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athens

If you're in Athens for a while, have had your fill of sites and museums and want to get off the beaten track a bit Athens really repays some exploring. Here are some of the things we enjoy.

These can usually be done in a couple of hours or less, although they can easily be expanded and developed if you have time and energy to spare.

Have a look as well at our pages on Kypselli and Ano Petralona, which have more detailed information on these areas.

Walk along Athinas

street

Athinas is the major road running from Monistiraki to Omonia. The hotel Attalos, a decent medium range hotel which we'd recommend, is on this street.

Athinas is a busy, central city thoroughfare, always full of traffic and people. Its pleasures are in the old fashioned shops and street markets along its route. It is a slice of vibrant Athens city life, very different from Plaka and the sites.

When we first came to Athens around 30 years ago this area felt the most eastern and unlike Europe.

wine barrels

While this has diminished it hasn't yet disappeared. A few smart modern shops have appeared, but they are in the minority, and the international chain stores that line Ermou haven't made it to Athinas yet.

You will go past a variety of hardware shops with their wares piled up outside; stalls selling herbs and spices; basement shoe shops, pet shops, cheap clothing shops.

The central Athens fruit and vegetable market is along here on your left, which is fun to walk around. The (perhaps less appealing) huge meat and fish market is on your right.

In the streets below the fruit and vegetable market are more old fashioned shops selling everything from rope to eggs.

Once you've wandered along here to Omonia you could just retrace your steps back along the other side of the road, or branch off into the pedestrianised shopping area between Athinas and Stadiou. (Stadiou is the street which runs from Omonia to Syntagma Square.)

Walk in Filopappou

Filopappou is the hill opposite the Acropolis and is really worth exploring even if you are only in Athens a short time. As well as being a pleasant place to stroll, you get what - in our opinon - is the best view in the city of the Acropolis. In some ways it gives you a better idea of it's grandeur than you get from actually being in it.

view

Despite only being a stones throw away from the entrance to the Acropolis, tourists don't make it up to Filopappou in anything like the same numbers.

You'll share the park with Athenians walking their dogs, jogging, flying kites or just out to admire the sunset.

If you climb right up to the monument at the top, you'll also get spectacular views of Athens and across the sea to the mountains of the Peloponnese.

This walk starts at the Acropolis metro station and takes you up to Filopappou. It then details a walk though one of the less well known parts of Filopappou. You can do the whole thing in about 45 minutes (longer if you follow the detours).

Exiting the metro station, and with the Acropolis in front of you, turn left onto Robertou Galli, the broad pedestrianised street which runs along the side of the Acropolis. Passing the new Acropolis museum on your left you walk gradually uphill. There are views of the Theatre of Dionysus and then the Irodion Theatre on your right.

Reaching the brow of the hill you reach a crossroads. Straight ahead is Apostolo Pavlou (Saint Paul's Street) which continues around the Acropolis. Up to your right is the main entrance to the Acropolis itself. You turn left down a tree lined pedestrian cobbled street. There are barriers at the start of it preventing cars.

church
The church of Saint Demetrius Loumbardiaris

 

A hundred yards or so along on your right you will see the beautiful old 16th Century church of Saint Demetrius Loumbardiaris.

An interesting, if bloodthirsty, legend explains the name of this church. A Turkish overlord, wishing to punish Christians who worshipped here, had a large Turkish cannon, called the Loumbarda, trained on the site. Before it could be fired St Demeter interceded and God sent a lightning strike to destroy the gun crew. Hence the church is Demeter Loumbarda, or Demetrius Loumbardiaris in Greek.


From the church you have three options. If you want to detour to the monument at the top of Fillipapo, branch off at this point along the path going uphill to the left, almost opposite the church. This will lead you up relatively steeply and your reward will be great views of the Acropolis.

Turning right on the path just beyond the church, and continuing to veer to the right, will take you to the Pnyx, the site of the earliest Greek democratic assemblies. The speaker's podium is still visible and again there are great views back to the Acropolis.

This walk, though, takes you towards the back of Filopappou and into a less visited valley.

kimons tomb
Kimon's tomb

 

Carrying straight on past the church you will shortly see Kimon's Tomb on your left.

Kimon was a major figure in 5th Century BC Athens and fought with great distinction in the wars against Persia.

It has to be admitted though that his tomb is not particularly interesting.


stage 3
Take the broad steps going down the hill

 

At the tomb the path divides, one branch going straight on, another round to your right.

