Getting beyond the stereotypes: During my time spent with family living in Athens years ago and subsequent return visits, I’ve become somewhat familiar with a few of the aspects that characterize the city’s districts and suburbs. Not always consciously, or even with the clarity you achieve with the benefit of years of hindsight after leaving, I came to appreciate a place that goes beyond the usual adjectives regularly attached to it by impatient visitors: crowded, noisy, inefficient, bureaucratic, hot, muggy, and oh—of course—watch out for those taxi drivers, they’re the worst in Europe. So much of this can in fact be attributed to Athens--but then again so much of it disappears when you take the time to put the preconceived notions and blinkers aside, hop a bus, metro, and yes even be brave enough to take a taxi somewhere. Take Athens in on in serendipitous and not blinkered fashion.
Kifissia: This random approach to getting acquainted with an Athens neighborhood was something I fell into unintentionally on my most recent visit back to Athens when I wound up in the suburb of Kifissia. The original plan was to find the new Olympic stadium that had been built nearby in Maroussi, then walk around the exterior and take a few pictures. Instead, I got off the new metro service at a station called Irini and was instantly lost, in spite of maps, in spite of several verbal directions from English speakers in surrounding shops. The huge stadium was nowhere to be seen; the interesting thing was that I got to know Kifissia rather extensively in one afternoon of walking around that wasn’t at all unpleasant and probably more interesting than a stadium exterior. This was suburban, upscale Athens, a sprawling mix of traditional architecture and the occasional older, stately homes on residential streets, while the commercial areas were filled with pleasant outdoor cafes, restaurants, gyms, bars, boutiques selling the latest fashions from other EU capitals.
Kolonaki: The longtime centrifugal point for Athens’s social, political and business elites, Kolonaki has held its own over the decades I’ve known it. Seemingly a lot busier, the traffic much crazier than 20 years ago around Kolonaki Square, but still worth strolling around the side streets, with even more points of interest as far as shopping, dining, nightlife. Museums to visit: the much improved Benaki Museum, the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art. Cafes and bars with atmosphere: Central Funky Restaurant (Kolonaki Square); Frame (St. George Lycabettus Hotel); Ratka (Haritos 30); Rock and Roll (Loukianou 6 & Ipsilantou).
Patissia: Everyone knows the National Gardens, but seeing the city's residents strolling and enjoying themselves really takes place in the area called Green Park. I know, because this is the park we lived across from. It's about two short blocks from the National Archeological Museum, which also has some pleasant outdoor cafes.
Glyfada: More accessible nowadays thanks to a metro that runs right up to its front doorstep, the seaside resort of Glyfada still retains some of its suburban peacefulness in the more distant residential streets away from the downtown. Well, you’re going to be downtown, so be ready for crowds, hotels that have sprung up all over, and outdoor restaurants that are much more busy even on a weekday than they used to be. The GNTO beach and its facilities are still pleasant up until late spring; later, you can still find good meal deals at restaurants lining the streets that lead down to the main coast road.