Sunday in Greece is largely a day of repose and a time for family get-togethers. For many employees it is their only day off work and so they like to make the most of it, especially when the sun decides to make its first bold appearances in spring. Heavy coats come off, light walking shoes come on and hoards of sun-thirsty Greeks head downtown to mingle with the tourists and pretend that summer is nearer than it actually is. So try these 8 local favorite activities and spend your Sunday like a true Athenian:
1. Coffee and Newspaper
Newspaper sales may be down compared to past decades, but for many Greeks, reading Sunday’s newspapers (many read more than one), preferably over a coffee, is a long-engrained habit. The cosmopolitan district of Kolonaki, a 10-minute walk from Syntagma, has two kiosks with foreign press (at the start of Kanari Street, and further along at number 15-17). So grab your newspaper of choice and then head for the coffee shop that best suits your style.
A favorite among many media-types and notables is Da Capo (1 Tsakalof), famed for the high quality of its coffee. For a nostalgic taste of old Athens, visit the historic Vivliothiki (‘Library’) at number 18A on Filikis Eterias Square.
Located next to the impressive church of Aghios Dionysios, Filion (34 Skoufa) is a popular hangout for artists and intellectuals. If, however, you are looking for something a bit trendier and a bit lighter on the caffeine, Tsai (9 Alexandrou Soutsou) is a lovely establishment serving a large variety of teas, which you can pair with scones, homemade biscuits, open-faced sandwiches, scrambled eggs and other mouth-watering selections.
2. Urban Eden
With its ponds and brooks, Mediterranean and exotic plants, towering rows of old Washingtonia palms as well as turtles, goats and peacocks, the National Garden in the middle of the city is an urban oasis ideal for a morning jog, meditative walks, or some playtime at the children’s playground. Once the Royal Gardens, landscaping began around 1839 under the supervision of the German-born Queen Amalia and now includes 7,000 trees and 40,000 shrubs, according to a recent survey.
If you and your kids get peckish, hop in for some food and coffee at Aegli, located nearby next to the stately Zappeio Hall, an 1888 neoclassical building designed by the renowned Danish architect, Theophil Hansen (also responsible for the National Observatory of Athens). Zappeio is now used to host conferences and exhibitions as well as important political events.
The National Garden has six entrances and is open from sunrise to sunset. Admission is free.
3. Your Sunday Best
Even if you are not Christian Orthodox, or even particularly religiously inclined, a Sunday Mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral on Mitropoleos Square is a spectacle worth getting out of bed on Sunday morning for.
Built between 1842 and 1862 during the reign of Otto, the Bavarian prince who became the first king of modern Greece, the cathedral recently reopened its doors after seven years of restoration work. It would be no exaggeration to say that Mass here is a somewhat glamorous social event; indeed, it is even televised. While it’s likely to be all Greek to you, you will still enjoy the ritual as a consummate performance complete with fabulous costumes and set design, an exceptional cast, wonderful voices, and well-rehearsed spectators who know when to bless themselves, bow, kneel and recite prayers. Mass begins at around 8.30am but you can drop in at any time until it ends at 10.30am, and even take photos (no flash) and record video.
4. At the Museum
You may find it hard to believe but there are still many Athenians that have yet to visit the Acropolis. The Acropolis museum, on the other hand – one of the top 25 museums in the world according to the 2016 edition of TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards – seems to be a favorite among many Greeks who keep returning, alone or with their families.
It was founded to exhibit all the significant finds from the Sacred Rock and its foothills and it is, one could say, the museum that has taught Greeks how to like museums. It is certainly one they can be proud of. Grab a free Museum map from the information desk and follow the suggested route in order to better appreciate the exhibits. If you’re traveling with your children the available family pack with various exhibition-based games and activities will keep them engaged and entertained. On the third floor take some time to watch the informative video on the Parthenon and then take a leisurely walk in the Parthenon gallery whose rectangular shape mirrors the monument itself, visible outside the huge glass walls. On your way down, outside the Restaurant, why not grab a copy of our magazine from the dedicated stand?
