Travel to Athens, Greece, during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Athens…We travelled during the Covid-19 pandemic. Was it doomed from the start? We think not, and we took the risk of travel corridors being shut while we were overseas. It’s been a long time since we jumped on a plane. We returned from Lisbon on the 3rd January and haven’t been on a plane since…until now. COVID-19 ruined not one, but two of our travel plans. We had planned to fly to Gibraltar on the very first weekend we went into lockdown. Plan B was the Argyll Coast, Scotland. That was also foiled when the government shut the Scottish border.

Travelling was a little different to normal, but not too much. We set off, armed with our face masks. We dreaded wearing them in the heat but the Greeks had the travel thing weighed off pretty well, with similar rules to the UK. Overall, the travel experience has been better than normal. With reduced tourist numbers and travel hubs working hard to keep people apart, the travel experience has never been so efficient. Even the Greeks are all over it, and they are never on time…

Plan A for summer was Greece, but the infection rate per 100,000 was increasing so we had a Plan B, Plan C and D! Plan B was Naples, Plan C was Porto and Plan D was the North Coast 500 road trip in Scotland. The infection rate seemed to settle down somewhat and has yoyoed between 14 and 15 during the week prior to flying, so we stuck with it. Because of the uncertainty, we only planned three days of accommodation on the off chance we needed to rush back home to avoid quarantine.

We kept a keen eye on the news during our stay and our friends back home kept us in the loop with developments, but this made us a little nervous as the Welsh and Scottish governments put some travel restrictions in place. Thankfully, the media got bored with the story and it died down about halfway through the trip, but it reared its ugly head again. We’ll tell you all about that in Part 2.

We didn’t book any accommodation until two nights before, just in case the plan changed. Then we went into full overdrive planning mode (well, I did, Stacey seemed to work all the hours running up to the flight!). I am not quite as spontaneous as Stacey and like to have a bit of an idea of what we’ll get up to. But this lack of longer terms planning for Greece has led to an amazing adventure. We visited not one, but three locations – Athens, Mykonos and Santorini. Despite the concerns, we made it and had a great time, so read on to discover a little about what we got up to, starting with Athens. Initially, we were going to post all three places in one post but Athens deserves its own, so here it is.

Arrival in Athens

When we arrived at Athens airport for the first time, we decided to take the train. The second time, upon returning from Santorini, we used the bus. We should have used this on the first visit but we didn’t consider the bus being the better option. The X95 bus takes you from the airport door to Syntagma Square. The benefits of the bus over the train – you have to walk less to get to the bus, it’s just as fast, it’s more frequent, runs 24 hours, you get to see over ground (unless you like to live like a mole, take the train) and it’s 3.5 Euros cheaper than the train (5.5/9 Euros, respectively). You can find travel info from the airport HERE.

Having said the benefits, they were at our convenience. We travelled with only backpacks and stayed close enough to Syntagma Square to walk. The train might be  more convenient for you because it connects you to the metro system around the city, if your accommodation is a distance from the square. If you do take the train, don’t forget to activate your ticket, even if the barriers are open! It will cause you some embarrassment when you try to get out at the other end if you don’t! 

The second thing you notice about Athens is the amount of street art. You might say graffiti but, for the most part, it’s tasteful and impressive. The first thing is the temperature. It was hot! Athens is one of the hottest cities in Europe and although we both love the heat, we’re not used to walking the amount we do in 36-degree heat. This equates to a lot of sweat! We stayed in the Kerameikos district in a really cool little Airbnb (LINK HERE). The apartment was surrounded by some mega street art and cool bars and restaurants.

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Some of the graffiti of Athens

For Stacey, Athens has been her favourite city. She loves the Greek way of life, the cuisine, history and there is enough to occupy you for a few days. It’s definitely up there for me but be under no illusion, Athens is not one of the pretty cities. It doesn’t have the same charm as other capital cities, but it does have a strong identity and lots of character and because of that, it’s worth a visit.

The free walking tour…

We tagged on to one of the free walking tours (LINK HERE). Our guide was called George who was studying medicine in the city but has a keen interest in history. We covered about six miles or so, so if you’re not keen on walking so far in such hot weather, it might not be for you, but we definitely recommend it. You’ll get to see all the hotspots of Athens and you can experience one of the breakfast delicacies, named bougatsa crema (it’s basically custard wrapped in filo pastry, absolutely delicious when warm, and my favourite item of food during the trip).

Undoubtedly, George made the tour more interesting with his wit and knowledge and he told us all about his military service (which seems unlikely if you were to meet him). George told us lots about Greek history and some about the language. Although Greek writing looks impossible to read, it turns out we use many words in the English language that derive from Greek, such as photography and helicopter.

The Greek Mythology…

If you go to Athens, you will undoubtedly learn about Greek Mythology, in fact, Athens is named after Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom. Her and Poseidon requested to be patrons of the city and to give their name to it, so they had a little competition, where they both offered a gift. Poseidon offered water and Athena an olive tree, to symbolise peace and prosperity. The Athenians welcomed the water but Athena, with her wisdom, said that before a decision was made, they should taste the water, which in fact was salt water and not drinking water, given Poseidon was god of the sea. In the end, they accepted the olive tree and the rest is history!

If you visit Athens, you need to visit the Anafiotika district. This was my favourite district in the city. It’s a tiny area halfway up the Acropolis, accessible via Plaka or Monastiraki. According to our tour guide, the area was built by the marble masons who built the structures on top of the Acropolis and are built in the same way they built their island – using a labyrinth of tiny little alleys.

