Friendly disclaimer! We want to be as accurate as possible, but given these challenging times, we urge you to recheck that the venues are open when you decide to travel.
No matter how many times you’ve seen it, the sight of the 5th century Parthenon, imperiously rising out of the surrounding chaos of today’s heartless construction, always takes your breath away. How can you not be awed by this land – the cradle of civilisation. And yet, we urge you to go beyond the many antiquated wonders and connect with an Athens that is feisty and full of tucked-away surprises. If you have a few more days here, you definitely must enjoy some off-beat experiences that locals have been delighting in – for decades.
Taste legendary Greek yoghurt at Stani’s Milk Shop
Sometimes, you take everyday food like yoghurt for granted. Then suddenly, it’s never the same again. Here’s a Greek yoghurt that ewe (lousy pun!) would love – made from organic sheep’s milk that’s very refreshing, with a creamy clotted top. The best place to savour the experience is a visit to Stani’s Milk Shop, a culinary legend, whose history goes back to 1931. For once, avoid the commercial variety of yoghurt found all over Athens and instead, head for Stani’s at Piraes, off Omonia Square. The owner has a remarkable story to tell. Their yoghurt, he says, is made from the same trace of the original bacillus his grandfather began with, 90 years ago! Each day, a small portion of the set yoghurt is set aside for the 400 litres of fresh milk (mostly from ewe’s) for the next day. Stani’s is tiny, you could almost miss it. But once you are seated, you’ll anticipate the thick yoghurt, cut and plated, it’s so delicious on its own, that you almost do not need the honey and walnuts lavished on it. A must do for all us Greek yoghurt fans!
Contact: +30 21 0523 3637
Learn all about olives at Ariana
You don’t know your olives until you’ve been to the Ariana – a warehouse-like shop on Theatre Street, serving up history and heritage, right there on the streets, with no doors to shut you out.
Since 1921, three generations of this proud family-run business have been curing, processing, preserving and storing Amphissa olives created by an ideal combination of land, soil and climate. Ariana gets its name from two ancient Greek words – ari and a(g)no – ‘very pure’ and refers to the olive tree. You are invited to check out and taste from the 23 barrels and pots that have some 20 varieties of Greek olives. Prized among them are the large, oval green ones from Amphissa (Amfissa), from the famous groves of Delphi. Dig in and tell the differences – and learn the subtle nuances between Greek olives like the tear-shaped Kalamata, the pricey and popular ones from Thasos, wrinkly Throumbes from Thasos and Chios, and tiny Cretan olives. Amphissa olives are huge, and are graded as jumbo, colossal and mammoth!
But what if olives aren’t really your thing? Then you still get to feast your eyes and taste buds on a wide assortment of pickles and capers, extra virgin olive oil and seed oil from all the farthest parts of Greece.
Address: Theatrou 3, Athens 10552
Contact: +30 210 3211839
Play chess at Panellinion – the century-old coffee shop
Sit in a historic kafenia (Greek for cafe) with a local, plotting your next move on a chess board, munching meze!
While most cafes are noisy, (argumentative Greeks yelling about football and politics), this café is uncharacteristically quiet. Frozen in time, for over a century, here is where retirees, younger men, a rare gal and everyday regulars like to hang out, for the love of chess and Greek coffee Ellinikos, individually brewed over a gas flame. Every table is ready to host a game, ready for speedy games or for long hours of contemplation. No one will throw you out until it is check-mate, no matter how long it takes, apparently. That’s how much they love a good game.
Panellinion, with a history that dates back to 1885, won’t get your attention if you are strolling. It retains its old retro 50s look, old marble floors, wooden chairs with peeling paint. The wall décor is covered with old, framed photos. Try and pick out this treasure – a magazine spread featuring Gary Kasparov, former Russian world chess champion, who visited Panellinion around August 1992, playing simultaneously to win 30 games against the café’s regulars. The love for this game is palpable and enduring in Panellinion. This is a café with a difference – a quiet chess haven that’s not fiercely competitive.
