by Anastasia Valti-Spanopoulou
Every self-respecting Athens guide (including ourselves!) will tell you plenty about where to find the best Greek tourist attractions, which Greek islands to visit, or even suggest a few sightseeing tours to help you explore the city fast and easy. But as much as we loved telling you about the best museums in Athens, giving you ideas on the most exciting souvenirs to look for, and helping you plan out your island hoping in Greece in previous posts, we believe that every authentic travel experience needs to (also) have a pinch of local every-day life in it. So after climbing up to the world-famous Acropolis, walking around the picturesque little streets of Plaka, and buying all sorts of knick-knacks in Monastiraki, you’ re finally ready! We can now begin your initiation into the absolutely enchanting world of local Athenian life and all its crazy, beautiful, ever-changing aspects that you’ll experience in eight of the city’s most vivid local neighborhoods.
#1 Glyfada - Hubbub by the Beach
Occasionally referred to as 'the Greek Hamptons', Glyfada is known for its commitment to fashion and the good life as much as it is for its location right next to the sea. Naturally, it is more exciting to visit during the summer, but being the largest southern suburb of Athens, Glyfada has plenty of local activities and points of interest in store for you all year round. Other than its fascinating boutiques and stores of all sorts, Glyfada is sure to win you over with its famous casual restaurants and all-day cafés tailored to all kinds of tastebuds, its popular (the first in Greece!) golf course and its laid back atmosphere (a California-like feeling!). If the sea is what brings you to Glyfada, don't forget to take a look at our ultimate list of best beaches in Athens. Keep in mind that some of the city's fanciest resorts are found in close proximity to Glyfada (specifically in the areas of Voula and Vouliagmeni) so a good idea is to pop in for a coffee or meal in their facilities - who can say no to a little bit of luxury every now and then?
Tip: If you're trying to find fun things to do with kids in Athens, make sure you visit Archelon, Glyfada's sea turtle protection foundation, which offers free tours and lets you see for yourself the adorable little creatures healing there.
How To Get There: Metro (Elliniko) | Tram (towards Voula) | Bus
#2 Kolonaki – Sophisticated Everything
You might remember this place from our Athens shopping guide, because that’s exactly where Kolonaki belongs! If fancy international boutiques and Greek designer shops are just the kind of thing that can make your Greek holiday a little more perfect, then taking a stroll around the posh area of Kolonaki is one of the best things to do. Only a short walk from Syntagma, this neighborhood is home to some of the most prestigious offices and expensive apartments of the country. But more importantly, it also hosts some of the best places to eat in Athens, as well as plenty of bars, clubs and wine bistros, that together make up a great deal of the Athens nightlife world.
Tip: All great things come at a price, so be prepared that prices here are a little higher than most places – but it’s worth it!
How to Get There: Metro (Evaggelismos or Syntagma) | Tram (Syntagma) | Bus
#3 Exarhia – Untamable but Never Uninteresting
Affordable, central, and in close proximity to the University of Athens, Exarchia (or Exarheia) is definitely a neighborhood that belongs to the young. Ironically, even though it’s adjacent to the up scale Kolonaki, it is generally regarded as one of the rather tempestuous areas of the city, as it’s where students and youngsters usually begin their protests during times of high political turmoil in the country. But don’t worry, we’re not sending you off to anyplace dangerous, just making sure you won’t be taken by surprise if you hear this from somebody else. For the most part, Exarhia is an alternative but laid back area, with plenty of people strolling around its street in the summer, as well as numerous cafés, restaurants and eateries that are not interested in faking anything. Also: used vinyl and bookshops, great guitar shops, tons of graffiti art, even more stray dogs are a few of the things that give this neighbourhood a special kind of character. Bottom line, if you’re looking for unique experiences and quirky things to do, a visit to Exarheia is a must for your Athens tour schedule.
Tip: Students like to eat well and cheap – who can blame them, after all? Great for you, this means Exarheia offers plenty of traditional taverns (often with live music on weekends), such as the classic 'Barba Yannis'. For something different, try one of the several take-away food corners, like the popular 'Booka' where you can get Greek food like local grandmoms would cook it, for very little money.
How to Get There: Metro (Omonia or Panepistimio) | Bus
Want to tour Athens with the pros? here are some suggestions:
#4 Kifisia – Peace ‘n’ Chic
Kifissia (or Kifisia) is often thought of as a greener version of Kolonaki, as apart from luxury boutiques, exceptional cafés, and some of the most notorious Athens bars, it is also characterized by small parks and patches of green that punctuate the many neoclassical buildings of the area. Keep in mind that Kifissia is found in the Northern part of the city, so you may need to go a little out of your way to visit this neighborhood. Nevertheless, you’ll find that its little pedestrian streets, fresh air, and well-dressed inhabitants make it worth more than one visits. Prices can be a little stingy in many of its stores and bars or restaurants, but you normally get good product quality and service in both. Albeit being a suburb, Kifissia offers many of the city center’s charms, only in a more spaced out fashion.
