Ever wondered what the secret is to having the most enjoyable trip possible? Welcome to my “Be Invisible” series – your ultimate guide for how to avoid looking like a tourist on your next adventure and guaranteed to boost your entire travel experience.
Bursting with helpful tips and tricks, I’ve asked locals from particular cities around the world to share their insider knowledge on the best ways travellers can become “invisible” when visiting their city and enjoy it like a local. If you’re ready to challenge travel stereotypes, overcome language barriers and embrace what I like to call invisible tourism, you’ve come to the right place!
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Visiting Athens for the first time? These 12 helpful Athens travel tips will help you NOT look like a tourist
Are you aware of the reasons to visit Greece in your lifetime? Visiting Athens is an absolute must if you’re traveling to Greece. The Greek capital has an array of impressive historic sites to offer as well as a modern side that can surprise people. But how do you visit everything that Athens has to offer without looking like a tourist?
First things first, use this 3 day Athens itinerary to avoid crowds! Secondly, know that unless you look Mediterranean, people will probably be able to tell you’re a tourist. Or, if your skin tone is darker, they’ll assume you’re an immigrant. But there are still some things that can make you stand out as a tourist when you travel to Athens. It’s never a bad idea to avoid these.
Here are some suggestions based on my experience of living in Athens for almost seven years. Some of these Athens travel tips are more tongue-in-cheek than others, but they all have some truth to them.
1. Don’t visit in August
Generally, summer is not a good time to be in Athens. It gets incredibly hot and uncomfortable. But August, in particular, is a time where everyone who can makes sure to leave the city. Athens is a city that has grown enormously in the last decades. In the 1950s and 1960s, many people from rural areas moved to Athens to find work.
As a result, the vast majority of Athenians have parents or grandparents who were from villages far away from the capital. Most of these people still own houses in their villages and visit them whenever they can, particularly during the week of Greek Easter and in August when most of Greece shuts down.
To be honest, this can actually make August a decent month to be in Athens because it’s less noisy, there’s less traffic, and people are more relaxed overall. But since we’re looking for ways to not look like a tourist in Athens you’ll probably want to avoid booking a stay in August.
2. Do drink coffee several times a day
Athenians love their coffee. Whether it’s cold or hot, with or without sugar, if you like coffee you’ll fit right in. While the traditional Turkish coffee was called exactly that until the 1960s, it is now exclusively known as “Greek coffee” due to political tensions with Turkey.
Although the drink is the same, calling it anything other than “Greek coffee” will make people instantly recognise you as a tourist (and most likely even get offended).
A genuinely Greek invention, is frappé, an iced coffee. But the most popular coffee drink is freddo (either cappuccino or espresso). Regular cappuccino, espresso, latte, and filtered coffee are less popular options.
What do you do if, like me, you don’t like coffee at all? Well, of course, it’s completely fine to drink tea or other beverages, but if you order a freddo you might have people believing you’re a local!
3. Don’t wear the “ancient Greece” themed clothes sold in souvenir shops
Every country has these typical tourist shirts with slogans like “I ❤️ NY,” and locals obviously never wear them. But it seems that the ones sold in Athens are particularly bad.
From “Greek goddess”-style dresses in cheap materials (even in toddler sizes) to “This is Sparta” t-shirts (why would you wear this in Athens which was defeated by Sparta?), you won’t find an Athenian, or Greek for that matter, who wears these.
Aside from that, there are much more beautiful souvenirs you can buy in Athens, such as olive oil, olive wood kitchen utensils, or herbs. There really is no need to spend your money on embarrassing clothing items.
4. Don’t talk about how you visited “the Greek islands”
Time and again I see travel bloggers talk about how they traveled to “the Greek islands.” I highly doubt that any of them have traveled to the more than 200 inhabited Greek islands, let alone all thousands of the uninhabited ones.
When foreign tourists talk about “the Greek islands” they usually mean Mykonos and Santorini, maybe Naxos and Paros. And while those islands are popular for a reason, they’re not representative of the entirety of the Greek islands.
Be specific about the places you’ve been to, and don’t claim to have seen “the” Greek islands.
