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Athens Cultural Highlights
Off The Beaten Path

Athens Cultural Highlights Off The Beaten Path

24 June 2020

In a city like Athens where things change fast, new cultural spots are popping up all the time. In a city where culture is thriving, some places are timeless; always there, hidden and not touched by time, that have a lot to tell about the heritage of Athens. For all the culturally curious out there, here are ten off the beaten path cultural highlights to experience in Athens.

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Culture in Athens - Credit: Aninata / Shutterstock

1. Explore the National Gardens

Visiting the lush garden, a true oasis in the heart of the busy city, with tree-lined alleys, stoned paths under pergolas, ponds filled with life and forgotten pieces of history, makes for a great escape for relaxation and recreation. The National Garden of Athens, known as the Royal Garden from a time when Kings and Queens were walking in Greece, opens daily from sunrise to sunset and still is one of the favorite walks of the Athenians. The area is vast and you will discover many interesting things inside it. At its northeastern side, there is even a traditional café under a beautiful pergola, serving Greek coffee and other refreshments. The National Gardens have been designated by the International Commission on Historical Gardens and Landscapes (ICOMOS - IFLA) as a rare example of 19th-century landscape architecture and Europe's cultural monument!

Hint! Buy a ‘koulouri’ (bun) from the entrance located near Syntagma square to feed the ducks and the other animals in the pond.

Athens National Gardens

2. Philosophize at Poems n’ crimes

Poems and crimes are taking place just under your nose! Just a few alleys from the busy Monastiraki square, on 17 Agias Eirinis street, something interesting is happening: ink, coffee, wine and imagination are blended and the atmosphere is filled with suspicious minds! Poems n’ crimes art bar combines a printing house, bookstore, bar and event space in a gorgeous 1850 building. A multitude of books, scattered handmade papers from Nepal and analogies accompany you to your coffee on the ground floor bar. Tables are in front of libraries with crime books. You get one, you read it if you want to or even buy it if you prefer. But if your mood is more poetic then climb the stairs to the first floor and dive into the lyrics from well-known and less-known poets! The smell of ink will lead you to the third floor, straight to the building’s printing house where the production is happening. One of our favorite cultural highlights in Athens!

Poems n’ crimes art bar

3. Be charmed by the National Opera

Τhe National Opera has recently moved and is now housed in the architectural jewel that is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center. In all her red glory, the inspired architectural space celebrates this year the 80th anniversary since the first performance took place back in 1940. Everyone - singers, musicians, dancers, choruses, directors, technicians, costume and stage designers - create: they give birth to daily roles, performances, choreographies, stage performances, emotion… Plus, you will have the chance to wander around the cultural marvel of SNFCC and its Mediterranean garden!

National Opera of Greece in SNFCC

4. Discover Fabrica’s world

In the heart of the Kerameikos area, in the center of Athens, a cultural multi-space welcomes you daily from 11 a.m. until late at night. The inventors of the whole venture created a space exclusively on the idea of handmade and recyclable furniture, reminiscent of contemporary works of art! Technochoros Fabrika consists of three levels: the basement houses the group's handmade theater, featuring both productions of Fabrica Athens and other guest troupes. Another level is the Handmade & Recycled Festival, which has been embraced by artists from all over the neighborhood. On the ground floor and third lever, there is a welcoming space with recyclable materials. Cogs, colorful barrels transformed into couches, PPC cable spools transformed into comfortable rocking chairs, are just a few of the ground floor transformations! An off the beaten path friendly environment, colorful and mostly artistic - it's perfect! The loft, being more isolated, is used as a reading room and exhibition space, as well as for video art projections. And for the carefree spring and summer months, music, theater events and children parties are hosted at the courtyard.

Fabrica Athens

5. Have a picnic at the Royal Estate of Tatoi

Α ride to the royal estate of Tatoi is like a journey through time. One of the most ideal destinations for those seeking relaxation and coming closer to nature, just a breath away from Athens, for a lovely picnic with your friends or family. Tatoi was the summer palace of the Greek Royal family. You will find a building complex that offered all amenities, making sure that nothing was missing from the royal family. There you will see the bakeries, the pigsty, the winery and the buttermilk workshop. It is, indeed, the oldest surviving buttermilk workshop in Greece! Motor vehicles are not allowed in this area. After you discover the summer estates of the royal family, head to the Katsimidis park and see the shadow under the large trees. There is unlimited space for you to play and enjoy a relaxing! A visit to the Tatoi Estate is considered off the beaten path and an alternative thing to do even for the local Athenians.

Tatoi Estate

6. Eat like a royal at Black Duck Garden

Otto, the first king of Greece, settled in this complex after marrying the 18-year-old Amalia. The young queen was the one who organized the garden around the couple's temporary residence in 1836. "The Garden of the Old Palace" was the capital's first public garden, with four entrances, a fountain and a goldfish tank. It included present-day Klafthmonos Square and reached all the way to Kolokotroni Square. The current garden of the Museum of the City of Athens is only a small part of that large garden. But it is a unique small oasis in central Athens, with the palm tree planted by Amalia still alive! Now, Black Duck Multiple Art Space welcomes visitors into an open space in the heart of the city. Respecting the historical and natural surroundings, the Black Duck Garden - Athens City Museum Bistrot has a beautiful summer garden, but also an all year long private patio area and it functions as a café, bar and restaurant. The Black Duck also organizes painting and photography exhibitions, music nights, theater performances and many more art events. Since it is just a few minutes away from Syntagma and Monastiraki, you should go to explore its space and enjoy brunch or a café.

