For Kati and I, there always has been some must-see cities of the world. Petra in Jordan. Machu Picchu in Peru. Rome in Italy. Cairo in Egypt. And Athens in Greece.
When a city is a few thousand years old you can be assured that there are some exciting things to see and do. Athens in Greece is a lot of things. The home of classical Greece and the theoretical birthplace of Western Civilization, the city is also marked by ancient Rome, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire. Today Athens is home to over half of the country’s population with just over 3.5 million Greeks living here.
Athens is also one of the biggest cities in Europe for tourism and while iconic landmarks like the Acropolis and Parthenon are things you should definitely experience, Athens offers a lot more to see and do that is not always full of tourists and is a little more off the beaten path.
If you’re looking to get away from the tourists for a while, check out some of these things to do in Athens, Greece.
Get Out of the City
If you’re traveling here it might seem odd that one of the best things to do is to leave. That being said, it’s not about leaving the city entirely, it’s about getting out of the bustle of the city center where you’ll be constantly surrounded by tourists.
To get a good taste of what life is like for the average Athenian, head to the suburbs. While suburbs might seem boring what you’ll get by escaping the city is a more local experience. The food will be better and cheaper because it’s not catered to tourists and everything will seem a little more “down to earth”.
Check out the area of Glyfada, a coastal suburb with an amazing beach scene in the summer that again, is not full of tourists and has delicious seafood. While Chilandri on the other side of the city is a little more up and coming and has a vibrant and fun nightlife scene. Greece is amazing and Athens is an incredible adventure.
Take the Metro
You’re probably going to be taking public transport at some point while you travel any way but there is something about the Athens metro that is pretty unique to the city, specifically the Syntagma Square station. Because of the sheer ancientness of the city, you basically can’t dig a hole in Greece without hitting something of archaeological value. In an effort to bring Athens into the 20th century, the city began digging its metro system and while doing so also began the biggest excavation in the city’s history.
Archaeologists worked alongside engineers and in the process uncovered anywhere between 20 thousand and 50 thousand artifacts some of which can be seen in Athens metro stations. Syntagma Square is the government stop and is home to one of the biggest collections. Metro stations double as public infrastructure and free museum exhibits.
Take a stroll through Athens’ first Graveyard
While there are plenty of places around Athens that have once been a cemetery the city’s first official modern cemetery is known as the First Cemetery of Athens. It’s one of the few places in the middle of the city that is full of peace and quiet. Located a short stroll away from the temple of Zeus the cemetery was built in 1837 and while it seems like a bit of a grim activity, the cemetery is full of beautiful architecture and examples of neoclassical designs. The cemetery’s architect is coincidentally also buried here.
We always say to enjoy Greece. Take it slow. Get off the beaten path and you cannot do that more than at the first Graveyard in Athens.
Eat a Pizza at Crust
While not a traditionally “Greek” thing to do (or eat) there is more to this pizza place than meets the eye. Crust is located in the heart of the city and while it might seem like a normal pizza place that is pretty much a take out counter. But at night Crust becomes one of the coolest underground party spots in all of Greece. In the basement of this pizza shop is a club that plays techno, and industrial music at night and is a place that only people “in the know” know about.
Live DJs and professionally music sets get played here in the basement pretty regularly but space is limited as the club is pretty small. The pizza shop itself is also pretty iconic as they serve wood-oven pies with a variety of toppings so if you’re into clubbing, at least stop by for a slice.
Stop by ancient Church in the Middle of the Street
Honoring the Virgin Mary, the Agia Dynami is a Byzantium-era church that’s been the small little sanctuary for Athenians for generations. In Greece, a lot of these old churches are usually around protected ground with surroundings gardens or something similar. But not the Agia Dynami. The church was built in the 16th century and it was only after the Greek War of Independence in 1830 that the surrounding area was demolished to make room for bigger streets.
The city grew throughout the 19th century but because the church is sacred ground, everything was effectively built around it so the church itself was never torn down. Finally, in the 1950s, when the country started modernizing and buildings continued to spring up around it, the Greek Orthodox Church refused to give up the land. So that is there now is a tiny little 16th-century church, surrounded by modern buildings and skyscrapers right in the heart of the city.
Keep in mind if you do want to visit the inside of the church, dress modestly as it is still used as a place of worship.
Check out Monastiraki Neighborhood
Monastiraki Neighborhood is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city and in all of Greece and while it’s close to the city center, it straddles the line between a place for locals and one for tourists.