You want to take the broad steps going down the hill.

This leads into a clear path running down the valley. You can see the ruins of the ancient city that was once here, along with deeply grooves left in the rocks by cart tracks.


stage 4
Looking back up the path from the gate at the bottom

 

At the bottom of the hill you can choose to come back the way you came, or to take a slightly higher path running above it, for a bit of variety.

It'll also give you the opportunity to see some of the foundations of ancient houses, carved straight out of the rock.


If you are feeling adventurous, don't come back the way you came but go out the gate at the bottom of the valley, cross the road and explore Ano Petralona.

Go through a small children's playground then bear round to your right. With a bit of wandering you should find your way on to Troon, the main restaurant street in Ano Petralona. Troon becomes pedestrianised when it runs alongside some schools. Turn left at the end of Troon, and you'll end up back on Apostolo Pavlou.

stage 5
Cafes on Apostolo Pavlou

 

Which ever way you come back, when you get to Apostolo Pavlou - the main pedestrian road running round the Acropolis - walk in the direction of Thiseio metro station until you come to a collection of cafes with fine views of the Acropolis.

We'd recommend the Athinaion Politeia cafe, which is in a splendid neo-classical building.

A visit to Kaisariani monastry

scenery

This beautiful Byzantine monastry is on the wooded slopes of Mt. Hymettos just 5km east of the city.

It's easily reached on public transport, and Iíd really recommend it for the views, ancient churches, beautiful mountains and as a complete change from the city.

There are lots of trails on the mountain, and itís a really pleasant place to walk.

You are very quickly out of the city, and the air is fresher, scented by the pine trees, sage and rosemary bushes. There are truly amazing views over Athens.

monastry

It's pretty quick to get here on public transport. I came up one afternoon, and from our apartment in Pangrati did a round trip in about 3 hours - taking in a quick visit to the monastry, a stop at the view point and bit of exploring. You could easily fill the best part of a day if you fancied a longer visit to the monastry or more walking.

If you are particularly keen to go inside the monastry, check the opening times before setting off. It was closed when I went, but I enjoyed the peaceful courtyard and the old rams head spring.

If you are coming by car or taxi the whole trip could be done much quicker, depending of course on the state of Athens traffic.

The paths are quite rough underfoot, and you need reasonably sturdy footwear. I did this on my own and felt safe enough Ė it is a popular place to visit, and there are hikers and families around.

The hiking trails arenít consistently well signposted, but it is also pretty obvious which direction you need to go in, and not too difficult to find your way around.

You'll need to bring your own refreshments, as you wonít be able to get anything there.

bus times

You get to Kasariani on the number 224 bus. I picked this up from the stop outside of the Byzantine museum on Vasilisis Sofias.

You stay on the bus to the last stop on the route. It turns round and parks in a lay-by. You pick it up again from here for the return journey.

It takes about 20 minutes, depending on traffic.

When you get off the bus there is about a 30 minute walk to the monastery.

path

Continue walking up the road the bus has turned off. There is a large cemetery on your right, and you will soon be on a broad, tree lined pavement which goes past the entrance to a cemetery. There are some flower shops at the cemetery gates.

This pavement soon turns into a footpath at the edge of the woods. On your left is the road. Despite the proximity to the road this is a reasonably pleasant walk.

footpath

Carry straight on along an obvious footpath, until it changes into a pavement running alongside the road.

Youíll see some major roads ahead of you, and you continue under a motorway bridge.

Shortly after that there are signs for Kaisariani and the Immitou forest. Keep going on the footpath, and youíll soon see a sign for the monastery and Taxiarches Hill. This is the main viewing spot, although there are vast views over the city and mountains from many points.

signpost

You can choose here which way you go Ė all directions will take you into the forest.

Iíd suggest taking the path to Taxiarches Hill, which goes steeply up to your right, and takes you away from the road and into the forest more quickly.

Itís a short climb to the top, and once you get there you have the most amazing views Ė they really are spectacular, and well worth the effort.

You can see the Acropolis, and right across the city to Piraeus and the sea.

Close by there are a couple of beautiful old Byzantine churches, in the process of being restored, standing along with fallen columns and romantic ruins.

Sunsets here must be particularly dramatic.

From Taxiarches Hill you can wend your way across to the monastry, this is sign posted.

