Pittaki Street in Psyrri neighborhood of Athens which features an alley with lamps and graffiti via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

5 Things to Do in Athens Besides the Acropolis

Do a quick search on Athens and the first thing you’ll see at the very top of the list, perched like the magnificent fortress itself on its rocky hilltop, is the Acropolis. It’s a one-of-a-kind archaeological treasure, deserving of all that prestige, and you should absolutely go and see it when you visit the ancient city for the first time. But too many people make Athens a stopover on the way to the one of the stunning 200-plus Greek Islands without giving it much thought. They squeeze in a visit to the Acropolis then hop back on a plane or ferry. But we’re going to let you in on a secret–Athens has so much more to offer than just ruins.

A majority of Greece’s population resides in its capital city of Athens. Large cities often have similar characteristics: a diverse culinary scene, bustling commerce, rich arts and culture, and an active nightlife. But Athens is unique in how the old and the new exist side-by-side. With structures dating thousands of years old standing erect at the heart of the city, a complicated history, and a recent crippling financial crisis, Athens simultaneously conveys vulnerability and resilience. There is modernization, but also a resistance to it. It’s a city with many layers, and anyone who devotes some time and effort to discovering it will be well rewarded. Here are five things to do in Athens besides a visit to the Acropolis:


Visit the National Archeological Museum

Staircase in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens with a painting on the wall via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Interior of National Archaeological Museum of Athens with museum goers and scpltures via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Arched hedges in the garden of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Don’t miss the lovely garden on the same level where the museum cafe is located

Athens is home to several amazing museums, but if you have time to visit only one, make it the National Archaeological Museum. It’s the largest archaeological museum in Greece and is highly regarded as one of the foremost in the world. If you’re interested in ancient Greek art, you will find the best of it here. The building was erected in 1866 and holds treasures from the Prehistory to Late Antiquity periods.

Gold Mask of Agemenon from the National Archaeological Museum of Athens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Statue of Athina from the National Archaeological Museum of Athens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Among the many treasures is the Gold Mask of Agememnon from around 1550 BC. King Agememnon was rumored to be behind the burning of the city of Troy (spoiler alert: it’s disproven here). The statuette of Athena–after whom the city is named–is the most famous replica of the 40-foot original that once stood in the Parthenon. Gazing upon it, you’ll find yourself immediately transported to 438 BC when it stood proudly in the center of the Greek world. Follow along the chronological displays to see how the Greek artists perfected their craft, and all the different cultures they influenced.

Eat some authentic Greek Yogurt

Facade of Stani Dairy and Pastry Shop in Athens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Greek Yogurt with honey, cinnamon and walnuts and Greek Coffee from Stani in Athens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

So, the first thing you need to know is this: yogurt in Greece is good. Really, really, really good. Unlike anything you’ve had anywhere else. (And please don’t mention FAGE; it’s tasty, but still different than how yogurt tastes in Greece.) And if you’re going to do something, we say: why not do it right? Enter Stani (roughly translating to Sheepfold in English), Athens’ last traditional dairy bar serving patrons since 1931. They’ve got everything from table services to takeaway options. In the time it took us to devour our yogurt with honey, cinnamon and walnuts, we saw several locals drop by to pick up tubs of yogurt or boxes of freshly fried dough puffs called loukoumades. Thank goodness our temporary residence in Athens had a sizable refrigerator so we were able to do the same. Our mornings were sublime!

Thank you @turnipseedtravel for the recommendation!


See the Changing of the Guard at Syntagma Square

Marching band in front of Syntagma Square leading the changing of the guard in Athens on Sunday morning via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Procession of marching guards in front of Syntagma Square in Athens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Guards marching as part of the changing of the guard Sunday procession in front of Syntagma Square in Athens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Syntagma Square, or Constitution Square, is where the Greek Parliament building stands. The impressive structure, which dates back to 1842, was once the residence of Greece’s first King Otto and Queen Amalia. It’s considered the center of the city, and is still where many protests and rallies take place. In front of the Parliament stands the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a war memorial which is guarded by the evzones, or members of the presidential guard. Dressed in a kilt-like garment and wearing traditional shoes ornamented with pompoms, evzones are a sight to behold.

There is a changing of the guard every hour on the hour. Witnessing the carefully choreographed movements that take place is well worth the visit. But if you’re fortunate enough to be in Athens on a Sunday morning, then you should make your way to Syntagma Square at 11:00 am for the official ceremonial march when the guards are accompanied by a marching band as they make their way to the tomb.

Pro Tip: Arrive at least 30 minutes early to secure a good spot and plan your transportation there carefully as many roads around the city center are closed as the procession approaches. You can reach the Syntagma Square station using metro lines 2 (red) and 3 (blue) as well as tram lines 4 and 5. Secure your belongings as you brave the crowds and dress for the weather.

Thank you @sl2016_sl, @zekechanguris and @ldhtravelatwill for the recommendation!

Visit Pittaki Street in Psyrri

An old structure in the background and walls and lamps on Pittaki Street in Athens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

A variety of lamps hanging in a colorful alleyway on Pittaki Street in Athens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

“Identify darkness in the society and find ways to help illuminate it.”
― Sunday Adelaja

Pittaki Street is an alleyway in Psyrri that is the embodiment of this quote. Psyrri was once considered a grim, “underground” industrial district (with all that that implies), and Pittaki Street was once its dodgiest alley. Prior to 2012, its reputation was that of being an after hours bánio where vagrants, late night revelers, and creatures of the night relieved themselves. So, what happened to make this a destination?

