Top 10 things to do in Athens to feel like a local

Plaka - Top 10 things to do in Athens to feel like a local

There are many things you can do in Athens to feel like a local, and these are our top ten picks.

Athens is a unique city, strangely balanced between the East and the West. It is a multi-faceted city that hides a different aspect around every corner. Athens will make you love her but also hate her. It is full of monuments of world value, beautiful neighbourhoods, unique gastronomy, but also of disorderly and ugly urban landscapes.

In order to feel and understand the real Athens, you should stray a little from the popular sights and visit the places that the locals like and that are part of their everyday routine and, to some extent, define their way of life.

1. Admire the view from Areopagus

Areopagus - Top 10 things to do in Athens to feel like a local

What today looks like a rocky hill opposite of the Acropolis was, during the years of the Athenian Democracy, the seat of one of the highest courts, called Areopagus (or Areios Pagos). Murders, arsons, and religious crimes were put on trial here. Also around 51 A.D., the apostle Paul taught here for the first time the word of God to the citizens of Athens. Today, it is a wonderful place to sit, especially during sunset, and admire the impressive view of the Acropolis, Lycabettus, Monastiraki, and the whole city. Sit and relax together with the visitors of the city but also the locals (who can’t get enough of this spectacle).

Read our article: 10 different things to do after a visit to Acropolis

2. Visit the arcades of Athens

Stoa Anatolis - Top 10 things to do in Athens to feel like a local
Stoa Anatolis

In a city like Athens, with sunshine most days of the year, one would expect there to be no commercial arcades running through large building complexes. However, there is an extensive network of arcades designed and built from the late 19th to the mid-20th century to take advantage of the interior of the blocks. At the same time, they ease congestion and facilitate the transit of pedestrians.

Although many of these arcades (stoes in Greek, singular stoa) have declined and do not have the life they once had. However, they are an integral part of the social and commercial life of the city. Of course, some still retain their vitality and usefulness. Each of these arcades has its own unique history and is definitely worth visiting because they give you the opportunity to get to know Athens through the invisible corners and the stories that are hidden inside.

Read our article : A visit to ten historic arcades of Athens

Stoa Aristidou / Anatolis is one of the most picturesque small arcades in Athens. According to one theory, the architect who built it had lived in Alexandria, Egypt, in a similar arcade and wanted to represent the same place in which he had grown up. In the past, the gallery housed many printing houses, of which few survive today. The indoor patio with the small cafe is really reminiscent of a small urban neighbourhood where time seems to have stopped. (Aristidou 12, Athens)

3. Visit the Monastiraki Flea Market on a Sunday

Monastiraki - Top 10 things to do in Athens to feel like a local

Monastiraki is not a hidden secret. Most of the city’s visitors will at some point pass by there and browse their stores and the antique shops that exist here. However, if you really want to feel like a local, you should visit Monastiraki on a Sunday morning. Apart from the shops that are open the rest of the days, the narrow streets of the area, centred mainly on Avissinias Square, are flooded with itinerant sellers of second-hand items. Clothes, paintings, furniture, gramophone records, and old coins all become a mess, turning the area into a place reminiscent of the bazaars of the East.

Zaharias Records is in the centre of Monastiraki Flea Market. The shop began its history in 1993, among many others that sold used records in Monastiraki in the previous decades. In the years that followed, however, it has become the most popular and established shop in the Flea Market and has one of the largest collections in Greece. It has all kinds of music and a wide variety of Greek artists. (Ifestou 20, Monastiraki)

4. Indulge in the aromas of the spices of Evripidou Street

Evripidou - Top 10 things to do in Athens to feel like a local

The centre of Athens’ commercial activity has always been located between Omonoia and Monastiraki. Although it may not have the glamour of yesterday, it is still a great location to find shops with unique products. Evripidou, one of the city’s oldest streets, is well known for its shops that sell spices and herbs. The entire street is overwhelmed by the aromas coming from the shops, and the smell of pepper is everywhere. While searching for a spice that they cannot get elsewhere, Athenians as well as numerous restaurant owners visit these merchants. Their variety there is quite astounding.

Hatzigeorgiou Shop, which has been running continuously since 1937, carries on a family legacy of selling top-notch spices and herbs. The store is a feast of flavours, hues, and unusual names. There are numerous varieties of pepper, including common varieties like black pepper and unusual ones like habanero and szechuan. The variety of herbs, though, is even more astounding, from bee pollen to dried orange blossoms.(Evripidou 37, Athens)

5. Get your breakfast from a neighbourhood bakery

Rizos Elaia - Top 10 things to do in Athens to feel like a local
Rizos Elaia

The neighbourhood bakery is an institution intertwined with the daily life of the Athenians. Even earlier, when the only product produced was bread, every household’s day started at the bakery. Today, the bakery has evolved into a place where you can find many different types of bread, sweets, pies, and even coffee. It is a favourite place of the locals at all hours of the day, but especially for breakfast. A coffee in hand and a morning snack are the beginning of the day for most Athenians. The bakery is an Athenian daily habit that you have to experience in order to understand it.

