Athens is a city of contrasts. History – ancient history – surrounds you, yet Greece’s continuing economic struggles are ever-present. Beyond the ruins and the graffiti though, this is a city with a lot going on. Here are 10 things to do in Athens.
1 – THE ACROPOLIS
Sitting at the top of the vast majority of “Things to do in Athens” lists, The Acropolis also quite literally perches above the city, making up several buildings surrounding a hill in the centre of the city. The Parthenon is the one sitting atop said hill, and offers some of the best views of the sprawling metropolis that is one of the world’s oldest cities.
2 – THE PLAKA
Hidden in the foothills surrounding The Acropolis is Athens prettiest district, and one of the best places to get a glass of wine and some lunch or dinner and soak in the atmosphere. It’s almost too perfectly and stereo-typically Greek and is a welcome respite from the capital’s otherwise hectic streets; narrow whitewashed alleyways and stairways surrounded by bright pink blossoms, with acoustic guitarists perched on street corners and outside cute restaurants serving authentic Greek food. Ruddy lovely.
3 – MOUNT LYCABETTUS
Not far from the Parthenon, the only other standout natural landmark is Mount Lycabettus, a 300m high limestone hill reached by road, on foot or on a funicular railway. There’s a little chapel, an amphitheater and a restaurant where you can grab a bite to eat and soak in the view of the city.
4 – PSYRI
One of Athens’ oldest neighbourhoods and not far from Syntagma Square, the small district of Psyri has undergone somewhat of a renaissance in recent years, and is now a creative and artistic hub, with countless cafes, bars and independent stores lining the narrow streets. It’s also renowned as one of the best areas for nightlife, with bars spilling onto the streets come nightfall.
5 – THE POET AND SANDAL MAKER
Probably the most famous store in Psirri, Stavros Melissinos’ sandal workshop is an attraction in itself. Stavros is a bit of a local legend, having made sandals for countless celebrities (who’s photos cover the walls of his tiny workshop) and although this little store is now run by his son Pandelis, he does still offer excellent (and reasonably priced – from around 40 Euros) sandals and is an excellent source of local political and cultural information (not to mention gossip).
6 – MONASTIRAKI FLEA MARKET
While being far from an authentic local market (I HEART ATHENS T-shirt anyone?), Monastiraki’s long, busy streets are colourful and if you can stick clear of the (questionably affordable) music instruments, this is a good place to buy locally produced artwork and souvenirs and maybe pick up a unique antique.
7 – PITTAKI STREET
Once a dodgy industrial alleyway that was about as far from the tourist trail as it was possible to be, after a local NGO gave Pittaki Street a major makeover, it’s now an attraction in itself. As well as being a cool Instagram spot, the little street is also home to some nice boutique shops and cafes and worth a stop-off as you take a stroll through Psyri.
8 – CINE THISIO
What could be better than watching a movie outside on a lovely European summer evening, wine in hand, with the Parthenon as your backdrop? Cine Thisio, Athens’ oldest outdoor cinema, won’t compete with IMAX for audio or visual quality, but the atmosphere more than makes up for it. Films play most nights throughout the summer. Check the schedule here.
9 – BIFTEKARES
Once a tiny canteen serving the offices in the building below, this little restaurant atop a commercial building on Syntagma Square became so popular that they opened their doors to all. It’s a no English, no menu, four or five dishes (that will be offered to you only verbally) kinda place, but make no mistake; Biftekares isn’t just popular for it’s value or it’s location (perched on a balcony directly with a direct view of the Parthenon); it’s because their small, seasonal range of simple Greek dishes are delicious. Expect to spend around 15 Euros for two people including drinks and to find it, enter what looks like an office building and go up to level 9 – there are no signs whatsoever!
10 – AEGINA
The only downside of Greece’s countless beautiful islands are that for the most part, they require either a flight or a long ferry ride from the city. There are a handful though that are just an hour or two from Athens, and one of the best is Aegina. Once you get there, grab a scooter or car, escape the port town and explore some lovely beaches (there are several between Aegina town and Perdika), discover even more ancient history (the ruins of Aphaia are over 2500 years old), and eat some of Greece’s best seafood in Perdika, a lovely little seaside village on the South of the island.
Please Like, Share and Follow Travelist, and if you have any questions or any great dishes you’d like to recommend to other travelers going to Athens, please make a comment below.