The neighborhood is a cool spot that’s popular with the cool and young of Athens as there are tons of small boutique shops, clubs, bars, and flea markets. The main square provides some gorgeous views of the Acropolis so if you’re just in the mood to wander through the old streets and winding alleyways, hanging out in Monastiraki is a great way to spend a day shopping, sightseeing, and immersing yourself in the local flavor.
Grab a snack at the Varvakios Agora
When you’re out and exploring the Monastiraki area make sure to stop by the Varvakios Agora.
The concept of the Agora dates back to ancient Greece but in the modern era, it is mostly just a public marketplace. While there are certainly tons of other market places around Athens the Varvakios Agora caters more to locals rather than tourists. If you’re looking for cheaper food that isn’t higher in the price for tourists, the market here will have what you’re looking for.
Venders in Greece will sell everything from the catch of the day to the fresh vegetables from the farm. It opens early in the morning so if you’re looking for the good stuff make sure to come as early as you can.
Take in the sights of the vibrant fresh fruits and vegetables as well the freshly butchered carcasses at the butcher. Grab a sandwich from the deli counter or a freshly baked pastry from the baker and grab a Greek coffee to start your morning.
See the World’s First Computer
Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had nothing on the ancient Greeks. Located in the National Archaeological Museum, the device known as the Antikythera Mechanism dates back to at least 200 B.C and is regarded as the world’s first analog computer. The story goes that around 1900, Greek divers in the Mediterranean came upon a shipwreck and looted its treasures. They came upon a weird rusted device that they had never seen before and handed their findings to the museum.
It was only around 50 years later that historians started to take a good look at the device with its 30 gears and hidden dials. They concluded that the Antikythera device was able to make precise calculations based on astronomy and mathematical calculations. Though the builder and the reason for it being on the ship remain a mystery. Even more mysterious still is that the Antikythera mechanism is the only artifact of its kind to ever be found and remains one of the most advanced pieces of technology of the pre-Christian era.
Catch an Old Movie in an Even Older Venue
Summer in Athens means heading outside and enjoying the hot weather and gorgeous summer sunsets. Catching a movie might not be the ideal way to pass time when you’re traveling but if you find yourself with some downtown and are looking to hang out and maybe catch a flick, Cine Paris is the place for you.
Located outdoors in large places and old theaters, these old amphitheaters have been converted to modern movie theaters where movies are projected outdoors. The summer tradition has been going on since the 1920s and there is often a mix of old Greek movies, European classics, and even a few new Hollywood blockbusters.
Have a cocktail with a View
There are tons of amazing bars and restaurants in Athens but why settle for some average ground level bar? Check out one of (or several) of Athens’ rooftop bars.
The Thea Terrace Bar is located in the Central Athens Hotel and has a rooftop bar that is insanely romantic. Enjoy a few cocktails by candlelight while the sounds of the city ring out below. The best part though? The gorgeous view of the Acropolis standing in the distance lit up with lights in the moonlight.
Balcony Bar offers a similar yet, different experience for rooftop drinking in Athens. Located in the heart of old Athens, Balcony Bar is a small and simple place that offers a great selection of wine and cocktails with beautiful views of the city. They also have great food options ranging from full meals to tapas-style small snacks while you drink. All the food here is locally sourced and made fresh
If you’re looking for a luxury experience then look no further than GB Roof Garden. Located in the Hotel Grande Bretagne, the hotel is the city’s leading five-star experience. You don’t need a room here to enjoy the rooftop bar but all the drinks here are expertly made and the wine list is extensive.
Shop for Cosmetics in an old Interrogation Chamber
Located on 6 Merlin Street in central Athens is a cosmetics store. There’s nothing in or around the store that would give away this location’s grim past but alas, like most of Athens there is always history lurking around the corner.
When the Nazis invaded Athens in April 1941, the occupiers began enacting laws to control the locals. Very soon after resistance movements sprang up and when they started impacting the Nazis enough, they retaliated. The Gestapo took control of the use of the building at 6 Merlin and used it as their headquarters and tortured and interrogated suspected members of the resistance here. Dead bodies hung from the trees outside and people went in and never came back out.
The Nazis retreated in October 1944 and the building went back to civilian use. In the 1980s a shopping mall was built here and the only marker that shows this place’s ugly past is a plaque carving of a bound prisoner next to the entrance with the words inscribed “free people were led through this door.”
Exploring Europe’s major cities is a fun experience no matter where you’re going but sometimes you’re looking for something a little more off the beaten path. While Athens has tons and tons of amazing cultural landmarks and must-see things, always make sure to deviate a little of the path and check out some of the more obscure things to see. Kati and I will always tell you to take the road less traveled. The path not taken. And go where the locals go. You never know what you’ll discover.
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