5. Do wear black – all year
For some reason, black is the Greek woman’s favourite colour. No, I’m not talking about older women in mourning. Young Greek women love to wear black, even in the summer. I remember seeing a Facebook group about this some years ago which was poking fun at how women were looking forward to summer but still stuck to black attire most of the time.
Personally, I love colours, but even I noticed that at some point I only had dark clothes in my wardrobe. I haven’t been able to determine whether black is deemed a particularly elegant colour or there’s another reason for this obsession. But rest assured that brightly coloured t-shirts and shorts will instantly make you stand out as a tourist.
6. Don’t walk around in the heat of summer
You may think that it’s going to be fun exploring Athens in the Greek summer, but think twice. When it’s 40°C you don’t walk around in the sun, you try to stay indoors, with air conditioning. Unless people have a really good reason to be outside in the summer heat they will do their best to stay indoors.
The only people walking through the streets in that heat are probably going to be tourists. And if you don’t have anything to protect yourself against the sun this can quickly become quite dangerous, too. Enjoy a nice air conditioned museum during the day and visit outdoor ancient sites in the morning or late afternoon instead.
7. Do be careful when crossing the streets
Athenian traffic is among the worst in Europe, and drivers don’t really follow the rules. You will see people texting while driving in both cars and scooters. It’s common for drivers to run red lights, and after the light turns green for pedestrians you might still see up to five drivers passing the light.
Be very vigilant before you attempt to cross the road, especially outside of the city centre.
8. Don’t eat in Plaka
Plaka is a gorgeous neighbourhood so although it’s a very touristy area it’s a must-visit when you’re in Athens. But that doesn’t mean that you should eat here. While the cafés around the Anafiotika area are extremely popular with locals, the restaurants are very much tourist traps.
Instead, head to the lively Psirri neighbourhood where you can find bars, traditional Greek restaurants, and lovely cafés. And don’t worry, if you’re looking for vegan restaurants in Athens the city has quite a few options for you as well.
9. Don’t flush your toilet paper
Eww, what? Yes, you read that right: Greeks don’t flush their toilet paper. Instead, they throw it in a bin. In most hotels, you won’t have a problem with this, and you might get away with flushing the toilet paper. But if you end up at a restaurant or bar you could end up being responsible for a clogged toilet if you dispose of your toilet paper in it.
You may also have the unpleasant experience of coming across bins without a lid. There are more things you should be aware of about using the bathroom in Greece, but mainly you want to keep this one in mind.
10. Don’t confuse Middle Eastern food for Greek
The number of times I’ve seen people refer to hummus or falafel as Greek is quite shocking. Of course, you can get these dishes in Athens, the same as you can get sushi or pizza, but that doesn’t make any of those things Greek. There’s no reason to stick to Greek food exclusively on your trip, but if you feel like having falafel know that it isn’t Greek.
11. Don’t get drunk
Let me rephrase that, don’t get drunk the way that many people in northern European countries do. Yes, Greeks do drink alcohol and quite a bit. Whether it’s beer, wine, or ouzo, Greeks love to drink when they go out.
But despite that, you will not see people get into fights at bars or restaurants, and you definitely won’t see people throw up on street corners as certain tourists tend to do while traveling. Greeks stay respectable when they drink. A behaviour you may want to introduce back to your home country.
12. Don’t extend all your fingers and then move your hand towards somebody’s face
This common way of showing the number 5 in many cultures, is a traditional insult in Greece. If you’re trying to show someone that you want a table for five, or that it’s 5 o’clock, or anything else, avoid this at all costs. On the other hand, if you do want to look like a local and are trying to insult someone, try this out at your own risk (more about this here).
So there you go, these are some of the best do’s and don’ts in Athens to make you stand out less as a tourist!
|Nina Ahmedow is a travel content creator who has traveled to more than 20 countries on three continents. Born and raised in Germany but currently living in Greece, she loves exploring the world through vegan food. She is the voice behind Lemons and Luggage, a travel blog dedicated to vegan and responsible travel. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook.
Pre-book things to do in Athens
Here are some Athens experiences to book in advance and enrich your trip:
Ready to be invisible in Athens?
Now you’ve uncovered these do’s and don’ts in Athens, perhaps you’re ready to make the trip! Why not compare hotel prices here?
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Do you have any Athens travel tips to add to this list? Any more things to know before travelling to Athens? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time,
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