What is it that makes Athens so special to visit and experience for a certain period in time? If you ask fellow tourists, that would most likely be its fascinating history, beautiful architectural buildings, the great museums, authentic Greek alcoholic beverages and the nice, warm and joyous weather that Athens has to offer. Nothing wrong with that of course, these are merely the highlights that you’re supposed to enjoy. But, you will spend much of your time queuing with fellow tourists.
What is it that makes Athens special to live in? If you ask our Spotters, that would be the unpretentious Mediterranean-meets-Oriental tsipouro and meze bars/restaurants; the indie cinemas; it’d be the sidestreets in the centre that so delicately strike the balance between decline, neglect, vitality and re-appropriation. Here are some of our picks for some of the most unique, locals gems in Athens, in the words of our very own team of Spotters.
Stunning views from atop a neglected secret
Well, this kind-of park isn’t the best choice for a walk, but it has a breathtaking view! It is located behind the Aghios Ioannis Metro Station (red line) and it’s quite steep, which makes it almost impossible to climb, apart from a small path that was made a long time ago and runs through it. Along the path, you will find pensioners playing backgammon and chess in groups!
It’s quite neglected but it’s charming in its state of decay. It’s really interesting to walk around and see the houses built on the other side of the hill, as most of them look like village houses, although built in the center of Athens. Don’t visit after nightfall, just to be on the safe side.
The view from Aghios Ioannis Park is one of the best in Athens, although the surrounding area and the park could be preserved a bit better! —Nikos Palavitsinis
Athens urban street life distilled, complete with bikes
There is a small street called Melanthiou in the area of Psiri, in the center of Athens. In the last few years, this area transformed from a drug area into a cyclists’ joint. One of the pioneers of this movement is Welsh Gareth Jones, who came from London to open a bike store here.
At Melanthiou street you will find everything and everyone who has ties to biking philosophy in the city: the bike store VCA, Handlebar cafe, the Bondex cyclist couriers, along with Silver 925 graffiti store and creative design studio Pi6. You can come and drink your coffee while your bike is being fixed or eat something at very low prices. The best time to visit Melanthiou street is in the evening, when people are gathered at small tables by the road and it all creates a single company.
With a bike or not, take a break at this spot during your city walk in Athens’ center. You will probably meet me here while I’m fixing my bike again. –Andreas Papadopoulos
A century-old house turned bar
My very first time at Syntrimmi, I discovered its mini-atrium that could very well be the foyer to my personal heaven. I returned for their literally unbeatable wine & coffee prices. Then I went back for their super-welcoming environment for quiet work in the afternoons. Then I went back for their music choices which fit my taste like a glove (Ibrahim Maalouf, Yes, Django Rheinhardt)…
Syntrimmi has become my favorite spot in the city!—Dimitris Hall
Super-local lunch dead in the center
If all my articles for Spotted by Locals were a crown, this would be the crown jewel! I am so proud to introduce this place, as this is something that merely 1% of Greeks know about! Biftekares is a really small spot, with 6-7 tables, mainly outside, overlooking Syntagma Square. The old man that owns it prepares 4-5 dishes, like delicious burgers, small pizzas of his own making, French fries, omelet, Greek salad, and sausages. That’s it!
Keep in mind that once you locate the building, you just go in and take the elevator to the 9th floor. No signs there, no nothing. Even the doorman won’t let you know about the canteen.
This is probably the best-hidden secret of Syntagma! —Nikos Palavitsinis
Large botanical garden few Athenians know about
The Diomidous Botanical Garden is the largest botanical garden of the eastern Mediterranean. It was founded in 1952, and in 1975, after completion of landscaping, it was opened to the general public. In its area of 470 acres, you can find trees and bushes can be found from all over the world, as well as plants mentioned in Greek mythology and history, like the myrtle of Aphrodite and Socrates’ hemlock.
If properly prepared, you can have a picnic under the shade of the trees, in one of the outdoor monastery-type tables, where you can meet other groups or families (or even me?) rolling around on the grass. —Andreas Papadopoulos
Festival cinema with bar attached
Call it a cinema, call it a bar. Personally, I can’t really decide what it is since I use it as both.
Film festivals of every kind take place here during the year while the normal selection of the films featured in Mikrokosmos is of the best kind and from all over the world. But as I said, there is also the bar!
