Travel Letdowns and Why I Don’t Like Athens

Parthenon, Athens

I was supposed to love it. Everyone told me I would love it. All the guide books and even Samantha Brown said I would love it. That’s why I felt so bad when I hated my travel experiences in Athens.

We were on a Mediterranean cruise and at first we were disappointed that we didn’t have more time to spend in Athens. I’m an antiquities nut and the thought of rummaging about Athens – THE ATHENS – gave me goose bumps.

We knew the timing would be tight, so we prepared to leave the huge Celebrity Solstice cruise ship as soon as we were allowed. We flagged a cab and asked him to head for the Acropolis as fast as he could.

Parthenon, Athens

People sometimes use the names Acropolis and Parthenon interchangeably, which isn’t quite right. The Acropolis refers to the mount that rises above the great city of Athens on which the Parthenon is perched. The Parthenon is a gigantic temple that has been the center of Athenian life for millennia. Whatever you call it, this iconic monument was our first stop.

We arrived a few minutes before the site opened and I was pleased to see that the hoards of tourists had not yet finished their coffees in the cafes below. We weren’t alone, but I didn’t feel like I was in a Tokyo subway car either. We walked through various ruins, I have no idea what they were, intent on reaching our objective, the Parthenon. Finally, as we emerged from the last set of stairs there it was, the ancient temple in all of its glory. And a lot of scaffolding. And cranes.

Parthenon, Athens

Even though it was early, it was hot and it felt like it was going to be another scorcher. We walked around the construction site that is the Parthenon, looking at it from various angles and taking the required photos. There were other buildings nearby, but there wasn’t anything describing what they were. I guess they really want people to rent their audio tours because there was nothing in fact to explain anything. We approached an observation point and saw the city of Athens spreading below us in all directions. Athens is in a bowl and the haze hung thick over the city. Except, it wasn’t haze it was smog, thick, disgusting smog. It was depressing actually.

Athens, Greece

We walked back around the giant temple that was once the center of devotion to the goddess Athena, and descended to the nearby Forum. My only other experience with an ancient forum was in Rome, and I was let down when I saw the Athens version. There was nothing there, not really. Just a lot of poorly explained rubble. One of the most impressive buildings in the agora was, as it turns out, a reproduction. One monument I really did love was the Temple of Ares, at the extreme edge of the forum. It’s geometric perfection appealed to me at a base, almost instinctual level.

Temple of Ares, Athens

We stayed long enough to feel that we hadn’t wasted our money, and wandered into non-ancient Athens for a coffee and pastry.

I should probably mention that my partner is not as enamored by ancient things as I am. He has a pretty low tolerance for them actually and our travels through the Mediterranean was stretching his travel patience to the limit. I couldn’t visit Athens though without a stop at the National Archaeological Museum.

National Archeological Museum, Athens

We navigated the creepy Greek metro system, managing to avoid pickpockets, and arrived at the museum in the early afternoon. It was very hot at this point and we were beat. We had done a lot of walking, and the pool back onboard the ship started to sound better and better.

I was nervous as we entered the stately building, glancing at Scott to see how he was managing. I knew his attention span wouldn’t last long and so I set out to see the highlights of the museum. It really is an impressive place and demonstrates the amazing and impressive history of Greece.

After an hour, Scott threw in the towel and I agreed. There’s only so much marble you can look at before losing all interest. We popped in to the gift shop to purchase a set of coasters in the design of the Phaistos Disc and left.

We finished our time in Athens walking around, trying to get a feel for the city. And to a large part we succeeded, we just really didn’t like that feel. As a city it doesn’t have the same intangible “something” that Rome or Paris has. It was dirty, crowded and at times dangerous. It’s not at all what I expected, what I hoped for.

I’m of course thankful for the opportunity to visit Athens and witness firsthand remnants of the amazing accomplishments of Greek society. But I felt guilty that I didn’t like the city. I felt as if I was supposed to like it, and because I didn’t I must have missed something or done something wrong.

But I didn’t. I wouldn’t change anything about the way we toured the city, the fact is that I just don’t like Athens and that’s ok. Travel is a huge commitment for most of us, both financially and in time. We want everything to be great and perfect, but that’s not possible. I don’t regret visiting Athens, it provided experiences I will always remember, I just don’t ever want to return. Not everything will be great when we travel, but it’s what we take away from those experiences that matters. Rather than learn anything about Athens, my takeaway from the city adventure was that even some of the most iconic, most visited places in the world can suck. It’s just a part of the travel experience.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

80 thoughts on “Travel Letdowns and Why I Don’t Like Athens”

  1. Nooooo!!! Don’t tell me that!!! We are heading there soon! Now see this is why I like the idea of organised tours for first timers. Spending only 2 nights in each city may not seem a lot, but its enough to get a feel for the city, and if you like it you can go back. However in your case, if you hate it it doesn’t matter, your not stuck there for a week. We don’t have to organise accommodation or deal with queues, transportation or anything overly taxing. We can relax and enjoy our time there. Im am still looking foward to going to Athens, just so I can say that I went….then again the same applies to Rome, Paris, Barcelona, London…..sorry, I’ll stop bragging (three weeks to go, yay!!)

