Tag Archives: athens

I Heart My City (in the Spring)

29 Mar

Hanami cherry blossoms outside the Tokyo National Museum. (Photograph by Rob Towell, Flickr)

There’s still a chill in the air here in Washington, D.C., but the days are getting longer, the cherry blossoms are starting to pop, and residents are beginning to shed those cumbersome winter coats. Spring is upon us (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), and we’re embracing it with open arms by highlighting seasonal must-dos from our amazing I Heart My City community.

From ice cream to air shows, palaces to train rides, here are 20 ways to make the most of the next few months in 20 cities around the globe:

Shelly’s Oxford (United Kingdom): Head to nearby Wytham Woods to see the bluebells at their finest.

The Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace. (Photograph by Ncburton, Flickr)

The Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace. (Photograph by Ncburton, Flickr)

Megan Natalie’s Seoul (South Korea): Visit Gyeongbokgung Palace’s gardens to experience a piece of paradise you’d swear couldn’t exist in Seoul (make sure to watch the changing of the guards).

Ewelina’s Krakow (Poland): Take a walk to Krakus Mound at Podgórze; a nice, green hill where you can take a blanket and relax.

Annie Fitzsimmon’s NYC (United States): Celebrate the bounty of post-winter produce and eat anything with ramps on it because they’re only in season for a few weeks! Motorino has a great ramp pizza, and ABC Kitchen never fails with its in-season menu.

Keith Bellow’s Montreal (Canada): Hang around near McGill and Prince Arthur, soaking up the sun and the street life.

Anya’s Istanbul (Turkey): Visit Topkapi Palace. The flowers are in bloom and it’s positively stunning.

Katherine’s Athens (Greece): Take a bus to Cape Sounion, the ancient ruins of Poseidon’s temple. On the short bus ride from Athens, you’ll wind along the coast and enjoy some of my favorite views.

The Boxi-Platz flea market in Berlin. (Photograph by La Citta Vita, Flickr)

Berlin’s Boxhagener Platz flea market is open on Sundays. (Photograph by La Citta Vita, Flickr)

Madeleine’s Annapolis (U.S.): Check out the Blue Angels air show at the United States Naval Academy commencement.

Maja’s Belgrade (Serbia): Go to Zemun in Old Town and have lunch at one of the fish restaurants on the Danube.

Colleen’s Beijing (China): Fly kites by Houhai Lake.

Zain’s Amman (Jordan): Pack a picnic and visit the Hellenistic site known as Iraq Al Amir.

Shannon Switzer’s San Diego (U.S.): Check out the wildflowers in Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

Yvonne’s Berlin (Germany): Explore Berlin’s many flea markets to find great vintage clothes, furniture, books, and local art.

Sylvia’s Tokyo (Japan): Go for hanami (cherry-blossom-viewing parties) in a park with a big group of Japanese friends, some beer, and some sushi.

Jessica’s Barcelona (Spain): Experience a traditional Catalan calçotada which consists of getting together and eating large quantities of local green onions known as calçots along with romenesco sauce, regional wine, and good company.

Vienna's MuseumsQuartier. (Photograph by Photongatherer, Flickr)

Hang out outside Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier. (Photograph by Photongatherer, Flickr)

Jennifer’s Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates): See Abu Dhabi from the water. Hire a dhow (traditional wooden boat) for a tour, charter a speedboat to take you to one of the 200 islands off the main island, or kayak amongst the mangroves.

Karen’s St. John’s, Newfoundland (Canada): Watch the last ice depart from the Atlantic from atop Signal Hill National Historic Site. Check out the on-site gift shop where local music, books, and culinary delights make excellent gifts.

Isabel Eva’s Madrid (Spain): Take a trip on the Tren de la Fresa to Aranjuez. During the 50-minute ride, you will be served fresh strawberries. Once in Aranjuez, you can take a tour of the Museo del Ferrocarril (the railway museum) and the Palacio Real (the royal palace).

Lea’s Vienna (Austria): Do as the locals do and head to the MuseumsQuartier to hang out on one of the over-sized flexible furniture elements called Enzis.

Nat Geo’s Washington, D.C. (U.S.): Check out the National Arboretum and Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, two of D.C.’s hidden gems.

Wherever you are, what’s your favorite thing about your city in the springtime? Tell us about it in the comment section below.

