If you fancy something more healthy, try Greek yoghurt with honey. Most restaurants sell it as dessert and it’s seriously nice. Also worth checking out – even if not really Greek as such – is a donut chain called Nanou. There are quite a few of them in Athens, so simply locate your nearest one via Google maps and prepare for absolute donut heaven. Be aware, though, that they only open from 6pm to 9pm every day to ensure that what they sell is really fresh.
Sweet treats on every corner: Athens is the wrong place if you’re on a diet!
On the more savory food front, Greek cuisine is dominated by delicious meat dishes that all deserve to be tried out. Starting with the best known ones, you can pick up a portion of Gyros (meat roasted and sliced on a turning spit) in pita bread for around 2 Euros, and pork or chicken Souvlaki skewers for about the same money at most places. Also worth trying are Greek sausages, lamb kebab and Moussaka, a casserole made of (typically fried) aubergine, potato, and spiced minced meat. If you’re more adventurous, you can try things like Kokoretsi, a grilled dish consisting of lamb or goat intestines wrapped around seasoned offal.
Souvlaki, Gyros in Pita wrap and Kokoretsi: Athens is heaven for meat lovers!
If you want one place where you can go and experience proper Greek meat in all its grilled glory, then try a restaurant called Dilofo (Το Διλοφο in Greek), which is located in a suburb called Vari (Leof. Varis Varkizis 833 is the street address). There are a number of Tavernas (the Greek term for such restaurant) side by side on that stretch of road (including one that was prominently featured by Andrew Zimmern on Bizarre foods, but which left us sadly disappointed when we tried it not too long ago) and having tried a few of them over the past months, Dilofo came out tops. Reasonably priced with genuinely friendly service that lets you experience the welcoming and cheerful nature of the Greek people, this place will definitely satisfy your meat cravings.
Dilofo in Vari is the place to go when it comes to meat done right
Take in the night life
Athens is a relatively young and very vibrant city, and even if it continues to suffer under the endless economic crisis, people still like to go out and have a good time. If you want to party like a Greek then there are two areas I’d recommend you check out: Gazi and Chalandri.
Gazi is easy to reach (simply get off at Kerameikos metro station on line 3) and offers everything you need for a proper night out: Pubs, Clubs, Bars and Restaurants galore await you when you emerge from the underground and the area really comes to life after 11pm. There’s something for everyone, including a number of gay clubs, as well as the Technopolis at the old gasworks, an industrial museum and a major cultural venue that often features exhibitions, concerts and other events worth checking out. Some of the bars in the area can be pricey, so check the menu before ordering!
Gazi is great for concerts, like this Sisters of Mercy gig at Gazi Music Hall recently
Chalandri (Χαλάνδρι in Greek) is a suburb in the northern part of the city and while it has a Metro station by the same name (line 3 again), it might be easier to take an Uber or trolley bus to the area where you really want to be, which is around Platia Eleftheroton (Agiou Nikoalou). Once there, walk uphill past the church and you will find yourself surrounded by more than 70 bars and restaurants that make the area one of the most vibrant night spots in the whole city. Every little side street you see is packed with cafes, bars and other places to hang out and have a drink with the mostly young local crowd. You can put this Google Maps way-point into your phone to land you in the heart of the action.
Chalandri is jam packed with bars and cafes that get busy at night
Athens has a great public transport system and you won’t have any problems getting around. You can either buy tickets at the station, or alternatively download the Tickets for Athens app that lets you buy electronic tickets with your credit card. Prices are very reasonable (a single ticket valid for 90 minutes is EUR 1.40, a 24 hour ticket is EUR 4.50 and a 5 day ticket will set you back EUR 9,00 at the time of writing) and these tickets are valid on all subway routes and all buses, trolley buses, trams and urban trains, so you can literally travel across town for less than PHP 100 per day – that is, if there is no strike. If you find the subway station closed and it’s not the middle of the night yet, then it’s most likely due to some sort of strike action again. Just take a cab instead then.
Also, the only tickets that carry different price tags are those to and from the airport. Your best deal here might be the EUR 22,00 three day tourist ticket, which includes return airport tickets and three days travel on all lines like all other tickets. These prices may change, though, so check on arrival how much it is. From the aiport, you can either take the X95 and X96 buses into town, or the Metro line. The bus is EUR 6,00 and gets you straight to Syntagma Square (X95) while the Metro is EUR 10,00. Taxis have flat rates into town of EUR 35,00 during the day and around EUR 50,00 at night.
Public transport in Athens is good when it works.
Taxis in general are usually fine but can be hit and miss, especially near tourist sites. If you do have the misfortune of getting a bad one and you think the driver is overcharging you, ask him to drop you off at the nearest police station. That usually settles things quickly (this has happened to me once). If you don’t want to flag down one on the street, then download an app called TaxiBeat or use Uber, who offer Uber X (mostly in the center of town) and Uber Taxi in the city. TaxiBeat also lets you pay with cash, card and even PayPal.
There is also no shortage of car rental agencies in Athens but keep in mind that prices can fluctuate a lot depending on the time of year. A car that costs EUR 30,00 per day during the off-season can easily cost more than twice that during peak season months like July or August. Driving-wise it’s fair to say that if you can cope with Manila traffic, then driving in Athens won’t scare you. When it comes to parking, though, convenience is definitely king and you can expect Greek drivers to dump their cars in the most unusual of places, which mostly goes unpunished due to few police controls and even fewer tow trucks.
Athens has a lot to offer for tourists and a visit to this outright amazing city definitely belongs on any self respecting traveler’s bucket list. There are tons of places to stay for any budget and the city itself is quite safe. If there are any areas you want to avoid, then I’d recommend you stay away from Omonia (Omonoia) Square and Victoria Square, especially during the night. Should things go south and you need help, dial 112 on your phone, which is the international emergency number in Europe. Emergency services in Athens are quite good and there’s plenty of police around to ensure that tourists stay safe. In fact, where “riding in tandem” is associated with crime in the Philippines, it’s exactly the opposite in Athens, where you will see countless police patrols on motorbikes roaming the streets in this fashion.
I hope this quick guide to the city will help you on your trip and please feel free to add your suggestions, or questions in the comments!