We recently returned from our annual research trip to Greece. This year we returned to Athens to check out the food and drinks scene in the capital. The Real Greek team are made up primarily of Greeks so who best go to for a concise list of what they think every visitor to Athens should know before they arrive?! I asked each of our team for a suggestion or two. Here is the Greek gold I was able to mine…
Head to Astir beach on the outskirts of Athens. It’s about a 30 minute drive but since Uber and Taxis are so cheap it will be well worth the effort. Grab yourself a deck chair in the sun. On this particular beach they have a TGI Fridays – which is very different to the restaurants in the UK. You really have to try their delicious Twisted Chips that are only on the menu in Greece. These are a single potato still connected in one long curl and deep fried, topped with a kind of tomato vinaigrette with melted cheese. Seriously bad for you but when you’re lounging in the sun topping up your tan they taste absolutely fabulous!
I’d have to say you need to visit the food markets in the centre of Athens. There’s the fresh meat and fish market under one roof and directly across the road is the fruit and vegetable market. Firstly just wander around and take in the sights and smells while chatting to the vendors and getting a proper experience from the working class. Get there early enough and you can join the workers for breakfast in one of the side stalls in the meat market. Plus it’s the perfect place to stock up on some amazing fruit to munch on through the day – especially the cherries, peaches and nectarines!
One of the best parts of Athens for nightlife is Monastiraki Square. Things kick off here until the very early hours of the morning. Athens isn’t like London where if a place is completely dead we tend to close up early if need be. The poor souls in Greece have to stay open til 3am or whenever they are advertised to close no matter how few people. Go show your face and have a tequila in one of the many bars and you’ll see a new side of the locals.
The frappe might as well be the national drink of Greece, and the café or coffee house is one of the most important institutions in Greek culture. It is not uncommon for patrons to spend hours in one while sipping a frappe, playing backgammon (boards are usually provided for free, just ask), and chatting with friends. The Plaka neighborhood is a friendly commercial neighborhood with many great cafes. If you’re looking for a more youthful spot, try the Psiri neighborhood.
If you go the Acropolis – ensure you don’t go between 12pm and 5pm. If you do this will leave you with a strong dose of sunstroke and a sunburn that will start to peel immediately. Go in the late afternoon and go for drinks at Psiri and Gazi – both great areas to find a bar, cold beer and watch the world go by.
*NEVER* bother lining up at the main entrance of the Acropolis. There’s a back way in that has a tiny line that no one knows about. This back door is faster and more efficient than the main like that every other tourist uses. By using this alternative entrance it will save you an hour of lining up in the blazing sun (should you ignore Vasilis’ tip above).
Mobile Phone Data is important when you’ve stopped using paper maps. Outside the central subway stations you’ll find people set up selling sim cards with various data packs on offer. While they are looking to sell to locals – as a tourist it’s an absolute bargain for the mouth of data you get plus the ability to book bars and restaurants.
And why use the Subway when you can Uber/Taxi? Uber has strong-armed it’s way into Greek life here offering a much more professional service than local taxis.
That’s why you should load Uber on your phone before you arrive. The cars are brand new, the drivers have an iPad in every car with the route for them to follow and you also sometimes get water or lollies from some drivers. In Athens they have Uber X which undercuts the price of local taxis for the same journey by 20%, so it’s a no brainer to use them and since the cost goes onto your credit card you can worry about the bill (cheap) when you get home.
Get your first ride free on us – Sign up here and get a massive discount off your first ride!
Take the bus out to Kessariani and take a short hike up to the Kessariani Monastery and the surrounding area for a good historical outing and great views of Athens. Or drive out to the equally historical Olympia, Delphi, or Mycenae. You could also opt to take a ferry from Piraeus, the port area of Athens, to one of the nearby islands, many of which are doable as a one-day outing.
The Greeks will be more friendly and eager to help if you try to speak some Greek, too. Just a couple of words are fine, they love it when they hear a stranger speaking their language. So, say kalimera instead of “good morning” and efxaristo instead of “thank you”, and you will see some big proud smiles in their faces.
Don’t bother going to buy your holiday sandals from Liberty of London’s Ancient Greek brand that will set you back £140. Because when you’re in Athens you can buy the original sandals in any of the little shoe shops in and around Monastiraki Square. Here you’ll find the most beautiful winged sandal in leather and completely stunning for just 35 Euros. But they have to be the winged sandals and they’re no longer in stock so it’s worth buying up while you’re here.
I have a super sweet tooth. And the best thing I have tasted on this whole trip is the pistachio ice cream at Cookoovaya. Best had on the top of a grape tart at the end of a fantastic meal.
Get yourself to the top floor of the Acropolis Museum and find the glass floored area – then just look down into centuries of history beneath your feet. Here you’ll be able to see the original city directly under you. Absolutely amazing.
The best known Greek food is gyros, a folded type of sandwich with pork or chicken sticks, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and tzatziki/ sauce. You can find it almost everywhere in Greece and people eat it for lunch and dinner, too. You can ask for the (folded) gyros, just for the stick or for the plate. When you order, make sure you define what you want because if you don’t, you will most probably get the plate than the sandwich, which is double or triple in price.
You haven’t lived the Greek life, and certainly not had a full summer experience, until you’ve partaken in the ‘long lunch’. Ideally, you’d have a table-full of friends and family, but even with a smaller group, while you’re in Greece be sure to head to a seafood taverna and dine al fresco. Sip endless afternoon ouzo accompanied by a continuous parade of mezedhes (small dishes): meatballs, zucchini balls, grilled octopus, taramasalata (fish roe dip) and more.