Many people who visit Greece give the capital a few days. They do a checklist tour of the historic sites (The Acropolis, the Agora, the Temple of Olympian Zeus…), then they bounce. Some go to the islands, while others start touring around the mainland. I didn’t meet any other tourists while I was there who stayed in Athens more than three days. Before I got there, I started to get worried I wouldn’t want to spend so much time in the city. While I was researching my trip, I kept finding other travelbloggers that I normally love say things like Athens isn’t a pretty city or get annoyed with the crowds at the historic sites.
That’s why it’s really important to know how you like to travel. When you read a travel blog (even mine), you need to remember that the author might like some aspects of travel that you might not. If I planned my trip around the advice solely on the advice of others, I might have picked a different part of Greece for a home base. That would have been a mistake FOR ME. For you, it might be right.
Modern Athens, a Love Affair
I am an urban traveler. I love cities, especially if they are dirty, noisy, and full of people. That’s where life happens! I need their architecture, their multiculturalism, their art scene, and their street food. I need to look a scam artist in the eye and not get scammed or get in a staring contest with an old woman who said something nasty to me. I need to be somewhere I can fight back. Cities have secrets, and I want to learn them. I can take the country or the beach for a week, but I can’t feel at home there. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in a quiet suburb or in spite of it, but I need to be in a city to feel alive. Everywhere else is just a place to relax.
Yes, Athens is a little dirty, in the way that cities are a little dirty, which in my opinion is the best way. Athens has three thousand years of architecture folding over itself in layers. It’s got snobby rich kids who literally burn money for fun, and quiet guys who run cafes and work six days a week with only one week of vacation a year. It’s got money problems, racism problems, and the salesperson in me wants to restructure all of their stores. But, Athens is a modern city and its sole purpose in the world is not to host you on your dream trip of the Acropolis. There are many Athenians who’ve never even been up there. And if I hear one more person complain that there’s scaffolding on part of the Parthenon, I think I will punch them in the face.
Maybe it’s the adopted Philadelphian in me, that gets so annoyed when people want to just hit the sites and don’t appreciate the way a city really ticks. Athens is a beautiful, complicated, messy place, where real people live with their real problems. And after a month, I only scratched the surface of figuring her out. But I’m totally in love, and I hope I make my way back there one day.
The Street Art
Like Montevideo and Nicosia, Athens is a street art city. It’s everywhere. My favorite area was a stretch between Monastiraki and Exarchia, but I’m not going to recommend it to you because I saw A) a street fight and B) two people shooting up. And since I didn’t see anything close to that anywhere else in the city, I can comfortably say that you’ll love the street art without having to get that real. If you’re a true street art lover, you have to make a stop in Exarchia, the anarchist student neighborhood. It seems every building there is crumbling and covered with a gorgeous mural.
Since I have 350+ photos of Athenian street art from my trip, narrowing them down to 23 has been kind of a nightmare. You should be pretty proud of me. Without further ado, here are 23 of the best pieces of street art in Athens:
- Nadja Sayej has a great piece in Print magazine from January about the street art scene in Athens with more behind-the-scenes info and pics of great pieces
- Steve Gray from Widewalls has an excellent piece on “10 Street Artists in Greece,” including a few whose work I included in this post.
- Stephanie from The World as I See It has a round-up of Athens street art pics. She has an awesome dog mural that I photographed and cut from this piece at the last-minute. But I freaking love that dog mural.
- Greece 4K Travel has a video on Graffiti and Street Art in Athens
Athens is not a bunch of ruins stuck in time. It’s a modern, breathing city. If you don’t love cities, then give Athens the quick once-over and move on. But if your dream vacation is NYC, Chicago, or London, then give Athens some love.