Unmissable moments and experiences to have in Athens, beyond the Acropolis
Ancient and modern Athens co-exist in perfect harmony with each other. Wherever you stand in the Greek capital, the Parthenon will always be in view as a constant reminder of the city’s history and where it all began over two millennia ago. So after you’ve climbed to the top of the Acropolis and marvelled at this remarkable temple, built to honour the patron goddess Athena, filled your camera with the sprawling view of Athens, as she stretches out to the port of Piraeus, what’s next? Beyond the well-known cultural attractions, here’s a round up of what to do in Athens, that will get you in touch with the modern side of the city.
Enjoy the Greek way of life →
When considering what to do in Athens, getting a taste of Greek culture, which is full of life and music, should be on the top of your list. Athenian summer nights are best enjoyed outdoors and you can see live Greek dancing beneath the glow of the Acropolis (until 25th September) or one of the scheduled performances from the annual Athens and Epidaurus Festival. Movie screens move to the open air too from May to October and Cine Paris in Plaka is one of the oldest in town bringing out the golden oldies, but it’s less about the movie and more about the killer views of the Acropolis in the background. Tuck into meze with live Greek music along the steep walkway of Mnisikleous or Erechtheos in Plaka. Live rebetika music or the ‘Greek blues’ is currently having a resurgence in the capital. A short taxi ride to the old gasworks precinct of Gazi will get you to Gazarte, who schedule weekly musical acts (from all over the world) on their rooftop stage.
Keep your nights going until the wee hours of the morning down the lengthy road of Kolokotroni in central Athens, lined with trendy bars with imaginative names such as Barley Cargo, Booze Cooperativa and The Bank Job.
Eat like a local →
Many affectionately refer to Athens as the largest village in Greece and when it comes to food that is very true. Freshly baked bread is always within reach and the famous Koulouri is how most like to kick off the day. Follow the aromas of home cooked “paradosiakos” food in non-touristy tavernas that are scattered all around town including Diporto where there is no menu and only a handful of dishes served every day. It doesn’t get any more rustic, authentic or delicious. This very mercantile part of Athens is where the city’s buzzing central market is located with home grown organic produce that is bursting with colour and local flavours. A short walk to Athinas St is the coffee micro-roastery Mokka, where you can enjoy a shot of Greek coffee, prepared the old fashion way. Closer to the Acropolis in the very picturesque area of Thissio, you can devour a kilo of lamb chops at To Steki tou Ilia and then walk it all off in the surrounding pedestrianised walkway with market stalls along Agias Asomaton.
Explore ancient cities in the centre of town →
Bon vivants and travellers are lured to the cobbled streets and tiny white washed homes of Anafiotika on the northeast side of the Acropolis. Follow the narrow cobbled paths as they zig zag down towards the ancient city of Plaka where the Greek island atmosphere continues.
Witness a fiery sunset →
There are many hills to climb in Athens and not all lead to the Acropolis, one in particular frames the Parthenon perfectly against the background of the Aegean Sea. Jump on the funicular or railway carriage that leads to the top of Lycabettus Hill and cold beer will be waiting for you as the unofficial street vendors (who have fought tooth and nail to be there) await to greet you. Otherwise, bring your own picnic and grab a spot for the spectacular sunset.
Discover the hidden pearls of the Attica coastline →
Organised city beaches line the Athens Riviera south of the city. If you want to escape the city entirely, keep heading south to Cape Sounio where you can spend the day basking in the crystal clear waters of the many secluded coves, before making the pilgrimage up to the Temple of Poseidon at sunset that is dedicated to the mythological God of the Sea. To experience the very best of the Aegean, let the others do the hard work and relax on board a catamaran that will take you to the best swimming spots where you’ll feel like you’re back in the islands. After you’ve splashed around, an authentic Greek lunch will be waiting on board.
Dip your toes beneath a limestone cavern →
Athenians in the know skip the crowds and head to the thermal waters of Lake Vouliagmeni for peace and tranquillity. Just 30 minutes from town, relax on luxurious day beds set beneath a limestone cavern. Garra rufa fish will nibble at your toes or you can explore more of the sea life by signing up for a day of snorkelling.
Take home some Athenian treasures →
Head to the very hip area of Psirri close to Monastiraki station and find everything handmade and authentic including Greek fisherman’s caps, bouzoukia, ceramics and copper wares. Look out for vintage clothing and vinyl records through the labyrinth streets and graffiti sprayed buildings. Calm the soul with the clink, clink, clink of Greek worry beads and head to Kombologadiko at the boundary of Syntagma and Kolonaki for a special set made from semi-precious stones. If you’re looking for authentic ceramics, by- pass cheap imitations and visit the Attic Black store who hand make every object using authentic and traditional techniques.
For something a little different →
Take a break from all the splendid ancient antiquities and stop by the Hellenic Motor Museum with a private collection of more than 110 cars from the late 1800’s until the end of the last century. The Ilias Lalalounis Jewelry Museum housed in a neo-classical building at the base of the Acropolis, is a treasure chest of precious objects and jewellery created by Athenian master goldsmith Ilias Lalaounis.
For outdoorsy pursuits, take the cable car to the top of Mount Parnitha (about 30 kilometres northwest from the centre) and hike this glorious mountain, which is the highest in Attica standing at 1400 metres. The Parnitha National Park is a blissful sanctuary of nature, filled with pine trees and indigenous animals. The trekking and mountain bike trails will get the heart rate going. Look out for the mythological God of the wild, Pan whom the ancient Greeks believed to live here.
You can explore Mount Parnitha another way and try your luck at the Regency Casino inside the Mont Parnes Hotel that was built in the 60s and perched up high above the mountain. It’s an impressive example of modern Athenian architecture. (Observe the dress code and bring your passport to enter).
Why Athens tip →
You can visit many museums in Athens in the early evenings until 8:00pm or 9:00pm (excluding Mondays). The Acropolis museum remains open until 10:00pm on Fridays.
*This post originally featured in whyathens