Top things to do in Athens: best districts for walking
One of the best ways to discover a city is on foot. If your legs can manage and you are wearing sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses, you can endlessly explore this city. Athens may seem one big city to you, but it actually consists of many different neighborhoods. And each has its own character and special charm. During your stroll, you get to know the locals, find small cafes, stores or restaurants that are not in any travel guide. All these factors make walking one of the top things to do in Athens.
Exarcheia: you can’t help but smile at the naughty kid in class
If you start your walk in Exarcheia, you will understand that your day is going to be anything but boring. This district has ‘alternative’ written all over it and despite its ‘rough’ character, it is a lovely place to explore. Make sure you have an empty memory card in your camera or phone because there are so many things to capture. There is a lively music scene with many jazz bars and rebetika clubs (Greek blues). Due to Exarcheia’s ‘anarchist’ character, there is lots of graffiti and famous artists such as INO and WD have created true pieces of art.
On a culinary level, the neighborhood is just as diverse. A traditional ouzeri such as Lesvos is crowded with locals and the best guarantee for a delicious meal. Scrumptious meze and lovely wine or ouzo in a very easygoing atmosphere will help you effortlessly blend in. The building that houses Ama Lachei used to be a school and now fills up with people of all ages, while the playground is still a place for joy and laughter. There are countless cafés and bars where Greek coffee and frappe are waiting for you, and your nose will tell you the directions to the best souvlaki. Thanks to a new generation of food lovers there are many options for vegetarians and vegans, not only at traditional Greek taverns but also at designated vegan restaurants like Melikrini or Mama Tierra, just at the border with Exarcheia. And there is no need to worry about where to find a delicious sweet: The dark side of chocolate (don’t we all need some chocolate in our lives?) and Sorolop are going make you want to stay forever.
Hip, traditional and creative in Psyrri
Exploring the little streets and alleys of Psyrri is certainly one of the top things to do in Athens. The neighborhood is home to artists and artisans, full of boutiques, restaurants and stores. And even though the area is buzzing with activity, everybody is always ready to engage in conversation. Where can you find handmade shoes opposite a hardware store? In Miaouli street! Don’t forget to enter the little ‘stoas’, the covered walkways that are plentiful in Athens. Typically, they are places where creativity blooms. A perfect example of this is Convert Art where old tires get up-cycled into trendy bags, among other things. Psyrri is the perfect neighborhood for creative people and especially in the summertime you feel as if you walk around in an open-air museum; there are so many things to see.
Off the beaten track in Petralona: one of the top things to do in Athens
Petralona perfectly shows what Athens is like. Its name used to be ‘katsikadika’, after the many goats that grazed here before there were homes. However, the municipality changed it after 1925 into Petralona, a combination of ‘petrina’ and ‘alonia’. The name refers to the many stone threshing floors in this neighborhood, once known as an area where grain was threshed. Kato Petralona is slightly more chaotic, yet oh-so-jovial, while Ano Petralona is more ‘orderly’, with restored houses in beautiful colors. When you walk around in these areas, you don’t get the feeling that you are in a big city. You sense that everyone knows their neighbors, that they are part of a community, not an impersonal metropolis. A visit to Taverna tou Oikonomou illustrates this as this popular restaurant is always full with locals and ‘strangers’ (who feel like locals by the time they go home).
Let us know which district you like best and why!