Tip: Kifissia is often considered as a great place for couples, as it combines a beautiful outdoors scenery with chic bistros and restaurants of all kinds. So if you’re looking for things to do on a date, Kifissia can prove a valuable ‘ally’, and so can our recent guide on romantic Athens.
How To Get There: Train (Kifissia) | Bus
#5 Petralona – Up ‘n’ Coming Freshness
Even though Petralona is technically part of central Athens, its character is entirely different from the rest of the city. At a first glance, it doesn’t seem like much – it’s more of a residential area, one could say. But lately a number of ambitious young entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the low rents of Petralona to open some of the most unique all-day bars and cafes in Athens. More often than not, bars here are run by young people, who have really put thought into the character of their property, and know how to impress you with their cocktail experimentations and exceptional taste in music. Mainly frequented by younger crowds, Petralona, like Metaxourgeio (our no.7 below!), is a great place for those of you in search of authentic or modernized 'tsipouradika’ (small taverns selling tsipouro) and Greek food in all its variations.
Tip: The Main Square of Upper Petralona (the part of Petralona lying above the train tracks) is a meeting point for many young people who just want to chill outside with a beer. Food for thought if you’re looking for unique things to do with friends during your vacay.
How To Get There: Train (Petralona) | Bus
#6 Halandri – A Dazzling Bit of Everything
If you’re in Athens for more than just a few days, then you should know that the Northern suburb of Halandri is one of the best neighborhoods in Athens and an absolute must see. Although it retains its suburban atmosphere intact, Halandri is lacking in literally nothing you need to stay entertained: from restaurants and street food places; to loud bars playing Greek music and romantic little bars tucked in alleyway corners; to cinemas, cafes, donut shops, bakeries and much more. Although Halandri is best known for its vibrant nightlife - and rightly so - it also hosts a very satisfactory shopping scenery, with plenty of (mainly local) apparel stores, bookshops, jewellery boutiques a.o. Many people like to just hang around in the main square, but also walk about the areas little residential streets, numerous churches, and small parks. What else can you ask for, really?
Tip: Halandri offers literally hundreds of bars and restaurants, but this inevitably means that most of them are rather small (or even tiny). So if you’re going there on a Friday or Saturday night make absolutely sure you book, or head there as early as possible.
How To Get There: Bus
#7 Metaxourgeio – Traditional Meets Hip Meets Artsy
Another youngster favorite of Athens, is an area that looks rather dodgy when you first approach it. But as we’ve already explained in our Athens hidden bars guide, when it comes to Greek nightlife that’s a good sign! Spending a night in Metaxourgeio is certainly one of the most unusual things to do in the city, due to its very unique character. Albeit being frequented by the hip youths of Athens, in this neighborhood you will find no posh bars and fancy clubs, but innumerable little raki places, where you can order meze to enjoy on the traditional tavern chairs set on the pavement; hip little bars that you wouldn’t know are bars unless someone told you; and some of the best street food corners of the city. No need to dress and impress here, just lay back on your chair and drink as much house wine as your stomach can handle – at the end of the night you’ll find the bill is still close to nothing at all.
Tip: Metaxourgeio is home to a large number of small theaters and music stages, so you can almost always combine your night crawling with some culture. Again, tickets are generally super cheap, and some performers even tell you to just pay whatever you deem fitting.
How To Get There: Metro (Metaxourgeio) / Bus
#8 Fix – The Center’s Lesser Known Asset
The neighborhoods surrounding the Acropolis (Thissio, Plaka, Monastiraki etc.) are so picturesque and wonderful that most people keep missing one of the coolest areas of central Athens, even though it’s been sitting under their nose the whole time. Syggrou-Fix (or just ‘Fix’) is actually only about a ten-minutes’ walk from the Acropolis Museum and its relevant local attractions, but unlike the more touristic areas of the city center, it doesn’t get overwhelmingly crowded on weekends and the evenings. Full of unique little café-bars with tables set outdoors, pedestrian areas to stroll around, hip restaurants you can actually afford to eat it, and as of recently featuring the impressive National Museum of Contemporary Art, Fix has become one of the most vivid areas of Athens over the past few years, preferred mainly (but not exclusively) by younger crowds who enjoy the more laid back face of the Athenian social scene.
Tip: Among others, Fix is particularly rich in bakeries and small local foods stores. A good idea would be to grab a quick breakfast and enjoy it in one of the neighborhood’s benches (it’s so peaceful in the morning!) before you set out to explore some of the most important landmarks in Greece in the nearby areas. If you're undecided, try Tzatzos for immense variety and tables to sit outside, or Mama Psomi (on your way towards Koukaki) for that homelike feeling and smeall of freshly baked bread. Yum!
How To Get There: Metro (Syggrou-Fix) / Bus
P.S. All opinions expressed in this post are purely personal, and not meant to promote in any way!