Think Greece and your mind will probably drift to the Acropolis or the sun-soaked Aegean. But Athens is a dreamy city whose modern life prevails over the imposing grandeur of its past. Streets are alive with bohemian cafés and potters’ shops, colorful signs and street art, making just wandering around a vibrant journey. I spent five days in Athens—well beyond the usual duration of stay—yet not once did I get bored. Many of my walks were interrupted by the need to peruse a monument from the perspective of a café chair, preferably paired with a glass of wine (I was never a fan of ouzo).
The Acropolis Museum
A special mention must go out to one of Europe’s best museums, the Acropolis Museum, which showcases the ancient world’s showstopping art in a dynamic way. It follows the narrative of Athens, starting at prehistory, moving through the development of Athenian democracy, the Persian Wars and eventual decline—all through one continuous gallery flooded with light from floor-to-ceiling windows. Descriptions are concise and well-written, and the collection will help you appreciate the ruins around you more. Definitely end your visit with a macchiato—Athens’s espresso scene might be on par with Rome’s—on the museum terrace with front-row seats to the Acropolis
An Island Excursion
As an overnight, I took the ferry to small, white-housed Hydra, which gives a taste of the charm of a Greek island without the crowds of the better-known spots. The principal town is centered around a distinctive crescent port littered with hip restaurants and funky boutiques. However, the main attraction is the surrounding water. We took a small boat to a beach some ten minutes from town, and from there walked from another ten minutes or so to find a secluded cove just cozy enough for two people. The water is phenomenal: azure blue, slightly salty, and that ideal temperature that leaves you warm both in and out of the water. Our day ended with a meander down to a beachside hamlet where we ordered some local white wine and homemade tzatziki to accompany the sunset.
Where to Stay
Two classic hotels, the Grande Bretagne and the King George, sit next to each other on Syntagma Square, with dead-on views of the Acropolis. The Grande Bretagne is all opulence and Old World glamour, while the King George has a more modern (but still elegant) outlook. For a more of-the-moment experience, the New Hotel is located in the vibrant neighborhood of Plaka and filled with eye-catching contemporary art.