At first sight, Athens is a concrete jungle were people are running around like crazy. Traffic is everywhere and it can be a bit overwhelming. Where do you start to see the other side of Athens besides the Acropolis?
The city has more than 3 million inhabitants. It is very hectic and busy and your first impression may be that it is not the most beautiful city in Europe. Athens is mostly known for the Acropolis and other ancient sites and many tourists will only visit the site quickly. They will only stay for a day to see the highlights and only scratch the surface.
Athens looks and feels like a concrete jungle and like in other capital cities of Europe it has its problems. We have to admit that the metal gates in front of nearly every building and graffiti and tags on every corner of the streets does not give you the feeling of an interesting city to explore. As soon as you set into the crowed centre this image will not change. The Syntagma square is a maze of people hanging around, homeless asking for money and a drugs addict taking there next shot of drugs. The first time we visited Athens we ran into police squad in action, which are by the way heavenly armed. It can be quite intimidating and it took us some time to see the beauty of the capital of Greece.
Never the less we never felled unsafe, if you made good use of the city and its public transport. We have to admit that we don’t walk around at night with our camera visible and definitely will not react on the small talk from street vendors or homeless. A firm ‘ Oggi!’, which means ‘No!’ combined with an intense look, mostly does the job.
Where do you find the other side of Athens? We will give you a few tips and urban areas to get to know a different side of Athens most tourists will never discover. To see the other side of Athens, besides the Acropolis, go for the Urban view of Athens and visit one of these neighbourhoods for lunch, drinks and walk around the area.
Take public transport
A perfect way to get around the city is by public transportation. It is cheap, safe and the fastest way to get to your destination, With the public transport card you can take any metro, tram or bus in the city. Athens has invested in public transport over the last few years. In the newer trains, a digital board is showing where you are and how many stops until your end station. Some of the stations are beautifully decorated and display the remaining of an ancient excavation.
See the murals in Psiri
You will find the biggest outdoor art gallery in this neighboorhood. The professional artist created some life-size murals and it is a great way to discover this area by spotting these pieces of art. Don’t be afraid to walk into these streets by yourself even though it looks a bit deserted in the day time.
This neighbourhood near the exit of the Monastiraki metro. Is an excellent way to start exploring the other Athens. It used to be a neglected part if the centre. A place for the lower working class and leather shops. A few years ago a wealthy landlord made it possible that this neighbourhood flourished into the hip area it is right now.
In the daytime, most of the restaurants and bars are closed and it is a perfect time to explore the area for streetart. You will find lots of murals, arts and crafts shops. The neighbourhood is still looking a bit raw so don’t worry about the abandoned houses. The beauty lies in the atmosphere that the locals created. In the afternoon, the restaurants and bars open their doors and the place becomes alive. The facades that looked abandoned by day suddenly become trendy bars and small restaurants in the evening for you to check out.
The Iroon square in the centre of Psiri and a buzzing and vibrant place. As the neighboorhood flourisht in the last year tourists have also found this place, but it is still a place for the locals to hang out and enjoy some food. Most of the shops do have a menu in English or at least a friendly waiter that will help you to pick a tasty drink and some snacks. It has a buzzing nightlife and is full of restaurants and great bars. We stopped at the beer-time for a local craft beer and some snacks. The beers come from microbreweries in the area or other parts of Greece.
At the other side of Psiri you will stumble upon the little Kook cafe. It is definitely not to miss as this cafe decorates the streets and the cafe in a kind of fairytale scenery. As Halloween is coming up, the whole cafe and the streets are wrapped in spiderwebs, skulls, dragons and black umbrella’s. They change the decoration 4 times a year so have a peek for yourself.
Get a drink in Exarcheia
Exarcheia anarchy base is still present in this neighbourhood and some of the tourist guides will not recommend visiting this area. It is located near the Technical University of Athens and the National Archaeological Museum. The neighbourhood has reinvented itself as an art gallery and a student district. It is full of amazing murals, art and hip coffee bars and cafes. The anarchist base is still tangible and the local community still bucks the established order, which makes the place unique.
You will find cool coffee bars on mostly every corner of the street. It is also the place to shop for quirky items, vinyl music and second hands cloths. Of course, it is also the place for a great nightlife as you would expect for an area with students. Bars will open their doors and the people will stroll around the street looking for some street food and a few drinks.
It is an excellent place to talk to the locals and find out what’s going on in their local lives.
Relax in one of the city parks
Parks in Athens are an excellent getaway from the city for the locals. The forest around Lycabettus Hill and the trail to the top lead you into pinetree woods, cacti and olive trees (read also our previous blog on Lycabettus).
Another park lies on the Streffi hill in the Exarcheia neighboorhood. This hill is a bit lower than Lycabettus (only 150 meters) but it is still a 15 minute climb to the top. If you are lucky you will find yourself in between the locals with music and lots of food.
Be sure to visit this area and experience the Urban and local side of Athens. we hope to inspire you to explore Athens a little bit more than the standard sights and experience the real Athens for yourself.
Lots of love, Angelique and Carlo
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