    1. That’s funny, because I usually feel the opposite. If you’re doing a tour then you *don’t* have the freedom to leave when you want to! I organised my own trip around Europe last year and I loved that I was completely in control. Because of the short amount of time I *chose* to stay 2-3 nights in most places, rather than being forced to.

  2. Crossing my fingers my 24 hours here turns out better! But thanks for the reminder about pickpockets and whatnot. It’s hard not to get complacent when traveling all the time =)

  3. Although we loved Athens when we visited last fall, I can understand why you felt that way. The modern city that is Athens is a bit disappointing and doesn’t match with the ancient Athens we hope to find. That was my feeling anyway. I tried really hard to look out on the bowl that is the modern city and imagine it with countryside rather than more buildings. It must have been a great view from the Acropolis back then!

    If you have more time to walk the hills around the Acropolis, there are a lot of the ancient Athens still there, just hidden from view. Also, the Acropolis museum is a _must_… it really helps to understand what remains and what is missing. It’s a modern museum at the foot of the hill and it is built over a section of old Athens that archaeologists are currently investigating.

    When we visited last fall, we stayed in Vouliagmeni in the south of the city at the end of the coastal tram line. We found that it was perfect because we could visit Athens, explore the sites, and then escape. If any one is interested, you can check out our experience here:

    As you say, it’s ok to not like something; I’ve been to Venice twice and have never enjoyed it. I will go back again some day to try to find the Venice that everyone falls in love with, but for the moment there are other places to visit.

  4. I had a similar experience with Istanbul recently. Everyone assured me I would love it, but I found it overcrowded with tourists and hawkers and inordinately expensive due to the exchange rate. I most enjoyed the two days we stayed in the Taksim area, walking around the neighbourhood and finding inexpensive eating spots. A highlight was sitting on plastic chairs for a few hours watching the Bosphorus, sharing a fish roll from a nearby cart, and drinking strong Turkish tea.
    That said, the Hagia Sophia is the most amazing, awe-inspiring building and I’d love to see it again.

  5. I am actually from Athens, and it’s interesting to hear peoples’ honest views cause usually they say that they love Greece and that’s it. While I lived there I hated it as well, as getting stuck in the athenian traffic every day is not fun, but I actually loved going to the center occasionally so i’m impressed by the fact that this was the part you didn’t like. The center is defined by the whole area around Syntagma square and the Acropolis, and especially the area under the Acropolis, namely Thisseio, Monastiraki and Plaka are really good places to go out for a drink in the evening, viewing the Acropolis. It is true that you have to be very careful as people do steal a lot, especially in the metro, and that it can get quite dirty. I find the metro pretty useful (especially compared to other metro systems around the world), the bus system is not as good so don’t expect too much.

    Cheers to all!!
    Marina C.

  6. I did a cruise of the Greek islands several years ago with friends. We spent one night in Athens before departing. I also was not impressed. The best part of that trip was renting a car and driving to Delphi (4 hours away) when our cruise ship got back to Athens. An adventurous drive and and beautiful views.

  7. I have to agree with you on this. I’ve yet to go to Athens but I’ve read many opinions similar to yours. I just don’t have an interest in visiting. It’s also hot and dirty as well so I’ve heard many people found it disappointing.

    1. Well Athens is definitely worth a visit yes there are some places you have to avoid but as a resident I have to tell you that you need to dig deeper to find the vibes Athens gives you it’s a good city with a lot of things to do not just ancient stuff

  8. Athens is one of the few places I hear very mixed reviews on. Dirty seems to be a very common theme. It is depressing because it should be exciting and beautiful. Its hard when things are a let down but this is not an uncommon theme for Athens, sadly.

    1. I will say that there are many other areas of Greece which are amazing and overall it’s a great country. Athens, unfortunately, was not the crown jewel I had imagined.

      1. Well if you expected Athens to be like when it was ancient then I have to disappoint you it’s not it’s ok not everyone must like a place but to really feel what Athens gives you you have to dig deeper and see all of the great stuff Athens can give you also it was summer Athens is better in autumn and winter

  9. Sounds like “ugly American” syndrome – where you expect everything nicely laid out, labeled, and clean…if everything were the same, why travel at all? Each and every place I travel has something disgusting about it and something absolutely wonderful and unique – that’s called “the experience”. You are not a real traveler – stay home.

    1. LOL, actually I think it’s fine and normal not to like a city or other destination. It’s how we feel, and that can’t be controlled. Everyone is different, some other people love Athens, it just wasn’t for me. As I said, I’m glad to have gone and seen the sights, but I don’t want to return.

    2. I’m not American like the author, I’m actually Eastern European, so I know all about not clean and neatly labeled out, and I still agree with him. I was myself pretty disappointed when I visited Athens, it was indeed dirty, overcrowded, and the historical remnants felt like they somehow don’t belong. All the countless immigrants from Africa laying out counterfeited goods on dirty sheets everywhere on the streets (even at the best places in the center), cutting off from your space and looking hostile at you when you wouldn’t buy an Abidas bag also didn’t add to a nice experience. I have the feeling that apart from making prices of everything rocket-high, they haven’t bothered with anything else to accommodate the tourists better. Another place I visited in Greece that was even dirtier, with constant roadworks going on everywhere and hostile people was Thessaloniki. Not recommended.