Unravelog tip: To enhance the experience, order and share a plate of Greek meze tidbits with a local, while you play!
Address: Mavromichali 16, Athens 10680
Contact: +30 210 522 3900
Argue like a Greek philosopher at Academia Hotel
Every Thursday from 18:00 to 19:30, you can be part of a unique experience, the ‘Dialogue Soirees’ at the Plato Bar in Academia Hotel. Inspired by Plato’s writings, these intellectually stimulating and playful discussions offer visitors the opportunity to exchange ideas on creativity, ponder the meaning of life, discuss universal notions like evolution, friendship, love or ethics. Guided by a philosophy professor who will draw you into a discussion with quotes from the great Greek thinkers, and with inspiration from the busts of ancient philosophers around you, you can’t help but engage in a dialogue with your peers!
No, you don’t have to be a whiz at debate nor a philosopher to participate. Just go with the flow, steer the conversation whichever way you may choose. Ancient Athenians made a habit of self-expression – a pillar of Greek culture, in which they take great pride, making sure it is nurtured and respected.
Contact: +30 210 3670000
Try street dancing in Ermou
If it’s Monday, it must be Street Dancing Milogna Day! Begun by a tango-loving couple who installed a portable stereo in the pedestrianized section of Ermou, near Pireos Street. Their passion for dancing inspired and sparked a neighbourhood of dancers in 2009. Now years later, people of all ages, amateurs and advanced tango aficionados, tourists and locals, gather each Monday from 10pm to 2 am, for the love of tango.
Get yourself ready and head straight to Thiseio metro station. Walk down Ermou street to hear some lively music. This unique street party sprung from a dire economic crisis, and people needed a way to release stress. What started as a stress-buster for a couple of friends today attracts quite a gathering – and it can see 50-60 participants in a night!
No entrance fee, no VIP list – all are welcome and anyone can join the fun. There are no rules either, except that ladies must wait to be invited by a gentleman – and that’s no problem, as the men outnumber the women here, usually.
Unravelog tip: Pack your tango shoes if you are really into some serious street dancing.
Address: Ermou, near Pireos Street
Attend a séance in Peristeri
This isn’t exactly ancient Greece’s Oracle of Delphi, but if experiences in divining your future, or weird and wonderful paranormal encounters tickle your fancy, this is the place. Hop on the metro and take the red line to Peristeri. On the second floor of 4 Ikarias Street, you can follow your nose, literally, into a place called Séance – lured by the smell of incense and rose water. Step into the shadows, guided by candlelight, and enjoy a couple of hours here, making contact with spirits. What you witness in this interactive experience, could leave you pondering – was it reality or an impeccably orchestrated show? But then, you will have had a great unusual paranormal experience to recount and recall as something unexpected you tried in Athens. The recommended number is 6-8 people in one room. This experience is most atmospheric, spooky and fun – something most people even come back for!
Revive with a traditional bath in the city centre
Athens helps you step back in time – so you may as well experience the oldest bath ritual (originated by the Romans, Turks and Greeks), at Al Hammam. What’s special here is you can enjoy an outdoor massage with a view – of the Acropolis! Al Hammam is a relatively small (allows up to 8 people) traditional bathhouse in picturesque Plaka. Reserve your spot on the warm marble, as you place yourself in the hands of experts for a hammam experience that lasts between 60-90 minutes. Enjoy a special bath with ketse (a special sponge for exfoliation) foaming with natural olive oil soap. Get your hair washed and your body massaged. Sip traditional soothing tea after, before you leave Al Hammam relieved and replenished.
And be aware – most days are for mixed genders, except for Wednesday, which is dedicated to the ladies only.
Unravelog tip: Ask for offers! Combine one of the basic hammam treatments with any 60min massage and get a 10€ discount.
Contact: +30 2110129099