Two years ago I spent two full days in Athens, solely as an arrival and departure point from the Greek Isles. I did not like it, I did not want to return, and I felt unsafe nearly every moment I spent in Athens.
This year, I was yet again using Athens as a departure point, however this time I decided to give it a second chance and stay for two days in Athens – the capital of sunny Greece! I can now happily say, I am so glad I decided to give Athens another chance, because this time I have finally seen the city’s cultural underside that was hidden from me in the past.
The difference? This time we had a local Greek friend showing us around, giving insight on the best places to go and see. So I’ve compiled his words of wisdom for you, here’s your local guide to Athens!
Summary of the top city finds for Athens?
One of my favourite areas in Athens, with a range of cafes, bars, restaurants, and markets. There are also flea markets surrounding the Monastiraki station, which are open during the day and are a great way to spend the morning wandering through the endless stalls.
Open air cinema in Plaka. Check out the screening times before you go and buy the ticket onsite (around 7€).
360 Bar – Rooftop Bar
One of the many rooftop bars in Athens, 360 Bar offers a beautiful view over the Acropolis with lovely cocktails served in an beautiful way! The crowd is well dressed and between 25-40.
Where to stay?
I stayed in an apartment on AirBnb, the surrounding area was called Thissio which is a historical neighbourhood of Athens with many cafes and restaurants nearby!
Insiders tip: Check an area guide before booking accommodation because there are some rough neighbourhoods in Athens that will make your experience not as positive as others! Here is a summary from Wiki Travel.
- The Acropolis— The ancient “high city” of Athens, crowned by marble temples sacred to the city’s goddess Athena.
- Plaka, Monastiraki and Thissio— Charming historic districts at the foot of the Acropolis, with restored 19th century neoclassical homes, pedestrianized streets, shops and restaurants, and picturesque ruins from the city’s Roman era.
- Kolonaki— Upscale residential area northeast of Syntagma with many cafes, boutiques and galleries.
- Metaxourgeio—The district of Metaxourgeio, located northwest of Psiri, has become a bohemian enclave as well as a haven for art and culture. As part of the area’s continual transformation, the principal gallery of the city, The Municipal Gallery, was relocated in October 2010 to Avdi Square, which is the main square of the area. Avdi Square is a large, public space that is well suited to artistic expression of all kinds.
- Omonia and Exarheia— Formerly seedy district, north of Psiri, somewhat revitalized by the metro, it is now home to Greece’s students, anarchists and the celebrated National Archeaological Museum.
- Pangrati and Mets— These adjoining pleasant residential neighborhoods south of Lycabettos and east of the National Garden are rarely frequented by tourists, but they do include a few hotels and a number of good traditional tavernas.
- Psiri— Former industrial district located north of Monastiraki, now full of trendy and alternative restaurants, cafés, bars, small luxury hotels and shops.
- Syntagma Square (Plateia Syntagmatos)— Dominated by the old Royal Palace, Syntagma Square is the business district of Athens, complete with major hotels, banks, restaurants and airline offices.
- Kifissia— Suburb at the northern terminus of Line 1 (Green), known for its high-end shopping.
- Piraeus— The ancient port six miles southwest of Athens, Piraeus is known today as an independent, heavily industrial municipality, whose modern-day port serves almost all of Attica’s ferry connections to Crete and the Aegean Islands.
When to go?
Athens is a big city therefore nearly anytime of the year is good. I would avoid going in July/August as it gets extremely hot in the city centre. Therefore shoulder-seasons like May/June and September/October are the best times to visit because the sun is shining and weather is warm but it’s not disgustingly humid and hot!
The largest shopping mall in Athens about 30 minutes by metro from the city centre.
Department store in Athens with about 6 levels of choice!
The main street in Athens has a large number of shoe stores, cosmetics, jewellery and clothing on offer. Otherwise there are numerous department stores through Athens. Compared to western Europe, shopping in Athens is reasonably priced.
- Outdoor cinema “Cine Paris” is a fun way to spend an evening.
- Take a walk through Plaka and visit the cafes, bars, and shops surrounding the area. It has a wonderful vibe in the afternoon and evening. If you can, try to avoid this area on the weekends in summer because it’s extremely busy and check it out on a weekday instead!
- Climb the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum for a view over the entire Athens city centre.
- Visit the Temple of Olympian Zeus located in the city centre.
Gluten free in Athens?
To be honest, for lunch and dinners I cooked in our self-contained apartment as an attempt to save money during my stay in Athens… However while I was out, I feasted on Greek yogurt, souvlaki and traditional Greek food, all naturally gluten free – nothing overly exciting.
Here are some gluten free restaurant recommendations, I have not tried them but they sound wonderful:
Address: Romvis 24 A, Athens.
Suitable for vegetarians, vegans and health food fans, Pure Bliss offers organic produce and healthy cuisine, inspired from all over the world. The menu offers a choice of yogurt with fruit and almonds, omelets with seasonal vegetables and eggs from farm chickens, vegan dishes with soya and coconut milk and more!
Address: Nikis 48, Athens.
2mazi offers a unique take on traditional tastes with the daily menu is adapted to seasonal produce. Special plates are made for dietary requirements and health food fans, all made from organic produce. For gluten free dishes, several plates can be adapted.
Greeks can’t get enough of a drink with a view. Check out the Hilton Galaxy Bar (cocktails are around 20€) and 360 Bar (cocktails are around 14-17€) for a rooftop environment with the best city views in town!
Will I return to Athens? For now, probably not, as two days was enough to see Athens and it is definitely not a city I could live in, however if you’re passing through and have a couple of days to spare you might as well check out what Athens has to offer!
Do you have any insider tips about Athens city finds? Let me know in the comments below!