For most tourists and world traveler, Athens rhymes with Acropolis. Who could visit the capital of Greece without visiting this ancient mountain covered in ruins? Nobody. To prove that you’ve been to Athens, you need a picture with the Parthenon. Classic.
But if like Chris and I, you plan to stay just a little longer, that’s when you start discovering Athens secrets. Actually, you would need to stay for a while if you wanted to learn all the secrets by yourself, that’s why we cheated. When I contacted the Athens Tourisms Board, they suggested we use their free program This is MY Athens. And we absolutely LOVED it! It’s super easy: you tell them what you want to do/see (in our case, we wanted to discover some hidden gems that most tourists don’t see) and they match you with the perfect Athenian. The best thing about it? It’s free! Your matched Athenian is volunteering in his/her free time to show you around a city they love.
So let me share the gems we discovered with all of you, so you can discover them too!
1. The Best View of the Acropolis
If you want the perfect picture of the Acropolis, taking it from ground level might just not do it. You can try many rooftops before you find the best one, but we were recommended The Athens Gate Hotel, where you take the elevator to their Garden Rooftop. From there, enjoy the view and grab a cup of coffee if you want too! (But don’t worry, you can go up there without buying anything, that’s what we did.)
Brettos is the oldest distillery in Athens. With their colorful walls and familiar atmosphere, it’s a great place to stop if you want a drink or two. Or if like me, you’re a color freak, you might just want to go inside, grab a picture and dream about having this kind of setup in your own house.
Of all the things we saw with our local guide, Anafiotika was our favorite. Well hidden on the north side of the Acropolis, the neighborhood is reachable by small streets that don’t look like they’re going anywhere. That’s until you step into it and feel like you just landed on a Greek island. Anafiotika is absolutely lovely and filled with lazy cats that I had lots of fun taking pictures of. (Yes, I’m a bit of a crazy cat lady on the inside.)
4. Agios Nikolaos Ragavas Church
Located close to Anafiotika, this 11th-century church is well worth seeing. From the byzantine era of Athens, it’s still active and you can visit during the day. We went twice: the first time there was a wedding, so we couldn’t take any pictures, but we went a second time and it was empty. This time, we got a chance to look at everything more closely.
5. Plaka’s Stairs
If you want to grab a bite in an unusual location, you might want to do so on the Plaka Stairs! There are plenty of restaurants you can choose from and you get to spy on your downstairs neighbors or get spied on by your upstairs one. You might also have the chance to find a cute kitty to pet while you’re eating!
6. Monastiraki’s Flea Market
If, like us, you’re going to the flea market on a Sunday, expect to find a LOT of people. It’s a great place if you want to look at what people have stored in their attic. Personally, I didn’t buy anything since I live out of a 70lbs backpack, but if I had a house to furnish, I’d definitely walk around there to find some antiquities! If you’re not too interested in furniture, don’t worry! There’s something for everyone, from old cameras to tea cups to Nazi stuff.
7. Panathenaic Stadium from… another (free) angle
If you’re willing to walk through the Mets neighboorhood, you’ll find a secret entrance to the park right next to the Stadium. (Okay, basically it’s two bars of the fence that have been pushed to the side so a human being can fit.) Once you’re in, you can go down up the path, were you’ll get a great view of Athens, and down again where you’ll get a better view of the Stadium. And it doesn’t cost you anything! (But that’s a little secret between us…)
8. Little Metropolis
Right next to the massive cathedral of Athens is the Little Metropolis. The church from the 12th-century has been built with the marble of ancient temples, which makes it pretty unique. If you look closely, you can even recognized parts that don’t really belong there. And how did they manage to make it look religious? They carved crosses all over it!
9. Secret Rooftops Bars
To end a perfect day, there’s nothing like finding a secret spot to get a drink. I’d love to tell you where this sweet spot in the heart of Athens was, but… I don’t remember! That’s why you should skip to #10!
10. Get your own This is My Athens Guide
I promise you’ll love it! They’re sweet and love what they’re doing, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it! If you need a restaurant recommendation, they’re great at that too. Whatever question you have about Athens or its surrounding, they usually have an answer. They can even suggest you which Greek island to visit if you’re still torn between Mykonos or Santorini!