My Big Fat Physically Distanced Greek Vacation. Travelling Athens in 2020.

Let's start with the obvious. The word play in the title of this post is incredibly overdone. Well, maybe not the "physically distanced" part. Who could have seen a global pandemic coming?! I'll tell ya who didn't - ME, two years ago when I started detaching myself from every aspect of my Canadian life to be able to travel for a year (or forever - depending on my success of my *transformation* into a "digital nomad"). Nevertheless, here I find myself - jobless, homeless and hell-bent on dodging the Canadian winter. Let's talk about it.

This week I barely made it into Greece as a Canadian tourist. The day after I landed in Athens, Greece removed Canadians from the “safe” list for entry. Without getting too mushy about the topic, I feel incredibly lucky/grateful to have made it this far and have committed to enjoying any opportunity that comes my way given the fact that any day, I may have to hop on a plane back to Canada.

NOW. With that out of the way, onto my first week in Greece - more specifically, Athens. Grab your masks and buckle up as I cover accommodations, favourite experiences (mostly dining) and all the little quirks of travelling in 2020.

Not a huge reader? Check out this video where I touch on some of the topics covered in this post. Subscribe on YouTube if you'd like to stay up to date on the general nonsense.

COVID-19 Related Restrictions

October 24 - 31, 2020

Let’s start with a quick overview on the restrictions implemented in Athens during my stay to provide more context into the way in which I experienced the city.

  1. Mandatory curfew from 12:30am to 5am in areas considered high-risk, including Athens.

  2. Masks are mandatory indoors and outdoors.

Flying from Canada to Greece

Okay so, am I allowed to say the flight was actually kinda tight? I don't know the rules around acknowledging silver linings related to the pandemic... but it was the most empty flight I've ever been on. I scooted over into the middle seats, lied down and slept the entire nine hour flight. Thankfully I invested in a few comfortable masks.

My Stay in Athens

In my exactly one other European travel experience back in 2013, I opted to stay in hostels. As a broke, “fresh out of university” 20-something year old, the decision was purely financially based. While hopping between hostels, I quickly learned the value in immediately speaking to locals or other travellers upon arrival in a new country. In 2020, the potentially crowded and communal hostel environment didn’t seem like the best idea. Instead, I decided to explore the “private room” option on Airbnb in hopes of finding a host who could give me a beginner's guide to Athens and stumbled upon the perfect match.

My Airbnb stay was the penthouse suite in a building located in a central and safe neighbourhood in Athens called Neos Kosmos. I had a beautiful private room with a mini fridge (an extra touch I didn’t know I needed until now) and my own private bathroom. The room has a private entrance to a huge, wrap around balcony with a comedically beautiful view of Athens and the Acropolis.

As if that’s not enough, the host of the Airbnb works in tourism in Athens. Now that’s bang for your buck. I couldn’t have found a more perfect Airbnb for my first week in Greece. Willian (my host) is so incredibly helpful and patient with my rapid-fire questions about Greece, Athens, food, culture, coffee, the Greek language and whatever other ponderings came to mind.

Click here to see the Airbnb listing for yourself!

Other Points of Interest:

  • You will be able to easily (and affordably) travel from the airport to the Airbnb using the Athens Metro transit system. After purchasing a €9.00 metro pass at the airport, jump on Line 3 to Syntagma station. At Syntagma, get off Line 3 and hop onto Line 2 (towards Elliniko) and hop off at Sygrou-Fix station. From Sygrou-Fix, it is only a 9 minute walk (550m) to the Airbnb.

  • There is a large grocery store called ΣΚΛΑΒΕΝΙΤΗΣ down the street, it is approximately a 2 minute walk (140m).

  • Across the street is a small grocery store called Spar that has surprisingly good €2.00 bottles of wine. On our first night, we poured ourselves a glass of wine and enjoyed the view of the Acropolis from the balcony.

Eat in Athens

While I wouldn’t label myself as a “foodie” (mostly because of how nauseatingly privileged that word sounds), ya girl definitely likes to eat. Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” and “No Reservations” forever changed the way I view food. I now see how food and cuisine can be used as a vehicle to better understand the people and culture of a country.

