Urban jungles, turquoise coastlines, and an endless supply or history makes Greece a goddess of travel. It’s also surrounded by dozens of majestic islands where you can soak up the piercing Mediterranean sun and mesmerising views (if you don’t party too hard the night before).
Ios sunset, Greek island
The Greeks are known for their passionate natures, incredibly laid-back lifestyles, and world-class cuisine. Unfortunately, in more recent years their economic struggles have somewhat overshadowed these attributes. But as we’ve learnt from their incredibly intact ancient sites, the country can certainly survive a battering!
I was lucky enough to visit Athens for the first time with my Greek friend Andreanna. She became my personal tour guide, so I learnt a lot about how to really see the city through a local’s eyes. The capital is dripping in culture, which is unsurprising after being the heart of a powerful civilisation for hundreds of years.
Temple or Olympian Zeus, Athens
It’s not just the old that captivated me though, it was also the seamless fusing of modern life that kept my senses tingling. Vibrant bars, restaurants, and music venues can be found around every corner. Talented and terrible graffiti decorates miles of concrete, which encompasses 5th-century BC landmarks like the Acropolis, hilltop citadel and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Enough with the intro though, let’s get down to the good stuff! Here’s my top tips on how to get to know Greece like a local…
- Start off with a free walking tour
- Drink Frappés everyday!
- Learn some Greek phrases
- Make use of the museums
- Taste the local delicacies
- Wander around the museums
- Snack on sweet treats at a Patisserie
- Take a trip on the metro
- Drink into the early hours of the morning
- Enjoy a morning yoga session with a view
- Take a ferry to the islands!
- Watch a spectacular sunset
- Don’t sweat the small stuff
Start off with a free walking tour
This is my go-to tip for any city in any part of the world! What better way to introduce yourself to a new place than getting the ins and outs from a local themselves? I’d recommend the Athens Free Tour – Official, which runs two everyday at 9.45am and 5pm in the Summer months, then 9.45am and 2pm in the Winter.
The great thing about this tour is that you can pay whatever you can afford and think it’s worth. These kind of set-ups are popping up all over the place, and obviously it works well. In three hours you’ll be taken around most of the major attractions in the city centre, with a mix of myths, facts and hidden treasures, like the awesome Changing of the Guard ceremony.
Changing of the Guard, Presidential Mansion, Athens
You can take the English tour or Spanish and the meeting place is Hadrian’s Arch.
Drink Frappés everyday!
This probably isn’t great for your health, but screw it you’re on holiday. Frappés are as important to the Greeks as afternoon naps. Frappé coffee is a Greek foam-covered iced coffee drink made from instant coffee, water and sugar. Oh my is it tasty!
You can usually pick them up from cafes for around $3. It’s incredibly refreshing after a long day walking around in the sun. Another popular drink is a Greek coffee. I wasn’t a fan as it’s VERY strong, but Andie loves them, and she is of course Greek.
Cafe inside Acropolis Museum, Athens
Learn some Greek phrases
It would be wrong to spend time in another country and not have a go at learning some basic phrases. I often find just saying hello or goodbye in the native tongue is often received kindly. Lucky for me I had a good teacher, and managed to say Yassas (hello), Kalimera (good morning), and Efharisto (thank you).
My Greek friend Andie!
Make use of the museums
It’s important to soak up some culture on your holiday, and Greek museums are full to brim with exciting history. We only managed to squeeze in one, which I believe is one of the best, The Acropolis Museum. It’s situated opposite the ancient wonder in a multi level building that is impressive just on its own.
The museum has a wide range of exhibits and displays, and occasionally transparent floor gives you an awesome view of the archaeological excavation. The cost to get in is just $5 too, well worth the money!
There are a few free museums too if you don’t want to splash the cash. Check out which ones here.
Acropolis Museum, Athens
Taste the local delicacies
Nom nom nom. Foodies of the world, Greece is calling you! Greeks are master of charcoal-grilled and spit-roasted meats, but they’ve also nailed the veggie dishes too in my opinion! Souvlaki is still the staple meal, and insanely cheap at just $3.50 at most fast food places. Picture this, skewered meat or falafel wrapped in pitta bread, with tomato, onion, tzatziki, and chips!
Other popular dishes to tuck into are Spanakopita, Bagoutsa, Gyro, Saganika and Mousaka. Try not to Google these before sitting down at a restaurant and just order them all. I always enjoy a culinary surprise and trust me these are delicious.
Saganaki and tzatziki, Athens
Snack on sweet treats at a Patisserie
It may seem like I’m trying to fatten you up, but honestly it’s just the Greek way. Patisseries in Athens are a must, and there’s an endless supply. Mouth-watering Spanakopita, sweet Loukoumathes, freshly brewed coffee, and a smell that’ll literally make you break out in song.
If you find yourself in Monastiraki (you should it’s beautiful), then seek out a place called Little Kook. It’s highly rated online and is authentic in its baking and look. Don’t eat before though, desert there will be enough to keep you going for days.
Take a trip on the metro
Driving in Athens is crazy. You need insanely quick reflexes and a lot of nerve to tackle the roads as they’re packed and don’t seem to appreciate order. That’s why I’d highly recommend jumping on the city’s metro. It’s cheap, at $1.80 a trip, and easy to navigate around. The metros run relatively late, but if you want to party until the early hours then jump in a taxi. Probably best to ask a bar or restaurant for a number otherwise you could end up being overcharged by a rogue driver.
Drink into the early hours of the morning
I probably didn’t really need to include this as it’s probably already on your list, but just in case. Athens and the Greek islands are full to the brim with trendy bars and clubs for you to dance your troubles away. Things generally don’t really kick off until late at night, or even early in the morning. One club in Ios didn’t open until 2.30am!
A great place to enjoy a cocktail and a chilled atmosphere in Athens centre is called City Zen. It has a fantastic rooftop view of the Acropolis. You may have to wait a bit for a seat but I though it was worth it.
City Zen Bar, Monastiraki
To find the best bars on the island just ask at your hostel or hotel. I also use Google Maps to check reviews.
Enjoy a morning yoga session with a view
Early morning yoga is a great way to start your day in Athens. We were told by a local to try out the free session at Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center. The view was magical and the class was great. It starts at around 9am everyday and lasts an hour. No booking needed, just rock up in your yoga pants and mat and get ready to bend.
Yoga, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
Take a ferry to the islands!
Island hopping is very popular with backpackers and spring breakers, but it’s also really easy to do on a short holiday. You can take a 5 hour ferry from Athens to Santorini for a few days, then jump on another to Ios, Paros, Mykonos, or Skiathos (to name only a few). Don’t worry too much about booking the ferries in advance, as usually you can do it on the day and there’s space. Direct Ferries is a good website to use, just make sure you screenshot your reference number in case they don’t send you a confirmation email!
Watch a spectacular sunset
Greece has plenty of beautiful and romantic sunset spots, you just need to know where to look! My favourites were in Oia, Santorini and the main town in Ios. The colours were spectacular and mesmerising. Word to the wise, in Santorini the popular Instagram spot in Oia is usually packed, so either book a rooftop restaurant in advance (I’d recommend Strogili), or pack a picnic and perch on the wall surrounding the town.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Probably the most important piece of advice I can offer. The Greeks are passionate people and sometimes emotions run high, but don’t take anything too personally. If arms start flaying about and voices get louder, just smile and step back. Generally, they’re laid back and welcoming folks. They just don’t like people taking the piss!
Ios Town, Ios
Here are some more photos from our time there…
If you have any questions please feel free to contact us via the website or on Instagram @journey_bird 😊