I’ve spent hours laughing dead to the endless jokes of the owner and his wife. While sitting at the bar staring at the Tom Waits wallpaper in the back, I sometimes even forget I want to go home… —Margarita Kalogeropoulou
Best street food in Athens?
If you are wandering around Athens and are looking for street food, there is a place you should not miss! In the hyped, central neighborhood around Aiolou Street, you can have the tastiest lechmatzoun of the city! Mrs. Feyrouz, who comes from Antioch in Turkey, bakes the lechmatzoun, and her sons, Andreas and Savvas, serve them. But most of all they create a gastronomic tour for you! They have a story to tell you about every delicious dish their mother makes and they share this story with you.
Since the very first time I visited Feyrouz, I have visited them again and again. Not only because of how gastronomically happy they make me but also because you can feel that this family runs their small business with love for food and also love for the tradition that is related to their food!
Feyrouz was voted as the best place for “street food” in Athens and we are really proud of them! —Marilena Salamanou
Art and drinks at the old train
To Traino sto Rouf (‘The Train in Rouf’) is a well preserved old train in its natural environment, a train station. Theatrical plays, music performances, and art exhibitions take place in the train wagons. The theater wagon is reformed as a theatrical scene, the wagon bar, with its wooden decoration and low lights creates a mysterious, retro atmosphere, while the restaurant wagon is as if taken from those old time movies, where so many things could happen on a train…
The schedule varies from season to season. In the summer you can have a drink of wine on the platform and in winter you can dine in the wagon restaurant, experiencing a unique atmosphere. Feels like you are in a movie… Anna Karenina maybe? —Sofia Skioti
The city’s most exciting overgrown stream
Among the blocks of flats, the avenues and the urban “growth” lies a different kind of growth. One that seems to be frozen in time together with its surroundings.
Rema Pikrodafnis is one of the few remaining relatively untouched streams in Athens. You can see the areas it runs through by clicking here. Polluted waters, illegal dwellings tacked on the stream itself, an overgrowth of reeds everywhere… It’s a forgotten, completely different world. You’ll find such things as chicken coops, tin shacks, tortoises, frogs and great views over the stream from the winding, labyrinthine roads that run parallel to it. Some might say it’s not an interesting sight and might wonder why anyone would want to visit a place such as it. I for one love this seemingly abandoned part of the city and really think it’s a symbol of the part of Greece a lot of people choose to forget. —Dimitris Hall
Innovative Greek concept store
Since Graffito opened its doors in 2012, it has been supporting new Greek entrepreneurs while bringing first-class design from all over Europe and the world. If you’d like to explore what Greek creativity and design has to offer, this is your spot. From deli to fashion, this place gathers some of the most up and coming Greek brands.
I love it for gift shopping, cause simply I can find special gifts for everyone here — from my parents to my best friend and even my dog. Moreover, there is a coffee shop inside the store which is ideal for getting a break from shopping with an espresso and some delicious cake. —Angeliki Georgokosta
Fertile breeding ground for upcoming creatives
Upcoming creatives have finally found the right space to showcase their art in the urban core. Neon Raum is more than just another showroom and photography studio promoting Greek designers, it is a fertile breeding ground for artists and hoarders of unique moments of collaborative artistic practice, who have the need to express themselves and unlock their creativity by being part of a community that speaks a global language.
Innovative ideas by colorful individuals make Neon Raum the city’s hub of a limitless world of fashion, art and culture focusing on the beauty in the process.
Extra tip: Before you visit, check Neon Raum’s Facebook page for any popup events. Join their Sunday specials and get the chance to chit-chat with the designers while brunching in Raum’s sunbathed loft. —Aigli Andritsopoulou
Velvet Room is an actual room, a very typical central Athens apartment which has been turned into a live music, performance, art, party and seminar venue. When there aren’t any events taking place, Velvet Room is the studio of the band The Callas.
I mostly go there for the music. It hosts some of the best local gems as well as international artists. Some of my favorite acts like Chickn, Kid Flicks, Victory Collapse, and Angelos Kyriou have played there.
Don’t miss the opportunity to get a glimpse of the Athens indie – underground scene. —Angeliki Georgokosta
For more hidden gems, check out the Spotted by Locals Athens cityblog.