Gay Athens: The birthplace of gay culture comes into its modern own

We owe a lot to Athens, the ancient birthplace not just of Western culture, but indeed of gay culture itself. In recent times, the city's of course been far more in the spotlight as the capital of a not so economically sunny Greece -- a situation that, for the moment at least, looks to be stabilizing. But while "the crisis" (as they call the predicament locally) has been brewing for some three-plus years now, Athenians have mostly managed to keep their spirits high. They're far from in denial about the grimness of the situation, and indeed can reflect for hours upon its effects and implications. Yet as descendants of the ancients, they know that ultimately this too shall pass.

Meanwhile life goes on, and modern gay Athenian culture -- which had just begun to really explode before the crisis -- has managed to not only survive, but thrive. Despite the rough climate, new venues are still opening, and local gays are still flocking to them. True, tourism is down, and international gay travelers (especially those from the U.S.) mostly still have yet to discover today's Athens as the great destination it is, usually preferring to pass it by for resorty Mykonos. But interestingly, this has only allowed Athens' nascent LGBT community to strengthen into its own and become ready for prime time.

Though clustered around the Kolonaki neighborhood up until about a decade ago, much of gay Athens life is now centered at Gazi, a former industrial area on the city's west side. Gay venues so fill the district that on weekend nights, the streets are literally packed with sexy Greeks heading from one cafe, bar or club to the next -- and the next. The gay clock starts late in Athens, with nothing ever getting very full before midnight, and with many places not hitting their peaks until about 3am. Bear culture is surprisingly strong here, as is lesbian life -- but there's a full range of gay types (and non-types), and you'll find that they mix with each other much more freely than in many other cities.

For now at least, Athens may not be an incredible shopping city. But it more than makes up for that with a bonanza of cultural attractions, as well as an exceptional dining scene -- and sometimes even combinations of the two, wherein you can enjoy a divine Greek meal with the Acropolis as your backdrop. It goes without saying that the array of important museums and sights here (and nearby) is simply staggering and unmatchable.

So for all she's given us through the millennia, do you owe it to Athens to discover her now, and support her when she could use it the most? Perhaps. But regardless, you certainly owe it to yourself.

TRAVEL TIP: While in town, be sure to pick up a free copy of Antivirus, the hip, glossy, and bilingual arbiter of Greek gay culture.

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