Well, they say it takes a village–or more precisely, it takes a non-profit, a creative studio, and the local community–to raise a dim alley out of the shadows and into the light. With the donation of nearly two hundred lamps, lanterns, and chandeliers and the sweat equity of volunteers applying fresh coats of cheerful pastel paint, Pittaki Street was transformed. Nowadays, the alley is regularly home to events and a thriving array of boutiques, all the while filled with visitors posing for pictures. Go there. Be one of them.


Get a Pair of Bespoke Sandals at Melissinos

Interior of Melissinos Sandals in Athens with Pantelis Melilssinos at his table and his wares filling the space via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

A tree of sandals hanging from the wall of the store at Melissinos Sandals in Athens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

So, let’s step back–both literally and figuratively–into history here, shall we? Melissinos, a multi-generational family business, has been a world renowned shoemaker since the 1920’s, passing down from a Grandfather (George) to a son (poet and playwright, Stavros) to a Grandson (painter and playwright, Pantelis). The original shop was located at the foot (pun intended) of the Acropolis for more than 50 years before it moved to its current location on Agias Theklas. Pantelis studied at New York’s Parsons School of Design before taking over, and you’ll generally find him at the shop on hand to chat and consult with his customers.

Melissinos crafts bespoke sandals that will fit you like a glove, and with proper care, will last you for years to come. The friendly staff quickly make adjustments on site with a quick fitting and have myriad styles to choose from. Famous clients have included The Beatles, Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis, Barbara Streisand, Anthony Quinn, Gary Cooper, Sofia Loren, and even Sex and the City star, Sarah Jessica Parker. And all for a reasonable price. Pop in for your pair, your feet will thank us!

Extra Credit

Shop at the Monastiraki Antique Flea Market on Sunday

Stalls displaying wares in the Monastiraki Antique Flea Market on Sunday morning in Athens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

During the week, the Monastiraki Flea Market is just an amalgamation of shops where you might find anything from out-of-print books to touristy souvenirs. But on Sunday morning, little stalls with antiques and unique finds pop up as early as 7 am, which is, of course, when the locals go. You can find anything from jewelry to housewares to furniture, and you could easily find yourself lost in the most satisfying of treasure hunts. Note that most vendors speak limited English, so if you have questions that extend beyond “How much?”, you might need to have Google Translate handy. And haggle: you might get a few euro knocked off the price of that special trinket.

And so there you have it, and we’re just scratching the surface of Athens and what it has to offer. You’ll notice that we credited several travel enthusiasts in this post. Prior to the trip we reached out to our Twitter community for suggestions and were blown away by the amazing replies. We received a variety of recommendations, from reading material to bars and restaurants. We couldn’t get to them all, but if you’re planning a trip to Athens we encourage you to check out all the thoughtful responses here:

If you’ve been to Athens, we’d love to hear about your experience! If you or someone you know has an upcoming trip, we hope this is a helpful resource. Thank you for reading, or as they say in Greece, epharisto!

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Pinterest graphic with view of Pittaki Street in Athens and text overlay that read 5 things to do in Athens. Greece besides the Acropolis

– L. & J.

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Wysh
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Wysh

Yogurt…YUM! I’ll put Stani on my list.

—Freedom Rider

Lauren
Guest

GREAT list! I love the perfect balance between culture and food in your posts, especially here, as well as the nod to Monistiraki (SUCH a cool place). And I definitely want to check out Pittaki next time I’m in Athens! I am actually really jealous of your Greek yogurt experience – that was ONE thing I really wanted to try and I had a heck of a time finding places that still served it for breakfast – we asked our airbnb host and he actually said it’s not very common to have for Greek breakfast?! Hmmmm…either way, I missed out… Read more »

JAM
Guest

Love this post. You always seem to find the things that brighten a day. Looking beautiful in the museum.

Alice and Jon
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Alice and Jon

Thank you for the tour. We took a quick cruise from Venice to Athens and were just bussed to the Acropolis. Nothing like your stay but at least we got there. We plan on being in NYC next fall. Would love to see you! Alice and Jon.

Louise A Palermo
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Louise A Palermo

I have loved getting these articles. Yogurt and sandles are added. The rest was already there.

Sam
Guest

Lynn there are so many great ideas here!! And that yogurt looks amazing, I need to try some ASAP

Cynthia | Adventuring Woman
Guest

Whaaat! Now I want to go there and I already had so many things on my list! When I go, your tips will be invaluable. What a lovely combo of art, culture, history, eating and shopping. Greek food is my absolute favorite. The best yogurt I ever had was in Turkey, probably similar. A delicious breakfast for sure! You’ll have to try making your own 😉

Tip
Guest

Welcome back, we’ve missed you. It is amazing how you guys can search out a city. We have been thinking Europe and when we go this will definitely be in our planning.

lynn
Guest

Lucky you to have had the pleasure of trying out all those recommendations….these sound wonderful….haven’t been there but if I go, I would follow your advice. 😉

Cathy Merrifield
Guest

I love hearing about what to see at a destination from you, I always know it will be unique and great! Athens is on our wish list!