Athens is very dear to me as I've spent four great years in the city while studying at university. Up until today, I've walked many many hours around the streets of the city.
Athens is world-famous about Acropolis and its sea links to the Cyclades islands. However, there are a lot of unique things that travellers shouldn't miss doing in this city and I have gathered here a list for you to give them a try. I've prepared this list with the eye of a traveller and I've asked fellow Greeks and Athenians who live abroad like me to give me their top places - they are the ones they can't find abroad or have this unique 'Greek' smell.
So besides visiting the ancient Greek ruins and eating souvlaki what else should you do in Athens?
Stroll around Plaka
One of my most-loved walks in the city is around Plaka. Start from metro station Acropolis and walk towards Monastiraki in a circle ending back at the same station. In this way, you get to appreciate the blue and white alleys of Plaka, do window or actual shopping in the tourist shops, do people-watching - there are great Greek characters to observe in these alleys, see beautiful bright pink bougainvillea flowers, enjoy great views of Acropolis and other ancient Greek ruins, explore the Anafiotika alleys, buy handmade jewellery from the local artists and listen to the musicians under Acropolis on Dionysioy Aeropagitou Road. However, be prepared to walk! This walk will take you between 1-1.5 hour and don't do it on heels - the alleys are mostly cobbled.
Ancient Greek ruins in Anafiotika alleys right next to Monastiraki are (part of the circular walk)
Eat amazing desserts
Greek Mediterranean cuisine might be world-famous but often people don't know how amazing Greek desserts are! Athens city centre has some of the best dessert shops I've been to. My favourites are Serbetia in Psyrri area, where the chocolate pie is to die for (amongst other desserts) and while relishing it, you can people-watch too! This place is amazing at any time of the day but my ideal time in the summer is in the evening. My other special is Little Kook. Not only the desserts are awesome but the whole place is like you walk into a fairytale as you will see Mary Poppins, Jack and the Beanstalk, the Seven Dwarves amongst others. I fell in love with the walnut pie they serve with ice-cream!
Walnut pie in Little Kook
Eat fish by the sea in Mikrolimano area
Mikrolimano means small bay in Greek and it's exactly what it is. If you'd like to eat seafood by the sea in the capital of Greece, then head to Mikrolimano where you will find a few small taverns that serve great fish. It's also easy to reach with public transport and a beautiful place to walk around.
Go on a day trip to Aegina or Agistri or Hydra
If you really want to experience a Greek island but don't have the time to go to one, you can still get a small flavour from a day-trip to one of the little islands close to Athens. Head to Piraeus, get a ferry to Aegina or Agistri or Hydra and in 1-2 hours you can be on a Greek island. Aegina is bigger than the other two and the closest of all. Hydra can be explored by foot but is further than the other two.
Visit a rooftop bar with Acropolis as a backdrop
There are great rooftop bars in Monastiraki from where you can enjoy a great view of the Acropolis. My choice is Couleur Locale but I very much like A for Athens - when it's impossible to find a table at the former one. A friend also voted for Loukoumi.
View of Acropolis from a rooftop bar in Athens
Eat wonderful Greek food
You know about Greek cuisine, you don't need any introductions, right? When in Athens, here are the places where my friends and I go to eat proper Greek food - the one we can very rarely find outside of Greece. Mikri Venetia in Koukaki area, Nikitas in Psyrri area, Myrtia in Nea Smirni area (best for traditional Greek steaks), Bel Ray for brunch (international style), Feedel for traditional food with a gourmet twist, To Koulouri you Psyrri for traditional Greek koulouri (open 24/7 and we used to end our night out with one of those when bar hopping in the Psyrri neighbourhood).
A salad with traditional Greek flavours with a twist (in Feedel restaurant)
Watch the sunset from one of the hills of Athens
There are several hills you can watch the sunset with a beautiful cityscape and/or view of Acropolis. There are three that we love; Filopappou Hill, Mount Lycabettus and Pnyx Hill. My pick is Pnyx as I find it easiest to get to but the other ones might be quieter.
Athens cityscape view from Pnyx on a summer evening
Visit Athens seaside for all-night clubbing
If you love clubbing, and visit Athens in the summertime, you are in for a treat when it comes to the night scene. Clubbing goes all the way till after dawn and we all have amazing stories to remember from our student years partying by the seaside. Our choice is usually Balux or Akanthus. Usually, it's more chilled during weekdays, going crazy on Friday and Saturday nights. There's usually an entrance fee. People usually start arriving after 1am but would be wise to go slightly earlier or book so that you can get a comfy spot.
A photo from a night-out to remember from 2015
Go for alternative bar hopping in Athens city-centre
Trust me, if you are visiting Athens at any other time besides summer, it doesn't mean that you won't appreciate the nightlife. There are various great spots around the city-centre. Our specials are Barrett, Boiler, Taf (this one is run by an art foundation so you'll have the chance to see various exhibitions) amongst others in Psyrri area and Athinas and Kolokotroni streets. These change every season but on these three streets/areas, you are likely to find the best ones. There are others in surrounding areas such as Balthazar in Ampelokipi area, Meerkat and Bel Ray in Koukaki area (which is also a great cafe and brunch place).
Drink coffee or ouzo in beautifully traditional Greek places
What's a great cafe to drink a coffee or ouzo and meze in Athens? There are very lovely cafes and mezedopoleia (as we call them in Greek) in Athens! We vote for Yiasemi in Anafiotika, cafe Melina in Plaka and Dioskouroi in Thisio. A beautiful place for coffee is also Sto Vathos Kipos.
Alleys in Anafiotika (close to Yasemi and Dioskouroi)
Buy leather sandals
I love Greek leather sandals, they just go with any summer clothing and it's a must item for me. You can buy Greek sandals almost everywhere in Greece but after years of research, I've realised that the most authentic ones are from the Athenian shops - and they're also much cheaper than the ones on the islands.
Cycle at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation
Athens is not a city you can easily cycle or find green places to appreciate nature. However, you can combine both at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre which Athenians very much enjoy.
Watch a movie in an outdoor cinema under the Acropolis
My Athenian friends voted the Thision Open Air Cinema which is just under Acropolis and was built in 1935! It has great Acropolis views and plays old-style classy and edgy movies during Spring and Summer. It's a great romantic setting whether you're a couple or by yourself.
These are my tips to explore Athens like a local.
Have you seen our 'Welcome to Greece' Collection? It's inspired by all these special moments.