Athens has a lot to offer tourists, from incredible archaeological sites like the Acropolis to world-class dining. In Athens, it’s easy to get caught up in the most famous attractions and miss out on the more interesting spots off the beaten path. Taking the time to explore some of these local, lesser-known attractions can give you a better sense of Greek culture and show you what it’s like to live as a modern Athenian. Some of the best options for getting off the normal tourist track include:
Visiting a bouzoukia
Located throughout Athens, bouzoukias are a bit like Greek music halls where people come to drink and dance until late in the evening. During performances, musicians ply the bouzouki, an instrument that gives these buildings their name. The instrument is accompanied by people singing traditional Greek ballads and music. Here, the most popular drink is oinomelo, a sweet wine. You may want to check out some of the bouzoukias in Plaka or Anafiotika, which are smaller and tend to attract mostly locals. Alternatively, try one of the larger clubs, such as Gazi Live or Posidonio. These larger clubs are also popular among locals, but visitors may also encounter some other tourists who want to check out the scene.
Exploring a laeki agora
Many neighborhoods in Athens host a laeki agora, similar to a local farmers’ market, at least once a week. During these times, local authorities close the streets to car traffic so vendors can set up their stalls. At the markets, you can find everything from locally grown oranges to handmade jams and cheeses. Often, the events also function as flea markets with people selling their household items and clothes. The laeki are important events for locals and can give visitors a deeper look at everyday life in Athens. Since the days and times change, it’s wise to check in with your hotel’s concierge or your hosts about the best options.
Enjoying Coffee in Koukaki or Pagrati
While people may not immediately associate Greece with coffee, Athens has a strong coffee culture fostered by the many cozy, eclectic cafés scattered throughout the city. Often, these cafés are located on small side streets and alleys, so they can be a bit difficult to find. Two Athenian neighborhoods with some of the best cafés are Koukaki and Pagrati. Both of these neighborhoods have themed coffee shops interspersed among great bars and tavernas. Exploring these shops and connecting with some of the locals is an excellent way to experience authentic Athens.
Climbing up Mount Lycabettus
The tallest point in Athens, Mount Lycabettus sits 277 meters above sea level, covered in a thick forest. The mountain rises just opposite the Acropolis, so hikers will get a great view of the archaeological site, as well as the rest of the city in the background. The hike is not too strenuous, since the route follows a steady, circular path rather than straight up the side of the peak. At the top of the mountain is a quaint church and a massive flagpole with the Greek flag. The best time to climb Lycabettus is sunrise or sunset because of the way the sun illuminates the horizon. However, the views are excellent at any time of day. Just be sure to bring sun protection if you make the hike in the middle of the day.
Attending an open-air cinema
People visiting Athens between April and October should definitely try to catch an outdoor movie. Very popular in Athens, open-air cinemas have become a big part of local culture and are intimately tied to food: many people choose where to go less by the movie playing and more by the food available. That’s because the options go way beyond soda, popcorn, candy, and the typical snacks people associate with movie theaters. One open-air cinema, for example, specializes in sushi, and another in souvlaki. There’s even one that offers a range of different baked pies. Some open-air cinemas also offer great views, such as Cine-Thisio, which provides a great view of the lit-up Acropolis behind and to the side of the projection screen.
Walking along the Athenian Riviera
Visitors are often surprised by the many parks and green spaces in Athens and its suburbs. For example, within a 30-minute drive from the city center are beautiful beaches that line the Mediterranean Sea. This “Athenian Riviera” is home to several beach clubs, as well as excellent tavernas and beautiful walking routes. One of the best ways to take in the sights is by walking the path that extends along Flisvos Marina to Alimos, running parallel to Poseidonos Avenue. Along the route, you’ll catch glimpses of charming neighborhoods, neoclassical mansions, and small beaches. The trail ends at a small church in Alimos, but other paths lead to Voula and Vouliagmeni.