• 15 Dionysiou Areopagitou • Tel.: (+30) 210.900.0900 • www.theacropolismuseum.gr • Opening hours: 1 November – 31 March: Mon-Thu : 09:00-17:00, Fri 09:00-22:00, Weekends: 09:00-20:00, 1 April – 31 October: Mon 08:00-16:00 · Tue-Thu, Weekends 08:00-20:00, Fri 08:00-22:00 • Last admission is half an hour before closing. • General Admission: € 5
5. Get that island feel
The neighborhood of Anafiotika was built in the 19th century by skilled builders from the Cycladic island of Anafi who moved to the Greek capital to work on King Otto’s palace. Nostalgic for their hometown, they built their new houses in the image of the ones they left behind, hence, the unique island-feel of the neighborhood that enchants locals and visitors alike.
The exact location of Anafiotika is baffling even for many Greeks who may know of the neighborhood but don’t know exactly how to access it. It is very easy though if you have just come out of the Acropolis museum. Cross the cobbled Areopagitou street and walk a few steps to the right until you reach Thrasyllou street. Then walk uphill. Once you reach the Church of Aghios Georgios of the Rock, you know you’ve made it.
Meander through the narrow pathways and you will certainly forget you are in Athens, unless you look up; the Rock of the Acropolis is right there hovering above you. After your stroll, join the dozens of locals who are sprawled on the steps outside the lovely and popular Yiasemi Café/Bistrot (23 Mnisikleous) for light lunch, sweet or coffee. If you don’t find room outside, the interior is also gorgeous and smoke-free.
6. Treasure Hunting
Whether you like antique-shopping or not, you will love the Monastiraki flea market which is at its biggest every Sunday in Avyssinias Square. Collectables, embroideries, home décor, second-hand clothes along with one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture are put on display, looking for the best bargainer.
Even if you are not looking to buy, some quality time at the flea market can be quite a soul-searching experience as you go through old photographs or objects which once constituted someone’s cherished possessions, before they had to be sold so their owners could make ends meet or after they passed away. Do not leave the square without a stop for coffee, wine or lunch with the accompaniment of live, unplugged quality Greek music (from 3-7pm) at Restaurant/Café Avissinia (7 Kynetou, Open 11 am-7pm), the square’s private historian for the past 30 years and a true gem of an establishment.
7. The long stroll
Just exited the Acropolis Museum? Surrender to the flow of friends, families with prams and selfie-taking tourists for one of the most picturesque strolls in the city. Areopagitou street begins just off the exit of Acropolis metro station and ends near Thiseio metro station after it changes name to Apostolou Pavlou and then Asomaton, following a semi-circular route around the Acropolis. Be it the crisis that made many locals seek alternative incomes and make some profit from their hobbies, or the hand-craft craze that has led others to showcase their creations, Areopagitou nowadays resembles a huge bazaar for crafts.
Especially the last stretch towards Monastiraki, which might as well be an extension of the flea market, is occupied by vendors selling everything from cabbage peelers to elaborate hand-crafted jewelry. Take your time to appreciate the various goods and don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation or two. Greeks like to share their story and most of these people have interesting stories to tell.
8. Down the Hill
If you are too agora-phobic for the crowds of Monastiraki and Areopagitou and you’d rather get closer to nature, opt for the western hills of the Acropolis – those of the Muses (aka Philopappos Hill), Pnyx and Nymphs – by taking the road perpendicular to Areopagitou, just before it changes to Apostolou Pavlou. Signs will show you the way to the various spots, but whichever way you choose make sure you end up to The Koilon, a ravine formed at the junction of the Hills of Muses and the Pnyx where the ancient deme of Koile used to be.
In antiquity, the path that leads down the ravine was the main street connecting the ancient city of Athens to the port of Piraeus. Follow it downhill and you will find yourselves in the picturesque neighborhood of Petralona, which preserves its local vibe and attracts many Athenians, especially on Sundays, for lunch. The restaurant options are many, but Aster (48 Troon), serving Cretan delicacies (from 1pm on Sundays) is a must for its high quality, low prices and rustic décor. After lunch many Greeks will seek out an afternoon coffee, and retro Babouras (43 Dimofontos) is a great follow-up to Aster. Before you leave the neighborhood spend some time exploring its narrow streets and if you are visiting in the summer make sure you catch a movie at Zefiros, one of the oldest open-air cinemas in the city.