Neglected by holidaymakers stampeding to the Greek islands, Athens offers an excellent bucket-list of hidden gems away from the tourist traps, if you know where to look – and you don’t need to miss out on the beach.
Earlier this year Jet2, consistently voted the UK’s favourite airline, launched a route flying directly to Athens from London Stansted for the first time. The flights include early morning take-offs, so you can get the most out of a long ‘Greekend’.
Here’s what to do with three days in the Greek capital.
1. Catch the most dramatic view in Athens from this hidden rooftop bar
It’s high above the city on the tenth floor, invisible from the street – and you’ll find the real reason why the four-star Electra keeps reservations for its excellent dinners for hotel guests only.
The bar offers the most beautiful view of the Acropolis you’ll find in Athens, but it’s at night when the Parthenon is underlit that this echo from the past is displayed in all its ghostly splendour. The best part is anyone can pop up to the terrace, grab a drink and enjoy.
2. Revealed – the locals’ favourite souvlaki
What’s a trip to Greece without a souvlaki? It means ‘small spit’ – expect a grilled meat, salad and sauce-filled bread wrap that’s so delicious, you’d swear it should cost more than €3.50 or so.
Your problem will be deciding which of the dozens of souvlaki spots to choose from. Issue solved! Kostas, on St Irini Square, usually has a queue leading out of its door, but stick with it because service is fast and the prize is a delicious, freshly made souvlaki with the owner’s homemade tomato sauce.
3. Splurge on a dinner you’ll never forget – or cheat with a drink for a fraction of the price
If you want to try the stunning 12-course tasting menu at the Michelin-starred Delta restaurant, it will set you back €200 a head. With only a handful of seats, you’ll need to book months in advance to secure a table.
However, there’s a nifty alternative. You can pop up to Delta’s award-winning bar any time and gaze at real trees hanging from the ceiling, where the gardeners come with a small elevator to water them every couple of weeks.
4. Learn plate-smashing etiquette
This Greek stereotype is a real thing in Piraeus, a port town 15 minutes away. Destroying the dinner set is a big deal in traditional tavernas such as Fagopoti, and it’s still wildly popular with young people looking for a good time on a Saturday night – but there are rules.
It works like this: single hopefuls and those feeling lively get up and dance. If you like how they move, you buy a stack of plates for €10 and smash them at their feet. It’s like a hilariously messy round of applause or, if you’re feeling it, a real-life swipe-right on Tinder.
Don’t do what I did: smash plates at a guy with a girlfriend on the next table. Luckily, I got a ‘stupid foreigner’ pass and didn’t have to deal with a romantic bust-up.
Note: restaurants are often empty at 9.30pm – this is coffee time, with dinner not until 11pm.
5. Experience unbeatable beach life
Think Athens is just a metropolis? Have another go. Get out of town with a quick trip to beaches for amazing swimming and even better fish dishes.
Not a fan of the surf? Chill out at Lake Vouliagmeni, which packs a balmy 23C even at the end of March. Don’t go beyond the boundaries, though – at least two people tried cave-diving and got lost for good.
You can use nearby beaches as a base while popping into the city for a visit. For €1.50, take the tram all the way up the coast for 90 minutes from Athens centre. The first beach is ten minutes by taxi – Athens has Uber – in Paleo Faliro. Expect to pay for access to the nicest beaches.
After spending about €25 in a taxi from the centre – buses are a couple of euros and run regularly – the stunning beach at the Astir Beach hotel will set you back €30. For that, you get a lounger and beachside service. Perfect sandy sunsets are, of course, free of charge.
6. Use these two pro tricks to beat the crowds at the Acropolis
A visit to the Parthenon is hardly a hidden gem, but these golden nuggets might help you get the best experience of it.
The first trick to beating the crowds – which are big – is to come after 5pm. You’ll avoid the cruise ships that dock in the morning and spill their guts of visitors on to the Acropolis in bulk. The site stays open till 8pm for sunset, when you’ll be able to enjoy nature doing its best thing.
The second tip is to come via the south entrance, not the direct route that goes straight to the top, which the short-of-time cruise ship passengers use. This route lets you see a lot more of the connected historical ruins, such as the 5,000-seat ancient Odeon (concert hall). You can book tickets for concerts year-round – except August – for as little as €25.