. There is also a cinema, a restaurant, a bookstore and a room where there’s live music scheduled daily.

Makes you want to go, right? Do it! Check out our prices here!

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7 cheap destinations to enjoy before summer arrives

Do you fancy going away before the official summer holidays, to beat the crowds? Make a note of these ideas.

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