I Heart My City (in the Spring) Abu Dhabi , annapolis , athens , austria , belgium , Belgrade , California , canada , d.c. , England , France , Ghent , Gouda , Greece , Iceland , Istanbul , japan , krakow , Madrid , maryland , Montreal , netherlands , New York , new york city , oxford , Paris , Poland , Reykjavík , san diego , Seoul , Serbia , South Korea , Spain , St. John’s Newfoundland , tokyo , turkey , United Arab Emirates , United Kingdom , United States , vienna , washington

I Heart My City: Kids Edition

6 Mar

Get a taste of the wild -- and learn about the importance of conservation -- at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane. (Photograph by Stephanie Bond, Flickr)

It’s time for another special edition of I Heart My City!

This time we’re serving up recommendations for the world’s best educational experiences for kids (and kids at heart) in 15 cities around the world from the people who know them best: our ever-inspirational I Heart My City community. They also happen to be fun.

Ewelina’s Krakow (Poland): The Stanislaw Lem Garden of Experiences, an open-air education exhibition that allows kids to explore the natural world and the laws of physics.

Kids get a grip on geography at the Te Papa museum. (Photograph by Chris Zielecki, Flickr)

Kids get a grip on geography at the
Te Papa museum. (Photograph by Chris Zielecki, Flickr)

Larisa and Michael’s Philadelphia (United States): Franklin Square Park, a neighborhood park just off Independence Mall, has a playground and carousel, plus a mini-golf course featuring small-scale models of Philly’s historic buildings. It’s a great place to work off some youthful energy after seeing the Liberty Bell.

Katherine’s Athens (Greece): The Hellenic Children’s Museum or the free zoo in the National Gardens.

Charlotte’s Wellington (New Zealand): The city’s elaborate playgrounds, the kids areas at the Te Papa, or bird spotting in Zealandia, the bird sanctuary in Karori.

Natalie’s Toronto (Canada): Riverdale Farm: There are animals, it’s a great spot to picnic, and it’s free! It’s also a great way to see Cabbagetown, filled with historic Victorian homes. 

Christine’s Melbourne (Australia): Take a day trip to see the penguins on Phillip Island.

Kristina’s Santiago de Chile (Chile): The city zoo, located on a slope of the Cerro San Cristobal, which has a seemingly incongruous urban backdrop.

Annie Fitzsimmons’s New York City (United States): The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, which is in a model schoolhouse brought to Central Park in 1877. Shows are staged year round.

Kids learn by doing at the touch pool in Two Oceans Aquarium. (Photograph by Flowcomm, Flickr)

Kids learn by doing at the touch pool in Two Oceans Aquarium. (Photograph by Flowcomm, Flickr)

Yamina’s Brussels (Belgium): The Children’s Museum, where kids are allowed to touch everything, climb walls, listen to stories, and attend workshops.

Lea’s Vienna (Austria): The Haus der Musik museum, an interactive sound museum which provides a new approach to music on a playful and scientific level.

Luci’s Brisbane (Australia): Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. It’s also home to dingos, wombats, and platypus.

Jo’s Cape Town (South Africa): Don’t miss the Two Oceans Aquarium, aptly named for the Atlantic and Indian oceans, which converge in the area.

Nat Geo’s Washington, D.C. (United States): The National Air and Space Museum (for the rockets and the gift shop’s freeze-dried astronaut ice cream) and the Newseum, for the First Dogs exhibit, a tribute to presidential fidos.

Yvonne’s Berlin (Germany): The Berlin Zoo (the famous polar bear Knut’s birthplace), where you can see cute baby animals. It’s also the oldest zoo in Germany.

Megan and Natalie’s Seoul (South Korea): Lotte World. Thrills aren’t the only thing to seek at this South Korean theme park. The adjacent Lotte Folk Museum boasts a miniature village that displays life in the Joseon Dynasty on a 1/8th scale.

I Heart My City: Kids Edition Air and Space Museum , athens , Berlin Zoo , brisbane , brussels , Cabbagetown , Cape Town , Cerro San Cristobal , Franklin Square Park , Haus der Musik , Hellenic Children’s Museum , I Heart My City , Independence Mall , Joseon Dynasty , Karori , krakow , Liberty Bell , Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary , Lotte World , Melbourne , National Gardens , National Geographic , new york city , Newseum , philadelphia , Phillip Island , Riverdale Farm , Santiago , Seoul , Smithsonian , Stanislaw Lem Garden of Experiences , Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre , Te Papa , toronto , Two Oceans Aquarium , vienna , Wellington , Zealandia

I Heart My City: Katherine’s Athens

21 Jan

The Acropolis Museum opened its doors to the public in 2009. (Photograph by Duncan Hull, Flickr)

Katherine LaGrave traveled to Greece with her family when she was young, then moved to Athens to teach English after finishing college. One year turned into two, and though she left to attend journalism school, she returns often. The things that drew her to Greece are the things that keep her coming back: the food, the beauty of the country, and the spirit of the people who live there. Here are a few of Katherine’s favorite things about one of the world’s oldest cities.


