Athens is such an old city, the off-the-beaten-path path has not only been beaten, it’s been paved. For those who are looking to get the anti-tourist trophy, I’ve put down five great places to make fresh tracks.
1. IRIDA CINEMA IN EXARCHEIA
The progressive, artsy (sometimes seedy) neighborhood just around the Archaeological Museum, Exarcheia in itself is a hidden gem. It’s the home of the Irida, an old movie theater used to screen cult classics, obscure art house pictures, and technical seminars * to film enthusiasts and cinematography students. What makes it a cut above the other diamonds in the rough is that it is absolutely free. It comes with a price, of course. Most of the films will be old, edgy, and possibly in a language not your own with the subtitles in Greek.
*Seminars, likewise, are presented in the mother tongue.
2. STOA ORFEOS
A “stoa” is the word to describe a protected row of shops in a city. Downtown Athens is full of secret turns and corners where you can escape the sunlight and crowds only to reemerge on the opposite avenue, maybe with a few spontaneous purchases having mysteriously appeared in your hands. The Stoa Orfeos located in between Stadiou and Panepistimiou Streets is one of the most beautiful. A long stretch of skylight covers several high end shops and cafes, but the real treasure is the intersecting Book Stoa (Stoa Tou Bibliou) that leads to a cavernous, air conditioned din of bookstores and row upon row of unoccupied chairs. One of the rare places to sit in all of Athens with absolutely ZERO requirements of purchasing! On the other hand, a quiet coffee shop is just in the corner, free of the brain-rattling, canned disco music so over-played elsewhere.
3. TO KOUTOUKI
To Koutouki (The Little Place) is the misshapen taverna just on the border of the Hill of the Pnyx (the neighborhood of Anapetralona) and if you ask me, both are vastly underrated. One is wide fields of green space and historical importance that goes, for the most part, ignored compared to her neighboring hill, the Acropolis. The other is an earthy, painted-up taverna that looks straight out of Sanford and Son. Don’t be dissuaded by the narrow, crumbling steps leading down and underneath the bridge, the spotty path, the hand-painted sign on the door… Once you’re inside and are facing the glorious tangerine walls, or sitting on the rooftop with your fork hovering over a plate of deep fried zucchini or grilled lambchops, a view of all of Philopappou Hill before your eyes, finished off with a super low tab, you’re going to thank me.
4. ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE OF ELEUSIS
Elefsina is certainly a place you would have heard of had you lived in the thousand years around the building of the Acropolis. People all the way from Asia and Eastern Africa made the pilgrimage to participate in the Great Mysteries of the Goddesses Demeter and Persephone. Years of religious conflict, war, and looting foreigners stripped the area of its greatness, and now it’s a strangely mystical place situated just above an eyesore of an industrial shipyard with one of the best archaeological museums that no one ever sees.
5. PENDELI MOUNTAIN AND DAVELIS CAVE
Speaking of mysteries, you’ll hear a lot of them by taking the Pendeli Mountain Tour where you will drive through the Northern suburbs of the city until reaching the wilds of Pendeli Mountain. This place is so thick with stories of being haunted and strange activities that the locals themselves don’t make a habit of going. The charred trees that suffered in last summer’s fire just add to the ambiance as the tour leaders spin tales about the thief, Davelis, who used a magnificent cave as a hideout. Or the eccentric Duchess of Plaisance, who was said to talk daily to the corpse of her dead daughter. The highlight of the tour, by far, is visiting the cave which is just opposite the ancient road where the marble was taken to the center of the city and used for the temples of the Acropolis. This guide requires some serious walking and is not recommended to go alone, so be very honest with yourself if you’re up for a hike.
If these are making you hungry for more less-than-usual spots in Athens, I’ve created a list of Hidden Gems on the Athens page of NileGuide.