      1. I have to agree all of these immigrants from Africa and middle east make you feel like you are in a shitty place but Athens has other things to offer that are good

      2. Well Athens has taken in a lot of immigrants, manly from the recent refugee/migrant crisis and Pakistan. You don’t have them in eastern Europe because they have no reason to go there especially because your countries don’t take them but in countries that do have immigrants, this is standard. Paris is a very basic example, you see people selling stuff int he street everywhere, and in my experience a lot more than in Athens. It’s not an exclusive thing and you need to look past that, it’s a fact of life you can’t expect them to be physically removed.

  10. I had a bit of the same experience. I went in with maybe some preconceptions, but was trying to let be what it is. There seemed to be a lot of neat stuff, just not much that I was interested in. I enjoyed the parthenon/acropolis, especially as by the time I got there they had taken down the scaffolding. I think I was just plunged from the islands into Athens and it was such a shock that I just didn’t like it. The heat could have something to do with it too.
    I am totally happy to have seen it, especially the Agora. But now I have no need to return.

  11. You can’t like everywhere, so fair enough. I’ve never been to Athens but it is one of those places where I have heard mixed reviews, so I think I would be prepared for the worst.

    I tend not to tell people any more that they will “love a place” just because I did. Each experience is personal, so I just say what I liked about each place.

    1. That’s absolutely right, and there’s always something to be gained when you don’t like a new place. I mean, everyone can’t like everything. :)

  12. I felt the exact same way about the Vatican, and some parts of Rome too. I think a lot of my feelings stemmed from over-crowding and a very hot day though. Probably if it had been only one or the other, I would have liked it more.

    1. I can easily see that. I toured the Vatican immediately after getting off of a long haul flight, it was hot and crowded and I was beat. I ended up loving it, but I was in such a mood that things could easily have been different. LOL

  13. Thanks for writing this. I feel the same way about Florence – and I’ve been there twice! It’s fun to tell people that I don’t like Florence because their reactions range from mild shock to outright fainting. But you’ve made me feel better about not caring for Florence, as I thought I was missing “something”.

  14. I must say that I agree quite wholeheartedly with the things written in this article! I do not think that Athens is that great as a tourist; once you’ve seen the sights and wandered around the city for a bit, then it gets pretty old, pretty quickly! The islands are where it’s at!

  15. I read this post with interest because I also am fascinated by antiquities and would love to see the things you saw on that day. However, I too would have been disappointed by the scaffolding/cranes (which is so common at famous sites!) and the heat. I actually felt almost the same way when I was in Rome last time, but I have promised myself to go back and see if I change my mind. The important thing is for people to respect everyone’s impressions. If you didn’t enjoy Athens, that’s OK– to each his own!

  16. I will admit that parts of Athens are a bit dirty, but that’s true of all cities. However…

    1) If you’re not curious enough to research the monuments on the acropolis, don’t complain about not knowing what they are. (Plus, all you have to do is ask for a booklet when you first enter)

    2) How can you complain about restoring ancient ruins AND complain about there not being much left of other ruins? Either suggest that they not restore them and then have nothing left, or admit we should probably try to preserve these priceless monuments (even if it messes up your precious pictures for the one day you’re there).

    3) You really can’t see all Athens has to offer in only a few days.

    4) No mention of the amazing and fresh food, the concerts and plays that are preformed in ANCIENT theaters, all of the wonderful goods handcrafted by locals, the gorgeous architecture in the city center, or the bustling nightlife in Plaka and Kolonaki?

    5) To those people that go to places just to say they’ve been, you’re wasting your time and money, and you’re getting in the way of people who actually want to learn and grow from their travels.

    6) As crazy as it seems, the summer is hot. If the heat really bothers you that much, go in a different season.

  17. My perception of Athens was much different than yours. I think it may have been the fact that I came in with really low expectations based on what people told me about the city, and was pleasantly surprised.

    The city is somewhat dirty. It is big, unplanned urban sprawl at its worst. Anything ancient, other than the entire ruins in the Agora and up in the Acropolis, is often overshadowed by plain 1970s architecture. At times – especially at nighttime – most places in the city feel very unsafe.

    Yet, there was something about Athens that I loved. An energy in the air made me really enjoy Athens. Wandering through the Placa district, visiting the very first stadium of the modern olympics, eating delicious (and very affordable) food at restaurants overlooking the Acropolis from below, buying cookies from a local bakery, or taking a rest from the smog and crowds of the city by taking a stroll in the city’s central park.

    Most of all, the people. Athens locals are some of the friendliest people I encountered in all my time in Europe, often going out of their way to help you find yours, helping and smiling each at strangers on the street, making tourists feel welcome. And most impressively, their pride fir this notoriously “ugly” city.

    The Pathernon covered 2/3 is scaffolding is disappointing, but more disappointing would be to have it wear away because no one cared to repair it!

  18. OMG the heat.The unbearable heat of Athens.This is what I will always remember for the Greek capital.

    Whatever you do dont visit Athens during the summer.Its heat can kill you!