When you've had enough, you need to re-trace your steps and pick up the 224 bus from where you got off. This is a terminus, so there is often one waiting here.

view

A visit to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre

364 Syggrou Avenue, 176 74 Kallithea

Stavros Niarchos

This is a newly built cultural centre, in Kallithea, at the bottom of Syngrou Avenue, (a major highway that runs from the National Gardens down to the coast).

The foundation can be easily reached on public transport and it is a different and interesting thing to do. The building itself is a great example of imaginative modern architecture, there are stunning 360% views, and you can combine it with a stroll along the seafront.

We got there on the 550 bus, which we picked up from opposite the Panathenaic Stadium, on the edge of the National Gardens.

cultural foundation

You get off at the Onaseio stop and the Cultural Centre is a couple of minutesí walk down the road, on your right, you can't miss it. The bus stops are clearly signed, but you could always ask if you were unsure where to get off - it's very well known.

The bus took 20 minutes but this was on 26 December when there wasn't much traffic around, it could be double this at busy times when Syngrou can get very snarled up.

You could also take the tram, get off at Trocedero or Flisvos and walk up to the Foundation.

cultural centre

This cultural centre and park was built by Stavros Niarchos, a multi-billionaire shipping magnate, who left half his fortune to a charitable trust to be established in his name. When we visited in December 2016 the Cultural Foundation was about to be handed over to the Greek state to administer.

The National library and National opera are housed there, and there are lots of cultural events, exhibitions and activities.

The main reason for visiting, however, is that it is an impressive bit of modern architecture, with a park that slopes up to provide a green roof over the top of the building.

cultural foundation

You get extensive views over Piraeus, the sea and mountains one way and the sprawl of Athens and twin Hills of Acropolis and Likavitos the other. There is a formal lake, a maze and gardens to wander round.

A spacious, wooded walk-way takes you effortlessly over the tangle of major roads that runs along the coast and down to the Flisvos Marina. From there you can pick up the costal walk to Flisvos and beyond.

The Flisvos Marina is a slightly sterile new build, with shops, luxury yachts, cafes and places to eat.

marina

It's a pleasant enough place to have coffee, though - we went to the Breeze cafe, where you look out over the posh yachts in the harbour. Two coffees were expensive at 10 euros, but you did get a huge plate of loukomadies with it.

flisvos

The walk along the seafront towards Flisvos is very nice - a park on one side, sea on the other, and a broad walkway full of people strolling, fishermen, itinerant sellers, elderly people sitting on benches, joggers, dog walkers etc. You can walk for some way along this promenade.

To return to central Athens you can pick up a tram at Trocedero, close to the entrance to Flisvos marina, or walk along to another tram stop on the line.

The 550 bus also goes from the marina, just behind the tram stop. It's the end of the line for the bus, and they wait in the coach park before making the return journey.

Walk along the coast

From Moussion to Parko Flisvos

flivlos

We got the metro from Ano Petralona to Faliro, then took the tram to Mousson. You could also do this trip by getting the tram from Syndagma or Fix to Mousson. It takes about 45 minutes to get there. From Mousson you can walk along the seafront to Parko Flisvos. It's about a 30 minute walk.

There is a broad paved walkway which was very lively (on a very mild and sunny Boxing Day in 2009) with lots of people out for a walk, playing backgammon, sitting on benches, feeding pigeons, walking dogs, selling jewllery and scarves, swimming (yes, in December), playing beach games and even sunbathing.

It's pleasant to stroll along and you get fresh air off the sea, a view over the Peleponese mountains and a view back along the coast to the hill of Pireaus. It's not exactly rural, though - there is a huge 4 lane road running the other side of the tram tracks and even on a quiet day this is pretty busy.

The sea looks surprising clean and OK for swimming, though the beaches are a bit scabby, with general rubbish and ramshackle buildings.

Nearer to Parko Flisvos there's a seating area that has been spruced up, with benches, fish designs on the walls and marble paving. Parko Flisvos has a bit of park with trees and a children's playground between the sea and the road.

We discovered a large Flocafe behind Parko Flisvos - on the other side of the road, and between Parko Flisvos and Flisvos tram stops. There is a small pedestrianised triangle, with the Flocafe, a bank and a Goodies on it.

The Flocafe has seats outside (with a sea view but interrupted by the main road) as well as a big inside. Mixed range of people in the cafe - well-off older men, family groups, lively male or female groupings and older couples. It was very busy when we visited on 26th December 2009.

We got the tram back from Flisvos to Syndagma. This took about 30 minutes, but it can be longer if the traffic is busy.