An insider’s guide to visiting Athens

An Insider's Guide to Hidden Spots in Athens, Greece
An insider's guide- Hidden spots of Athens

When you’re gathered with your friends, discussing your next European trip and possible city break, and someone mentions ‘Athens’, what images does this throw up for places to visit?
I’m guessing the Acropolis is the main one, maybe followed closely by the Acropolis Museum, browse the flea market of the Plaka District, shop in Ermou Street and see the Guards outside of Parliament Palace in Syntagma Square.

The acropolis museum photo
Photo by rajagopal_rajeev The Acropolis Museum
Evzones of the Greek Parliament Guard - Athens - Greece
Evzones of the Greek Parliament Guard – Athens

There’s no doubt that these sites are a must visit, but there’s so much more to Athens than  meets the eye.  I’ve lived here (and loved here) for coming up to a decade now. So let me give you my Insider’s Guide to visiting Athens.

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Insider Tip for Visiting Athens: Areopagus – the Hill of Ares

What’s that? I hear you ask.  We all know the Acropolis and Parthenon are two very famous places to visit in Athens.  One of my insider’s tips, though, is to actually go to just below the entrance of the Acropolis, where you’ll see some metal steps, as well as rough, slippery steps carved out of the rocks.  Ascend either (only a short climb, but wear trainers if you’re going up the rock steps as they really are slippery, even in dry weather due to being cut out of marble), and join others to sit and admire the 360 degree of Athens and all the way down to the port of Piraeus and further still, the nearby islands.  At sunset it’s spectacular.  Best of all, it’s free.

Areopagus Hill, Athens, Greece photo
Photo by Andy Hay. Beautiful views across to the Acropolis from Areopagus Hill, Athens

For those of you interested in mythology, it’s supposed to be the site where Ares, the God of War, was tried for the murder of one of Poseidon (the God of the Sea)’s sons.

Anafiotika – the hidden ‘island’ in the city

This has to be my favourite insider tip for visiting Athens, mainly because it is so hard to find. Directly below the Acropolis on the northeastern side, in the Plaka district, lies a neighbourhood built and designed to resemble the tiny island Anafi.  This is because it came into being in 1832, when King Otto of Greece brought over to Athens construction workers from this island to build his Palace.  The workers built themselves a little village to remind them of the island they so missed.

The quaint, island-like neighbourhood of Anafiotika, below the Acropolis in Athens, Greece
Neighbourhood of Anafiotika, below the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

Today only 45 houses remain, and are lived in.  But it’s fascinating to amble around the twisty streets and really get lost.  Read more here, (with map).

Syntagma Metro Station Archaeological Collection

Not everybody’s into archeology, and I respect that.  It’s pretty hard to come to Greece, especially Athens – however, and not be confronted with archeology at almost every turn. It’s just there, which is kind of wonderful if you think about it, in this day and age.
This insider tip for visiting Athens is clever in that you don’t actually have to pay to go to a museum…and it’s unique in that it’s located actually inside a Metro/Underground station – in the ticket hall!

Archaeological relics in Syntagma metro station Athens photo
Photo by Dario Sušanj Relics found as Syntagma Metro station was being built. Now on display in the station.

Enter or exit Syntagma Metro station, the main interchange station and right in central Athens, and you’ll come across the area with cases exhibiting various artefacts from the classical Greek, Roman and Byzantine eras – all found in the area when the Metro was dug up as it was being created.
Strictly speaking, it’s ‘free’ – or more to the point, the cost of a metro ticket as it’s just past the ticket barriers (2017 rate: €1.40).
Read more here.

Insider Tip for Visiting Athens: Street Art Tour

There are mixed feelings about street art vs graffiti, but since the economic crisis of 2008, Athens has been a hub of really imaginative Street Art, and this is one of my favourite insider’s tip for visiting the city.  I would recommend a three hour street art walking tour where you’ll get taken to various neighbourhoods and shown the eclectic street art that adorn the walls.  I wrote a post about it here and as you’ll see, you get to see how neighbourhoods have been transformed by these massive murals reflecting the plight of today’s societal issues.