  19. I have not been to Athens but I agree about the sense of disappointment you feel as a traveller when you get somewhere so iconic only to find that it is concealed by scaffolding or even worse, advertising! When I visited Italy some years back I went to a colosseum in Verona, half of the ancient buildng was covered in a huge banner advertising push-up bras, so instead of having the chance to photograph an historic momument, I was confronted with a half-naked woman!

  20. just wished they have been done with the restoration efforts of the structures. I hated taking photos of those with scafolding and people working tirelessly. I share in this post Mat. I wanted to stay more time to soak on the glory of Athens.

  21. Completely agree! Had the same experience when I was there last fall. It was almost a complete letdown. Very anticlimactic. Istanbul and Rome, however, never fail to disappoint. Glad to hear I’m not the only one who felt that way!

  22. YES!!! Agree on all counts! I lived in Athens for 2 years and it was not enjoyable. Dirty, terrible place, but at the end of the depressing because of all the history, you’d like to see the Greeks actually take pride in their home, and they simply don’t. I actually once had a Greek woman say that “we should be thanking them, for inventing civilization…” A very arrogant society with no work ethic, which is why the city is in shambles. I’m lucky now to live in Vienna where things work, are clean, people are friendly(ish) and it’s a great place to live. So if you come to Europe, one day in Athens is enough if you have to go, but make sure to leave time to see the cities with heart, and make sure to find time for Vienna!

    1. Well this is a terrible comment… Greeks are extremely proud of their country and are not at all an arrogant society, in fact they are far more open and friendly than the Austrians. The fact that you insult work ethic and compare it to other Europeans just shows you that you probably should have stayed wherever you came from to be honest and that your relationship with work isn’t the best. Speaking of Austria, I’ve been to Vienna and Salzburg countless times (Mainly Vienna) for work and my experience was so-lala, I thought the people were terribly unfriendly and the experience wasn’t particularly enriching. I felt much more “alive” in Athens and I had a much better healthier feeling, of course it is a different city in a different climate but by god if someone needs to pick a city to travel in that climate, Munich is thousands time better albeit having a very similar mentality. Generally i’d say to go to France compared to Vienna. Then again, going back to your comparison, I don’t think Vienna has “heart” or at least much less than Athens and there are many other factors at play you don’t talk about that influence cleanliness for instance but whatever. You should really stick with your rose-tinted glasses Vienna in that case and not really much more because you’d probably be disappointing everywhere you went…

  23. After reading this post, I learned a lot more about the author than Athens… I will spare you my analysis, out of kindness and also humility.

    For the uninitiated: Athens is not a user-friendly city, per se. While there are many world-class sites to keep one busy for several days, the marvel of that city reveals itself slowly and with a bit of work, unless you know a local that can guide you.

    I live in New York, and I usually find that New Yorkers “get” Athens… Can’t imagine a New Yorker complaining that Athens is dirty or noisy. Once you get past midwestern sensitivities, and do some work, you will find that Athens offers much beyond glorious ancient sites. The museums, galleries, architecture, design concepts, restaurants, bars, clubs, even urban hikes and beaches compare very, -very-, favorably against most American cities.

    But, by all means, if you don’t like sites, classical culture and “marble statues”, heat, and crowds, either skip Athens, or earn for yourself a different experience…

    1. I’m originally from Greece but lived in New York for a while, and most of my friends in New York did adore Athens. They took the bad with the good, just like they do with New York – it would be insane to say that New York is an awful city and unenjoyable because some parts of it (aka the rat infested and dirty subway system) aren’t all that great. Also, like you said, in Athens you have to know where to go, and avoid the tourists traps. People I know either love or hate their experiences based on where they stayed. But spending a couple of days in the wrong neighborhoods would be like spending one day in Times Square and one day in the South Bronx, and saying all you saw in New York was dirty tourist traps and unsafe, dirty streets.

    2. “After reading this post, I learned a lot more about the author than Athens… I will spare you my analysis, out of kindness and also humility.”

      How nice of you. You could have upped the kindness and humility even more by skipping this unnecessary comment altogether.

  24. While it’s perfectly normal to not love every destination, I will say that spending that little time in a city, nevertheless in such a tiny part of such a sprawling city, won’t give you the best feel for it. I lived in Athens for several years, and still spend 2-3 months in the summer there. I agree that it is unbearably hot in mid-summer, and it has many unimpressive parts.

    Athens is best explored with a local telling you where to go and the good spots to hit up. It has a lot of wonderful neighborhoods, and not to be mean to visitors, but it’s mostly the spots where tourists don’t invade and get drunk and messy all over the streets.

    I’m divided on the city, because on one hand there are certainly many positive changes and cleaning up that could take place (don’t forget we are now a county in major recession), but on the other hand, I feel like so many tourists come expecting to find some perfectly preserved city of antiquity, not realizing that while Athens has a past represented in some of its most famous destinations, it is also a modern city with modern people living in it, people who don’t want to live in what amounts to a city-wide pristine museum for the sake of tourists. The culture is different now; there is a large swath of Athens that is anarchist, there is a thriving alternative culture, and the city will reflect that.

    Anyway, just my two cents (and excessive word usage)

  25. And another ignorant comment from an American, travel to the US, the most uninteresting peace of earth in this planet. Shitty history , shitty architecture, shitty food, it sucks. Athens is not the top of the world either but anything is good when going out from the US.

