There is nothing better than a Sunday stroll and yesterday Athens was shining under a crisp and clear sun. No matter how cliché it might sound, I love the ancient part of the city and I never get tired of strolling around the hills of the Acropolis. It’s not just me either, it seemed as if the whole of Athens came out for a stroll yesterday and of course a coffee under the ancient rock. For me it was even more special yesterday, as I shared the view with my other half who doesn’t often get the chance to enjoy Athens.
Monastiraki and Thisseio were teeming with crowds browsing at the stalls lining the promenade and slowly sipping their coffees. We started walking up from Thisseio, joining in the hustle and bustle, before turning towards Athens’ old Observatory and the hill of the nymphs. The observatory is closed on Sunday so we carried on up Pynx Hill, but when I have time during the week I’ll walk around the gardens or pay a visit to one of Europe’s oldest scientific libraries. You can even climb the dome of the observatory (just mind your head if you do).
The path up Pynx Hill is scattered with low pine trees and fresh clover leading to the first clearing, facing North East towards the Acropolis, Lycabetus and the Ancient Agora. We didn’t linger long though, despite the views. Instead, we followed the little paths heading South, leaving the Parthenon behind.
The panorama from the next clearing is even more breathtaking: here the South of Athens is a sea of houses at your feet, dotted with marinas to the left and the seaside hill of Kastella and the port of Piraeus to your right. Straight-ahead are the mountains of Aegina, towering over a scintillating sea, where sun and shade cast a mesmerising, ever-changing pattern over the water.
I never tire of the view here. But there was more to see, so we continued on the path snaking downwards until it meets the beginning of another hill, Filopappou. Spring has started a little early here, with the first poppies and almond trees budding. Athens was coming to life in the sunshine too; dog-walkers were out in droves, groups of youngsters passed footballs around and even a few mountain-bikers braved the slippery marble. It was a perfect lazy Sunday, with more amazing views to take in.
Walking up Muses’ hill, looking North towards the city, you can no longer see the entrance of the Parthenon. Instead you can catch glimpses of the Herodus Atticus theater, an Ancient Roman amphitheatre, just below the Acropolis. The higher up you go, the more your view shifts towards the city.
On top awaits the Filopappu Monument and on the side of the hill you can really see the heart of Athens: the new Acropolis museum, the Parliament building, the national gardens and Zappeio, the temple of Olympian Zeus and the Panathinaic Stadium. The city climbs up mountainsides in every direction and spills over into the South and the sea.
Who knows how long we spent up there, stopping at so many little clearings to admire the view. It was way past our lunch time before we even realised. We didn’t succumb to the urge for a quick and gratifying souvlaki in the old quarter though, instead we headed back down Muses’ Hill to where it meets with Pnyx. The hills create a natural ravine that was inhabited during the classical Athens period, being at the edge of the ancient city walls and along the road of Koili, which followed the natural meander down towards the port of Piraeus.
Following the ancient road South, the edge of the archaeological site gave way to a very old neighbourhood of modern Athens, Petralona. It’s a peaceful, residential neighbourhood and until recently was a place for locals alone. I remember visiting for the first time around 2012 and being treated to some lovely home-cooked food in one of the old-fashioned cafés surrounding Melina Merkouri square. Sadly, the old place is now gone, but to my surprise the square nests a handful of lively coffee shops and taverns. Most of them are quite hip. Do not let the modern decor deceive you though; the quality on offer is exceptional, with good old home-cooked food being served everywhere.
Just in case you wanted to have a wonder about Athens yourself, here is a map to help you on your way.