Athens Off The Beaten Path: Things to do in Athens Like a Local

Athens Off The Beaten Path: Things to do in Athens Like a Local

by George Mouratidis
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Although it does no longer resemble the grandeur of times past, Athens is still an exciting city to visit. Not only because most of the connections to the islands depart from the port of Piraeus, but also due to the unlimited options it offers to the visitor.

If you’ve never been to Athens before, there is not much choice. Your itinerary will (and should) inevitably include a walk around Plaka and Monastiraki, followed by a hike to Acropolis. On your way down, you will probably have a romantic stroll around the Dionysiou Areopagitou pedestrian street and then a stop at a mezedopolio (tapas bar) in Psirri.

However, if it’s not your first time around, you may want to skip the touristy bits and find things to do in Athens that are off the beaten path. So, ditch your luggage, kiss the classical statues goodbye and get ready to see the real neighbourhoods of Athens!

Lycabettus Hill and Kolonaki

At 277 meters, Lycabettus Hill is the highest point of Athens. Climbing it can be a challenge -especially in the summer months. Luckily, there is a cable car that can take you uphill without much sweat. Although it is fun for kids, it goes through a tunnel, and there is not much to see until you reach the top. On the other hand, adventurous types will be rewarded with stunning views of the city as they climb the circular path to the cafe on top.

Either way, this is a perfect chance to enjoy the posh neighbourhood of Kolonaki on their way up. Traditionally associated with the Athenian gentry, Kolonaki is home to eclectic restaurants, designer ateliers and luxurious cocktail bars. The main square (Plateia Kolonakiou) is one of the best people-watching spots in Athens, especially on Sundays, when the members of the Athens upper-class enjoy their morning newspaper at Da Capo or Lykovrisi.

Insider tip: Visit the Lycabettus Hill near the sunset. Not only the weather will be more pleasant, but you will also have the chance to observe the city’s monuments while they light up. The view of the Panathenaic Stadium, Ancient Agora and the Acropolis contrasting the dark-hued sky is a sight to behold.

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Exarchia Square

exarcheia

Exarchia is located next to Kolonaki, and it’s one of Athens’ oldest and most vibrant neighbourhoods. Contrary to uppity Kolonaki (the two are next to each other), Exarchia is considered to be the “alternative” part of the city, and it owes much of its vigour to the large student population (the University of Athens is only a short walk away).

Although there is much to see and do around the area, it’s not very popular with tourists, as it has been associated with protests and political unrest. However, even though the neighbourhood is indeed covered in politically charged murals and street art, the bad reputation is entirely unfounded. Exarchia is a charming neighbourhood and whether you like it or not is entirely a matter of taste. That being said, if you don’t feel at home in Shoreditch, Hackney or Hoxton, don’t even bother! The situation isn’t much different.

Insider tip: Exarchia is full of quirky shops, small restaurants and cosy cafes. Do not pull Google maps and follow the colourful back streets. Just a stone’s throw from the busy square, you’ll find the Strefi Hill, a park with pine trees and an open-air theatre with amazing views of the city. Athens is not famous for its greenery, so any chance to catch your breath under a real tree is welcome!

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Varvakios Market

Local farmers markets are operating in Athens neighbourhoods throughout the week. However, the Varvakios Market is a class of its own. First of all, it is located at the heart of the city, perched between Omonoia and Syntagma squares, where millions of people pass by every day. Second, although it takes place in the centre of a modern metropolis, it very much resembles an oriental bazaar.

Tasting the merchandise before buying is a must, so don’t rush into a decision and don’t be shy. The din of the market (especially in the mornings) can be a little overwhelming, but that’s a typical day for the locals. In the nearby streets, you can find all kinds of ethnic shops and hotels, as well as hipster bars that take over the area once the market is shut down.

Insider tip: The restaurants inside the market are not the epitome of cleanliness or style, but they have a whole bunch of character!

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Anafiotika

The area of Anafiotika is Athens’ worst kept secret since it is located at the upper side of the Plaka neighbourhood. Overshadowed by the Parthenon, this little corner of Athens looks incredibly out of place with the rest of the city. Strolling through the tiny pathways of Anafiotika, surrounded by whitewashed windows and blue-roofed houses, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported in some Greek island. And you’d be right to think so!

This quaint neighbourhood was constructed by builders from the island of Anafi (hence the name), who moved to Athens for work back in the 19th century. Even though the whole of Plaka is picturesque, Anafiotika has a special place in our hearts.

