Greece is a fascinating country, not only for its stunning nature and heritage but also for the spirit, the energetic and edgy character of its contemporary embodiment. Here’s a list of things to do in Athens to see and activities you should try out to really understand Athens, not only the historical but the new side of Athens as well.
Like a city comprised of numerous smaller towns, Athens is incredibly diversified. Each one of its neighborhoods has a unique character and atmosphere. If you take a metro, you’ll notice even the stops vary, and people who get off are fond of different styles. You’ll see ladies in elegant attires getting off at one station and boys with dreadlocks and heavy black boots at another. Antifascists sipping their beers straight from the bottles on one square, fancy restaurants with elegant guests on another. Old-style areas with shops run by smiling gentlemen in their sixties and streets filled with vibrant clubs and youngsters who simply can’t sleep at nights. There’s the historic center, always printed on postcards, but Athens offers so much more besides of that. It’s a bustling city, living not one life, but many.
An all night long walk around Thissio
The historical part of Athens, gorgeous and cozy, is a perfect place to stroll about. It is also one of the most important things to do in Athens. There’ll always be something to look at; ancient buildings, such as the temple of Theseus (the mythical founder-hero Hephaestus of Athens). The fascinating mixture of people and various cafés presenting an amazing creativity when it comes to both design and service. There’s basically everything: modern, jazz, retro or ecological cafés, all of them serving the best meals and drinks. It’s hard not to stop by, especially that most of them are beautifully lit with small, warm lights and originally decorated, inviting you to get in with their welcoming look.
A glass of wine on the stairs of Plaka
Having a glass of wine at the foot of the Acropolis, doesn’t it sound poetic? It is one of the best things to do in Athens. Plaka, the Neighborhood of the Gods, is full of incredible historic sites and museums. You can spend a whole day there wandering from one point to another, or a week, or even more if you’re a history-lover. In case you need a little break, take a sit in one of the cafés located on Plaka’s central stairs overlooked by the Acropolis. Plaka is s a magical, romantic spot. You’ll see hundreds of little lights, flowers and stylish decorations, the old stairs, the smell of heavenly dishes and the amazing view of the majestic Acropolis.
The rebellious atmosphere in Exarcheia
As alternative as Athens can get, Exarcheia is not a tourist neighborhood. In fact, there are no tourists at all on its different streets, except few adventurers aiming to discover the real Athens or lost souls staring at the map, trying to figure out where they are. Exarcheia is the neighborhood of artists, anarchists, immigrants and everyone who looks for a getaway from social prejudice. It’s historically meaningful, in a whole different way than the central areas of Athens; it’s where demonstrations and uprisings have been taking place since the 19th century. Exarcheia is also an art hub, with lots of events happening all the time. It is also a home for many intellectuals, students, and activists. Even though it sounds like a terrible place, Exarcheia is actually lovely and cozy, with many affordable restaurants, bars, and charming bookshops.
Kolonaki with its antiques, suits, and dresses
Not far from Exarcheia you can find a whole different world – Kolonaki. Kolonaki is the wealthy neighborhood with fabulous boutiques and posh cafés. You’ll see residents looking as if they just came to the world from a magazine cover. If you want to buy something fancy, that’s the place to go. Visiting it is also fascinating if you wish to explore all the sites of Athens. A tour around Kolonaki is especially interesting when combined with a walk in Exarcheia.
Watching the ships in industrial Piraeus
In case you’re going to travel to the Greek islands after your stay in Athens, the port in Piraeus is where you’ll probably depart from (unless you take flight). That’s a very logical reason to see the port, but it might be a nice place to go even if you’re not planning on catching a boat. When you tell someone you’re a tourist going to Piraeus just to take a look, they’ll say you got crazy. But even though everyone repeats there’s nothing except the port, there’s actually something, and it’s special. It’s about the atmosphere, the workers getting up before the sun rises to prepare the ships, the people coming and constantly going. The grayness of the port that for many is a beginning of an interesting journey.
The square in Petralona
Petralona is just one of Athens’ neighborhoods. There’s nothing special about it at first sight, but that’s exactly why it’s being mentioned here. It’s not striking, yet it’s charming. If you want to see something simpler, that’s the place to go. Become a local and have a beer on the lovely main square (you can buy it in a kiosk that in this case pretends a bar) or order a drink in the colorful Brazilian café at the corner.
Delightful Tourkolimano and the Kastela hill
The small port (tourko – Turkish, mikro – small, limani – port) in Pireas is a picturesque location, an ideal place to stroll about peacefully on a warm afternoon. With the hill of Kastela standing beside it, the port makes an enchanting landscape. You can climb up the hill, narrow streets with pretty houses in the marine style lead to its top. As you get up, you can watch the boats, yachts and the sea from above. It’s the best to do it when sunset begins. As nearly everywhere in Athens, there are also some nice cafés. So, you can sit right next to the blue water and sip a delicious frappé.
The Greek cuisine
In all of the locations listed above, you can find excellent bars and restaurants that serve magic, not food. The local fast-food, souvlaki, is a slightly healthier alternative to a greasy hamburger. All the busy people of Athens love it and eat constantly. Anything with tzatziki (a sauce made of yogurt, garlic, and cucumber) tastes yummy. So, if you see it on a menu, don’t forget to order. Fakes (a lentil soup) and Gemista (stuffed baked veggies) can steal hearts and stomachs of vegetarians. While Pastitsio (baked pasta with beef and béchamel) and Moussaka (a layered dish with meat and vegetables) are perfect for those, who prefer to have some meat in their dish.
Greek salad and feta cheese are an obligatory part of the culinary discoveries. As for drinks, Greeks are obsessed with coffee, and it’s hard to see them without a cup of Freddo Cappuccino in their hands. In case you’re more of a tea drinker, search for herbal teas in shops selling organic or traditional products. On a night out, have a taste of Uzo (but beware its taste can shock you, it’s anise-flavored). Or try Mastika, a sweet liquor with mastic gathered from evergreen Mediterranean trees. Wine in Greece is excellent, perfect to drink with a dinner, but also before and after it (it’s hard to count the glasses).
Athens is a lively town, there’s always something going on, all year long, at any time of the day. So there are a lot of things to do in Athens. Make your trip an adventure, get lost and discover as much as you can of this fascinating city. We hope you like our list of things to do in Athens. If you think we missed one, please share it with us.
Amazing description. Almost missed my days there. Such a sad city but such an interesting one…