Athens is My City

Visit the Botanical Museum at the National Garden. (Photograph by Spiros K, Flickr)

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is Adrianou Street. It’s an excellent place to have coffee, get acquainted with the Athens café culture, look up at the historic Acropolis, and observe both locals and tourists. Get there early on the weekends.

When I crave hearty, homemade Greek dishes, I always go to Doris. Inside the cozy pink building at 30 Praxitelous, you’ll find a menu that changes daily and an oft-packed interior. My favorites are the fasolada (bean soup), keftedes (Greek meatballs) and loukoumades (Greek doughnuts with honey and cinnamon). The prices are unbelievably cheap for the quality and quantity of food you receive.

To escape the hustle and bustle of the city, I head to the National Gardens. Located behind the Parliament building, there’s a small zoo, a café, ancient ruins, jogging paths, gazebos, flowers, and plenty of benches for sitting. Or, bring a blanket and some snacks and have a picnic.

If I want to bargain at a market that sells anything, I go south to Piraeus. Be prepared to elbow your way through the locals!

Don’t miss the changing of the guard ceremony. (Photograph by Heather Brunton, My Shot)

For complete quiet, I can hide away in any number of the city’s Orthodox churches. They’re open daily and are an interesting lesson in history, as well as a respite from hectic Athenian life. They smell of incense and have incredibly ornate, detailed mosaics. Regardless of what else I’ve got going on, I always take time out of my day to stop in, light some candles and sit for a few moments.

If you come to my city, get your picture taken with a traditional Greek guard in front of the Parliament. You can smile and move, but they’ll remain motionless. Be careful of getting too close, though: you’ll get elbowed!

If you have to order one thing off the menu at Zonar’s, it has to be their modern take on the Greek frappé. Mixed with pomegranate seeds and chocolate made in the café’s chocolatier, it’s a coffee not to be missed.

Public is my one-stop shop for affordable presents: imagine multiple levels of quirky gifts, beautiful books, and the latest music and movies. It’s centrally located in Syntagma Square, and has a great rooftop café/bar that offers stunning views.

Try the keftedes at Doris when you’re in town. (Photograph by Jamie Drummond, Flickr)

Locals know to skip tourist markets in Monastiraki and check out the bustle of the lively markets of Athinas Street instead. Here, I like to find my hand-cut soaps made from olive oil.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go to any number of kiosks you see around the city. They’re the best places to get chocolate, magazines, and snacks on the run.

For a huge splurge I go to the Hotel Grande Bretagne, one of the oldest and most luxurious hotels in Athens. My favorites are its café, with fine china and afternoon tea, and the rooftop garden, with an unbeatable mix of trendy locals, strong cocktails, and a one-of-a-kind view of the Acropolis.

For the best atmosphere and a glittering view of Athens, go at night.

The Acropolis provides a handy point of reference in case you get lost. (Photograph by Anne Marie Zippay, My Shot)

Photo ops in my city include the Acropolis, and the best vantage points are Filopappou Hill and a lookout point next to the Thissio metro stop. One of the best tips is to learn early where the Acropolis is in relation to other things. That way, because you’re always able to see it, you’ll know more or less where you are and what direction you’re going.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be Madonna: original and controversial, but something that undeniably changed history.

The most random thing about my city is the beauty that can be found in any number of the metro stops. Here, you’ll find sculptures by famous Greek artists, exhibitions of ancient artifacts, and interesting art.

My city has the most forward men.

My city has the most capable women.

In my city, an active day outdoors involves strolling in Kolonaki and enjoying a coffee outside with friends. I love this section of Athens—classic, with beautiful buildings and elegant storefronts.

Check out AthensPlus to navigate the city’s nightlife. (Photograph by Eunhye Jung, My Shot)

My city’s best museum is the relatively new Acropolis Museum. Made of glass and marble, it has unbeatable views of the Acropolis and is an amazing addition to the city’s impressive roster of museums.

My favorite jogging/walking route is inside the National Gardens. You can’t beat it.

