Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world. Though Greece is still recovering from a well-documented economic crisis, locals in Athens feel like the tide is turning and that neighborhoods both old and new are experiencing a resurgence of vibrancy, excitement, and optimism. Recently Athens was named one of the top 50 places to travel in 2014, so if there was ever a summer vacation to start saving up for, this is the one. Just in case you still don’t think there’s much more to Athens than Instagram photos of the Acropolis and eating your weight in olives and Feta, here are 15 must-see locations—all approved by Athenian locals—to prove you wrong.
Good for: Sightseeing, history, sunsets, beaches
Located at the southern tip of Attica and an easy 45-minute drive from Athens, this historical site tends to be underrated compared to the Acropolis and its surrounding ruins. At Cape Sounion you’ll find the Temple of Poseidon as well as some amazing beaches near the lower resort area. The area tends to fill up come time to watch the incredible sunset over the Aegean Sea, but if you’re not into stunning clichés, plan your visit for the early morning.
A for Athens
Good for: Views, drinks
For those of you who don’t want to climb up hill to the Acropolis, go ahead and enjoy it Athenian-style: Taking in the incredible view from this rooftop boutique hotel bar. You can sip on coffee by day or cocktails by night. While the crowd can be a little bit snobby, the drinks are reasonably priced, especially when compared to more mainstream spots like the Galaxy Bar at The Hilton.
Good for: Coffee, ouzo, ambiance
While drinking traditionally prepared Greek coffee may no longer be popular among younger Athenians, café culture is still very much a way of life. Head to Plaka, an old-school neighborhood downtown, which is full of small cafes overlooking the Acropolis. Glykys is a particularly picturesque one, located on a cobblestone side street that serves up freddos and frappes along with espressos and cappuccinos. Oh, and plenty of ouzo (an anise-flavored aperitif) to go along with your mezes.
Good for: Casual food and drink, events, movies
This is a multipurpose art space located in the newly gentrified downtown neighborhood of Gazi. There’s a movie theater (usually screening two Greek or foreign indie films) and a bookstore downstairs, while upstairs you’ll find a “library lounge,” somewhat similar to the Library Bar at the Hudson Hotel in New York. There’s also an adjoining outdoor area called “Teratsa,” which simply translates to terrace, with an outdoor bar and seating scattered amongst pomegranate and tangerine trees. This is a cool, laid-back space where you’ll find a mixed crowd enjoying dinner and cocktails.
Good for: Museum, concerts, cultural events
Located nearby to gazARTE, Technopolis is an event and art space within an old natural gas processing plant. It has sort of a MoMA PS1 vibe. The industrial museum is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday. Visitors learn about the work conditions in the old plant and its experiential approach to its operations during the 19th century. Most Athenians, though, will simply tell you to check the venue’s events calendar for any upcoming concerts, parties, DJ sets and exhibits.
Good for: Shopping, cafes, bars
To bring in a New York comparison, this is pretty much the Soho of Athens: A great little neighborhood for walking around, browsing through a mix of designer and affordable shops and grabbing an afternoon coffee or cocktail outdoors. The bar scene has a slightly more upscale and trendy vibe at night and there are plenty of cool spots to check out, but keep in mind that they’re all pretty small and tend to fill up quick during the weekends. You know, just like Soho.
Good for: Classic Greek food, live music
If you’d prefer a classic dinner to trendy bars, head back towards Gazi and hit up this restaurant, which, in English, translates to “Parrot.” A favorite among locals for long, traditional meals, Papagalos also has live music on Friday and Saturday starting at 11 p.m. and Sundays from 6 p.m. It gets packed—and rowdy—on the weekends, so it’s good to make a reservation. That way you’ll also ensure you have your own chair to dance upon if the crowd is feeling especially rambunctious, which tends to happen after a few bottles of Xinomavro.