Rizos Elaia is a bakery with a family tradition that started in 1974. The two Rizos bakeries, in addition to excellent quality breads (such as exceptional dinkel bread), also make an excellent crispy koulouri with a strong taste of roasted sesame. (Matrozou 12, Koukaki / Votanikou 12, Votanikos)

6. Visit a traditional dairy shop

Stani - Top 10 things to do in Athens to feel like a local

In a large urban area like Athens, the concept of the traditional workshop is something that is difficult to maintain and also to locate. However, there are some places in Athens where the tradition of the old dairy store (in Greek, galaktopoleio) is kept alive and passed down from generation to generation. These shops are selling mainly milk and yogurt. They are small oases of gastronomic tradition with products of high quality and nutritional value. Yogurt, in particular, is an important element of the traditional Greek diet, and in these places, you will find it in its purest form.

Stani  is a dairy store in Omonoia Square with a history that began in 1931 in Piraeus and, since 1949, has continued in the centre of Athens. The current owner, the grandson of the founder, Nikos, continues to get the milk from the same family in mountainous Corinthia as his grandfather. Its most emblematic product is stilvon, fresh sheep's yoghurt that is served in large portions on a plate with fine honey and walnuts. Apart from the yogurt, exceptional and always fresh are the rice pudding and the cream. (Marikas Kotopouli 10, Omonoia)

Read our article: Always fresh – The best traditional dairy stores in Athens

7. Have lunch on a week day around Akadimias Street

Kapetan Michalis - Top 10 things to do in Athens to feel like a local
Kapetan Michalis

Downtown Athens offers you many choices for eating out. However, there are a few places, loved by the locals and those who work at the city centre, that could offer you a truly Athenian experience. These places are packed during lunchtime on weekdays. The food is old-fashioned and tasty, served at unpretentious places. Many of them are gathered in the streets and arcades between two major roads in the city centre Panepistimiou and Akadimias Streets.

Kapetan Michalis is a place with more than fifty years of history. It started as a traditional cafe where the intellectuals of the nearby publishing houses used to hang out. In the course of years, it has been transformed into a tavern. Traditional dishes, seafood plates, and fresh salads are part of an ever-changing menu, along with excellent wine and ouzo. The place is always full of people of all ages, especially at lunchtime. Workers, lawyers, clerks, and university students all form a big welcoming circle. (Feidiou 3, Athens)

Read our article: 6 places in downtown Athens to eat like a local

8. Search the streets of Pagrati for the best street food

Pagrati - Top 10 things to do in Athens to feel like a local

Pagrati is one of the most interesting urban areas of Athens. It was loved by artists and writers and was a favourite place of residence for intellectuals. The old inhabitants of Pagrati are still proud to call themselves true Athenians. In the last ten years, the area has revived and become a favourite place to go out. Varnavas Square and Proskopon Square are two focal points, but every corner of the neighbourhood has something different to offer. Art galleries, vintage stores, cafes, bars, restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, and, of course, great places for street food create a unique mix. Pagrati is the perfect place for street food during a stroll around its streets.

Εlvis serves one of the best souvlaki - kalamaki in Athens. Excellent pork, chicken or lamb souvlaki (and also kebab and sausage), always freshly grilled and juicy, with the right amount of salt and oregano. It is served with lemon, bread and a small portion of tasty fried potatoes.(Archimidous 3, Pagrati)

Read our article: The best street food in Pagrati

9. Hang out with the ancient Athenians at Plato’s Academy

Akadimia Platonos - Top 10 things to do in Athens to feel like a local
Akadimia Platonos

Akadimia Platonos is an area in the northwestern part of Athens. It owes its name to the hero Akadimos and the school of philosophy, the Academy, founded by Plato. Today the site is an open archaeological park where visitors can walk among ancient monuments and modern recreation areas.

As you wander through the park, you can see a children’s party at the same place where the ancient athletes practised or two elderly gentlemen talking on the stones where the ancient philosophers sat. Young couples, groups of children playing ball, cyclists, and modern graffiti coexist with important ancient monuments. All these elements create a unique space for interaction between our ancient heritage and the modern life of the city. An interaction that transcends the boundaries of the park as the ancient monuments continue in the alleys of the neighbourhood of Kolonos, being an integral part of its daily life.

Mouries was for many years a traditional cafe, which, when the owner died, his children took over and turned into a tavern. The food here, homemade and delicious, is a journey through time to an era of purity and authenticity. But apart from the food, the place itself has a simplicity and honesty that win you over from the first moment. (Keratsiniou 15, Kolonos)

Read our article: Akadimia Platonos – Where modern Athens embraces its ancient past

10. Take a break from the city at the Kaisariani Μonastery

Kaisariani Monastery - Top 10 things to do in Athens to feel like a local
Kaisariani Monastery

One of the easy and nearby escapes for the Athenians is the forest and the Kaisariani Monastery. The area is located at the foot of the Ymittos mountain, a few kilometres from the city center. Every weekend, it is flooded with thousands of visitors looking for a visit to nature. Within this beautiful and protected forest, there are also a series of historic buildings. The most important of these is the Kaisariani Monastery.

The monastery was probably built during the Byzantine period, around 1100, which is the date of construction of the preserved church. However, the site has a longer history as a place of worship, dating back to ancient times. It is a beautiful and impressive temple, which, together with its nearby buildings, is a very interesting sight. Around the monastery, a series of green paths follow different routes. Each one of them has its own interest and will lead you to a different point. Small lakes, springs, rare plants, and church ruins are just some of the things you will encounter. Also, wherever there is an opening, the view of Athens from above takes your breath away.

Visit Athens without preconceptions and discover a city that you will fall in love with despite all its flaws. A very unique place that will embrace you from the first moment and make you feel like a local. You just have to give her a chance and let her charm you.