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What the tourists don’t do in Athens


What the tourists don’t do in Athens

story by: Anna Sarjeant

Live like a local in the ancient city of Athens.

Your Greek holiday is on the horizon. If you want to know what to do in the city of Athens, these ideas will remove you from the well-trampled tourist haunts, and take you to some truly special places.

1. Get fat on culture
It’s Athens. Where do you even start? Of course there are the must-do’s: The ancient citadel of Acropolis perched above the city, and the iconic fluted columns of the Parthenon still standing in (almost) all their glory. There’s also the Panathenaic Stadium (or Panathinaiko) which is an ancient arena constructed in 1896 for the first modern Olympics, and built entirely from marble. The famed marketplace of Agora is history with a pulse; the heart of public life in Ancient Greece. Amidst the many excavations there exists temples, a concert hall and colonnaded arcades. In terms of archaeological prowess, this is a city that certainly gives Rome a good run for its money.


2. What’s good in the hood?
The lesser-known Athens’ highlights include the tiny neighbourhood of Anafiotika. More Greek island than Greek city, the sleepy narrow streets are flanked by white stone churches and leafy lemon trees. City escapism at its best. For panoramic vistas of Athens in its entirety, climb Vrahakia and stop at the top of Aeropagus Hill; there’s no better place to soak up sweeping views of Acropolis. Plaka is the oldest neighbourhood in Athens. A labyrinth of history-etched laneways, flowers spill from the facades, Greek cuisine engulfs the air and vendors shout from their doorways.  


3. Light up the night
Athens isn’t a city that switches off. In the height of summer the balmy evenings will draw you out, along with the locals, to frequent the many bars, dining terraces and hidden courtyards. And of course, there’s never a wrong time to go in search of a traditional Greek kebab. Cine Paris in Plaka is a seasonal outdoor cinema attracting punters from May through to September, but the best bit its position; affording the best night time views of the Parthenon. A monument which commands attention, quite handsomely, under the dark Greek sky.


4. Eat Greek
Sorolop, in Exarchia Square in the centre of Athens, serves delicious tsoureki (traditional Greek sweet bread) as well as homemade ice-cream. Perfect when weary feet need a comforting pit-stop. Return at night and the proprietors will transform their sweet sorbets into a sinful daiquiri. Troon Street is a hub of culinary activity, with various eateries spilling into the already congested road. If it’s wallet-friendly street food you crave, Feyrouz in the city’s centre and near Aiolou Street, sells traditional lechmatzoun; prepared by mother and served (along with an anecdote) by her two charismatic sons.


5. Wine time
Move over Shiraz and take a hike Chardonnay, in Greece it’s all about the Malagouzia and Astrtiko. Don’t worry if you can’t pronounce them yet, you will after a night in Divino Wine Case, a wine bar in the centre of Athens, and conveniently just a 10 minute walk from Acropolis. Patrons are fully encouraged to polish off a day of sightseeing by polishing off a bottle, or two, of Greece’s finest wine.


6. Sleep’s for the weak
With a city pace that ceases to slow, once you’ve wined, dined and walked off the extra loukoumade honey puffs, avoid going back to your hotel and go in search of a night cap instead. You’re looking for age-worn neoclassical buildings; unassuming from the outside but a hive of activity within. Courtyards, found in the very heart of such buildings are usually the venue of busy bistro bars and brasseries. The city is littered with secret drinking atriums, but one of our firm faves is Ζάχαρη κι αλάτι (Sugar & Salt Bar) in Exarcheia. 


7. Keen for caffeine
The Greeks love their coffee. And when you party as hard as the Athenians, you need a decent shot to kick start your mornings. Ρότα Art Coffee Community (Rota) is an art and community coffee shop with an ‘old-feel’ Athens décor. Found in a beautiful neoclassical building, it delivers good coffee, plenty of books, live music and an open terrace, which in summer is nothing short of glorious. Another goodie for summer are frappes. Originallyfrom Greece, they were invented in the city of Thessaloniki by a Nescafe employee. A foam-covered iced coffee ​drink, it's a main player in Greece's strong coffee culture, especially in summer.

If you’re a tea-lover, the National Archaeological Museum on Patission Street (also the biggest museum in Greece) boasts a secret garden where tea is served amidst the trees. And not to be outdone, Athens City Museum has the Black Duck Garden, where strong coffee is served in a tin coffee pot, complete with Turkish delight. 

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