  26. That’s such a shame you felt that way – but thank you for writing a well-informed, non-patronizing piece.
    I am British and have chosen to live in Athens for the past 6 years because I love it: the fact that in 20 mins I can be by the sea from the centre (not many capital cities can boast beaches very near), I can watch the moon rise over the Parthenon.
    I’m surprised at your comment regarding the metro – in comaprison to London’s system (and ones in U.S. cities I imagine), it’s gleaming! I think you probably took the overline metro, from Pireaus to the centre (the ‘green’ line). Alas, that’s the oldest line. The actual underground system is spotless, has piped classical music and tv screens with weather updates.
    But as you say, it’s OK not to like a place. I felt the same as you about Cairo and Hong Kong. And like you, I was vocal about it in a polite way via my site.

  27. Thank you for your review, It helped me to choose my first destination in Greece. I was thinking about going to Athens, but the place has such amount of bad rep that I decided to go to Rhodes instead. I would visit one day Athens but not now.

  28. Athens is a big sprawling city not unlike Los Angeles & Mexico City. I experienced the negative aspects too, but loved seeing the history it has to offer. It would be nice if the city/country could present their biggest city in a more palitable light, but it is what it is.

    For me it’s a must see, but also visit the Northern city of Thessaloniki as it’s contrast, not unlike Los Angeles is to San Francisco. Athens is often the gateway to other amazing part of Greece…I just take it for what it is.

  29. Well someone was in a really bad mood when he visited Athens. The way you describe it is not only offensive and bad taste but also lacking basic knowledge on history and culture.
    We cant really rely on your mood swings to take your travel site and “tips” seriously.
    The things you write and describe about Athens seem like a PMS or pre-menopause lady’s journal. Bye!
    Maybe you should reconsider your “blogging” career. Pfff…

  30. Dude, sorry but that’s not a very well informed opinion. So you spent a few hours in a metropolis and that’s supposed to be your traveling experience? It really isn’t… How can you spend half a day in London or Berlin or any other major city and come to some sort of conclusion about the city, it’s simply impossible. Even if you knew someone from Athens you’d need no less than three days to get some glimpse of a real feeling for the city.
    Anyway, I usually spend a lot of time in one place when I go visiting. If cruising is your thing and you’d rather stay on the ship then that’s great for you, but you really never saw any of Athens I’m sad to say. It really is an amazing city and it’s a shame you never got the chance (or bothered for that matter) to find out why.
    And another thing: If standing on top of the Acropolis next to the amazing Parthenon, one of (if not) the most important monument(s) of humanity does not ‘move’ you, then why, oh why did you even bother? Really…

  31. Ok, so I read your bio, you’re a normal person who knows how to get the most out of the travel experience. Did you visit the first modern Olympic stadium in Athens? Did you watch a movie in an open air cinema? Did you watch a concert in an ancient theatre? Did you visit the meat markets and fish markets which are as impressive if not more impressive than Paris and a Middle Eastern city put together? Did you try visiting a bouzoukia club (the kind of club that plays live traditional and mainstream Greek music cranking from midnight until dawn with a unique flower throwing tradition used for appreciation towards the singers not to mention seeing a lot of people dancing on tables? Did you stroll through the Thisio region at night and dine on Octopus, stuffed vine leaves, stuffed tomatoes, haloumi cheese, souvlaki, fresh bread and sardines? Did you visit one of the many Greek bakeries and try their amazing sweets, possibly some of the most unique and tasty in the world? Did you try patsa (lamb intestine soup) after a big night on the town? The above is only a quarter of what Athens has to offer from a tourist perspective, if you haven’t done at least 4 of these things you have not gotten anywhere near the most out of your Athens travel experience and if those kind of things don’t interest you, then Athens is definitely not for you! Apologies on the bluntness! (I’m not a Greek local just a Greece enthusiast with a little Greek heritage)

    1. Athens is a cesspool. I spent 4 unfortunate days there. It would be lovely to have enjoyed things like markets and bakeries except that the way Athenians push and shove with an unbelievable ignorance of personal space or good manners makes that impossible. Oh and beware crossing a street at any point, Athenians seemingly don’t know or care about the rules of the road and will happily run down pedestrians. It would also have been nice to have enjoyed Athenian night life clubs or even a great restaurant, but the thick, pungent smoke that hangs in every enclosed space makes food difficult to taste or smell and dancing is difficult when there are tears streaming down your face from your smoke burned eyes. In fact, the whole city starts to feel like one dirty, black smoker’s lung. Even strolling through the streets and enjoying the architecture is impossible because everything is tagged beyond recognition with graffiti…and not even good street art graffiti, just mindless, dumbass spray painting of what could have been a beautiful city. The entire place is filthy, I actually contemplated sanitizing the soles of my boots when I finally left. I’d rather walk barefoot through the streets of New York than step even a well covered foot into the filth of Athens again. The only thing that could make this trashy, filthy place worse is the people. Now I won’t over-generalize. There were a few kind and welcoming Athenians I encountered, but the vast majority are shamefully disrespectful of their city, each other, visitors and especially women! Ladies, do not venture out alone in Athens! At home, I could walk through a construction site naked and be treated more respectfully. Even if you don’t understand what they are screaming at you, it’s the nearly vicious level of cat-calling that makes it unbearable. And beware they are not afraid to approach you and possibly get too close. If you need to see the Acropolis, go in for an afternoon, see it, and get gone from there! Greece has many incredible experiences to offer, but Athens definitely isn’t one of them.

