You could spend a week exploring Athens and not exhaust its possibilities. The vast majority of travelers rarely venture beyond the sightseeing highlights before heading off for Delphi, Meteora, or the Greek islands. Yet the city reveals its secrets willingly to anyone interested in knowing Athens on its own terms. So think outside the box, move beyond the popular venues, and experience this world-class city like a local. Whether it’s the best outdoor market, urban hideaway, or bohemian hot-spot, we’ve got your back.
For more on visiting this ancient city, check out our guide to 24 Hours in Athens.
Athens is a cosmopolitan collection of villages, each with a distinct personality and sprinkled with venues unknown to most visitors. Since you're certain to spend most (if not all) of your time exploring the key sites in the neighborhoods near the Acropolis, here's a guide to them, in counter-clockwise order.
Immediately northeast of the Acropolis you'll find Plaka, a world-famous historic zone. Its narrow lanes, teeming with tourists in the summer, are full of souvenir shops, bars, cafés, and restaurants—many of which overcharge to the tourist traffic. Still, it's hugely popular for a reason. On the west end of Plaka is a tiny enclave clinging to the northern base of the Acropolis'. This is Anafiotika, with narrow cobbled alleys and whitewashed houses that are like something from the Aegean isles.
To the northwest of Plaka is pedestrianized Monastiraki, another tightly-packed historic district famous for its central market and street art. It's also beloved by night-owls for its bars and nightclubs, many of which appeal to the alternative crowd. Locals come here for a stroll in the early morning or evening, often via the flea market of narrow Ifestou Street.
This modern, middle-class residential zone of apartments and turn-of-the-century mansions lies immediately south of the Acropolis. It's a relatively peaceful zone, good for strolling before or after a visit to the New Acropolis Museum, which displays a wide array of sculptures, friezes, and marble statues. Koukaki is also home to the superb National Museum of Contemporary Art. You'll also find many cool cafés and bars, such as the funky Bel Ray (on Falirou) and Art Deco-style Bobo Wine Bar (on Zinni). To start your day, join the locals at Takis (on Zitrou), serving some of the best bread and pastries in town.
A stylish neighborhood, Kolonaki is located north of Syntagma Square and is ideal for bar hopping. It’s also a great place to start your day the Greek way, with a newspaper and coffee. Settle in at Da Capo’s (1 Tsakalof). It's one of the city’s best cafés and features seating on Kolonakiou Plaza.
The middle-class residential Mets neighborhood extends south and east of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Its attractions include several off-beat gems, such as the First Cemetery of Athens. Constructed in the 19th century, this is the vast eternal resting place of many of Athens' most illustrious residents and features marble mausoleums, chapels, and tombs with flamboyant ornamentation. Combine the cemetery with a visit to the Panathenaic Stadium. This Roman-era stadium was built entirely of marble in 143 CE and seats 50,000 spectators. On its south side, Varnava Square is home to cafés and bars and is a great place to hang with locals.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Art & Culture
Athens new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, Opened in Kallithea in 2016, is one of Europe’s hottest new cultural venues. The contemporary structure is the city’s top performance center and is home to the Greek National Opera and National Library. It offers guided tours, but to feel like a local come for a live event, such as an outdoor concert or movie in Stavros Niarchos Park. An elevated walkway connects the center to the waterfront, where history buffs can visit the Park of Maritime Tradition, which includes a full-scale trireme—the fast, agile warship of ancient times.
Athens is a mecca for street art. The downtown Monastiraki and Psyri neighborhoods are a good place to look for murals, with several works by renowned artists Alexandros Vasmoulakis and Vangelis Hoursoglou. While in Psyri, check out the light art on Pittaki, an industrial alley (go at night to enjoy the effect of dozens of eclectic lamps strung overhead). The area is full of cafés and gallery spaces, plus the quirky Museum of Greek Gastronomy, which traces the nation’s culinary traditions back to antiquity and has a restaurant plus cooking classes.
