Being a Chicagoan who spends half her life in Athens means that I’ve become the defacto expert on everything Athens … friends, family, friends of friends and family of friends fill my email box with questions as they plan their Greek journeys. Their queries are many and varied, but by far the one which causes every visitor to Athens the most agony is choosing accommodations in Athens. One day, after answering the tenth email with the same query, Basil and I got to talking about how we could illustrate just how SMALL central Athens, Greece really is.
Maps weren’t much help, a quick look at central Athens on google or yahoo maps yields a dizzying, mazelike picture of streets and squares, difficult to decipher for those of us who come from well thought out, urban planned cities like Chicago, New York or LA. When asked how many blocks it is to the Acropolis from Syntagma Square, will the questioner understand my answer? In Chicago, 8 blocks is a mile. But in New York, I’ve learned it is 20. Yet Athens has no standard measure of blocks, each is unique in size and length, and few run in a straight path anyway.
So we turned to measuring distances and times. Again, what we thought would be a simple comparison has its own set of problems. While a mile is always a mile, anyone who lives in the country can tell you otherwise. Walking a mile in suburban Chicago will be a very different experience from walking a mile down Michigan Avenue in Chicago, or Fifth Avenue in NYC. Just as walking a mile in Athens will be very different from walking a mile in the Peloponnese. And as we discussed Athens in relation to Chicago, Basil started measuring distances on a map. He plotted out central Athens and clipped it from the map, creating a moveable graphic which he placed over several maps – various cities around the US and elsewhere in the world, along with various airports. And thus, his “How small is Athens, anyway?” Map was created.
Central Athens fits INSIDE Heathrow Airport! For those flying via London, you might be surprised to learn you will walk farther during your transfer from your Transatlantic flight to your Athens bound flight than you will if you stay at the Hilton and walk to Syntagma Square!
The Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s Arch and the National Gardens fit INSIDE of Hyde Park.
Central Athens itself, from the historical center to the Old Olympic Stadium, to the Hilton and back through Kolonaki is SMALLER than the length of Central Park in New York and SMALLER than the length of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
And finally, like in London, central Athens fits INSIDE Chicago’s O’Hare airport.
So if you are planning a visit to Athens and find yourself agonizing over the perfect place to stay, stop! Athens is an amazingly compact, small, walking friendly city with accommodations to fit everyone’s budget – all centrally located and within an easy walk of the many sites and museums the city has to offer. I’m not sure, but I think that no where else in the world has two thousand years of history been packed so nicely into a two square mile area. So instead of stressing over finding the choice location – spend your time breaking in a good pair of walking shoes, get a good map, and get ready to explore.