I was lucky enough to study abroad my junior year in Athens, Greece, where I learned about the country’s geography, history, and politics; attempted to pick up some modern Greek (not easy), and spent many a weekend—and, let’s be honest, weeknight, I was 19—traipsing around the city’s lively streets at various levels of sobriety.
After living there for about four months, my takeaway was that Athens has almost nothing to do with the whitewashed buildings and pristine turquoise oceans many Westerners associate with Greece as a country (those images are reflected more accurately in its breathtakingly beautiful islands). Athens itself is pretty gritty, with stray dogs wandering dingy streets and locals who aren’t always thrilled at the sight of American tourists (some, not all!). But I still came away with a deep appreciation for the city’s history, authenticity, great food, and character.
Here, 10 of the spots you should Instagram if you get the chance to visit.
Climb up the Acropolis
You absolutely can’t miss The Acropolis of Athens, an ancient Greek monument located on a rocky hill towering over the city, dating back to mid-5th-century BC. The whole site is pretty amazing, but the Parthenon, a former temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, is especially beautiful (and famous).
Sit Down for an Authentic Greek Meal
Taverna O Kostas is situated in the Pangrati neighborhood, and it’s a homey restaurant that serves up unforgettably delicious (and affordable) Greek food. Literally everything on the menu is incredible (I know; I’ve tried most of it), but don’t miss the tzatziki or the zucchini and tomato pancakes.
Visit the New Acropolis Museum
Visiting the Acropolis itself is a necessity, but to fully understand the history behind the ruins, visit the Acropolis Museum, which features objects excavated from the Acropolis sanctuaries, as well as more general history and background about Athenian culture during that time.
Have a Drink with a View
Locals flock to A for Athens bar, located at Monastiraki Square, to sip cocktails with a clear view of the Acropolis. The drinks might be a little pricey, but it’s the view you’re paying for.
Explore the Benaki Museum
Located in downtown Athens, the Benaki Museum boasts an eclectic collection of 40,000 pieces of Greek art, including works from the Roman age, the medieval Byzantine period, the Ottoman occupation, and more.
Have a Fancy Dinner on the Water
Head to the trendy Island Club Restaurant for dinner—it has an amazing view of the Athens Riviera, and locals say it’s the best place to go to spot “rich and good-looking people.” (The food’s not bad, either.)
Wander Around Plaka
Widely considered one of the prettiest neighborhoods in the city, Plaka is the oldest neighborhood in Athens. It’s located near the Acropolis and features narrow streets (many of which don’t allow cars) with plenty of bars, restaurants, and shops to pop in and out of.
Treat Yourself to a Greek Coffee and Brunch
Kokkini Svoura is the place to go for a high-end brunch and excellent Greek coffee. Situated in an upscale suburb called Chalandri, the restaurant is popular with young people and famous for its above-average brunch, cocktails, and baked goods.
Check Out Syntagma Square
Syntagma is the most centrally located square in the city, situated next to the Old Royal Palace, a historic building that houses the Greek Parliament. It’s an ideal place for people-watching.
Wander Around Monastiraki
When you’re in the mood for some shopping, walk around Monastiraki, a flea-market neighborhood where you’ll find everything from tourist souvenirs and T-shirts to antiques and jewelry.