Travel Diary: there’s more to Athens than epic ancient ruins

Hannah Champion recently visited Athens for the second time and discovered some little gems that she’d love to tell you about.

Having lived on the island of Kos in Greece for the past two years, on and off, I thought it was about time I got back to the capital to learn more about the country’s history. As it was my second time visiting, I didn’t just want to see the main sights (Plaka, the Acropolis Museum, and Syntagma Square), I wanted to discover some new corners of the city too.

Sights and museums
I think it’s pretty much a given that any trip to Athens will involve a visit to Acropolis Hill and the mammoth Parthenon that stands proudly atop it. I will personally visit time and time again as I feel exploring at different times of the day and year give you a completely different experience. This time I visited later in the day, and after wandering around the ruins I went over to the Areopagus Hill, an area where locals head to watch the sunset. This was something new for me, and it was great to feel more like a local than a tourist!

Another new sight for me was the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum housed on the south side of Acropolis Hill. I love all that glitters, even if it is not gold, but luckily for me much of Ilias Lalaounis’ work ticked both of those boxes! The jewellery here is absolutely exquisite, and you can see the small workshop at the bottom of the museum where many of these fine pieces were made. Having not heard of Lalaounis before, it was fascinating to learn that he was world-renowned as pretty much the Greek equivalent of Cartier!

Cool bars and cafés
Introduced to me by a local, Six d.o.g.s is a quirky teepee bar located on a side street near Monastiraki. Open pretty much all day (and night), it’s a great place to stop for a coffee or cocktail when you need a sit down from all your sightseeing. While it doesn’t offer the views of rooftop bars like A for Athens or Couleur Locale, it has a welcoming, warm atmosphere, and with roaring heaters in winter it’s an ideal place to warm up. 

A fantastic spot for brunch is Harvest Café in Psiri. With a range of delicious breakfast options and some top-class coffee and teas, this is a wonderful place to fill up before heading to Syntagma Square to see the changing of the guards. I know London’s Beefeaters have interesting outfits, but seeing guards with pom-pom slippers is something else!

Hidden gems of Athens
Now, here’s what you’ve been waiting for: my hidden gems of Athens!

Anafiotika is a hidden scenic neighbourhood on the slopes of the Acropolis that looks like it has been picked up from the Cyclades (a group of Greek islands southeast of mainland Greece) and dropped in the city. 

Anafiotika is still relatively unknown by tourists, and because it’s so difficult to find it’s not hard to understand why! I tried three times to find this secret village in the city and was really glad I persevered when I finally found it. With its quaint white houses with painted shutters, pristine pot plants and rolling terracotta roofs, this area looks nothing like the rest of the bustling city. 

As there are no signs, you may want to search on Google Maps for ‘Agios Georgios church Stratonos’. Look out for small winding paths that head uphill and keep your eyes out for a small church with a terracotta roof and a Greek flag. Once you’ve found this, you’re in the right place (even if it feels like you’re not!). As an extra tip, if you switch Google Maps to the satellite view, you’ll see the red roofs.

Take your time wandering back and forth between narrow sloping streets taking in the quaint island-style life in the city. This area also has some fantastic street art too!

Finally, if you want a bit of peace and quiet, you can’t beat a walk up Philopappos Hill. This is a tranquil spot (again, conveniently close to the Acropolis) that is especially quiet first thing in the morning. The trails wind up and around the hill, allowing you to find your own sacred spot or to explore The Prison of Socrates or The Pnyx en route. 

I will no doubt be back to Athens again sometime soon, and I hope to discover some new sights to share with you!