Am I at the point of being able to offer unique insights into the history and culture of Greece through their cuisine? Definitely not. Am I at the point of confidently recommending a few spots? For sure. Here are some places that came highly recommended to me, that I will now pass onto you. I will be measuring all distances from my Airbnb’s location. Enjoy :)

Budget Eats ($)

Best Take-Away Street Food: Ψητοπωλείο Το Έμπειρο

Going out to eat in Athens does not have to be expensive; they offer good quality meat on a stick or in a wrap for cheaper than going to the supermarket and making it yourself. When most people think of Greek street food, souvlakia and gyros come to mind and if that’s what you’re looking for, this is the spot. The service was friendly and quick and we were even given a few samples before we decided on our order. This is a spot I visited more than once, but here is an example of one order to give you a sense of prices:

  • Pork Gyro: €2.70

  • Fix Beer: €1.50

Basically, two people can easily have lunch and a beer here for under €10.00.

Distance from Airbnb:

Literally a two minute walk (200m)

Best Dine-In "Street" Food: Kalamaki Bar

Chicken skewers or kalamaki from street food restaurant in Athens Greece, Kalamaki Bar
Chicken Skewers from Kalamaki Bar

Kalamaki Bar is a bit of a higher end street food option. There are plenty of seats outside which makes it a perfect place to have meat on a stick over candlelight (my kind of date). This is the type of place I would continue to go back to. In fact, I did - three times during my week in Athens. Kalamaki Bar is located on one of the many bustling restaurant strips in Athens, which makes for a great atmosphere. Despite being located only a few blocks away from the Acropolis, the prices are still very affordable and the food is delicious. The portions are large and can be easily shared between two people. Here's an example of one of my orders:

Salad from Kalamaki Bar in Athens, Greece
Bosphorus Salad from Kalamaki Bar
  • Bread: €0.30

  • Bosphorus Salad: €5.90

  • “Kalamaki” (Skewer): €1.60 - €2.90 depending on the meat (pork, chicken, kabab, veal, lamb)

For a meal for two people with a couple drinks, expect to spend between €18-24.

Other points of interest:

  • Two or three skewers per person is plenty. Chicken, pork and kebab are all solid choices. The veal was suggested to be ordered at medium well by our server but we didn’t listen and opted out for medium, which was tough. Definitely go medium well.

Distance from Airbnb:

10 minute walk (650m)

Mid-Range Eats ($$)

My Favourite Restaurant: To Trikyklo (The Tricycle)

Greek salad and feta spread from a restaurant in Athens, Greece called To Trikyklo or The Tricycle
Greek Salad & Feta Spread from To Trikyklo

This is my favourite restaurant (so far) in Athens. Located at the end of a quiet street facing a small park, To Trikyklo offers a more intimate atmosphere. The menu offers a great selection of traditional Greek food. When we asked the locals where their grandmother would go if she had to choose a place, To Trikyklo was the answer. The food was amazing and the service very warm and hospitable. On my first visit, I was treated to a complimentary digestif at the end of my meal called mastikha, a Greek liqueur. Here is an example of one of my orders from To Trikyklo:

  • Country Salad (Greek Salad): €4.50

  • Chicken with Colourful Peppers and Sweet and Hot Sauce: €4.50

  • Roasted Veal Covered in an Eggplant Pouch (with rice & yogurt): €9.00

Other points of interest:

  • I would highly recommend the Greek salad and the veal, which is slow-braised in eggplant and comes with rice, yogurt and pita bread. A small salad is big enough to split between two people and the veal is meant to be split as well. They’ll ask if you want bread, say yes.

  • Expect to spend anywhere between €30-50 for two people depending on food and drink.

  • Across the street is another restaurant called Λοστρέ κουζίνα that we tried and enjoyed. The price range is similar to To Trikyklo and a convenient option from the Airbnb if you’re looking to switch it up.