For a night of dancing, go to Exarchia, one of Athens’ most diverse neighborhoods, and check out any number of rock or pop clubs. Or, for live music, check out Anifori, in Piraeus. Here you’ll hear traditional Greek rembetika.

Evergreen, a healthy fast-food chain that’s sprung up around Athens, is the spot for late-night eats. My favorite is the pesto pasta salad.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read AthensPlus, which is in English and quite cheap. It can be purchased from the kiosks I mentioned above.

Take a bus to Cape Sounion to see the ruins of Poseidon’s Temple. (Photograph by J€RRY, Flickr)

You can tell a lot about my city from the pace at which things move.

You can tell if someone is from my city if they speak a certain way and wear lots of black.

In the spring you should take a bus to Cape Sounion, the ancient ruins of Poseidon’s temple. On the short bus ride from Athens, you’ll wind along the coast and enjoy some of my favorite views.

In the summer you should make the hike to PiuVERDE, a café located in Papagou Park. You’ll be surrounded by foliage and get to taste modern Mediterranean fusion cuisine in the process.

In the fall you should go to a football match: Watch rivals (and local Athenian teams) Olympiakos and Panathinaikos battle it out. I’m a Panathinaikos fan, myself.

In the winter you should make a day trip to Arachova, a picturesque town that Greeks flock to for skiing. There are lots of great rugs and crafts here, too, and lots of tucked-away stavernas with hearty dishes.

The catch of the day on the island of Aegina. (Photograph by Katherine LaGrave)

A hidden gem in my city is 7 Jokers, a fusion bar tucked away on Voulis, a backstreet in downtown Athens. Enjoy a cocktail while admiring the high bamboo ceilings and the eclectic set list.  It’s Jimmy Buffett-meets-Havana.

For a great breakfast joint try Ariston. It’s more of a bakery, but you have to try a cheese pie—it’s what this institution is famous for.

Don’t miss the Easter festival in Hydra. There are no motor vehicles of any sort allowed on Hydra, so it’s already incredibly peaceful. Take part, if you can, in the Easter procession that winds through the towns and along the seashore.

Just outside my city, you can visit any number of close islands by a short boat ride: Aegina, Hydra, Spetses, and Poros, to name a few.

The best way to see my city is on foot. You’ll discover things you’d never think of.

The island of Poros is bustling, even during the off-season. (Photograph by Elizabeth Croswhite, My Shot)

If my city were a pet it would be a goat: Determined, set in its ways, and tough.

If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live on a Greek island—preferably Kythira. The island is sparsely populated, but one of the most beautiful in Greece. Mythology supposes that Kythira is the island of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. I’m hoping to retire there one day.

The best book about my city is The Colossus of Maroussi, by Henry Miller. Here, Miller writes not only about Athens, but also about his experiences in Delphi and several Greek islands. His candor and ability to capture the spirit of the people is remarkable.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is ”Na Eisai Ekei,” by Greek pop artist Mixalis Xatzigiannis. It has nothing to do with Athens, but there’s an association because it’s the first song I learned by a Greek artist. He’s since become one of my favorite singers.

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss either the Hellenic Children’s Museum or the free zoo in the National Gardens.

Too many things could only happen in my city. It’s one of the world’s oldest cities — how could they not?

My city should be featured on your cover or website because it’s largely misunderstood.

I Heart My City: Katherine’s Athens

8 of the Best Day Trips from Athens

21 Jan

Greece has been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons recently, with the region’s debt crisis spiraling out of control and the question of the country’s EU membership hanging in the balance. While the uncertainty might encourage some tourists to head elsewhere, savvy travelers will be making the most of the rock-bottom prices and favorable exchange rates.

In fact, this year is likely to be one of the best times to visit the historical city of Athens, with great bargains on flights, hotels and transportation and if you’re lucky, a few less crowds at the many local sights. Just take a few precautions like carrying some extra cash and double-checking schedules and opening hours. While there’s plenty to keep you occupied in the center, with the money you’ll save you can afford to enjoy some day trips out of the city and explore the many sights a little further afield. Here a few to get you started:

1. Mycenae

Mycenae

Mycenae

One of Greece’s most impressive archaeological sites, located about 140km from the city center, Mycenae makes for a popular day trip. Once an important military stronghold dating back to 1600 BC, the ruins of Mycenae showcase what’s left of one the greatest Greek cities of the era. Check out the famous Lion Gate, the treasury of Atreus and the tomb of Agamemnon, then climb the hill to the Agamemnon palace and bask in the incredible views that stretch across the Argolid all the way to the Saronic Gulf. You can also take a combined Mycenae and Epidaurus tour so you’ll be able to visit two in one.

