It’s the birthplace of Western civilization and one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back thousands of years. There’s no doubt that Athens, the Mediterranean capital of Greece, is ripe with the history of both man and gods – but in this day and age, there’s so much more to experience than that.
Today, Athens is a metropolitan city of three-and-a-half million, flaunting a vibrant culture and temperament that’s simply one of a kind. Here are the best things to get up to:
1. Drink a wheatgrass shot on Moraitis Beach.
There are lots of little beaches just a 30-minute drive outside of Athens, but Moraitis Beach is definitely a must-visit. There are equipment rentals for everything from water-skiing to wakeboarding, a hipster health-conscious bar menu and even free WIFI (for posting beach pics on social media and making your friends jealous, of course).
2. Drink a Frappe or Freddo.
You can’t leave Greece without sipping on this most refreshing of local delicacies, the traditional iced coffee. It’s sold at cafés and bakeries, either as a cold frappe (cappuccino) or fredo (a stronger espresso version), mixed with milk and sweet syrup.
3. Go shopping.
Ladies should compensate for extra suitcase space, especially on the Syntagma walking street. There are lots of affordable fashion stores, but the surplus seems to be in shoe stores, particularly bejeweled, strappy beach sandals for €10 a pop. The best time for shopping in Athens is in September, when high season is about to end and the sales begin.
4. Order spanakopita and bougatsa.
Nothing starts the day better than a fresh-squeezed orange juice, iced coffee and a few bites of either of these traditional Greek breakfast pastries. Spanakopita is a savory blend of spinach and feta wrapped in a flaky crust, baked into individual triangles or a pie. Bougatsa is a lesser-known (but equally delicious) sweet pastry, commonly filled with semolina custard or cheese between crumbly layers of phyllo.
5. Help a sea turtle.
Archelon’s Sea Turtle Rescue Centre, just outside of Athens, is always looking for volunteers for various rescue projects. The little slowpokes often suffer finjuries from bears or accidental capture by fisherman.
6. Eat all the sweets at Konstandinidis.
This dessert shop is covered in pastries filled with layers and layers of fluffy cream, icing and phyllo, with everything whipped up fresh daily. Thankfully, Konstandinidis has eight locations around the city.
7. Go to a bouzoukia.
An evening at the bouzoukia is sure to be boozy but unforgettable. These nightclubs have live musicians playing laïkó (traditional Greek music, once folk but these days considered pop) on a raised stage, looking down on long tables around a dance floor. The tables are for socializing, drinking ouzo and munching on snacks between wildly, passionate bouts of traditional Greek dance. It’s a style that is difficult to master, but you can start to practice here.
8. Drink raki or ouzo on ice.
In Greece, this anise-flavored aperitif is commonly poured over ice and consumed with a meal, changing from clear to cloudy with cold temperature. For something stiffer, there’s raki, similar in taste but with a more hair-raising punch.
9. Get on top of Lykavittos Hill.
Athen’s highest point, Lykavittos Hill, provides a fantastic view of the city and all its highlights, from the Acropolis to the Temple of Zeus, the Panathenaic Stadium and Parliament. According to legend, the hill was made when Athena accidentally dropped a rock while working on the Acropolis.
It may be the most touristy spot in Athens, but we can’t deny it’s awesome. Bring your student ID for €6 entry, regular €12.