Distance from Airbnb:

2 minute walk (160m)

Best Bakaliaros Skordalia: Mpakaliarákia

Greek fish and garlicky potatoes from basement taverna in Athens, Greece
Bakaliaros Skordalia from Mpakaliarákia

What is Bakaliaros Skordalia you may ask? A traditional dish that is essentially Greek fish and chips, except instead of chips, the side is a delicious garlicky potato mash. Located in the tourist friendly/trappy neighbourhood of Plaka, Mpakaliarákia was recommended to me by a native Athenian as a true “basement greek taverna” experience. Mpakaliarákia drifts from the typical, cookie cutter line up of restaurants and cafes that know they can get away with charging a little bit more because of where they’re located. This is Grandma's cookbook.

We asked for a salad to start and were recommended bread and olives, which is always a promising sign. However pleasant the olives, that’s not what this is about. You’re here to order one thing, the fried cod and garlic mashed potatoes. With the first slice into the cod, you’ll be welcomed with a crisp, airy crunch which reveals perfectly cooked, steaming white cod. There’s no point in wondering how they made the batter, just take your time with the meal and come to peace with the fact that the aroma of the garlic mashed potatoes and fish will leave no room for romance afterwards.

Distance from Airbnb:

20 minute walk (1.2km)

Coffee in Athens

I heavily get down with coffee culture in Athens. First of all, the coffee is strong. Like… “have a Freddo Espresso at 6pm in an effort to combat jet lag and end up staring at the ceiling until 4am with sweating feet” kind of strong. Additionally, unlike Canada, coffee shops expect you to order and stay for a while. Similar to dining out in restaurants, Greeks treat going out for coffee as a social occasion that is to be enjoyed. While I have not even scratched the surface of great coffee options in Athens, here are the two I can confidently recommend checking out.

Best Cafe to Work From: KINONO

Espresso from Kinono coffee shop in Neos Kosmos, Athens, Greece
Espresso from KINONO in Athens, Greece

Good coffee, lo-fi hip hop and an upstairs section where you’ll find others working from their laptops. KINONO is just cool. And pretty. You should go.

Distance from Airbnb:

9 minute walk (650m)

Best View: A for Athens Cocktail Bar and Restaurant

View of Acropolis and Athens from rooftop bar and restaurant called A for Athens in Athens, Greece
Rooftop View from A for Athens

A for Athens is a rooftop bar that is centrally located in the popular and tourist friendly neighbourhood of Monastiraki. This is the place to sit, enjoy your coffee, chat and occasionally pinch yourself while enjoying the amazing views of Athens and the Acropolis.

Distance from Airbnb:

30 minute walk (2.1km)

And if you want the stuff that will keep you up all night wondering if it’s possible that you were slipped some sort of illegal stimulant, check out the Sports Bar down the street from the Airbnb. No one will speak English and you will only ever see the same, two middle-aged men there, but man oh man will you have the brain power to re-evaluate all your life decisions!

The Acropolis

The Parthenon at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece in 2020
The Parthenon

Confession time. I rarely enjoy major tourist attractions and so I won't be spending a lot of time on this section. In my experience, the souvenir shops and inevitable ongoing restoration distracts my brain from properly trying to wrap itself around the historical significance of the place.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus at the Acropolis in Athens Greece in 2020
Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Despite my indifference towards tourist attractions, I still feel obligated to visit them so while in Athens, of course I had to visit the Acropolis. Tourism is a major part of the economy in Greece, which has obviously been negatively affected by the pandemic. While visiting the nearly empty Acropolis, the impact became glaringly obvious and that's mostly what was on my mind while meandering through the pillars. This is an example of an activity that forces you to really feel the effects of the pandemic.

Well that accidentally ended on a dreary note. Anywho, if you've made it this far, thank you for reading. Feel free to stop by again or follow me on social media if you're interested in tagging along in my travels.

Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through them and make a purchase. A HUGE thank you to those who use my links to make a purchase, as it supports me to continue creating content :)

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Welcome to yournewcurlfriend, I'm Brittney - your new curlfriend. I would describe myself as endlessly curious, secretly dark humoured, easily entertained, happily introverted and... Canadian. 

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