It’s hot. The sun burns and our ice creams have melted. Air-conditioner condensation drips from the balconies onto the pavements. Through the heat shimmer, the Parthenon on the Acropolis starts to resemble umbrellas on a beach – the blue sky quivering behind it like waves. In the mirage, we see ourselves with a cocktail, dancing on the shores of an island. But it’s only for a moment. When we return to reality in the city, we realize that the traffic has died down, the cafes are playing cheerful summer tunes, and the people left in the city are smiling.
The summer is the best time to experience Athens without the racket and rush, and there are so many things we love to do here right now. Here are some of them:
Days at the Riviera
Years back, when some locals started referring to the coastal area that runs from Piraeus to Sounio as the Athens Riviera (and later the new marina and revamped coast of the municipality of Palio Faliro as Falifornia), others laughed. But while much of the stretch has been neglected for a long time, a major facelift which began in preparation for the 2004 Olympic Games and is still in progress (with major construction plans being carried out at Elliniko, the site of the old Athens airport, and at Neo Faliro), has made the area a great place to be.
In the summer, this is where we choose to go to exercise (running, cycling, and working out at outdoor gyms), eat seafood, dance at beach bars, swim, and breathe in the smell of the sea. Families love the large open spaces and activities at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center and at Alimos, and young people gather for coffee and drinks at Glyfada (the Athens Miami), and the Flisvos Marina.
There will be mosquitos, the restrooms will leave some to be desired, and the explosive sound of a motorbike is destined to drown out the dialogue at the absolute worst time – but we don’t care. We wait for the open-air cinemas to open in spring like people in northern countries wait for restaurants to put some tables outdoors. It’s the ultimate sign of summer.
Bring mosquito repellent and smokes (or a forgiving attitude – the cinema cigs are sacred to smokers), and, where allowed, souvlaki, to enjoy with refreshments from the canteen.
Open-air cinema festivals are popular all around the country. Right now and until August 20, the Athens Open-Air Cinema Festival offers free screenings. Read more about that here, and find some of our favorite theaters in the city here.
Rooftop bars & restaurants
While most restaurants keep their outdoor spaces open all through the winter, sitting outside at bars and restaurants is of course an integral part of summer in Greece as well, and establishments easily fill their seats with promises of cold drinks and summery food. The high ground (pun definitely intended – almost forced) in the fight for customers, belongs to the city’s rooftop bars.
There’s a rooftop for everyone, whether you’re looking for a romantic setting with gourmet food and lounge music, a spot to chill, or a place to dance, hands in the air, under the stars. Many are located on top of hotels in the city center, and most offer incredible views towards the Acropolis.
You can find some of our favorite rooftop hangouts here.
You don’t need to travel to the islands to spend a day at the beach, and we’re certainly not going to miss out on swimming in the warm Greek sea just because we’re in the city.
The coast of the mainland of Attica boasts as many as 13 Blue Flag-awarded beaches, and plenty more worth a visit. Most famous beaches are wide and sandy, with excellent beach bars, but if jumping off the rocks in hidden coves are more your thing, there are several of those as well.
Picnicking on the Hills
Besides the Acropolis, there are four other hills in Athens that deserve your attention; the Hill of the Nymphs, the Hill of the Muses, Aeropagus, and Lycabettus. In the summer, we love to head up to our favorite vantage points with a picnic in the evenings, and watch the sun set in the sea beyond the glittering city.
If you prefer not to have to pack your own lunch, the famous all-day hangout Prassini Tenta, on Lycabettus Hill, recently had a makeover, and it’s well-worth spending an evening there. Read about it here.
Visiting the Observatory
During the hottest days of the year, even late nights can be too warm to enjoy when you’re walking the streets in the center. A visit to the National Observatory of Athens is a great excuse to stay up on the hills a little longer. Located on the Hill of the Nymphs, specifically, the observatory offers affordable guided tours in Greek and English that are a joy for kids and adults alike.
The Sinas building, designed by Danish architect Theophil Hansen in 1842, is beautiful and contains many treasures such as rare books and the telescope used by Julius Schmidt to create the first-ever detailed map of the moon, and further up the hill, you’ll be treated to two incredible views; one of the Acropolis, and one through the lens of the Doridis telescope, towards whatever celestial show is on “display” during your visit.
How this “healing lake” has managed to stay a beautiful, noise-free place to swim, relax and get in touch with nature, appears to visitors as a bit of an enigma. It seems strange that the place not more exploited and that the water is not filled with hordes of tourists.
Located just 24 kilometers from downtown Athens, on the Riviera in Vouliagmeni, this little slice of pure nature and natural spa (complete with Garra rufa – the fish used for “fish pedicures”), which came to be when an underwater thermal spring caused the roof of a cave to crumble, is protected under the Natura 2000 network.
The restaurant here is open from morning until late at night (ca 00:30), and when we don’t come here early for a dip in the therapeutic waters, we choose its dramatic scenery for drinks away from the commotion of the riviera’s many beach bars.
In August, when the sea near Athens is too warm for some tastes and the beaches are packed with sunbathers, our secret spots for a refreshingly cold dip are at the waterfalls on Mount Penteli. Here, you might be lucky enough to find yourself completely alone.
The easiest one to get to, Valanari Waterfall, is actually a twin fall, and you’ll find them just a half hour-drive away from the city center (type “Waterfall Ntrafi” into Google Maps). The pool created by the falls is shoulder-deep, and there is plenty of space around it to spread out on blankets for picnics, with the sound of gurgling water and the smell of pink oleanders in the air.
Daytrip escapes to the nearest islands
When staycation activities just won’t do it – when all else fails in giving you the ultimate feeling of vacation in the city, we leave, if just for a day. Frequent ferries and hydrofoil vessels make day trips or weekends on the islands near Athens easy.
So close, yet worlds away, we discover island life and swim in crystal-clear water. Read about perfect weekends on the islands of Aegina and Kea here and here, respectively, and about what to do on the island closest to the mainland, Salamina, here. Find five reasons to visit the green island of Poros here, a personal description of picturesque Hydra here, and tips for trips to Evia (which you can drive to) here.