Who said that when visiting a new city, to stick to the tourist path and not to detour from it? If you ask me, that person was very wrong. While most cities do have certain attractions that are completely worth seeing, even if they are super tourist-y (Acropolis anyone?), by taking a left instead of a right, or noticing who exactly has sat down at each restaurant, it’s possible to take your trip to the next level very easily.
When Josh and I arrived in Athens, we immediately screamed tourist. Both of us were sweating, wearing huge backpacks, and were exhausted after pulling an all-nighter to get on a 5:00am flight. But we weren’t going to let that stop us from having an amazing time in Athens. For starters, we dropped our bags at the AirBnB as soon as we could, and were sure to take water with us everywhere in order to combat the heat. Next, we marked places we wanted to go on our shared map.
Our first stop was right around the corner from our apartment, a cute little corner bakery called Mám. Here we stopped and asked for whatever they had that was fresh. Out of three ladies working there, only one spoke fluent English, and described each to us. We ended up buying a pastry with feta and spinach, one with meat, and one that was sweet. What amazed us about the place wasn’t the food though (although that was fantastic and we would come back to that bakery for the next 4 days!) but the friendliness and graciousness of the staff. All three of the ladies were surprised to have a Canadian and a Brit standing at their counter, excited to try whatever they recommended. As the days went by, they recognized us coming and were happy to show us what was fresh that morning. Everyone else ordering there spoke perfect Greek and seemed very local, so to meet the ladies working and to have such a great experience at a small bakery made us certain that we had made the right decision to search for local shops.
For dinner that night we found a deli that allowed people to sit in and eat. Unfortunately when we got there the deli was about to close, so there was no dine-in option. However, the lady working put together an amazing platter of cheese, meats, and hummus and put it in a small take-away box. We then went back to our Air BnB very excited to eat our new dinner.
And excited we should have been! The meats and cheeses put together were the perfect combination. Both went well together and with the hummus. I don’t have any of the names, but I can say that the dinner was delicious. Altogether that meal only cost us about 14 Euros as well, and came with a lot of food. Going back to the Air BnB and eating it, Josh and I couldn’t stop talking about how happy we were with this amazing meal!
Another local restaurant came to us in the middle of a busy square. Filled with hosts trying to convince the nearest tourist to dine with them, we found a spot in which the staff were surprised that we wanted to eat there. But we did, so they showed us to a little table, apologized for no other tables being available (they didn’t need to, we would’ve eaten standing up!), and gave us our menus. When the server came to us, Josh showed him what we wanted from Google, and then asked if our server had any recommendations. Oh boy, he did! We ended up with a selection of savoury and sweet pastries, Nutella covered balls of dough, chicken, and Greek beer! Finally, our server came and gave us pizza made by them, on the house. I honestly wish we had been brave enough to ask the servers to keep in touch, because they were so warm, funny, and really made our experience in Athens.
Now, you’re probably thinking “so, to live like a local I just eat where they do.” Not completely. I happened to have a friend living in Athens, so she took us on a walking tour and showed us some bars and take-away places that introduced us to ouzo and souvlaki. Knowing a local and hearing her stories of Athens definitely helped us, but if you don’t know anyone, there’s no need to worry. Just by being respectful and open to Greek culture will make you a prime candidate for making new friends and getting to know the city through a local’s eyes.
Athens is a city of 5 million people, so I think it’s important to acknowledge that and respect that tourists don’t run the world there. People are still going to work, shopping, seeing friends, living their daily lives. Just because we are there for a few days does not make us VIPs. So when you’re visiting a new city, acknowledge that everyone living there is just doing their normal routine, and try to see what they do. A beautiful city where people can connect through food, history, and society.
We were in Athens for four days, and for a couple of city-phobic people, Athens worked its way into our hearts. The city itself is full of great people and culture, and we felt so welcomed by everyone we met. When visiting Athens, give yourself time every day to think about where you are, and to enjoy the city and its people.