Travel Guide: Why is Athens unique?


I have lived in Athens my whole life. So why am I sitting in a boring microeconomics lecture writing a travel piece? I guess it is because I have nothing better to do. Vision’s Feature’s Editor Costas suggested I write that I love Athens, which is such a bad idea. I don’t love Athens. Why should I? It is a dirty city, full of graffiti, decaying buildings and stray dogs. But maybe he is right. I can go on with my list of reasons to hate Athens, but it will be pointless. Athens is an integral part of who I am and I will always be under her spell. The problem is I never knew why I loved Athens, until a PEP study trip, which gave me the chance to become a tourist in my own country. It was then that I fell in love with Athens all over again.

Its ancient ruins, distorted shadows of a glorious past, are what attracts tourists from all over the world. But the Parthenon is only one of many worthwhile sights Athens has to offer. Let me clarify something here. The Acropolis is the rock and Parthenon is the ruin on the Acropolis. During the PEP study trip, I realised that the majority of people ignore this information. It was such a big disappointment. Indeed, Athens is a time machine. The ruins take you back to the Golden Era of Pericles. They create an atmosphere of historical anachronism and give the illusion of ancient passengers to every wanderer. One can imagine Pericles giving a speech on the rock of Pnyx. While strolling the street behind the Acropolis that leads to Plaka, one can imagine Aristotle and Plato discussing philosophy. And while entering the gates of the Ancient Agora visitors are greeted by images of people selling wares from Egypt.

But Athens is not just that, at least for me and for everyone who is bored of ancient history. I have only been to the Acropolis once and that was because we had a school trip. But I have to admit the museum is absolutely breathtaking. Maybe it is the weather that makes Athens so beautiful. The sun that hits the light pink and yellow houses contradicts the blue colour of the sky and gives the impression of living in a painting. But again the sun isn’t what makes Athens special. Contrary, the landscape is reminiscent of images on postcards from Spain and Italy.

Or is it the nightlife that makes Athens so attractive? Athens can be the oasis of every taste. Parties that are remains of Fitzgerald’s roaring twenties. Images taken out of Dionysian ceremonies of people dancing passionately. Cocktails that never stop coming. Clubs that don’t close if the sun does not rise. Bars with fairy lights, trees and sand that bring a summer vibe even if it is freezing. Rooftops that look out on the Acropolis. Rooftops with a view to the temple of Poseidon. Rooftops offering a vantage point to the Greek parliament. Bars with modern hip-hop music hidden in the small streets that only the locals know of. Bars that serve hot wine with honey and Arabic music that in a minute seem to take you to nearby Turkey. Hundreds of bars that can satisfy the alternative, the artsy, the posh and the shy.

They say that the people are the soul of the city. Indeed the loud Greeks that shout to each other – no they are not deaf, this is how they express themselves – add to the happy atmosphere of Athens. Nevertheless, the Athenians know how to chill. They drink their coffee giving zero fucks for what they have to do next. They know how to enjoy life’s moments to the fullest.

My conclusion after being a tourist was neither of the above. Yes, you can travel in study of the past. Yes, you get tanned. Yes, you can party until you drop. Yes, you can meet open people. But who gives a shit? You can pretty much find those things in other countries. What makes Athens unique and Anna, a third-year student put it successfully to me whilst writing this, is that you never know what to expect the around the next corner.