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Travel Black Book With Goh Ee Ling

On top of an ancient capital

Athens, surrounded by the sea and mountains, offers mesmerising, scenic views

Who: Ms Goh Ee Ling, 25, a trainee solicitor based in London, who recently ended a four-month secondment to her firm's Greek office for the summer.

Favourite destination: Athens, Greece

Why: It is one of the world's oldest cities and is culturally and historically fascinating.

What I admire most about this city is the genuine hospitality and friendliness that the Athenians extend to visitors, which sometimes come in the form of complimentary desserts after a hearty meal.

I also appreciate the Athenian community's strong sense of kinship. It is not uncommon to see extended families gathering to dine together on their verandahs after a day's work.

A suburb to check out

I lived in Paleo Faliro, a coastal suburb in southern Athens.

Redeveloped for the 2004 Olympic Games, this is a vibrant residential area close to the busy port of Piraeus. It is also near the Flisvos Marina, where one can take a leisurely stroll and admire the yachts and boats moored in the quay.

Stroll down Agiou Alexandrou, the town's popular shopping street, where you will find many cafes, bakeries, bars, restaurants, pita-bars and tavernas. Join the many locals who go to Aristos (96 Sintagmatarchou Zisimopoulou, Paleo Faliro 175 64) for some of the area's best souvlaki and grilled meat.

Favourite restaurant

Cafe Avissinia (7 Kinetou Street, Avissinias Square, 105 55 Athens) is a hidden gem in the effervescent and bohemian district of Monastiraki, which serves traditional Macedonian and Cypriot dishes.

Some must-try items on the menu are baked mushrooms with pepper and onion (€9.50 or S$14.60); stuffed vine leaves with sardines (€11.50); octopus in wine with onions and orzo (€13.50); and Cypriot mahalepi - a type of pudding drizzled with a fragrant rose-petal syrup (€6.50).

To avoid any disappointment, it is best to make a reservation during the summer months for seats in the rooftop dining area, which overlooks the majestic Parthenon and the Temple of Hephaestus.

Must-try

Coffee-drinking seems to be a ritual in Greece and locals often eschew international coffee chains such as Starbucks for either a cafeteria or a "kafeneio".

A cafeteria to the Athenians is a trendy drinking spot which serves as a cafe by day and a bar at night, and a kafeneio refers to a traditional coffee spot that offers snacks, light bites and beverages.

Coffee is widely available in Athens and it is both affordable and of a high standard. Do try a freddo cappuccino (iced cappuccino) from one of the home-grown coffee- shop chains, Coffee Island. It costs €1.70 and offers a refreshing respite on a hot summer's day.

Must-see

For just under €7, a ticket from the bus station in Mavromateon Street (closest metro: Omonia Station) takes you on one of the most scenic coastal routes towards the southernmost point of Athens, Cape Sounion.

The two-hour journey begins in central Athens and takes passengers from Paleo Faliro to the more upscale areas of Glyfada, Voula and Vouliagmeni, Athens' more fashionable seaside enclave.

Popular beach clubs dot the striking coastal route and the course eventually meanders along the Athenian Riviera to bring into full view the Temple of Poseidon, rising 60m above the mesmerising Aegean Sea. Constructed around 440BC, the impressive structure is popular with tourists for its spectacular sunset views.

Best view

Lycabettus Hill is accessible via several walking paths leading up from the relatively steep slopes of the Kolonaki district - Athens' most fashionable and chic area.

If that sounds like too much legwork, opt for the funicular (€7 for a return ticket) to ascend the hill.

At the top of this hill, one will be rewarded not only with views of the mountains of the Peloponnese on a clear day, but also the Aegean Sea towards the south, in the direction of Piraeus. Hadrian's Arch, the Acropolis and Panathenaic Stadium can also be seen in their full glory.

I was lucky to witness a wedding taking place at sunset at the church of Agios Georgios, located right at the top of Lycabettus Hill. That was quite a magical sight.

Best hidden find

Once, while wandering in the neighbourhood of Kolonaki, I stumbled on a Greek delicatessen selling a wide variety of products from all over the country.

Gusto di Grecia (16-20 Pindarou Street, 106 73 Athens) is a wonderful find where one is able to get a good selection of world-famous products from the island of Crete. Items include thyme honey, olive oil, ouzo and paximathia - cookies that are baked until they are dry, like toast, and locals often have them with coffee. There are also figs from the island of Euboea and almond pastries from the island of Chios.

The shop has a delightful ice- cream selection as well. It was here that I tasted quite possibly the best strawberry sorbet in my life, which was air-flown from the island of Crete.

Best day trip

I would highly recommend a trip to the Unesco World Heritage Site of Meteora. A five-hour drive from Athens will take one to the town of Kalambaka, Meteora, where six monasteries are perched precipitously atop the cliffs and gigantic rock formations.

It is a breathtaking and spiritual place. The hermit monks who established the monasteries in the 14th and 16th centuries used only basic construction materials such as nets, baskets, ropes and ladders.

The entrance fee for all monasteries is €3 a person, but there is a strict dress code: Women are to wear long skirts, men are to wear trousers and no sleeveless tops are allowed.

Traveller's advice

Try to speak a little Greek. Simple words and greetings such as "kalimera" (good day), "yiasas" (hello), "ti kaneis?" (how are you?) and "kala" (good) often leave a good impression on the locals. More often than not, they will appreciate your efforts and give you discounts for items in the markets.

Greeks tend to have their meals later. Lunch takes place from 2pm onwards and dinner from 9pm. Most tavernas and restaurants open late at night - welcome news for hungry tourists when they explore the city at night.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 18, 2016, with the headline 'On top of an ancient capital'. Print Edition | Subscribe