      1. I have to agree with the smoking comment. It is disgusting, sometimes even indoors.. no respect for non-smokers. I mean, outdoor I guess you have to take it, but indoors? I heard from locals that businesses refuse to apply the law because it is bad for business..

  32. I’m retired Canadian Airborne Regiment having traveled Europe Asia and most of the USA and without exception I have never felt so unsafe as in Athens, it would make the perfect training grounds before entering a war zone.

  33. Linda Johnston

    I’m now nervous as my 18 yr old daughter and her friend are visiting Athens and I wish I hadn’t booked her there. I know the Greek people are in a bad way due to the recession so I should have researched more. I love this blog by the way Matt. Keep it up please!!

    1. Growing up in the states my whole life and living in San Francisco for the last 10 years I finally made the move to Athens…. Yes, I moved here from California to Athens, Greece. I’ll give you my take on Athens and why some love it like myself. It’s funny when I talk to many who haven’t been to Greece they always ask me about the crisis and how are things there. I have been here for 3 weeks now and the spring weather feels great first and foremost:)) I have been walking everywhere and taking the metro (super clean and safe ) from all different parts of the city just to get the full feel of athens. The biggest thing that jumps up at me is how busy all the resturants are and the coffee shops with people laughing and talking to each other. What about the crisis you ask. You wouldn’t know it existed if you walked around. After living in SF for so long were everything is great and money is growing on trees (sarcasm). If you walked around SF with all the homeless and drug addict mental people everywhere you would think you are in a zombie movie. That’s a great thing I don’t have to encounter on a daily basis.
      I never really felt alive like I do in athens. The city it’s self visually doesn’t have the most eye candy I would say. What it has are so many hidden gems you just have to look past some of the congested areas in the center. There are so many great bars and food places which are super cheap for the quality:))) You need a real local to show you around to get the real vibe of the place. It has taken me years of visiting to appreciate these simple things in life. One final note, as far as safety you really don’t have to worry about that in Greece just use common sense at times but overall always felt safe and as if I was around a big family. Oh and the people are super friendly when you ask for directions I’ve never encountered so much helpfulness. Another thing, everyone speaks English here and they love using it so that shouldn’t be an issue. Also, the Greek people in a whole are super beautiful after 10 years in SF I finally have a pulse:) cheers

    2. I bet they had a great time… Greece is in a tough spot financially and politically at the moment but you don’t really feel it when you actually go and is still an amazing place all round with extremely friendly people, amazing food, amazing architecture and amazing culture to say the least. On top of it, particularly in Athens and those big cities, you generally have a feeling that a lot of people are out and about, very similar to Berlin for instance and are having fun while being open and friendly, you feel alive, something you would not find in Paris for instance (the city where I have been born and have been living in for a while). Athens is a city that is also easily navigable, have a great metro system which is brand new, extremely safe (far far far far far far safer than the London tube, the pairs metro or the Berlin metro and is also a lot safer in my opinion and is in a whole different world compared to the Paris metro in terms of cleanliness and safety. So if you ever have the the chance to go, go ! You’ll most probably enjoy it.

  34. Agree with you in some parts. I always travel to Europe in the low season. I just went to Athens for the thanksgiving week and I had a great experience. The modern Athens suck. There is no other way to say it. There is nothing to get out of it. Not great avenues, great parks, no, nothing. It looks dirty and rundown.
    Now for the good. I stayed at a nice hotel in the Plaka area for 3 days. First day, I took the unlimited hop on – hop off sightseeing bus (I always do when visiting for the first time, to get our bearings on the city and also because we use them as a matter of transportation, and it works great). I got to see where I wanted to go and where I do not. I booked a cooking class/coulinary tour with and it was one of the highlights of the trip. I exit the bus on the Monastiraki stop, met with the chef/tour guide we explore the central market area, purchased items and went to a nice restaurant where they have all set up for a nice cooking experience, have some drinks and learn a lot about Athens. After that wonderful experience I started walking from Monastiraki back to Plaka (they are adjacent) and when you take it easy walking in that old city, thats when you start enjoying Athens. The cafes, the restaurants, have a greek coffee, eat a pastry, have a gyro to go, take it easy… Athens comes to life (I am talking about old Athens, forget about the modern). On my walk I found small beautiful squares, excellent shops and ruins. The nights comes and the old city is even better.
    Next day, early in the morning the Acropolis and the parthenon. I have to say that since you went there in 2011 I think they made changes because all the sites have now a description plaques. I don’t like tours. I used the guide I downloaded on my phone and the description on the plaques. It was a wonderful experience. back to the hop-on bus and went to the Piraeus port.. nice see views but I was not excited to exit there and went back to old Athens. Went to the hotel to rest for a few minutes at the roof top bar enjoying a Tsipouro (I dont like Ouzo) and went to dinner walking two blocks to one of the many Greek restaurants around the acropolis museum. At night I booked a “bar hoping” experience with Urban Adventures and I had so much fun having some drinks with locals, awesome experience, truly recommend it.
    Next day was forecast with some rain so we left it for museums. First took the hop-on bus and exit at the Archeological museum and although it is impressive, after 45 minutes -I agree with you- there is only too much marble you can see. Back to the bus, exit at Monastiraki for some shop and walked down to the Acropolis museum. Now.. that is a museum you can’t miss.. the museum itself is amazing.. so modern with beautiful exhibits and the way is set up is perfect. At the top, sat down at the outdoor cafe for a pastry and enjoyed the view of the Parthenon one last time.
    So, yes, Modern Athens suck! But the old one is beautiful. Sit down, imagine it, enjoy it, take it easy.. WALK IT… that way you enjoy this part of Athens very much.

