10 of the best things to do in Athens on your Greekend
A visit to Athens invariably includes the obligatory pilgrimage to the iconic symbol of western civilization-the Acropolis. Just underneath and around it, there is the theater of Dionysus-the oldest theater in the world, and the place where drama was invented, as well as the ancient agoras where ideas sprouted and people traded. Then there’s the temple of Hephaestus, the cemetery of Keramikos, and the remains of Plato’s academy, amongst others. Yes, Athens is an archaeologist’s Woodstock, but you’d be missing out on so much more if you concentrated on the old stuff. Athens is a modern metropolis that mixes old and new like no other. Its proximity to the sea (a mere 20km from the city center) and the mountains and hills that engulf it make it diverse and varied in the types of things you can do. You can be mountain biking in the morning and then dip right into the sea. So, if you’re in Athens and want to see and do things off the beaten track, stick around we’ll give you 10 of the best things to do.
Drink your morning coffee in Kolonaki
Greece is a coffee-consuming colossus and the 17th biggest consumer of the brown tonic. It is a part of the culture as much as beer is for the British, and that is apparent immediately, anywhere in the city. Outdoor cafes, small roasteries, and trendy establishments are always full of patrons sipping and chatting. If you want to get a sense of the real Athens, then a stroll through the upmarket Kolonaki district, just up the road from the main Syntagma square, is vital. Kolonaki is the abode of upwardly mobile professionals, stylish old dames dressed to the nines walking their dogs, and trendy boutiques and old-world cafeterias. Sit back and enjoy your morning coffee as you people watch the world go by.
Beach time in the southern suburbs
The Athens Riviera stretches for 70km from the port of Pireaus to Sounio. Along the way, there are numerous beaches, some free, some not, which you can visit and spend some hours under the sun. Districts like Kavouri, Glyfada, Vouliagmeni, and Vari are ideal for that, meanwhile, Sounio itself is a reason unto itself to go even further and end up by the Temple of Poseidon. A newly made bicycle track allows you to cover the distance from one end to the other, so keep note of that if you feel like stretching your legs, and stop at various beaches to cool off. Limanakia, Asteras, and Yabanaki are some of the most popular.
Walk and shop in Glyfada
While Kolonaki may be the upmarket choice of preference for Athenians, the seaside district of Glyfada is, without doubt, the second pole. It is often called the Palm Beach of Athens, as the promenade is stacked with palm trees, and designer boutiques line the boardwalk and the general area. You’ll find trendy eateries, galleries, and ample leg space, as well as luxury villas and beautiful people all around. This is the domain of celebrities, footballers, and new money, so grab your plastic and have at it. As things to do in Athens go, this one is a must.
10 of the best experiences in Athens on your Greekend:
Stick around for lunch in the southern suburbs and you’ll find yourself in a setting reminiscent of a Greek island. After your dips into the Aegean, pop into a traditional seafood tavern and help yourself to some fried calamari, Greek salad, and taramasalata dip to go with your freshly caught snapper. Wash it down with some ouzo and gaze into the endless blue as your food slowly makes its way down your peptic system. Note that tour buses from the blue line go all the way down to the southern suburbs, should you wish to forego the comforts of a car.
Athens is peppered with hills and mountains, which in antiquity served as de-facto fortresses that kept a lookout on the horizon. The most famous of these are the Acropolis and Lycabettus hill, which rises 300m above sea level and is the tallest of the hills that are found in Athens. Lycabettus is at the foot of Kolonaki district, which is where you’ll get the funicular to get up (alternatively you can walk, although be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart, especially in the hot summer months). Once up there you’ll find a restaurant and a church, while the plateau just underneath serves as a handy concert space and hangout for youths. The best time to visit is sunset when the colors reach full awesomeness. Grab a cold one and perch yourself on one of Athens’ finest viewpoints.
While you’re down in the Athens Riviera, consider Lake Vouliagmeni, in the homonymous district. It sits right by the road and is a small 4-acre lake fed by fresh water that stays temperate throughout the year at 25 degrees Celsius. The waters are said to be good for several ailments and as it is relatively shallow in most parts (keep in mind that the exact depth remains a mystery as divers have never been able to find where it ends), and as a bonus, the lake is home to the Garra rufa fish species, which exfoliate dead skin with nibbles. A day at the spa is one of the best things to do while on holiday in Athens.
Stavros Niarchos Center
In the Kallithea district, just at the mouth of the Faliro Delta, lies one of the most impressive man-made constructs in the city not made of marble (no prizes for guessing which other monument tops the list). This Renzo Piano-made edifice is a sprawling civic center that houses the national opera and national library in a state-of-the-art building made up of friendly materials and self-sustainable through cutting edge technologies that allow it to harness solar power. Sitting atop a hill that is strewn with aromatic herb trees and shrubs, not to mention a man-made lake, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation is a cultural beacon that attracts people of all ages for picnics, free concerts, and panoramic views of the extending city and the sea.
Sunset cocktails on a rooftop
Athens is dominated by the Acropolis. No building is allowed more than 7 stories to ensure it doesn’t block the view of the iconic hill. That means that Athens and its surrounding rooftop buildings have become veritable viewpoints from which to gaze at the symbol of western civilization with a cocktail in hand and ponder like the ancient philosophers. Sunset cocktails on one of the many rooftop bars are one of the funnest things to do in Athens.
Party till late in Gazi district
The old gasworks district turned into a living art and fun area known as Gazi is Athens’ designated party spot. This whole neighborhood is dedicated to fun and partying, with a multitude of bars, hip restaurants, clubs, and after-hours joints that is also an LGTBQ-friendly area. The fun spills over into the neighboring districts like Kermaikos, Metaxurgio, and Psirri, so it is your choice where to hang loose.
Stroll through the National Gardens
Athens is hot. And it’s getting hotter, courtesy of climate change, but here to alleviate that are the National Gardens, which are found next to the parliament in central Syntagma square. Covering 38 acres and stacked with all manner of green, it is a veritable oasis in the heart of the city, commissioned by Queen Amalia a century ago. The tall Washingtonia palm trees that greet you at the entrance are a reminder that Greece is exotic and European at the same time; a singular combination of east and west that defies expectations. Walk around and at the southern end, the magnificent Zappeion and its surrounding expanse lead you to the exit.
10 of the best experiences in Athens on your Greekend
Athens is full of things to do and see. This historic city may be famous for its past, but its present and future are as bright as they’ve ever been.