I didn’t expect much from Athens. Most of my friends had either not spent much time in the city on their way to the islands (as most people do), or they just didn’t enjoy their time.
Or, as I like to think, they just didn’t find the right places. What I love about Athens is that it’s unashamedly Athens – it has no pretensions, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t. What you see is what you get.
I hired a private guide from Athens Insiders because big cities scare the crap out of me and I felt like paying for someone to be my friend would be a good idea. I was right. My guides Daphne and Anthia showed me THEIR Athens and then made me comfortable enough with the city to do some exploring on my own. Here are my favorite spots:
Exarcheia’s Softer Side
One look at Exarcheia, infamously known as a home for Greek anarchists, might be discouraging, as the graffiti and punk rock facade can be intimidating. Most of the student population hangs out here.
But you’ll find cheap food and coffee options here, and a lively social scene. Go to Navarinou Park, a former car park turned into a free self-managed green space for the locals. Sometimes in the evenings you’ll find young folks hanging around the square drinking beer and having guitar jam sessions. My friend and I sat down at Ali Baba’s hookah bar and befriended a Syrian who taught us the proper way to prepare the hookah. If you’d prefer a mellower experience, hang out at Floral Café, both a study space and a bookstore that serves coffee. Really, it’s all about people watching here.
Nosotros’ Free Social Space
Also located in Exarcheia is a special bar and leftists cultural association, known as Nosotros, where young folks come together to discuss politics or participate in free seminars on literature, theater, painting, music, and dancing. Local musicians often play here, and Nosotros Cinema screenings takes place on the rooftop terrace during the summer.
This is Athens!
Although I paid for my Athens Insiders tour and it was worth it, the local tourism office also has a new campaign where locals can volunteer to take you on a tour around the city…for free! It’s called This is Athens! The exclamation mark belongs there, I swear. My guide, Theo, was so awesome that he ended up taking my friend Matt and I on a little road trip outside the city to the beach areas, and to Cape Sounion where the Temple of Poseidon is. The guides genuinely just want people to have a good time in their city.
Walk Around Anafiotika
Anafiotika is like Athens’ own little version of the Greek islands. Here the homes are whitewashed and built from stone, with blue doors, narrow staircases, and tiny alleyways where cats meander and people hang their laundry. You won’t be bumping shoulder to shoulder with tourists.
I’m not one to spend my time in the upper-class part of town. I’m a writer, so I’m too poor to afford $500 Gucci bags, but I ended up staying at the Periscope boutique hotel and I spent some time in the neighbourhood. There’s a ton of great shopping, but there’s also lots of opportunity to just grab a coffee at a sidewalk café and people watch — especially since the people here tend to dress like superstars and the bearded men are A+ material.
It’s also a quieter spot to spend the night, but you’ll still be within walking distance to the city’s major centres like Syntagma Square and Monastiraki Square.
From Kolonaki you can also hike Mount Lycabettus — a 745-foot mountain in the middle of the city with stellar views. There’s even a little church on top known as St. George’s Chapel.
My two guides from Athens Insiders took me to a few lovely places, including Kafeneio located at Loukianou 26. It has a wood-burning stove and a laid-back vibe, and its fried feta drizzled in honey is to die for. My other favorite is Yperokeanio at Perikleous 46, but you may have to ask around to find it. It’s pushed back into a seemingly quiet alleyway during the day, but it turns into a hot spot in the evenings. It’s so local that its menu is rewritten each evening and in Greek only, but that’s not to say they’re not English-friendly. Try the raki!
Athenstyle Rooftop Bar
I made a few friends who worked at this rooftop bar and the view here in the evenings is worth a pint of cheap Mythos beer– or 10. The Acropolis is all lit up at night and the sunset is something special.
Other than that, I’d recommend getting out and meeting the locals, eating tons of feta, and enjoying some ouzo. The Greeks stay out LATE. You’ll win awards if you can keep up.
trivago’s pick for where to sleep in Athens
The hotel experts recommend Athens Lotus Hotel for its comfortable rooms, great location ( in the historical center of Athens, close to the Metaxourghio metro station, within walking distance of the National Archaeological Museum) and free Wi-Fi. This four-star hotel offers guests a quiet escape from the bustling streets of Athens for a great value. Get all the details here.