    1. By the way, I didn’t feel unsafe but I used common sense. Wallet and cellphone on front pockets; don’t fell for the “casual conversation” from the hustlers, (What time is it? and Where are you from? are the must common phrases they use), just ignore them but besides that its ok.

  35. An old post but I wanted to contribute anyway. I think a big problem a lot of people have with Athens is that they come here with this idyllic image of it as an ancient city and expect the city and people to conform to the image of the long gone Athens of textbooks and writings of great philosophers and the like. The truth is that Athens is a modern city with all the issues a modern city has compounded by a financial and refugee crisis. I mostly live in Philadelphia, and Athens honestly isn’t any dirtier or more unsafe than Philadelphia, NYC, or many other major, MODERN cities (especially lacks rats and other small vermin thanks to the cat population). If people take the time to experience and appreciate Athens and the people for what they are and not compare them to the stories of their ancient counterparts, I believe the true beauty of the city and its residents can be realized.

  36. I thought I was the only person who felt this way. My wife and I came to Athens expecting something magical because of the history and from what we have seen of the Acropolis, only to be disappointed. The service we received was pretty much non-existent.
    We did come to Athens after Santorini so maybe that had something to do with it. All I can say is, been there and done that for Athens. Knock it off my checklist. When I return to Greece, it will be just Santorini!!

  37. i totally disagree. ok maybe athens is not a typical european capital. but it also offers many things to see. i stayed there for one week. i stayed to a greek friends house. we went to many bars and we enjoyed night life. we went to the sea, we ate tasty food in low prices. i really liked this city. next year i went to myconos, santorini and crete!! the most beautiful places in the world

  38. That is why you should a local show you the city ! I know you say you will never visit it again but if you do (never say never) please contact me and I will give you a bikeride for free.

  39. Hello,

    The feeling derived from reading your post was sadness and disappointment. Luckily, a lot have changed since your last visit. It is most unfortunate that you missed all the great parts of Athens. You obviously didn’t have enough time nor a well-thought plan that would help you get the most out of this marvelous city.

    As many others have mentioned above, Athens has plenty of hidden gems. This means you need more days to explore and discover them. Anyone would be disappointed if the jewel of the destination they visited was under construction. Frankly, that was what has ruined your whole experience in our opinion.

    Athens is an outstanding city, which is known as the birthplace of the western civilisation and democracy. In fact, it is consisted of a large city centre and numerous archaeological sites, while it is also a vivid area with bars, cafes and restaurants all over the city that never sleeps. Consequently, you can’t see Athens in only 2 days. You need at least 4 or 5 days to feel the aura and visit every worthwhile attraction of the city. But in case you have only 2 days, here is what you should definitely not miss:

    The Acropolis
    The National Archaeological Museum
    Monastiraki Flea Market
    The Temple of Poseidon at Sounion

    In Athens, the city that never sleeps, the choices are endless, but in spring and summer, when the weather is good and warm even at night, all you need is a roof terrace with a breathtaking view of the best spots of the city. Of course, in these places, you can drink your cocktail also inside, but during summer, there is nothing more attractive than relaxing, enjoying the view of Acropolis and feeling the dew of the night after a hot day.

    In Athens, the traveller has numerous things to do, in many districts of the city. Athens, is a huge city, but the main attractions are located in a small area of the Old Town and the Center of Athens. You should always check with the locals or even online by browsing some review sites on where to go and what to eat. In the main streets of the capital, you can take the best Athens has to offer in the area of food, shopping, culture and nightlife. A culinary tour or a wine tour would be rather interesting…

    Streets you should visit: Kydathinaion, Apostolou Paulou-Dionysiou Areopagitou, Ermou, Voukourestiou, Panepistimiou, Kolokotroni, Adrianou . Any first-time visitor should also see The National Garden.

    Athens has warm weather and sunshine for many months during spring, summer and autumn, and the Athenians love to watch movies in open-air cinemas, under the stars, enjoying the breeze, drinking beer and having a great time. The movies in Greece are not dubbed; contrariwise, you can watch it in its original language with Greek subtitles. This is why you can spend a wonderful evening relaxing in an open-air cinema, with beer, pop-corn and souvlaki, in a garden, in a rooftop or by the sea…

    Athens has amazing beaches, and every traveller can swim in crystal waters in a close distance to Athens Center and there are also plenty of swimming pool options such as in sports centres or hotels. They are an ideal opportunity to relax and enjoy the wonderful view.