Black Duck Garden

7. Dance with the Nymphs at Philopappos Hill

Wander around the beautiful hill of the Nymphs and the Muses - Philopappos Hill - sitting across the Parthenon and the Acropolis Hill. While entering the area you will sense the vibes of the spirits used to live there according to Greek mythology. The Nymphs, beautiful ethereal spirits, protectors of the woods, dancing to the tunes of god Pan’s flute, and the Muses, the 9 apprentices of god Apollo himself and the inspiration behind every great poet and writer, are there, at every step you take. Play games on the grass while gazing at the temple of Athena, the Parthenon; connect with nature and breath in the ancient aura. It will be an experience to remember! Get a blanket and a basket full of Greek snacks like olives and pasteli (bar with sesame and honey) with some tea or wine and lay back to the green open fields of the hill of the Nymphs and Muses. Admire the seat of the Athenian Democracy, the ancient Pnyx and visit the caves where Socrates was supposedly been imprisoned. Long established as a sacred hill, Philopappos is a large archaeological site that has a free entrance to anyone who wants to visit and admire its nature and ancient ruins. The area is vast but search and find the perfect spot for you and feel the vibes of the ancient spirits of the woods! Definitely one of the cultural highlights in Athens.

Philopappos Hill

8. Walk among the ruins of an ancient neighborhood

Acropolis Museum is one of the most visited museums in Athens and among the best things to do in the Greek capital. However, only very recently, a new area of the museum opened for visitors: an ancient Athenian neighborhood located under the museum! With the general admission ticket, visitors can descend to the 1st level of the Acropolis Museum, where a 4,000 sq.m. ancient Acropolis neighborhood lies beneath, with baths, public restrooms, residences and a banquet hall. Built in the shade of the Acropolis Rock, the neighborhood has been inhabited since the 5th century BC up to the 12th century AD. After 480 BC, when the city's borders expanded, it became part of the urban fabric of the ancient city and as a result, began to grow dynamically. It is the neighborhood that more than any other enables us to trace almost the entire history of the ancient city. You will have the opportunity to tour the archaeological excavation that, like a huge exhibit, spreads at the base of the Museum. Walk the streets of the ancient neighborhood, see ancient houses with courtyards and wells, get into the heart of spectacular private baths, take a fascinating journey through time and in the daily lives of people who lived in the shadows of the Acropolis for more than 1,500 years!

9. “Ride” a train of culture

There is a train in Athens that is part of its cultural offerings! It is, possibly, the only train in the world where you can enjoy a coffee, watch a theatrical performance, have a romantic dinner and attend a literary night! The feeling that this Rouf-based microcosm gives is unique. It makes you believe that you are part of a great movie in production and soon there will be a breakaway scene or some chase. The cultural railway is a multi-functional space, operating since 1997. It is parked at the dock of Rouf train station, only a few kilometers from the city center. It consists of nine old wagons - including the "Greek Wagon", an authentic 1924 Orient Express Wagon Restaurant, and a 1947 Brenda Museum Locomotive. It operates as a theater and music scene, restaurant, foyer, bar, and there are dressing rooms and other auxiliary spaces! The wagons of the Theater present theatrical, dance and musical performances for children and adults, educational programs, children's theater, while they also host troupes, organize festivals, exhibitions, screenings, seminars and romantic dinners!

The train of Rouf

10. The marvelous world of the Numismatic Museum

One of the most beautiful examples of 19th-century architecture in Athens, the Numismatic Museum is located in the center of the city just a few meters away from Syntagma Square. It consists of two floors, lovely terraces, arches and arched rooms, ceilings with stunning murals and representations of ancient Pompeii. The main gate at Panepistimiou Street leads to a gorgeous courtyard where there is a garden with sculptures and plantation, and a café that hosts events such as jazz nights! This magnificent mansion is none other than Ili Melathron, the monumental residence of the philhellenic German businessman and archaeologist Henry Schliemann. The work of Ernest Ziller, a building of great aesthetics, was once a landmark of Athens! For those interested in antiquity, especially for anything related to coins, it offers one of the most comprehensive collections in the world. And for those who want to enjoy a beverage or a glass of wine in a beautiful garden, it is the number one place to go!

Hoard of gold coins from Epidaurus, 3rd Century BC, at Numismatic Museum of Athens

If you found this article useful, chances are you are culturally curious and you like to travel off the beaten path. Then you should also check our list of the monuments and landmarks you should not miss in Athens and our guide for the alternative things to do in Athens. If you need more tips and insights, do not hesitate to contact us.

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