In terms of must visit places, scroll down to the itinerary to find the list of places we visited. We did all the hot spots which we found online and one or two we found while watching Dawn French on Travel Man with Richard Ayoade. One was Brettos ouzo bar. It’s the oldest distillery in the city. Stacey likes ouzo and I detest it, but the bar is really cool, and they sell alternative options to that vile stuff. The other place was Lukumades, which sells Greek donuts. They are fried dough balls typically eaten with honey but come with a whole host of toppings to suit everyone. And right next door to this place is a little gyros shop.

If you’ve never had a gyros, find one immediately. It will change your life! The place where George took us for bougatsa crema quickly became a favourite place of ours. It’s on the corner of Pl. Iroon, which is right in the middle of the nightlife. It’s split across the road, on a corner, which offers a great place to people watch! It’s also good for breakfast, lunch or dinner on a budget. Their pizza is cooked fresh. It takes a while but it’s totally worth it for 7 Euros. Go for the spicy one if you like spice and sausage!

We did our usual oversea trip thing and booked an escape room. This time it was Follow The White Rabbit room at Mastermind (right next to Lukumades!). Without going into detail, because it might spoil your fun if you decide to do the same one, it was one of the best we have done but the first interactive one we’ve tried. The host played the Mad Hatter. She did an incredible job and was hilariously convincing, with the tiny language barrier helping the comic value. But that aside, the room was fast, fun and well thought out. You can find Mastermind HERE to book your room and there’s a discount if you book on a Wednesday!

The ancient sites…

If you want to visit the ancient sites, like we did, opt for the combined ticket. It gives you access to all the archaeological sites in the city for 30 Euros, which is well worth it. What it doesn’t give you access to is Panathenaic Stadium,  the Olympic Stadium, which is an absolute must. Entry is 5 Euros but if you get there really early, you can get your trainers on and run a lap for free. You can actually run a lap where the first ever modern Olympic Games was held. How cool is that?!

We didn’t run it because it was about 35 degrees C and that would be stupid, but one lad did run it. I can’t confirm if he survived…he didn’t look like a runner to me. There’s a little museum in there too and you get the audio tour included which tells you all about the place without kicking the backside out of it. The stadium also offers one or two really cool picture opportunities.

For those who have never been to Greece, you can’t flush toilet paper down the loo. Because of this you become an expert ass wiper, able to ration even the smallest amount of toilet roll! Rather amazingly, the Olympic stadium has had the same problem free plumbing system for some 1300 years. Go figure. It turns out the Greeks mastered the science of hot and cold running water. They made shower technology for athletes to bathe in after the Olympic games. What they haven’t mastered is the domestic toilet system!

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The Acropolis
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The Acropolis
The impressive Panathenaic Stadium
Temple of Hephaestus
Temple of Hephaestus

A must in Athens is to hit the hills, of which there are a few. The one thing they have in common are the great views of the city that they offer. The place to be for sunset is Mount Lycabettus. It’s the highest hill in the city and offers sweeping views. There’s a cable car that’ll take you up if you don’t fancy walking. Don’t discount the view from the other side of the Acropolis at the Monument of Philopappos on Filopappou Hill. This is on the opposite side to the main tourist spots and has a completely different feel to the rest of the city. It’s covered with trees, is a pretty peaceful place to visit and offers a good alternative view. It’s an easier walk than Mount Lycabettus and it’s not as popular, hence no cable car. Get those legs moving!

The view from Filopappou Hill. Mount Lycabettus on the right.
Mount Lycabettus at sunset

One last thing…

One last thing before we leave Athens. The cats. For anyone who knows us, you will know we love cats. Athens has a huge cat population and the Athenians seem to have a friendly attitude towards them. Although most are stray, for the most part they are well looked after. If you visit Plaka, you may see an old guy with long grey hair. He visits the cats every day to feed them. You might see him on the steps on Pandrossou that back on to Hadrian’s Library in the evening. You will find the mean looking one in Anafiotika (despite the face, it was friendly!) and the turtle shell in Plaka, around the Athens University History Museum.

From Athens, we moved onto Mykonos, via aircraft. You can read all about that in our next post.

  • Acropolis of Athens – the famous hill
  • Ancient Agora of Athens
  • National Garden
  • Monastiraki Square
  • Varvakios Central Market – wander the streets around, not just the Google marker location
  • Lycabettus Hill
  • Plaka district
  • Monastiraki Flea Market
  • Anafiotika district
  • Hadrian’s Library
  • Monument of the Unknown Soldier
  • Monastiraki Square
  • Roman Agora
  • Central Municipal Athens Market
  • Panathenaic Stadium
  • Airbnb
  • Mastermind Escape Rooms
  • Hadrian’s Arch
  • Saorsa Athens
  • Kerameio
  • MS Roof Garden
  • Zappio Megaro
  • Anafiotika
  • LUKUMAΔΕΣ – lukumades donuts
  • krasopoulio tou kokkora – superb authentic greek restaurant
  • Μπουγατσάδικο η Θεσσαλονίκη στου Ψυρρή – for bougasta crema
  • Εφημερίδα ATH – cool, trendy local bar on way to Lycabettus Hill
Our Star Ratings

Accommodation – ★★★★☆ – trendy, cheap, clean and in a great location.

Travel times – ★★★★☆ – good flight times and Covid-19 made for efficient travelling.

Food – ★★★★★ – Greek food is the best! Try the bougasta crema for a sweet treat!

How expensive – ★★★★☆ – cheap for a capital city, but look for the local joints.

Things to do – ★★★★★ – loads to do, especially for the trekkers and history buffs.

Local beer – ★★★★★ – opt for Alfa and Fix over Mythos.Overall experience – ★★★★★ – one of our best city breaks yet!

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