    We surely hope someday you’ll decide to see Athens under a different perspective.
    Athens deserves a second chance. Probably off season.

  40. I second what ‘hostelbay’ said. Also I think especially American tourists and cruise ship day trippers expect every areato be clean cut and spotless. If you want sterile and monotonous go to Dubai. Yes Athens has it’s problems but dig deeper and you will discover it properly.

  41. Honestly, I can only agree. Our trip to Athens has left us with a number of abiding memories: the threatening crowds of Monastiraki, beggars everywhere, the stench of urine outside the metro stations, the joy of discovering that one has been pickpocketed, the location of the police station near Syntagma Square, the policeman’s little speech about how this happens all the time and even if people get put away for the crime, they still get out within a few months and then reoffend.

    I’d hoped to like this place. But as it is I left with a deep and abiding sense of loathing for it. I concede that the food was good, but never will I return unless either a) I have no choice or b) serious urban reform happens first.

  42. YES! Thank you for writing this. I traveled all around Europe and I expected Athens to be this beautiful, tropical paradise with rich history. I was disappointed as I got off the plane and onto a bus into the city. It was dirty, run down, and grim. I stayed near the center and the entire region was extremely unsafe. I got hollered at left and right, a man slapped my ass, another three men started following me at dusk and wouldn’t leave, etc. I actually started crying while rushing back to my hotel one evening (I was a solo 19yr old female solo traveler).

    I LOVED hiking up Acropolis and viewing the Parthenon, I enjoyed the temple of Zeus, and the stadium. The food wasn’t as great as I expected it to be but that’s mostly because I didn’t leave the touristy regions. I really wanted some authentic Greek food but it was all very focused around tourism (and americanized).
    So yeah, I agree. I felt guilty returning and people couldn’t believe me when I said that I disliked it (I can’t beliebe it either tbh).

  43. I had a real bad time with the smuckooo young immigration guy , he kept taking my passport and making a big laugh out of it and showing some girl standing behind him the pages of the passport and then asking me ridiculous questions and then continually laughing at the empty pages of the statue of liberty. I have to say he was a real dope. GUESS WHAT GREECE I WONT BE BACK

  44. I’ve been in Greece for the past month, aside from a few weeks in the Cycladic islands, I’ve spent most of my time in Athens.
    And while I’ve traveled to better and worse places around the world I have to say that Athens has potential to be much better than it currently is.
    The shortfall in reality meeting expectations for most visitors can be found in the norms and attitudes within Greek society. There doesn’t seem to be a real sense of respect towards their history (see uncleaned graffiti on many monuments) as well as an undercurrent of negativity towards foreigners. It’s a sketchy place and there doesn’t seem to be much desire to fix even simple problems. Many Greeks are simply blaming immigrants for all their woes instead of addressing them.
    Tourists spending money are tolerated (i.e. ripped off), but based on my experiences visiting other parts of the world, Athens remains low on my list of favorite places and that’s mostly due to the indifference of it’s own people.

  45. Isabella Ruffalo-Burgat

    It seems like you were going to Athens expecting it to still be a city filled with standing temples and archaeological sites. While it does have that, it’s first and foremost a functioning city made for people to live and work there. So many people head into Athens expecting to see some kind of lost Ancient Greek city, and are somehow disappointed to find out its just a regular city like any other.

  46. I found this article to be an interesting perspective of seeing the city in a few short hours. I have lived in Athens for 2 months now (and will be here another 3 months) for an internship and have had a complicated relationship with the city. On one hand, the history is amazing, nightlife can be exciting if you hit the right places (I would recommend doing a pub crawl to get a good idea of some less touristy areas because the touristy bars and clubs are painfully crowded and smoky), have found that the metro is decent to use (possibly better than Boston’s), and have found most strangers to be very kind to me. On the other hand, though, I do agree that the city is very dirty and unsafe (and I grew up right outside New York).
    As a 20-year-old, unmarried female, I have found men to be very aggressive and intrusive. This isn’t all catcalling (though men do that as well and I have also had men whisper in my ear, kiss my cheeks/ hands, stroke my hair, etc. without consent) but also some men genuinely believe that they are doing me a service by intruding on my day and doing things such as ordering food for me, making me take a bus over the metro, giving me unsolicited life advice such as telling me I need to get married soon, generally not leaving me alone until I lie and say that I need to meet someone, etc. I would definitely not recommend traveling to Athens alone as a female (especially if you’re young and unmarried! The first question most men ask me is if I’m married and when I say no they take that as an invitation). I rarely have days out in the city that doesn’t include at least one instance that has made me feel uncomfortable.
    As far as the tourist perspective, I’ve found that my friends who have visited have found the city to be a little underwhelming as well.
    I do think Athens is a great city to visit, at least once in your life (especially if you’re into history and Greek mythology), but I don’t think you really need more than a few days. It’s a shame because this is the 3rd city I’ve lived in Europe and my experience in Athens has altogether been much more negative than my time in London and Geneva!
    Sorry if this is oversharing, I just think it’s important information to get out, especially for other young female travelers!

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