Insider tip: People still live in these houses so try to be discreet when visiting (especially in the night). Also, the fact that you can see through the windows doesn’t mean you should stare!

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Kolokotroni str.

Athens - Agias Irinis

No matter the time and day, you will always see people out and about in the bars of Athens. Especially in the nighttime, things come alive in the area adjacent to Monastiraki, above Athinas street. Although it’s not much to look at during the daytime, a visit after 10 pm will make you think twice. Sophisticated cocktail bars, award-winning food and a fun atmosphere make the urban landscape seem much more inviting once the sun goes down.

Kolokotroni street runs all the way from Syntagma to Monastiraki and its where you’ll find most of the locals hang out. All of the bars around the area are open until (very) late, and each one of them has something to offer. The area is considered the “hipster central” of Athens, so expect to find lots of local breweries, quirky art bars and gritty live stage performances going on every night.

Insider tip: Smoking is allowed inside most Greek bars and clubs, so that might be good or bad news for you. However, don’t expect to wear the same outfit the next day, as it will most probably stink to high heavens.

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Metaxourgio

Metaxourgio is located on the western part of the centre of Athens, on the other side of Pireos street. Although it is only a 15-minute walk from the buzz of the touristy Monastiraki area, visiting Metaxourgio is like walking in another city. Quiet, laid-back and diverse, this once working-class neighbourhood is now a hotspot for new art galleries, design restaurants and quirky bars.

There are not many attractions to speak of, but this is a great place to spend a lazy weekend morning or weekday night. Metaxourgio is not fully gentrified (although new housing developments are sprouting up), so the area around the metro station might be a little bit sketchy at night. Nevertheless, if you want a pleasant spot to eat, drink some coffee and -maybe- an early drink, Metaxourgio is for you.

Insider tip: If you are a shutterbug, this is your time to shine! Metaxourgio is an urban photographer’s paradise.

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The First Cemetery

Although it is not as nearly as popular as the Pere-Lachaise cemetery in Paris, the First Cemetery of Athens is an unlikely candidate for the things you should do in Athens. Many notable Greeks are buried here, and some of their tombs are works of art in their own right. This is an excellent opportunity for a Sunday morning stroll, as the smell of pine trees and incense will relax and soothe you.

Also, it is worth mentioning that the First Cemetery is located in Mets, one of Athens’ prettiest neighbourhoods. After you’re done with your walk, you may return to the world of the living! Visit one of the numerous cafes and restaurants located just a short walk away.

Insider tip: The “Sleeping Maiden” (the tombstone of Sofia Afentaki) is undoubtedly one of the most famous modern Greek sculptures. It is worth it to discover the tragic story behind the statue and its creator, Giannoulis Halepas.

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Koukaki

Squeezed between the chaotic Syngrou Avenue and the hills of the Acropolis, Koukaki is one of the city’s most exciting and Airbnb-popular neighbourhoods. Although tourists seem to prefer it due to its proximity to all of the attractions, it often is overshadowed by them because -like most Athenian neighbourhoods- it’s not much to look at.

The charm of Koukaki grows on you little by little, as you discover new restaurants and spots at every turn. Somewhere along the countless brunch restaurants and alternative bars, you will catch a glimpse of the authentic Athenian experience in an area that incorporates old times with modernity.

Insider tip: Do not eat at the restaurants around the Acropolis Museum nearby. There are countless options between the two large pedestrian streets in Koukaki (Drakou and G.Olimpiou) that are better and much more budget-friendly.

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Petralona

Once you’re out of the madness that is the downtown, you’ll quickly realise that Athens is, at heart, a collection of distinct homey neighbourhoods. Petralona is yet another one of those charming places that are mostly unaffected by tourism.

You will find many exciting dining and nightlife options, as well as a friendly bunch of local people that would love to show you around. The communal atmosphere that permeates Petralona attracts all sorts of creative types -from digital nomads to artists- who are quickly turning the neighbourhood into one of the coolest places to be in Athens.

Insider tip: Even though there is a metro station in Petralona, you can easily walk to the centre and the attractions around it.

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Enjoy Athens luggage free

Whether you’ve just arrived in Athens or leaving soon, don’t let your heavy bags slow you down. Store them in one of our many Athens StashPoints and enjoy the best things to do in Athens like a local: hands-free!

Stasher’s Off the Beaten Path Guides

Want to discover cities away from the tourist traps? Check out our guides!

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