August 16th, 2018
Exploring the Greek Islands Without Leaving Athens
You don’t have to get on a ferry from Athens to get a taste of Greece’s legendary whitewashed houses and winding, narrow streets. You can experience the picturesque sites of the Mediterranean—and fit in a leisurely hike—right in the country’s capital.
In the center of Athens, the enchanting neighborhood of Anafiotika rises like a mirage above the city’s modern apartment buildings and just below the slopes of the famous Acropolis. The simple, whitewashed houses and outlined steps of Anafiotika seem to be straight out of a Mediterranean island, but they’re only a short walk away from the main tourist attractions of the Acropolis Museum and the newly revived neighborhoods of Monastiraki and Plaka. Built by stonemasons and carpenters from the island of Anafi in the 1840s and 1850s, Anafiotika’s winding and narrow pedestrian ways make for the perfect urban hike. All you need is a daypack for all of your essentials (especially a camera to capture its beauty!) to explore this charming Grecian neighborhood.
Getting to Anafiotika
One of the best ways to get to this overlooked urban hiking gem is to start by the Acropolis Museum, a recent marvel that showcases Athens’s most famous landmark. Above the museum, there’s a stone-paved pedestrian road that makes for a charming walk around the Acropolis. Just past the tourist information building is Thrasillou Street, which will eventually turn into Stratonos Street. Turn right on it and head uphill until you hit a divide in the road. In five minutes, you’ll reach the church of St. George Stratonos, where you should take a left to start exploring and taking out your camera to photograph the narrow and winding streets decorated with bougainvillea and potted flowers on the balconies, rooftops, and grounds of the homes.
Once you come to an unmarked major street to your left—most streets in Anafiotika lack street signs—turn on it, and walk until you enter the “Plaka” or Square of Anafiotika, enjoying the way that the view of Athens opens up before you. This lookout is a very popular spot, where you might take a water and food break with lunch tidily packed among your essentials in the summer, when temperatures regularly hit 90° F (32° C).
Before you leave Anafiotika, make sure to check out the area’s two churches, St. George of the Rock on the southeast edge of the area and St. Simeon on its western edge. St. George Stratonos is open only on St. George’s Day, April 23rd, as well as on special occasions, but if you do get to visit, the humble church is well worth it. St. Simeon, the main church of the area, was built in 1847, and has a copy of the silver-covered icon from Anafi, Panagia Kalamiotissa (“Our Lady of the Reeds”), the original of which was said to have been found on the peaks of Mount Kalamos on top of a reed.
When to Go
There’s no bad season to visit Anafiotika or to explore Athens, but the best time is the fall when the temperatures have cooled down to74 to 60° F (23 to 16° C) and when you’re more likely to have Anafiotika to yourself. The winter, Greece’s rainy season, is a time when the gardens in Anafiotika will be green, but springtime is also a great time to see and smell all the fresh flowers and herbs.
If you have limited time to spend in Athens, the hidden oasis of Anafiotika is a must-see stop.
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