Lonely Planet Local Marissa Tejada is a travel writer, journalist and blogger who has been living in Athens for eight years. What she loves about the city is its contrast of ancient and modern. Greece’s capital is never boring – the constantly evolving contemporary art scene, fantastic Mediterranean cuisine and outdoor bars keep things exciting.
When I have friends in town… if it’s their first time in Athens, I make sure they visit the Acropolis. It’s the eternal monument of the Greek capital and in many ways an eternal symbol of Greece itself. The views from the ancient sight are stunning, so it’s worth the climb. I still get chills when I enter it every so often, whether alone or with visiting friends. There’s a special energy there – no wonder the ancient Greeks chose that spot for it! Afterwards, the Acropolis Museum is a must. Not only is it one of the most beautiful museums in the world, it’s a way to learn more about the significance of the Acropolis throughout time. The dining patio is a great place, with beautiful views over the site. I also urge friends to take a hike up Lykavittos Hill. It’s by far the most panoramic view of Athens, including the Acropolis, the mountains that hug the city and the sea along the Athenian Riviera – they all seem within reach when you’re standing up there. It’s perfect during sunrise or sunset. On a gorgeous day, you can see out into the Aegean and pinpoint the surrounding Greek islands.
When I’m up for a big night out… we head to the centre of Athens and then choose from a set of bars that have helped redefine the lively nightlife scene here, like the Christmas-themed Noel, Clumsies for creative cocktails and Faust which hosts cabarets too. On a special occasion, for a change and with a good group of Greek music-loving party people, I’ll reserve a table at a Greek bouzoukia. These are traditional Greek music clubs, and the party goes on until the morning hours. It’s one of the most unique cultural nightlife experiences you can have in this part of the world.
A typical weekend involves… meeting friends for brunch, which happens to be an exploding fad here. Pancakes weren’t readily available eight years ago, and now picturesque cafes are specialising in American and various types of European-style brunches. Nice places to try include Nice ’n’ Easy in Kolonaki, Odori (en-gb.facebook.com/Odori-Vermuteria-Di-Atene) near Klafthomonos Square, New York Sandwiches (facebook.com/newyorksandwiches) in Syntagma Square, Mama Roux in Agia Irini Square and Harvest Cafe (facebook.com/HarvestCoffeeWine) in Monastiraki. Relaxing over a coffee with friends means heading somewhere scenic, with a great view, a garden or lots of people-watching opportunities. Also, a leisurely walk in a pedestrianised zone like Dionysiou Areopagitou or in the hills like Lykavittos or Filopappou Hill is always a refreshing break, with super views to match. I love trying out the wine bars of Athens – there are many to choose from, all very ambient, and Greek wines are incredible with award-wining varieties. Some favourite places include Heteroclito and By the Glass (bytheglass.gr).
If you come in summer… I highly suggest checking out the palm-tree fringed promenades, resort communities and beautiful beaches along the Athenian Riviera. This coastal area, reachable within 40 minutes via tram or a 20-minute drive from the city, shows another face of Athens, one that resembles a Greek island.
Athens is up and coming for… art. This is one of Europe’s hottest art destinations. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center opened earlier this year with impressive venues promoting local art and culture. The city’s new National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) has hosted the prestigious Documenta contemporary art exhibition this spring and is expected to become Athens’ bold answer to London’s Tate Modern, the Pompidou Centre in Paris or New York’s MoMA. You can’t ignore the street art either! In recent years, Athens has been called ‘the New Berlin’ for its fantastic street art that’s impressive, edgy, meaningful. There are now tours helping travellers discover this new face of an ancient city. It’s really fascinating.
Athenians love… movies, and if you’re in town when the evening weather is perfect, check out one of the dozens of charming outdoor cinemas scattered throughout the city. The nice thing here is that movies aren’t dubbed – they’re shown in the original language with Greek subtitles. Cine Paris has a view of the Acropolis, Aigli Cinema is located in Zappeio Gardens, and Cine Flisvos (cineflisvos.gr) in Paleio Faliro has the sea as the backdrop.
For cheap eats… go for souvlaki. Number-one meal to try is the gyros, seasoned grilled meat wrapped in a toasted Greek pita with French fries, tomato slices, and tzatziki (yoghurt, cucumber and garlic). Souvlaki is cheap and delicious, the Greek equivalent of a pizza night. The best in Athens is Kostas on Pentelis Street in Syntagma. His simple place is a third-generation-run local daytime hangout. Thanassis in Monastiraki is centrally placed with tons of touristy traffic. I also like Kalamaki Kolonaki, for their kalamakia (grilled meat skewers) and delicious salads.
When I want to get out of the city… I head to one of the Saronic islands for the day. You can choose from several that are just an hour-or-so ferry boat ride away. One favourite Saronic island of mine is the vehicle-free, small and stunning Hydra, where donkeys are the only transport. This island also has amazing sunsets.
It may be Greek to you… but learning and speaking a few words is fun and locals will appreciate it. Greeks simply don’t expect any visitors to say anything in their language because it’s famously strange and difficult to learn. Here are a few top phrases: kalimera (good morning), efharisto (thank you), parakalo (you’re welcome).