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First Impressions: Athens, Greece

I try not to have expectations when I visit a new city or country.

I might have had some expectations when I came to Athens. A old friend was going to start a restaurant and buy property in Athens and got me excited that I might be able to buy an apartment too. I’m very interested in real estate investing and apartments are cheap right now in Athens. It would be easy to buy something and rent it out to tourists on Airbnb. But when I spent a few days there I started to change my mind.

I consider myself a city girl. When visiting the beach, mountains, or countryside I crave the city after a week or two. After a few days in Italy with my friend exploring Puglia, I jumped on an overnight ferry to Greece and spent a week at a lovely yoga retreat in a tiny village in the north near Lefkadas. Then I booked three nights in Athens to check it out, get a feel for the city, and look at apartments.

But Athens was so grungy. Granted most large cities can be but there’s a different vibe there like the government just doesn’t care about it’s city. This has left it’s inhabitants lazy and distant as well. There’s graffiti everywhere. Not like cool street art but just words splashed all over the walls of buildings. While I was there the garbage company was on strike so there was piles of garbage all over the streets and sidewalks. You literally couldn’t walk on the sidewalk in some places. People smoke everywhere including inside restaurants and cafes. My lungs were so unhappy. The air cons spew water all over you and the street while you walk around town. No one picks up after their dogs. You can just imagine the kind of environment you are walking around in. It’s like a step up from India and that was not what I expected from a European city.

I stayed in a shared apartment from Airbnb for very cheap (18€ for a 4 bed shared room with shared bath). It was a bit away from the most touristy parts but didn’t feel very safe at night. Having traveled to 38 countries, including living in Bangkok for 3 months, there hasn’t been many times where safety was actually a concern for me. I just walk fast and with confidence and usually no one bothers me, but I found myself looking over my shoulder constantly here.

I’m sorry, did you think this blog was going to be fluffy? I’m always honest with you guys! This is just me telling you my travel experiences and not sacrificing any details, negative or positive. But hey, Athens has some good points too. Let’s talk about my favorite subject!

Greek food is delicious. Traditional Greek cuisine is very vegan-friendly too. If you go to a traditional Greek taverna you’ll find a ton of things to eat, but they are mostly like tapas style. You have to order a bunch of small plates to make a complete meal. Like a salad, dolmas, and giant beans would round out your veggies, carbs, protein but then it adds up in price. I tried to find places that serve half portions to make it more affordable (always ask!) and to be able to try more dishes at each meal. It’s very easy to find falafel around town so that is always an inexpensive, fast option (the most delicious can be found at Falafellas, large wrap for only 3,80€). The most delicious treat that you must try is at Lukumades (pictured below).  This fried balls are kind of like donut holes but filled with apple pie yumminess and topped with cinnamon and agave. Basically heaven in your mouth. I pretty much followed the places Kristin listed in her video though Rosebud was closed down and Yi was too far from the city center.

Outside of this is not as vegan-friendly as say a city like Austin. I could only find soy milk at chain coffeeshops (I walked around the hip area Exachion and asked 10 different places and no one had it). Keep an eye out for Gregory’s, Mikel, and Everest where you can get any drink with “soya” milk. There wasn’t vegan foods like plant-based milks and yogurt at regular grocery stores, but you can score them at Bamboo Vegan and the natural store next to Avocado. I couldn’t even find frozen fruit at the supermarket, which I guess is not a thing in Greece. But fresh fruits and veggies are ample and cheap. As I always recommend, stay somewhere with a kitchen so you can make your own food.

Avocado is the most well known vegetarian restaurant in town. It’s lovely with nice air con and extensive menu, but it’s kind of expensive for what you get. I ate there twice; one time I had the Macro Plate and the next the Om Shanti curry (spending usually around 12€ for my meal that was just a main course). At Mama Tierra I had a vegan moussaka and hummus appetizer that was delicious (12€). Their menu is more affordable than Avocado so definitely check it out. I had a crepe with vegan cheese, ham, and veggies at C-Friends (5,30€) on my last night before heading to Hungary. Not very filling but tasty.

Transportation is great and cheap, but the way the city is laid out is all kind of messed up. There’s no grid, no rhyme or reason why a street turns the way it does, most streets are one-way causing great confusion, and there is no regard for pedestrians. Stop signs are completely ignored so be very careful when walking. Tickets for public transportation cost only 1,40€ for a 90 minute trip and can be used on any form of public transports (metro, tram, bus). This allows you to use your ticket multiple times if you are on the move. Many stations don’t have employees and they just trust you to validate your ticket.

Okay onto the fun, touristy things that I enjoyed in Athens. The changing of the guards at Parliament was one of the most interesting things I’ve ever witnessed. It happens every hour on the hour during daylight hours. It’s a great free activity! They have the most interesting costumes and do this weird almost dance-like production to change positions and guards. Of course, you have to go to the Acropolis. Unless you are really into history and seeing ancient ruins get the Acropolis only ticket for 20€. Best times to visit are right when it opens and at sundown. Bring a hat and plenty of water! I read on another blog that you couldn’t take backpacks, but that didn’t seem to be true because they weren’t checking bags. I didn’t go to the museum next door but heard it was nice and it’s a great reprieve from the heat.

I spent a week on Paros, the beautiful island a four hour ferry ride from Athens and stayed 2 more nights in the city before catching a flight to Budapest. There was a heat wave that weekend (108F), which kept me inside with the air con much of the day. I went to one yoga class at Shakti Yoga Studio (first class free!) that was lovely and the teacher spoke English for me to understand everything. Nightlife is not really my thing so I didn’t explore that side of Athens, but I’m guessing it’s pretty lively!

Have you been to Athens recently? How did you feel about it?

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  1. I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t like Athens that much. While I do have a certain fondness for the city, I can understand why you wouldn’t like it. My first experience there was the 2004 Olympics, so I have fond memories from that. Plus, Athens is where I became vegan!

    Speaking of which, it’s true that many of the vegan traditional dishes are meze (like tapas), but there are also some main dishes that you might not have come across. I’ve described several of them in this vegan guide to Greece: http://www.thenomadicvegan.com/the-nomadic-vegans-guide-to-greece/

    But one thing that’s not in my guide is Lukumades! I sort of remember seeing them, but I guess I didn’t know they were vegan. Something for next time!

    1. I really loved Greek food! I did have a few of the mains, but still there weren’t “complete” meals, like having veggies, grains, and protein. So ordering other things was necessary to get all my nutritional requirements. Thankfully the food is pretty cheap!

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