A Street Art Tour of Athens is a great way to gain an alternative insight into the city
A Street Art Tour of Athens (or any city, actually) is a great way to gain an alternative insight into the city

Insider Tip for Visiting Athens: Hidden Streets

One of my favourite places to wander down as I exit Monastiraki station (the main station you’ll head to to explore the very touristy Flea market), is the ‘Street of Lights’.
Keep walking down towards the main road from Ermou Street (which looks exceptionally busy and hassly) but bear with it, because on your right you’ll come to Pittaki Street.

Pittaki Street - otherwise known as 'Street of Lights' in Athens, Greece
Street of Lights / Pittaki Street in Athens, Greece. Brightens up a slightly ‘dodgy’ neighbourhood.

In a slightly run down area, and it was becoming more so, in 2013 the local Athenians decided enough was enough and started a project to ‘lighten up’ the area.  Collecting old lamps and even chandeliers by rummaging deep into their cupboards and scouring antique shops, they created a little haven amongst the clutter – and the result is lovely.

Insider Tip to Visiting Athens – Themed Cafe

Whilst we’re on the subject of the ‘Street of Lights’ – right at the very end you’ll come to a fairytale of a cafe, quite literally.  Little Kook is unique as it’s one of a kind in Athens; waiting staff dress up as the fairytale of the month (Alice in Wonderland is a particularly ‘trippy’ experience!).  The menu (in Greek – ask for a translation) is on a scroll, yet not much explanation is needed as you view the iced cakes on offer at the counter.

Little Kook Themed Cafe in Athens, Greece
Little Kook Fairytale Themed Cafe – Athens

Great for families and big kids at heart.  Or hell, you don’t even need an excuse.  I love it!

Insider Tip to Visiting Athens – Hidden Bar

My favourite hidden bar in Athens.  It’s literally hidden behind a door (blink and you’ll miss it) down a side street in the Monastiraki Flea Market district.  TAF is housed in a neoclassical building from the 1870’s, you open the door initially to an unremarkable inside area – but this opens out into a tree clad courtyard with bar area and young locals sitting and relaxing.

TAF Athens photo
Photo by bartvanpoll

Around the square are two floors of buildings, the second floor divided into rooms where locals used to live, now housing art exhibits, (TAF is short for The Art Foundation).
Great cocktails and open from 10am to 3am daily.


Conclusion

As you’ve seen, there’s so much more to this city than the average sites people come for. Come and stay a few days and explore.
Have you found a hidden secret in your city you’re willing to share? Share in the comments.

Check here for recommended hotels in Athens at competitive prices.
And take a look for more Tours in Athens.

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Come and discover the Hidden Spots of Athens, Greece. Go beyond the tourist trail
Hidden spots of Athens
Come and Explore the Hidden Spots of Athens. Discover places beyond the tourist traps
Explore the Hidden Spots of Athens
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16 COMMENTS

  1. I still haven’t been to Athens (despite it being such a short flight away from me), partially because I assumed it would basically be an underwhelming city with a few important monuments to visit along with every other tourist around. But from your post the city itself actually looks really interesting, a lot more vibrant and quirky than I would have expected. Now I’m interested in checking it out for myself!

    • Great Sara! I do hope you’ll come and visit Athens one day. It’s certainly not underwhelming, quite the opposite in fact!

  2. I have never been to Athens yet but really want to go one day since I have a friend in Athens where I can stay. What I will definitely do while in Athens is the Street Art Tour – this is a great idea. Thanks for sharing.

    • You’re more than welcome Claudi. If you go to the link in the site, you’ll see a link of the company to book the Street Art Tour. I loved it – and I must go on another one soon as I’m sure since I did that one that more has cropped up!

  3. I’d love to do the street art tour! I also have bar recommendations from friends – but this one didn’t come up!

    • Yes – TAF is a favourite amongst locals, and it is really hidden away (hence why I provided a Google Map).
      Hope it’s helpful for you Katie! And now you have added things to do on your next visit to Athens.

  4. Good job Bex! You gave some really good tips about Athens. And I can guarantee them as being Athenian myself! Callie

  5. I vibe with the “so much more” point Bex. My wife visited almost a decade ago. She really enjoyed spending time in town, away from the traditional tourist sites. This being in a sketchy hood LOL. I recall her digging the fare, sites and sounds. A city with some real flavor. Thanks for the helpful share.

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