When you think of Greece I bet the first things that come to your mind are lazy days at the beach & long summer evenings. However, Greece is so much more! A few months ago I spent an entire day exploring the country’s capital Athens to find its hidden treasures, away from the tourist crowds. I loved it so much, that I compiled the ultimate guide to visiting Athens in the winter.
Athens is a city the way I like, with a palpable creative energy merging old-world charm with quirky cool culture. In one day you can go from walking sacred and historical places to sipping craft cocktails in a tiled bar surrounded by an uber-artsy crowd, or from touring street art to eating at a traditional taverna.
So, are you ready to explore Athens’ back streets and my favourite neighbourhoods?
There are roughly 16 neighbourhoods in Athens, each with its own unique character. My three favourites are:
Exarchia is Athens boho/alternative neighbourhood, filled with cute cafés and restaurants as well as vintage shops and edgy bookstores.
Exarchia used to be the heart of student rebellion during the 1960’s dictatorship. While its rebellious spirit still lingers, it has also a very village-like vibe with its leafy streets and small squares bordered by elegant neoclassical townhouses. The best way to immerge yourself in this village-type-life is to muse around its small and sometimes steep streets. You might stumble upon real gems! To round up your exploration, stop for a meal at local eatery Ama Lachei or Giantes.
And if you want to get the most fantastic view of Athens and the Agean Sea, climb up to Strefi hill. Although this ungroomed park is in the heart of the city, you have the sense of being lost in nature. The view is rivalled only by the imposing and touristier Lycabettus hill, sitting only a few minutes away.
Psyri is the centre of Athens’s night and social life, with lots of funky bars, restaurants and clubs. It’s also the capital’s artsy and edgy neighbourhood.
Psyri has two distinctive sides. On one side, it is home to street artists, art galleries and design hotels. Dead spaces are being reclaimed all over the district and transformed into exhibition spaces, dazzling guesthouses or hip boutiques. To feel like a local and have your fix of culture, get lost amongst the derelict post-industrial buildings covered with amazing street art. Looking for more? Stop at one many art spaces to discover offbeat creative gems. Meanwhile, if you are on the hunt for unique souvenirs to bring home, stop at Ancient Greek Sandals .
But, if you want a less hipster vibe, Psyri is also home to a more traditional nonetheless eclectic crowd. Head to Athens vibrant Central Market and meander through the market aisles while sassy vendors try to entice you to buy beautiful fresh fish, juicy fruits and yummy traditional pastries. Feeling hungry? Don’t miss To Diporto, one of Athens most well-kept secret! Eating there feels like travelling back in time. It’s one of a kind experience and the grumpy owner, Mitsos, plays a major role in it!
Monastiraki is where you can witness all of Athens’ history at a glance. It’s the crossroad of the occidental and oriental cultures that shaped the capital city. In fact, this third neighbourhood reminded me a lot of Istanbul.
Hence, Monastiraki is more touristic than Psyri or Exarchia. By rambling the neighbourhood, you can go from walking sacred and historical places to savouring a yummy Greek ice-cream on a very commercial looking street.
On the hunt for exclusive souvenirs? Monastiraki is also the “antique dealers” district. From leather accessories to silver jewellery and antique furniture, bring your best bargaining game and have fun! If bargaining is not your thing, you might find your bliss at Flaneur.
Crowds not your thing? Get lost in the many small alleyways leading up to the Acropolis. Surrounded by one-storey pastel-coloured houses, these tiny streets look like a decor straight out of a chick flick comedy. Moreover, they’re filled with plenty of cafes ideal to take a break after an intense day exploring the city.
Wonderfully bustling, this is how I’d describe Athens: lively, way less uptight than expected, very colourful and artsy. I loved it! Another unexpected positive surprise is how easily you can wander from one neighbourhood to the other on foot, allowing you to really soak in the city’s atmosphere. Plus, the city boasts a superbly mild climate so although I explored Athens end of August, visiting during the colder season might be even more enjoyable!
Did you like this post? If so, please leave a comment below🙂⬇️
PS: my ultimate guide to visiting Athens in the winter is also featured in issue 9 of The Mediterranean Lifestyle Magazine!