What is it that makes Athens a must-visit city? If you ask fellow tourists, that would most likely be its fascinating history, The Acropolis, the beautiful old center (Plaka), awesome museums, greek food and sunshine.
Locals look at their city in another way. They will probably mention the amazing vibe and the culture of drinking coffee for hours with friends. They might mention the outdoor movie theaters, indie art spots and local music.
We recommend you to skip the Acropolis and avoid the hop-on-hop-off-bus. 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.
A Hidden Village in a trendy neighborhood
Petralona is, no doubt, one of the coolest and trendiest neighborhoods in Athens, and you can find hundreds of recommendations about where to go and what to do there, but what would you think if I told you that in its heart you can find a sub-neighbourhood with houses made of stone, narrow streets and an unexpected quietness?
The path our Spotter Javier proposes is not just beautiful and picturesque but it’s also part of the Athenian Contemporary History. This is a historical and hidden district where life goes on in slow motion.
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 to mingle with the locals.
A century-old house turned bar
When our Spotter Dimitris visited Syntrimmi for the first time he discovered that its mini-atrium could very well be the foyer to his personal heaven. Then he returned for their literally unbeatable wine & coffee prices. Then he went back for their super-welcoming environment for quiet work in the afternoons. And the for their music choices which fits his taste like a glove (Ibrahim Maalouf, Yes, Django Rheinhardt)…
Super-local taverna in a surprising area
“If someone asked me where the most touristic place to have dinner in Athens was, I would answer quite vaguely ‘in a taverna’ but in my opinion there are two kind of tavernas, so allow me to be a bit more specific about Kottaroú.” says Spotter Javier.
This authentic taverna used to be an open-air farm where carts drivers used to come by to pick up orders to be delivered in Athens. Usually they drank wine while they were waiting. After a while, some food started being served along with this wine. Every day, two old-school musicians sit at the central table and play traditional Greek tunes live and unplugged.
To Javier, the chorus of rumbustious customers and the absence of adequate lighting create a mystical atmosphere. There’s not even a sign outside, you won’t find it in any guidebook, and Javier pretty much guarantees you won’t find any tourists here…
A large botanical garden few Athenians know
The Diomidous Botanical Garden is the largest botanical garden of the eastern Mediterranean. It was founded in 1952, and in 1975 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.
Our local Andreas recommends a picnic under the shade of the trees, in one of the outdoor monastery-type tables, where you can meet other groups or families rolling around on the grass. Or perhaps Andreas himself!
A festival cinema with a great bar
“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 from all over the world in Mikrokosmos is of the best kind from all over the world. But as, 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…” writes our Spotter Margarita.
Best street food in Athens?
If you are wandering around Athens and looking for street food, there is a place you should not miss Feyrouz ! In the hyped, central neighborhood around Aiolou Street, you can have the tastiest lahmatzoun of the city! Mrs. Feyrouz, who comes from Antioch in Turkey, bakes the lahmatzoun, 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.
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?
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. But our Spotter Dimitris says “I 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.”
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.
Our Spotter Angeliki loves it for gift shopping because she 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.
A 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.
A must-visit nightlife spot!
Boiler is a must-visit Athens nightlife spot according to our Spotter Angeliki. While it looks like a bar it actually functions as a club with no entry fee. Whether it is Monday or Saturday, at around 22:00, Boiler opens its doors and each night a special DJ conquers the decks.
It is the place for dancing, drinking and meeting the party people of Athens, the hip tourists, the queers, the punks, the ravers… everyone with an open heart and mind. On the top floor there’s also a gig space with cool events.
Want more hidden gems? Check out our Athens blog and app! Or check out our “48 hours in Athens” article.