As one of the oldest cities in the world, and recognised as the cradle of Western democracy, philosophy, modern civilisation and (of course) the world-renowned Olympic Games, it’s not hard to see why Athens is on so many people’s bucket lists.
We’re welcomed to our stay at the city’s stylish Hilton Hotel with a smile and a bottle of wine – always a winning combination – and shown to our spacious, modern rooms. With a spa, fitness room, two enticing pools and a bar, you’ll be tempted to spend the whole of your trip inside, but we’d encourage you to venture out as soon as possible and explore all that Athens has to offer. Walking through the rocky streets of the world-famous city with the sun beaming down on you is an experience unlike any you’ll find in the UK.
Top of anyone’s Athens to-do-list is likely be the Acropolis, the sacred citadel upon which the remains of many Greek temples still stand. A pilgrimage to one of the world’s most recognised landmarks is bound to be humbling, and the Acropolis certainly doesn’t disappoint. As you marvel at the unimaginable amount of manpower and craftsmanship that must have gone into building the structures in a pre-technology era, remember to take in the breathtaking sight of the city from high above.
But while Athens may offer scenery reminiscent of epic fantasies like Game of Thrones to take you away from everyday life, there’s also plenty of luxury shopping and modern nightlife to be found, including the chic rooftop Galaxy Bar and Restaurant back at the Hilton Hotel, offering some of the best views the city has to offer – both in terms of the skyline and the bar staff.
If clubbing is your thing, it’s worth noting that Athens’ exuberant nightlife doesn’t truly begin until late at night, with many bars opening around 11pm and remaining open until the early hours – something we found out when we visited the city’s hottest gay nightclub Sodade2; a small but satisfying venue that adds new meaning to ‘meatpacking’ with its gorgeous men and distinct lack of personal space.
Playing a constant steam of Britney Spears, Madonna, and even the occasional Bette Midler, there’s no better place in Greece to lose your inhibitions and dance to your hearts content.
LGBT-friendly tour guides are available from Big Olive, with numerous stops at historical points of interest and nuggets of information you’re not likely to find on the more ‘mainstream’ tours. Featuring expertly told stories of homoerotic bath houses, love affairs between gods and mortals, and the LGBT+ secrets of some world-famous landmarks, it’s a tour you’re not going to want to pass up.
Speaking of bath houses, a visit to the Hammam Baths will give you one of the most authentically ‘Greek’ experiences that money can buy. Modelled after traditional communal washrooms that were common in ancient times, you’ll be provided with rich scrubbing salts and and an exfoliating sponge to wash yourself down. It’s an unusual experience to share such a personal moment with a sauna full of strangers, but you’ll feel liberated doing it, and achieve a dreamy state of mind in the process.
Greek cuisine served as the focus of much of our trip, and for good reason – the various dishes savoured during our time in Athens truly put British food to shame. With the Mediterranean diet largely considered one of the healthiest in the world, you’ll taste the freshness wherever you go. Whether its fish caught from the adjourning oceans, the country’s famous grilled souvlaki, or juicy salads prepared with love, there’s something for all foodies to enjoy – even the fussy ones.
One of the most memorable restaurants on our trip was undoubtedly Mama Roux’s, with a welcoming sense of eccentricity matched only by that of its owner. As several dishes are offered up for you to enjoy, you’ll definitely want to cool off in the shade with one of their signature cocktails or fresh milkshakes – our only regret was that we missed one of the restaurant’s revered street food parties being held later that evening.
When you’ve truly exhausted all that Athens has to offer in its tourist attractions and exuberant nightlife, there are a whole host of Greek islands at your fingertips just waiting to be explored. If crystal clear waters, sandy beaches and eco-living are your thing, then look no further than Hydra, one of the region’s most satisfyingly quaint destinations.
A short ferry ride with Hellenic Seaways delivered us to the ultimate relaxing getaway, where there’s little sign that the island is so heavily reliant on tourism to survive. As one of the few islands to outlaw cars and motorbikes, the whole of Hydra is quite literally your footpath. Well, yours and the occasional donkey. Aside from a few seafront gift stores, you’d be hard pushed to find much that’s not authentically Greek about the island.
But there’s more to this destination than sandy beaches and sunset cocktails – as much as we love both those things – as Hydra is rich in culture and history, too. A visit to the Historical Archives Museum of Hydra reveals a wealth of nautical war memorabilia, including weaponry, artwork, and some impressively detailed costumes, with many items donated by descendants of families who ruled the island throughout history.
If fine dining is your weakness, then Castello’s got you covered. With a mouth-watering menu, an extensive wine list, massage tables, and its own private beach for customers to enjoy, it’s the perfect way to end a holiday. As we enjoyed our meals by the sea and reminisced over the week’s events, the owner proudly recalled hosting the restaurant’s first same-sex civil union. Honestly, we can’t imagine a more romantic location to tie the knot.
While the many historical landmarks and sights will no keep you on your feet as you soak up as much culture as possible, it’s important to appreciate the reason why so many people continue to visit, and revisit, Greece – its incomparable beauty. l
GT travelled to Athens with British Airways from London Heathrow britishairways.com. GT stayed at the Hilton Athens Hotel, hiltonathens.gr. For more information on what to do in Greece see visitgreece.gr