The Consummate Traveler – Tips for Visiting Athens

February 24, 2015 Updated: February 25, 2015

I am currently in Athens on business and enjoying myself despite the winter weather. Even in the rain and snow, the view of the Acropolis lit up at night is still an enchanting sight. If you have never been here, the city has its unique rhythm as all major cities do, and I’d like to share a few tips you may find helpful if planning a first time visit.

1. Be Mindful While Crossing Streets

This is one of the most important pieces of advice to offer any new tourist to Athens, as I was almost run down by a car on a street corner during my first trip. Basically, pedestrians do not have the right of way here, and cars even seem to speed up when they see people in the crosswalks. It is very critical that you stop on every corner and look both ways two or three times before even thinking of crossing. You will be glad you did.

2. Eat at Off-Peak Hours

During winter (not as much in summer) tourists and locals are competing for seats at popular restaurants and cafes, especially on weekends. As a consequence, it is wise to consider dining in-between the customary Greek dining hours, which is 1–3 p.m for lunch and 8-10 p.m. for dinner. Using this strategy, my colleagues and I were able to get four seats at 6 p.m. with no reservation at a popular bistro/steak house called Vezene by promising to vacate our table by 10 p.m.

A cafe in Athens, Greece via Shutterstock*
A cafe in Athens, Greece via Shutterstock*

3. Negotiate With Local Shop Keepers

Between mid-January and most of February, all stores in Greece offer great discounts on merchandise, as much as 50 percent off, which is a great incentive to consider a visit during early winter. However, after these sales expire, I have found that most local Greek shop keepers are always willing to bargain and offer price cuts if you hang in there long enough. I have purchased some fairly luxurious items here over the years, including a chinchilla fur-trimmed raincoat for my mother and a gold ring for myself. In both cases, I was given a modest discount of about 20 percent off the original price without much effort.

4. Beware of Overly ‘Friendly’ Locals

A male colleague of mine went for a jog alone last weekend when he was approached by a local man near Constitution Square (Syntagma) to join him for a free beer at his tavern down the street. This individual aggressively persisted two times, despite my colleague continuing to reject his offer. When we shared this story at work with our local colleagues the next day, they were not surprised and advised that this could have been a ploy to get business for a struggling restaurant, or a brazen thief. Despite the fact that nothing happened, we were all reminded to pay attention to our surroundings, and to never accept any “free” offers from anyone ever.

As always, I wish you all the happiest of travels!

*Image of Acropolis in Athens, Greece via Shutterstock

*Image of a cafe in Athens, Greece via Shutterstock