Follow your nose to nearby Evripidou Steet and you'll find Varvakeios, the central market. It's packed with locals shopping for produce and spices (guard against pick-pockets). The nearby Monastiraki (flea market) sells antiques and souvenirs.
Food, Drinks, & Nightlife
With so many dining options the question becomes how to avoid the tourist traps. You can start with a light breakfast. Greeks like a slice of koulouri bread with tahini and/or honey, a glass of milk, and coffee. For specialty coffees, try Tailor Made (Plateia Agias Eirinis 2), in the heart of Monastiraki. Health nuts can opt for Duo Goulies & Duo Mpoukies (Dragatsaniou 8), on the northeast side of Psyri, which serves muesli with dried fruits, and Greek yogurt with chia seeds.
If you’re wandering around Syntagma Square, head west three blocks to the Hip Café for killer pancakes, filling omelets, and fresh-squeezed OJ with carrot, celery, and ginger juice. Greeks do love their pies—tops is Ariston (Voulis 10, in Syntagma), the quintessential pie shop where locals line up for the house specialty: Kourou phyllo with feta.
Athenians like a good brunch as well. You can get fluffy pancakes with strawberries at Anthos Geuson (Evangelistrias 96), in Kalithea, but do as the locals and try kagianas—scrambled eggs with tomatoes and sausage. Also great are the Eggs Benedict and Bloody Marys at Mama Roux (Aiolou 48), in Monastiraki. It draws hipsters who come for eclectic dishes like burgers and traditional Greek mezedes (small plates typically served with ouzo). Kids in tow? Try the falafels at Baba Ganoush (Empedokleous 25), on Varnava Square.
For dinner in touristy Plaka, make a beeline to Psarras (Erotokritou 12), a romantic restaurant with patio dining and live music; its one of the few authentic Greek restaurants in Plaka frequented by locals. For a splurge, join monied locals for a meal alfresco—with rooftop views of the Acropolis—at Strofi (Rovertou Galli 25). They serve creative takes on traditional taverna dishes. As for drinks, Psyri is a dynamic nightlife area, especially for alternative bars. Meanwhile, young scenesters enjoy cocktails at the Chelsea Hotel (Archimidou 1), in the Mets district.
For an alternative to bars, an evening at an alfresco cinema is as Athenian as you can get. Locals love outdoor movies. Our favorite venues are Cine Aegli, in the woods immediately northeast of the Temple of Olympian Zeus; and Cine Paris, in Plaka, with views of the floodlit Acropolis. Above all, Athenians love bouzoukias, traditional live music clubs—usually headlined by famous singers—that cater to Greek sensibilities. To bring out your inner Zorba, make a night at a bouzoukia a priority. You'll learn why Greeks sleep in the afternoon.
Athens has plenty of lush spaces in the midst of its chaotic concrete jungle. Most visitors skip the lovely National Garden, with its ponds, fragrant eucalyptus, and towering palms. All the better for you to enjoy in relative peace. For another escape from the crowds, join locals walking their dogs or jogging up Mount Lycabettus, the city’s highest point and only a 15-minute walk north from the National Garden. Serious hikers can ascend Mount Hymettus. It rises 3,366 feet and offers views of the city to the east.
In summer you might even head to the beaches of the Athenian Riviera or take a ferry to one of the Saronic islands, just off the mainland.
Almost everywhere you’ll want to visit in Athens is served by Metro. It’s a wise investment to get a system map and a day pass, which can also be used on buses (the bus system can be confusing; check out the Athens Urban Transport Organisation website for directions in English). If you’re heading to the Riviera, do it the scenic way aboard Athen’s tram. It’s actually an über-modern system.
That aside, Athens' main sites are almost all within walking distance, and it's rewarding to know the city on foot. Do yourself one better and book a walking tour with a local guide—how better to see the city like a true Athenian?
If you only have a few days here and want to experience the most famous attractions Athens' has to offer, check out this four-day itinerary.