Celebrating New Year in Athens

This trip report was originally written in 2009 for the Fodor's Travel Forum.
Note we arrive just after instability and rioting that caused chaos across the city.

We've just returned from New Year in Athens and had a wonderful time. We were traveling with my mother (71) and aunt (81) and so we were moving a little slower than usual. Despite worries about the rioting it was a great time to go and everyone was very friendly. I encourage you not to worry and to consider the city "open for business."

Choosing the right hotel made all the difference. We stayed at the King George Palace right on Syntagma Sq and I cannot recommend it highly enough. What a fabulous place. Next to the Grande Bretagne, the hotel is a smaller boutique property (listed on lots of the hot/best lists) with a very individual feel. We really felt we had found a home in Athens. The view of the Acropolis from the restaurant at breakfast was spectacular.

I loved the style of the hotel  which is a combination of neoclassical luxe and post-modern style. We had a Murano chandelier in our room and a large marble bathroom. My mother and aunt had two gorgeous velvet sofas in their room, a contrast to the modern furniture in the downstairs bar and in the restaurant upstairs where we had breakfast on a white patent leather sofa everyday! The whole place had a playful feel with, "It's all Greek to Me" in a neon sign above reception and "Are you chic enough?" in the bar. My 81 year old aunt was very amused!

With four days in Athens we probably did less than others would cram into half the time. But part of the reason for the holiday was to spend a relaxing time together and do things at my mother and aunt's pace, which meant eating either lunch or dinner not both and giving everyone the option to opt out.

The National Museum is not to be missed though there is a lot to see and you can't possibly cover everything in one visit. We particularly enjoyed the pottery section with a chronological display of the emerging trends and decoration on every imaginable amphora and pot. Loved it!

We walked from the hotel to the Acropolis and the Agora. It is a wonderful place to visit, the Parthenon is one of the most beautiful buildings though currently obscure by scaffolding. My aunt preferred looking at it from a distance. I found the entry way particularly impressive and the building conveyed the sense awe ancient pilgrims must have felt. The views of the city are panoramic, I hadn't though before we went, of what it would be like to look out from the Parthenon rather than look at it. However, it wasn't the easiest place to visit for older people as the ground is very uneven and there weren't enough hand rails.

One of the reasons we liked the hotel was that it was centrally located and it was easy to see a lot within only a few blocks. I loved the Benaki Museum. I love small museums that refelect the taste of a single collector and this is a wonderful example,  what a great museum. It is housed in a mansion only three blocks from Syntagma Sq and it's a very manageable place to visit. Classical works are on the ground floor, then interiors, costumes, and mages of Athens painted by foreign visitors - which give a real sense of how the city has transformed. I particularly like the collections of ancient and historical jewellery, superb.

There a great cafe on the top floor and a very good museum shop. Overall I would highly recommended the museum.

I wanted to make it to the Cyclyadic Museum and the Benaki Islamic Art Museum but we'll have to wait to see them anothertime.

On New Year's Eve we opted for an early meal and went back to the hotel to ring in the New Year. Most of the best restaurant had a fixed menu and reservations starting late (10pm) so we opted for Daphne's in the Plaka which was fine. We had picked the hotel in part because we knew there was a NY celebration in the square and it was an excellent choice. We had such a good time. The manager had upgraded us to  rooms  with balconies overlooking square. We were looking directly at the stage as a choir sang in the New Year. We couldn't have been better poised to see the fireworks and enjoy the festivities as we sipped our wine. After midnight the manager appeared at our door waving four glasses and an nice bottle of champagne (Lanson) to utter the immortal words, "Ladies I saw you drinking red wine and I thought you should be drinking champagne!"

What a perfect start to 2009, no wonder we loved this place!

On Jan 1st all of the museums and archeological sites were closed but there was still lots to see. We had a lazy morning relaxing over breakfast (luckily the hotel ran breakfast for an extra hour till noon) and left for a relaxed walk in the beautiful sunshine. We walked across the square to the Parliament where we enjoyed the fascinating costumes of the guards, and then down through the Botanical Gardens to Hadrian's Gate and the Temple of Zeus which was easily to see through the shut gates. The Gardens were packed with Greeks out enjoying the holiday.

We walked back through the Plaka, stopping for a coffee, it was warm enough to drink it outside in our coats! As we walked back to the hotel we passed lots more ruins and it was a relaxing but lovely day.

Practical advice...
Walk, Walk, Walk, don't be put off by the graffitti, you'll see it in the best neighborhoods in Athens.

You can take a bus or the metro to Syntagma Square.

Be more concerned about the taxi drivers than the rioters...You may have difficulty hailing taxis on the street so have the hotel or restaurant call a radio taxi for you. There will be a small additional charge but they are generally more reliable. DO check if there is a minimum charge.

We liked Athens and will certainly be back, hopefully in combination with the islands. We were very impressed by the hotel. I had just flown in from Asia and generally we find European hotels to be lacking in comparison. What impressed me was the care and attention they took with my mother and aunt. They did everything they could to make them as comfortable as possible including providing a kettle with innumerable teas, coffee and fresh milk and a late check out. They left fab chocolates at turndown and small cakes in the afternoon. There was a bottle of wine in our room with a note from the manager on arrival and even a cake inscribed with 2009 on New Year's Eve. The service was among the best we've ever experience. In fact it was so good I wrote the manager a thank you note!

A wonderful couple of days with family, a beautiful city, a great hotel, manageable weather, a private balcony overlooking the New Year's celebrations -what more could we have asked for?