Athens – The secrets everyone misses first time around!

April 16, 2015

You might think that Athens doesn’t have many secrets left to discover – after all the entire city is pretty much one huge excavation site and history lesson! There are still plenty of hidden gems to tempt you off ship however, even if you’ve already done the Parthenon, the Temple of Poseidon, the Agora and the Acropolis a hundred times before!

Why not head for these secret spots to freshen up your Greek adventures when you feel like Athens is getting old…….


Philopappos Hill

This gem isn’t terribly well hidden – in fact it’s in plain sight of the Acropolis but whilst the tourist droves are kept busy there, this ancient tomb and monument is left pretty much alone – great if you want a snap of yourself being cultured in Athens without hundreds of other tourists photo-bombing!

History fans take note that this landmark is dedicated to a Syrian Prince with a very long name who was apparently generous in giving his riches to Athens (although he might have been more impressed with a prime spot on the Acropolis!).

In case anyone asks, that very long name is Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philoppappos – and we thought Kate and Wills had overdone it with George Alexander Louis!



The Pnyx

If you’ve already done the Agora then ditch the tourists trying to work out which relic is which and take a look at the nearby Pnyx instead.

No, we’re not getting confused with Egyptian river cruises – The Pynx, not the Sphinx!

It’s a gathering spot dating back to the 5th century where platforms and an amphitheatre were used to deliver speeches.

What’s most mindboggling is imagining how the giant stones making up the platform were delivered without modern machinery – they’re bigger than the average man and probably heavier than the average car!




Kerameikos Cemetery

From the Pnyx, carry on beyond the packed-out Agora and seek out this deathly quiet spot in what’s always a busy city.

The tourists stay away (can’t imagine why!) making this Bronze Age cemetery a peaceful place for wannabe excavators to explore.



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Once you’ve had enough of being quiet, head for the hip and anything but quiet side of town. Exarchia is full of cool bars and amazing graffiti.

Known as the heart of radical Athens and with a turbulent recent history including rioting and police raids, many stay away from Exarchia but if you’re visiting Athens during the daytime and want to see a different side of the city, Exarchia can be an exciting, eye-opening experience.

Full of cool cafes and bars, record shops and all sorts of people, it’s also a great lesson in the recent history of Athens, when you want to discover something more relevant than the dusty ancient monuments and relics can offer.

Just be sure to keep your wits about you and we wouldn’t advise visiting with children or after dark.



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The Art Foundation

If Exarchia is a little bit too scary but you still want a taste of cool, arty Athens then The Art Foundation on Monastiraki is a so-hip-it-hurts hangout.

A hidden, graffitied doorway among the derelict houses on the market square opens up to an amazing but rundown three storey townhouse with central courtyard.

The courtyard houses a café and bar and the tiny rooms of the storeys each contain exhibits of modern art – there’s a fantastic surprise to discover in each one.

A bit like falling down the rabbit hole but an experience in Athens that you’ll never forget. Ssssssh, don’t tell the tourists.




Monastiraki Market

If you’re in Athens on a Sunday then Monastiraki Flea Market is a great place to pick up souvenirs that they definitely won’t have in the cruise ship mall.

The market square will be abuzz with people touting curios of all kinds and you’ll be surrounded by traditional Greek restaurants and cafes if you’ve got a hunger for something other than vintage postcards or old camping gear.

Kafeneio Ivis is a good spot for basic mezze and cheap eats, with tables outside or you can eat your kebab with a view of the Acropolis on the terrace at restaurant Savvas.


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Diomidis Botanical Gardens

Whether you’re wandering the ancient sites or exploring the markets and squares, Athens can feel dusty and dry.

Freshen up with an hour or so at this glorious garden right in the heart of the Haidari neighbourhood – even many Athenians don’t even know that it exists!

With over 2,500 types of plant, it can feel like all of the fauna from across the city has congregated in this one garden to make up the largest Botanical Garden in Greece.

Add to the gardens numerous lakes, a café and a kids’ playground and you’ve got a day in Athens that’s a natural antidote to the historical trail.



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Cine Paris

Nestled in the middle of the historic and charming Plaka area, Cine Paris is a must if you get an evening in the city.

Here you can watch a movie on an outdoor big screen – but you may be tempted to watch the incredible views of the Acropolis instead!

Now, we love our cruise ships with outdoor cinemas but even we have to admit that Cine Paris has the edge when it comes to atmosphere.

This area is amazing for a wander and a bite to eat, day or night, and if you can catch a movie before you head back to ship it’ll make your Plaka experience that little bit more magical.



The Corinth Canal

If you haven’t had enough of water why not skip the city and hop on a mini-cruise within your cruise?

The Corinth Canal is an amazing day trip from Athens, with bright turquoise waters flanked by steep cliff faces which form a narrow (very narrow at times – breathe in!) canal.

You won’t get the QM2 down there but you can take a smaller ship.

If you’re feeling extremely brave you can also take a bungee jump from the bridge that straddles the canal – it’s a pretty steep step up from the onboard zip line, that’s for sure!



The Acropolis Rocks

At the Acropolis Rocks you can see the entire city of Athens without having to wear out a single iota of shoe leather.

The view from the flat limestone platform is breathtaking, and well worth getting off the ship for, even if the surrounding temples, relics and monuments really aren’t your thing.

For the ultimate Athens experience in just one hour, take a giros kebab up to the rocks and set out a picnic, for a Greek feast for all the senses.



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Epidaurus Ancient Theatre

If you’ve got all day and want to see something outside of the city, this theatre is well worth the two hour trip from Athens.

All the better if your trip coincides with a performance, as the incredible acoustics of the ancient amphitheatre attract some huge shows and legendary performers – Hollywood great Kevin Spacey performed there in Richard III!



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The Psiri District

This area of the city is full of character and safe to wander both day and night.

The colourful houses, eclectic street art and narrow alleyways make up a lively labyrinth but what many visitors don’t know is that this now trendy, gentrified residential spot used to be the city’s red light district.

If you’re hungry, thirsty or just plain nosy then you have to pop in to the charming eatery Oineas.

The owner collects bottles, posters and anything retro, turning the space into a living museum – and the Greek food is among the best simple fayre you’ll find in the city.




Whether you want to explore areas of ancient Athens that the tourists don’t bother with or you want to experience the more modern side of this eclectic city, Athens has so much more to offer than its crumbling temples.

Explore the way and Athens need never get old, no matter how many times you visit her.