If you like to spend plenty of time wandering around and getting a feel for a new place, Athens is ideal for you. Grab the chance to explore everything this eclectic city has to offer.
It’s almost like you are pretending that you live there and you are just taking a day off to relax and enjoy yourself, getting a little dose of history and culture and maybe a couple of iced coffee drinks along the way. Live like an Athenian with our top 5 suggestions.
1) WANDER THE STREETS OF MONASTIRAKI AND PLAKA
Head straight to the very heart of the city. Much of the action is right behind the Monastiraki metro station. Expect live music and dancing in the streets in the afternoons. Every day except Sunday, Monastiraki is a market area full of small shops selling antiques, art and records. Cross Ermou Street to find the picturesque Psiri, a neighbourhood full of cafeterias, bars and tavernas. For a dose of tranquillity, head to Plaka, on the other side. In its narrow cobblestone streets stand beautiful listed buildings, and there are endless alleyways to explore.
2) DISCOVER THE ACROPOLIS AND ATHENS FROM ABOVE
A favourite Acropolis spot is right next to flag, on the northeast corner, with views of Athens stretching out below. One can see the ceramic tiled roofs of the houses in the Plaka area, Hadrian’s Arch and the giant Temple of Olympian Zeus – as well as Zappeion, the National Garden and the First Cemetery of Athens. Make sure you take in this bird’s eye view of the historic Greek capital and marvel at all the monuments you can see from this spot. Is it too hot to visit the Acropolis? In Athens, that can certainly happen… So just head to the best spots to see it from afar. No matter where you are in Plaka, you are no more than a short walk away, and you can play hide and seek with this wonder of the ancient world behind the buildings. Alternatively, head to Philopappos Hill to enjoy stunning sunset views of both Athens and Piraeus. Once you’re there, you’ll watch the sun dive into the sea in an explosion of warm orange, pink and red, and you’ll also get a chance to visit the 9th century Byzantine chapel of St Demetrios Loumbardiaris. Keep in mind that a number of great rooftop bars can be found all over the city – and they are great for watching the sunset too!
3) BOOK A TICKET FOR THE ATHENS FESTIVAL
Greece’s foremost cultural festival and one of the oldest performing arts festivals in Europe (since 1955), the annual Athens Festival presents numerous theatre, dance and music artists acclaimed in Greece and worldwide, attracting large audiences from around the world. The Festival is held from June to August. The programme at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, also known as the Herodeon, stands out for its high quality and wide range. The Festival’s main performance venue stands right at the foot of the Acropolis. Throughout the years, it has welcomed some of the greatest stars in the world, including the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, Frank Sinatra, Nana Mouskouri, Liza Minnelli and Maria Callas, to name just a few. The vast majority of contemporary theatre and dance productions are held at Peiraios 260, a former industrial building complex just a stone’s throw from the centre of the city, at 260 Peiraios Street. In 2006, the former Tsaousoglou factory was renovated to accommodate Greek and international avant-garde artists, both emerging or established, from theatre, dance and beyond.
4) ENJOY A REAL GREEK MEAL
Baked eggplant with feta; meaty, smoky souvlaki; Cretan dakos salad; meatballs in tangy tomato sauce; juicy black olives; creamy tzatziki; fresh chargrilled fish; grilled octopus and so much more… No matter which taverna you’ve chosen to sit at, you should definitely give in to the temptation to go for the meze option. These Greek-style shared tapas dishes mean everyone has a chance to try a little bit of everything. If you’re vegan, ask for “ladera” options. These vegetables and legumes are cooked in olive oil and herbs, and they’re the go-to option for fasting locals – which means they’re great for anyone who doesn’t eat animal products. If you’d like to visit the Acropolis Museum, consider enjoying your authentic Greek meal at the rooftop restaurant against a backdrop of the Acropolis.
5) VISIT THE STAVROS NIARCHOS FOUNDATION CULTURAL CENTRE
If you are looking for proof that Greece is still very much a hub for arts, culture and innovation in Europe, give this place a visit. Designed by world-renowned architect Renzo Piano, the SNFCC houses both the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera. But there’s also the 210,000 m2 Stavros Niarchos Park, a modern landscape architecture project that has been designed with sustainability and nature in mind. It is a welcoming open space of typical Mediterranean character. The guided tour will let you in on this park’s secrets and wonders – keep in mind that it will take you up and down some steps, too. At the very end of the walk, you’ll be able to enjoy a panoramic view of the Bay of Phaliron and the city of Athens including the Parthenon and Lycabettus Hill.