Baba Au Rum
Good for: Specialty cocktails, lively atmosphere
As strange as it sounds, this Greek, rum-focused cocktail joint has actually been named one of the world’s 50 best bars. The cozy spot has a groovy 1950s feel and is located on a small, pedestrian street close to Syntagma Square. With tables outside and no cars to worry about, visitors tend to simply take over the street, turning the small bar into an awesome block party. It boasts a ridiculous selection of rums from Cuba, Trinidad, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the list goes on. While there is a set cocktail menu featuring everything from Tiki drinks to non-rum varietals like Pimm’s Cups and Bloody Marys, patrons can simply tell the bartender what they’re in the mood for and they’ll mix something unique up especially for you. Don’t despair if you can’t make it to an island during your first visit to Greece, you’ll definitely get the happy-go-lucky summer vibe here (even if it’s more Barbados than Mykonos).
Good for: Cocktails, soul and jazz music
Athens is a great town for soul and jazz music, so it’s no surprise that this downtown bistro has become incredibly popular. With a giant photo of the bar’s namesake Rat Packer gazing over the crowd, the décor, like Baba Au Rum, is decidedly 1960s and the menu features an eclectic mix of international cocktails. The hangout opens at 10am and stays open until 5am, Thursday through Sunday. Whether you’re looking for breakfast, brunch or a late snack, it’s all here—and it’s all set to a solid mix of classic tunes.
Good for: Sightseeing, history, scenery
This gorgeous public park in central Athens is surely in the tour guides, but Athens insiders claim that it may not actually be something most people (tourists and locals alike) know about or simply tend to gloss over during their visits. With 38 acres of greenery featuring a duck pond, small zoo, café and Botanical Museum, it’s especially beautiful during the spring and summertime.
Good for: Drinks, concerts, exhibits
Sure, it’s a bar, concert venue, and gallery, but the main draw of six d.o.g.s for locals is the “secret” garden in the back. While the downstairs passageway looks like leads to a dark basement dive, you’ll actually come out the other end surrounded by trees, which, considering the bar’s central location, is extremely rare. Enjoy coffee during the day as well as late night snacks and drinks, unless there’s a rock show going on in which case, prepare to get down with a young crowd.
Good for: Coffee, cocktails
You can find this cocktail bar/micro-roastery in the hip, up and coming part of town called Agia Irini. What is a micro-roastery? According to the folks behind the counter, it’s an establishment where small quantities of high quality raw coffee are roasted daily, ensuring that customers are getting fresh brew from specific, trusted farms. Here you can order from a selection espresso, filtered coffee and tea whether its 8 a.m. on a Monday or 3 a.m. on a Saturday. There are plenty of funky cocktails as well, but if it’s Friday night and you’re still jonesing for a buzz, don’t worry, there’s an espresso martini on the menu, too.
Good for: Cafes, bookstores, modern history
While tourists may be warned to steer clear of this part of town, this neighborhood, situated between the University of Athens and the Politechnion, offers a glimpse into the country’s recent political turmoil as well as the intellectual and counter-culture side of the city. Here’s where you’ll find a genuine mix of characters, from Greek families, immigrants and students to anarchists, drug addicts and stay dogs—just about everyone except for cops who tend to stay out of the area simply avoid trouble. So go ahead and check out the awesome guitar and record shops and comic book stores. Be smart and leave if you here rumblings of a riot.
Good for: Beaches, DJs, drinking, partying
Located in the seaside section of Glyfada, this renowned beach club is one of the neighborhood’s summer hot spots. With no shortage of lounge chairs, cocktails and a rotation of local and world-class DJs, you’ll feel more like you’re spending your day at a Miami or Vegas pool party than relaxing by the ocean in Greece. Astir Beach is open year round, and all day and all night.
Good for: Culture, scenery, seafood
If you’re looking to stay by the water but prefer an area that’s a little more low-key, head to Pireaus, the ancient port of Athens and still one of the largest in the world. Take a leisurely stroll through the scenic streets, check out the open air Vaekeio Theater (which hosts a ton of modern and folk concerts during the summer) or Allou Fun Park (the largest amusement park in Athens), but, most importantly, eat at one of the neighborhood’s incredible seafood restaurants where you can enjoy the freshest seafood for (in many cases) a jaw-dropping cheap price.