Finding Hidden Gems and Unusual Things to do in Athens: Gold Beyond the Acropolis

By Abi King | Greece

May 20
Unusual things to do in Athens

Finding Different and Unusual Things to do in Athens

Athens should be easy to love, but sometimes she isn't.

From ancient romance to skyscrapers and edgy street art, Athens is all the better for being a city that's hard to define.

It's a real city, a living city, a characterful city. But it does require a little effort to uncover the best it has to offer. Her hidden gems, if you haven't tired of the phrase. (Also, quite literally, there are some hidden gems.)

Here's an inside guide to finding unusual things to do in Athens, all tried and tested over decades of travel to the city.

Disclosure - some of these activities were hosted by the places mentioned, but not all were. They were only included if I thought you'd enjoyed them! Plus, if you book through the links on this page, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you (this is known as an affiliate link.) Cheers!

See the unusual side of Athens with a local guide in Athens

See the unusual side of Athens with a local guide in Athens

See Athens with a Local: "This is My Athens"

Meet up with a volunteer local guide from This Is My Athens to discover, well, anything you want. They do it driven by a passion for their city and for meeting other people. And, boy, do they know the places to go. 

Take the cool and curious parts of Plaka, the cutesy neighbourhood close to the Acropolis that I'd dismissed as being too touristy. 

Eat Pomegranate Sorbet and Watch the Sun Set Over the Acropolis

Dinner suggestion: the Electra Rooftop Garden Hotel. This glorious hotel drips in cream and gold and, as the name suggests, there's a rooftop terrace that overlooks the Acropolis. Now, plenty of places in Athens overlook the Acropolis but this one lives right up close ... and it serves a delicious pomegranate sorbet!

Tasty and unusual things to do in Athens involves finding stuffed vine leaves among other things

Tasty and unusual things to do in Athens (involves finding stuffed vine leaves among other things!)

Drink Wine and Talk Philosophy

Erm. Again, this is easily done with a This is My Athens guide! Check out the burgeoning wine bars in the area around Electra. 

Dine Among Recycled Furniture

Check out the oh-so-peppery fresh virgin olive oil at the NEW Hotel Restaurant. NEW excels at serving fresh, organic mediterranean cuisine and the sculptures made from recycled furniture make a nice twist for the eye. Greek mezze never tasted so good.

Spices in the Athens Food Markets

Spices in the Athens Food Markets

Hustle in the Food Market of Varvakios Agora

 Put on a pair of comfortable shoes and head to the Varvakios Agora to experience the raucous splendour of Athens' major fresh food market. Walk past hawkers and hampers filled with plump prawns, jostle between the crowd to buy fresh fish and hanging entrails, and then find some slow-paced solace amid the spice mountains outside.

Combine Food and Art at the Museum of Gastronomy

Follow your trip to the market with a stop at the fascinating Museum of Gastronomy and see how well food combines with art.

Take a Cooking Class

Lunch suggestion: take a cooking class at the Museum of Gastronomy and leave not only well educated but also well fed :-)

Things to do in Athens - enjoy Greek Mezze at New hotel via @insidetravellab

Visit the Seaside: Wave Watching at Piraeus

Take your time strolling along the seafront, watching the waves kiss the shore and local children chase their shadows. It's a calm and beautiful spot, a world away from central Athens with only 20 minutes spent behind the wheel.

Dinner suggestion: Varoulko Seaside Restaurant

Ah, this lovely place. I almost don't want to tell you about it! Tucked up right beside the waterfront, this fresh and modern restaurant has the friendliest service of all the Michelin-starred places I've ever visited. The menu is creative, combining syringes of olive oil with leaf-wrapped minced langoustine. But even the humble cherry tomato tastes better here than elsewhere.

Find unusual street art in Athens

Find unusual street art in Athens

Relax in the National Garden and Catch the Open Air Cinema

If the sun shines and the orange blossom flutters on the trees, then stroll through the National Garden, dine on the outdoor terrace at Aegli Zappeiou and enjoy the open air cinema if the listings work out well for you.

Classic Things to do in Athens

 

1 - Visit the Acropolis

World class, nothing like it. Has to be done.

2 - Take a Cooking Class

Great flavours, living history, new skills learned by the end of it.

3 - Have Greek coffee with someone

Not only is it a lovely tradition but it's always more rewarding if you can meet with and chat to people who live in a place.

4 - Visit the Benaki Museum

Beautiful building, stunning art.

5 - Get outdoors

Stroll through the National Garden or along the waterside in Piraeus.

6 - Wander and get lost

Start in Syntagma square and walk and walk and walk to see the different faces of the city.

7 - Feel serene with Cycladic Art

This small museum offers peace and quiet, a tonic for the frenzy outside.

 

Hidden Gems in Athens in the  Museum District

Like all the best cities in the world, Athens has something of a museum district. This makes it easy to ping pong your way along Vasilissis Sofias Avenue up to Syntagma Square and around to Panepistimiou Street and the holy trinity of learning: the University of Athens, the Academy and the National Library.  

Insider Tip for Athens

If you bring your passport with you to the National Library, you can enter the reading room and, well, read! Perfect for book lovers.

Depending on your energy and enthusiasm, you may be able to fly around each of these museums by mid afternoon. Chances are, though, that it's best to limit yourself to one or two. Particularly when you realise how many of them have fine cafes and restaurants cloistered away at the back...

The Benaki Museum

Benaki Museum - A range of Greek art plus, by appointment, the chance to hold some of the exhibits

The Museum of Cycladic Art

Museum of Cycladic Art - contemplative exhibits and a chic monochrome cafe

The Zoumboulakis Galleries

Zoumboulakis Galleries - private collections of contemporary art bring you back to 21st century Greece

Numismatic Museum: Gold, Pure Gold!

