Discover Athens like a local
Welcome back to our ‘Best Kept Secrets’ blog series. Last week we ran through three of our favourite things to see when visiting Lisbon. This week we’ll give you the lowdown on what we like doing when we visit Athens, Greece.
Athens receives plenty of tourists every year and has some fantastic tourist attractions. The world famous Acropolis and Parthenon are well worth a visit, as is the recently opened state-of-the-art Acropolis Museum located nearby. The colossal Temple of Olympian Zeus will take your breath away and the Benaki Museum, which tells the cultural and historical story of Greece, will give you an appreciation for Greece’s rich and eventful past. But of course, there’s lots more to see and do in the Greek capital and we thought we’d gather together three interesting things you can do in the city to experience Athens like an Athenian.
We recommend you visit Athens in April or May – the weather is guaranteed to be good but the temperatures won’t be too unbearably hot. You’ll be able to enjoy a relatively tourist-free Greek experience!
View from Lykavittos Hill of the Parthenon and the Port of Pireas. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Athens is a fantastic and exciting place to visit and the city has a unique vibe and rhythm. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to walk through the streets of this sprawling metropolis because so much of the experience is intertwined with the interesting sounds and smells around you. The smell of fresh oregano wafting from the doorway of a kitchen, the strong taste of aniseed from a glass of ouzo and the lilting sounds of traditional bouzouki music from a kafeneio all add to the exciting feeling of being in Athens. There’s many exciting corners of this city and it’s worth straying off the beaten track to gain an appreciation for life in the city.
A view towards Lykavittos Hill. Photo via Travelling Classroom.
Most tourists won’t climb Lykavittos Hill, the huge hill rising out of the gleaming white sea of houses in central Athens. It’s on all the postcards, but few make it up this steep hill. It’s a shame because there is the greatest view of Athens to be enjoyed at the top! You’ll not only be able to admire the Parthenon from the hill but also the whole city that stretches out underneath you.
On a clear day you can see the gleaming Mediterranean sea past the port of Pireas. Turn inland and you can see as far as the Hymettus mountains that surround the city. To get there make your way north of the famous Syntagma Square, arguably the centre of Athens, and head through the leafy streets of the trendy Kolonaki area. Soon enough you’ll reach the base of the hill. There are several paths to the top which take you through typical Greek shrubbery – enjoy the smell of thyme as you ascend! Sitting atop this hill is a gleaming white chapel and a small cafe where you can enjoy an iced coffee – a favourite with Greeks in the heat of the summer!
Springtime flowers at Vouliagmeni beach. Photo via Yorgo Nestoridis.
You might think that unless you go Greek island hopping, a trip to Athens won’t involve much beach time. Not many people know that the beautiful suburbs of Vouliagmeni and Glifada are home to some beautiful beaches that are loved by locals. It’s a great place to go snorkeling too and after a swim in the ocean you can enjoy some typical Greek Mythos beer at the various beach bars scattered along the coast. The area also features some of Greece’s most lavish and opulent houses, built by prosperous Greek ship owners. These wealthy merchants have certainly found a little corner of paradise on the doorstep of the city. The best way to get there is by taking a bus from the centre. The journey takes between 30 and 50 minutes. If you’re daring, hire a scooter and join the young Greeks who weave their scooters and motorbikes through the traffic on the busy roads of Athens.
Dining in the streets… Photo via The Guardian.
Our favourite area for eating in central Athens is Pagrati, the quiet suburb to the east of the centre. Head east of Syntagma Square, a good navigation point in the city. Pass through the lushous National Gardens and you’ll find the area is just a few streets away. At Plateia Mesologiou, a small square just off the main road, you’ll find several restaurants worth visiting.
Street art in Metaxourgio. Photo via Marina Dodis.
There are plenty of engaging art galleries in the area called Kolonaki, close to Lycavittos Hill but we recommend you take a walk through the neighbourhood of Metaxourgio, north of the city centre. This area is home to many artists and is described as a ‘transition’ neighbourhood due to the social changes currently taking place in the area. By walking around you’ll discover lots of interesting and beautiful graffiti artworks, cosy kafenios, street sculptures and art galleries. After being abandoned and ignored for many years, the area is being transformed into a place where people can experiment with art and culture.
Much of Athens most exciting and brilliant highlights are unknown to the average tourist. We hope we’ve provided a bit of an insight into the possibilities open to you in Athens!
By Tom Taylor.
What do you think of our guide to Athens’ best kept secrets? Let us know of your favourite spots in Athens in the comments section!