2. Island tour

Hydra

Hydra

You can’t come to Greece without paying a visit to its islands, and there are plenty of day cruises running to those closest if you’re short on time. A triple island cruise will take you on a tour of the islands of Hydra, Poros and Egina, with free time to explore each one and plenty of time on board to admire the views along the Peloponnesian coast and tuck into some Greek cuisine.

Visit the temple of Aphaia and the pistachio nut tree groves (the island is Greece’s number one grower of the nut) on Egina, take a stroll through the Lemon Forest or explore ancient Trizina on Poros and take a donkey ride around car-free Hydra before indulging in some souvenir shopping – the maze of cobblestone streets are packed with art boutiques and market stalls.

3. Epidaurus

Epidaurus

The ancient theater in Epidaurus

The world heritage listed city of Epidaurus lies within a 2-hour drive of Athens, famed as the birthplace of Asklepios, son of Apollo and the god of healing. Asklepion (the healing center) makes for a fascinating visit, where you can explore the sanctuary, temples and the Archeological Museum of Epidaurus, but the main point of interest is the city’s ancient theater. Famed both for its classical Greek architecture dating back to 4th Century BC and its specially designed acoustics, the theater is still in use today. Time your visit for late spring to catch the Epidaurus festival, where recreations of ancient Greek theater will dominate the bill, otherwise find out upcoming concert dates and book your tickets in advance.

4. Mount Hymettus

The closest mountain range to Athens, reaching a peak of 3,366 ft, Hymettus makes for a refreshing change of scenery from the inner city, with vast expanses of greenery and pine tree forests traversing the slopes.

Explore abandoned marble quarries, ancient tombs carved into the limestone and crumbling monasteries as you wind your way through the forested hillsides and valleys of the mountain known to locals as trellos (crazy mountain’). A wide network of well-marked hiking trails will take you where you want to go, but there are also plenty of routes for mountain biking or even rock climbing. Best of all, the view from the top – acclaimed by locals and tourists alike – spans almost the entire the city.

5. Temple of Poseidon

Temple of Poseidon

Temple of Poseidon

Set in a spectacular location sandwiched by sea on 3 sides, the ancient Temple of Poseidon, the god of the sea, makes another popular day trip and it’s less than an hour away from Athens. The ruins of the temple, dating back to 440BC, stand on the dramatic Cape Sounion overlooking the Aegean Sea, with 15 of the original 41 white marble columns still standing (one of which is famously engraved with the signature of British poet Lord Byron). The real draw card though, is the incredible view from the temple front, a spot crammed with onlookers come sunset.

6. Wine tours of Attika

Greece might be more famed for its cuisine than its wine but the Attika region is slowly earning itself a reputation for producing some quality grapes. There are over 30 vineyards in the area, most of them family operated and many of them open to the public for tastings and tours. Pay a visit to one of the region’s best wineries, Katogi-Strofilia in Anavissos or grab a list of wineries with open cellar doors from the tourist office and hire a car to get around. Better yet, book a wine tour from Athens.

7. Vouliagmeni Beach

The closest beach to the city center – just 20km or a short bus ride away – Vouliagmeni doesn’t have a great deal to offer in terms of sights, but what it lacks in historic significance it makes up for in long stretches of sand and cool, clear waters. This is the place to come if you want to get away from the urban sprawl and spend the day lounging in the sun. There are designated swimming areas, kid’s playgrounds, water slides and volleyball courts, plus plenty of beachfront restaurants where you can tuck into a selection of Mezes and a chilled cocktail. Umbrellas and sunbeds are provided so you all you need to bring is your sunblock.

8. Delphi

Delphi

Delphi

There are few destinations so evocative of Greek mythology as Delphi, and the city’s ruins are one of Greece’s most visited attractions. History tells the legend of Zeus releasing two eagles that crashed into each other and plummeted to the ground at Delphi, which was then deemed the center of the earth and became home to the most famous oracle of ancient Greece.

Nestled in the valleys of Mount Parnassos, Delphi is as picturesque as it is historically significant, but to fully appreciate the area’s rich history, join one of the frequent guided tours where you’ll be able to match the myths to the architecture. If you do go it alone, make sure you don’t miss the reconstructed Doric Temple, the immaculately preserved 4thcentury theater and the rebuilt treasury of the Athenians.

8 of the Best Day Trips from Athens