The summer of 2020 is unlike any other summer in the whole world in many, many years. The coronavirus pandemic has changed everything, and seemingly nothing is as it was before. And Athens, like every major city across the globe, is no exception to this.
Yet, life does go on — even if it has to wear a mask. For those who visit the city this summer to enjoy its many beauties, they will find its endless attractions just as they were before — albeit less crowded, due to the new coronavirus.
As expected, the overall number of tourist arrivals in Athens have fallen this summer. Budgets are limited for most, while the fear of Covid-19 still looms threateningly on the horizon, despite the fact that Greece is one of the safest holiday destinations anywhere on the globe this dreadful year.
Traditionally, August is the month when the vast majority of Athenians take their summer vacation and flee the city for their hometowns or their favorite holiday destinations. So there is more room here to move freely now; traffic moves much faster and there are very few of the long lines one encounters the rest of the summer.
In August, a feeling of sweet indolence permeates the city and the soothing evening breezes compensate for the hot sun that beats down on the Greek capital during the day. For the visitor, the best way to start the day is getting an iced coffee and pastries in one of the countless cafes across the city.
If you have to take the bus, tram or metro to go for that all-important breakfast, remember that it is mandatory to wear a mask. You must wear face coverings inside all means of transport in Greece now, including taxis. There is a steep fine of 150 euros if you get caught without a mask and police are very strict in enforcing this ruling.
Once you get your breakfast and are appropriately fueled with caffeine, there are three places that are an absolute must-see for any visitor to Athens: The Acropolis, The Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum.
Of course there are other sites worth visiting along the way, but you absolutely must go to at least one of these three. The Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum are close together, so you can certainly do both in one day.
Again, you must wear a mask while inside the museums. On the Acropolis, where there are always crowds of people, you should keep a distance of at least 1.5 meters (5 feet) away from others.
After visiting these essential cultural sites, you can do as the Athenians do and grab some snacks and cold drinks from a supermarket and head for the beach. Of course, in supermarkets you are also required to wear a mask and only a limited number of people are allowed in at any time, so you may have to wait in line for a few minutes.
This applies to all other types of stores as well, so keep that in mind in case you wish to shop for clothing, shoes or those essential souvenirs.
There are some great beaches located just 18-25 km (11-15 miles) from downtown Athens and you can easily travel there by bus or taxi. Voula, Kavouri and Vouliagmeni are the closest beaches, but you can venture further afield, to Varkiza, located 36 km, or 22 miles, away.
If you go to an organized beach you will find that sunbeds and umbrellas are now placed so that they comply with social distancing regulations. A mask is not mandatory on the beach, but if you feel like you should wear one, go ahead.
After taking a dip in the azure waters of the Saronic Gulf and letting the sun give you plenty of the vitamin D your body so desperately needs after the long lockdown, it is time for a nice seafood dinner.
We suggest you go back west to Piraeus, to Peiraiki in particular, with its long strip along the shore where in ancient times the Walls of Themistocles protected the port city from invaders. Across Peiraiki is the island of Salamis, famous for the naval battle in which Themistocles and his ships literally obliterated the Persian fleet.
The Peiraiki area is a popular hangout for locals and Athenians who flock there to enjoy the fresh seafood of a summer day. It is full of excellent tavernas that serve calamari, octopus, mussels, shrimp and all kinds of fish, big and small. And you would pay less there for your excellent meal than you would in Kavouri or Vouliagmeni.
After dinner, it is time for a drink or two; we suggest you go back to Athens for this experience. In recent years the Greek capital has become home to some of the best cocktail bars in the world, earning top places in international competitions.
Luckily for you, all these bars are located in downtown Athens — and all are within walking distance from Syntagma Square or the Monastiraki area. “The Clumsies” and “Baba Au Rum” are two of them, both being able to boast that their names are listed in the top bars in the entire world.
There are also several roof garden bars around Monastiraki Square that, along with cocktails, serve up beautiful views of the Acropolis at night. “A for Athens” and “365” are two such establishments, both making you feel that you can reach out and touch a Caryatid on the Acropolis. All in all, an absolutely perfect way to end a day in Athens.
Just be aware that the new health measures that apply to bars provide that patrons are not allowed to sit at the bar or stand near others; they can only be seated at tables. But this should pose no problem for those who wish to sit down and rest their aching feet after a long day of sightseeing.
Additionally, there is a limit on the number of people allowed in bars this year, based on their size. However, masks are mandatory only for bartenders, waiters and staff — not for customers.
If you wear a mask where you should, wash your hands often, don’t touch strangers and follow social distancing rules, you can do all the things we suggest and spend a summer day like a true Athenian this year.
It is more than worth it for this once-in-a-lifetime experience in the Greek capital, which has so very much to offer any traveler from anywhere in the world.