10 Must Have Greek Experiences
And no, we’re not talking about visiting the Acropolis (that’s a given). We’re talking about those priceless, socio-cultural moments that define what being Greek is really all about.
The Long Sunday Lunch
When Greeks go out to lunch en-famille or with parea, it’s the very opposite of a rushed affair. Anything under 4 hours is just shameful. Dishes keep endlessly appearing “sti mazi” (for the whole table to share) and those kilo karafes of krassi just keep magically re-filling. You haven’t truly lived the Greek Life (or partaken of the full summer experience), until you’ve indulged in this wonderful Greek tradition. Preferably by the seaside – where everything tastes better! Obviously. Top Spots for a Sunday Lunch Athenian-style: Vouliagmeni, Varkiza, Anavyssos and Mikro Limani.
Cinema under the Stars
One of the most beautiful elements of a Greek summer is watching a movie at an Open-Air Cinema. And for many Greeks, a visit to one of these al-fresco picture houses brings back poignant childhood memories of balmy summer evenings surrounded by potted plants, lemonade vendors and the occasional cat strolling in front of the screen!
Movies can range from old silver screen or foreign classics to the latest Hollywood blockbuster release (almost always shown in English with Greek sub-titles). The sound isn’t great, but the atmosphere is unbeatable – and the views can be red-carpet worthy (especially in the city cinemas), when there’s a full moon waning. Our two favourite downtown venues are Cine Paris, overlooking the Acropolis, and Thision, next to the ancient Agora with stellar views towards the sacred rock.
Getting met by an entourage at the airport
You know it’s true; we’ve all seen it! The chances of a Greek returning home – or visiting relatives abroad – and not being greeted by a rowdy flash mob of huggers and criers are about as likely as a Brit never grizzling about the weather. You may have to rope in some friends (or bribe some strangers) to enjoy the same effect, but it’s definitely a buzz worth experiencing once.
Doing the whole Easter promenade and midnight mass thing
You don’t have to be Greek Orthodox to appreciate the majesty and beauty of the Greek Orthodox Holy Week, a magnificent rollercoaster of sentiment and tradition. Unlike Western Easter, the holiday remains (largely) uncommercialised by chocolate bunnies. Instead, its festivities are deeply rooted in rituals such as church, lamb and dyed red eggs. Find a Greek friend that you can accompany to Holy Saturday midnight service (Anastasi liturgy). Then, join in the dreamy candle-lit promenade back home where you’ll celebrate the resurrection by playing tsourgrisma (egg cracking) and break your fast by feasting on lamb, feta and freshly-baked sweet tsoureki until the early hours.
Join the Coffee Culture
Caffeine is part of the Holy Trinity of Greek social life, (alongside cigarettes and smart phones of course). Even during these financially-squeezed years, Greeks have always managed to find a sizeable weekly window in which to enjoy their favourite tipple. Cancel your plans for the afternoon and settle in, Greek-style, to enjoy a lingering, chat-filled lazy kafedaki in the company of friends or family. Insider recommends the buzzy “café society” scenes of Kolonaki, Kifissia, Glyfada, Halandri … or bustling Agia Irini Square in downtown Athens.
Roll Home from the Bouzoukia just in time for Work
You simply haven’t lived until you’ve experienced a night of revelry at one of Athens’ sprawling bouzoukia clubs like Posidonio, Fever, Club 22 or Romeo: the venues that regularly host the biggest name Greek singers. But be warned. When Greeks go out to the bouzoukia … they really go out! It’s the place where they can forget all their troubles and cares, after all, and truly live for the moment. A legendary (if costly) bacchanal of whisky, music, dancing and flying rose petals, at bouzoukia, the fun rarely kicks off much before 1am. It’s not at all unusual for Greeks to spill out onto the pavement just in time for work. After stopping off at home first, that is, for a speedy shower and reviving bowl of patsas – that patented Greek hangover remedy made with pork bellies and lemons.
Take a cruisy weekend island escape
It’s Friday afternoon. It’s been a trying week and now you’re longing to flee the city for the weekend. But you just don’t have the time or energy to slog somewhere too far away. Lucky for you, you’re in Athens – and escape is close at hand. Soon, as the sea breeze revives your care-worn spirits, you’ll feel like you’re in another world. One of the truly great pleasures of living in Athens is knowing that come Friday afternoon, you could be kicking back on an idyllic Greek island, “living the dream”, within just a few short hours. We recommend Hydra, Aegina, Tzia or Serifos – just four of our favourite weekend getaways within shouting distance of the capital.
Learn a Traditional Greek Dance
Greek dancing is such a huge part of the culture, it’d be hard to avoid it here even if you try! And why would you want to: it’s such a joyful way of getting “inside” the Greek psyche. Not to mention a great way of making new friends. Each region of Greece has their own style of music and dances. Even popular ones such as the Hasapiko have many variations and the steps can differ from region to region. The best way to enjoy traditional Greek dancing is to attend one of the local festivals that occur frequently everywhere in summer, visit tavernas whenever Greek music is playing, or sign up for any of the numerous Greek folk dancing workshops on offer in the city.
Haggle at the Monastiraki Flea Markets
On a Sunday, it seems as if every Athenian is either buying or selling at the Monastiraki flea market, in Plaka. And as respected American travel TV host Rick Steves says: “the price tag is just an excuse to argue”.
At Monastiraki, you’ll find everything from souvenirs, to antiques, jewelry, fresh produce, fashion and leather goods – while on Sundays, you’ll also see people spreading out their blankets to ply all sorts of wares (one man’s trash is another man’s treasure). We advise arriving early because after about 11am, it becomes super-crowded and virtually impossible to claim a seat at the many cafes and restaurants in the area when you need a breather. Keep in mind that haggling is the accepted method of “finding a compromise between the wishing thinking of the merchant and the tourist”, as Steves says. Some more useful advice: The last amount the seller yells out to your departing back is usually the best price you’ll get. Try enlisting a “grumpy” friend who is bored and thinks the price is too high, to hasten the bargaining process. Prices also often drop at the end of the day when the merchants want to pack up.
Spend one wild week in Mykonos
Island of the Winds. The Capri of Greece. Party Paradiso. This world-famous hedonist’s playground – just one-fifth the size of Ibiza – has as many names as it has faces – and simply has to be “done” once, in our opinion. The best way to do just that, we suggest, is to avoid the nightclubs and jump headfirst instead into Mykonos’ fantastic beach party day scene. A decade or so ago, it was all about wild foam parties at Super Paradise. But then along came Nammos (its orange umbrellas and turquoise loungers are now instantly recognisable on the haute-hedonist circuit), and kick-started a whole cache of sophisticated new day venues such as Alemagou at Tarsanas Beach, Scorpios at Paraga – and Solymar at Kalo Livadi. Go and enjoy the show (and extra points for spotting Lindsay Lohan or a Kardashian!)
And while you’re at it…
- Fly a kite on Clean Monday;
- Watch a spectacular Athenian sunset from Lycabettus Hill or Cape Sounion;
- Make a moussaka from scratch;
- Enjoy a cocktail at one of Athens’ amazing roof top bars (like A for Athens or the Hilton Galaxy Bar);
- Attempt to land a park anywhere in Kolonaki on a Sunday (let us know if you get lucky!)
- Learn how to “work” a kolomboi to reduce your stress;
- Feast on traditional Greek “small plates” (like gavros marinatos or tomato keftedes) at a mezopoleio, while you imbibe on tsipirou or raki. Thessaloniki and Volos are two Greek cities with an outstanding mezedes scene.