Numismatic Museum - the museum of coins! Pick up an audio guide to translate and immerse yourself in stories of power and pomp through different currencies.

Discussing ancient philosophy in Greece

Discussing ancient philosophy in Greece

Visit Plato's Original Academy - Outdoors!

But if you're looking for something more outdoorsy yet still with that cultural edge, I've a nice surprise for you. Head to the outskirts of town to touch the ruins of Plato's former academy.

Eat Sushi with a View of the Acropolis

If the clouds or cool rain have decided to move in, or if you're yearning for a break from traditional Greek tastes, check out the glittering lights and sushi selection at the Galaxy Bar, Hilton Athens.

It also offers a magnificent floodlit view of the Acropolis...

Text from ancient Greece in the Acropolis Museum

Acropolis Museum Athens (7 of 21)

Make Time for the Usual Things to do in Athens As Well

The Acropolis and Plaka

Yes, everyone goes there, but there's a good reason for that! These crumbling columns are the tangible memory of a civilisation that gave us more than we can sometimes comprehend: the basis of democracy, the spirit of the Olympics and even the word alphabet itself. Granted, there are other aspects we may be glad the world has forgotten (like exercising naked in the gymnasium, I'd say) but still.

Head up the hill early and seek plenty of shade.

The Acropolis Museum

Throw yourself completely into the spirit of ancient Greece by following up the Acropolis with the dazzlingly modern Acropolis Museum. This masterpiece based its architecture on the Parthenon itself and uses a range of multimedia exhibits to bring the stones you see to life. (There's even a lego exhibit: now who could want more than that?!)

Cheeky Tip!

The Acropolis Museum also has a sun and shade soaked terrace that serves super strong Greek coffee

Cat in Anafiotica Athens

Time to finish in Anafiotica, a beautiful blue and white part of the city that clings to the hillside by the Acropolis. Plus, there's a confident cat for good measure.

Enjoy Athens

Abi (2)

What have I missed? What do you think are the best things to see and do in Athens?

Olive oil tasting in Athens and a sign saying hidden gems in Athens
Unusual things to do in Athens - a guide to how to have an amazing trip to Athens, Greece. From foodie recommendations to hotel stays, meeting with locals, museums, sunset strolls and more. If you\'re looking for the best things to do in Athens or fun things to do in Athens then this is for you! #Athens #Attica #Travel
Follow

About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more.

  • Great tips – I’ve been to Athens a few times but usually to get a boat on elsewhere so apart from the Acropolis, I never feel like I’ve got under the city’s skin.

    • Abi King says:

      Well, I think you’re in good company there! We’re often so keen for that sunshine and clear water we can’t think straight. But if you think you’d enjoy a city break in Rome, say, or Milan, then I’d recommend spending a bit longer in Athens!

  • This is a great list. One thing that I would add is to watch the changing of the guard in front of the Greek parliament building, The soldiers wear a splendid uniform (which includes shoes with pom-poms) and they walk in slow motion. Marvellous!

    • Abi King says:

      Ah yes! I couldn’t believe that was serious when I first saw it – and the last time I was in town it was raining, which put me off. But you’re right – that IS a sight to see. Thanks!

  • Karen Antoni says:

    The Melena Micori café absolute must to see the Athenians out and to have a special coffee liquor or chocolate in this authentic place surrounded by photos and pictures of a wonderful actress and campaigner.

  • Helen Kladi says:

    Athens can be so much more too! Check out the roof top bar / restaurant at Athens Gate Hotel and view both the Temple of Zeus and the Acropolis lit up at night time (Day time entrance to Temple of Zeus is free if you still have your ticket from the Acropolis). O & B Athens Boutique Hotel and its restaurant are amazing! As is Sushi at the Metropolitan Hotel, The Spa and suites at both Divani Caravel and Royal Olympic Hotel will certainly impress you and if you want somewhere extra special (boutique) to stay then Ava Hotel is perfection and the rooftop pool at Melia Athens is wonderful. Afternoon tea (after viewing the guards at the parliament in Syntagma) then make your way to Grande Bretagne Hotel. Designer shops are a must in Kolonaki then a trip up to Lycabettus Hill (easier by funicular train) then the views are certainly worthwhile. In the summer there is the Dora Stratou traditional dance & light show as well as shows / performances at the Acropolis amphitheatre Herodes. Take the metro and visit Glyfada – the Athenian Riviera or the port of Piraeus. Don’t forget to sample Greek souvlaki & pitta and / or a traditional meze with ouzo at least once and in winter try the national dish – Fassolada Soup! Everywhere you go you can be assured of Greek Hospitality.

    • Abi King says:

      Thanks Helen – what a lovely, generous topic full of tips. I must go back!!!!

  • Csilla says:

    Hi Abi, great list of activities. Never visited Athens before, but next year we might go. Did you stayed only in Athens, or traveled also around? If yes, which places you still recommened to visit around? Thank you for great tips. have a lovely day, Csilla

  • Esther says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more! Athens ís quite unusual and it came as a surprise to me that there was so much more to explore than just the archaeological sights. I especially liked the Psirri neighbourhood with all its street art!

    • Abi King says:

      Ah, then you must check out Becki’s work at Borders of Adventure. She also fell in love with the street art there – and wrote reams about it!

  • Johanes says:

    Great! Since then, seeing the beauty of Greece is on my bucket list. And then I have watched a drama set in Greece, I fell in love with it more. So I definitely love to visit someday. Thank you for sharing and for giving more ideas.

  • >