Dos & Don'ts
Athens can seem a little chaotic on first acquaintance. Also, we do things differently. We don’t really like rules, but we are very particular about customs and traditions. Follow our insider tips to experience Athens like a local—and avoid the typical rookie mistakes that tourists make for a guaranteed stress-free city break.
Don’t think that you need to learn some Greek before you get here. While a “hello” (yia sas) or “thank you” (efharisto) are welcome, most Athenians speak English. We often speak several other languages, too.
Do be aware that Greeks love to talk. So don’t be surprised if asking a stranger for directions turns into a heart to heart or an invitation to their grandma’s for lunch.
Don’t be frightened by how loudly we speak, and don’t duck as we wave our arms around as we do so. We’re not trying to hit you. We love to speak with gestures. We created drama, we will keep it alive.
Don’t be lured by the waiters standing outside restaurants in touristy areas, trying to persuade you to sit down. No matter how hungry you are. Even if they’ve almost convinced you that this place has the best grilled octopus in the country, the world, the universe. With few exceptions, these places are not the best example of what Athens has to offer food-wise.
Do your research about where to eat in Athens. You’ll be grateful. Just don’t show up for dinner at 6, 7, or even 8 pm. We Athenians like to eat late, and restaurant kitchens stay open until well after midnight.
Don’t assume that every vendor is out to overcharge you just because you’re not a local. While bargaining used to be acceptable, it’s a lot less so today. Unless you’re clean sweeping a store, you’re not really expected to shoot numbers back and forth. Obviously, if the price seems ridiculous, do speak out. Loudly. With gestures.
Do tip waiters, taxi drivers, bellboys, and hairdressers. In cafes and restaurants, a 10-15% gratuity is fine. With taxis, you can just round up the amount or add a couple of euros to the fare.
Do be careful on the streets. In many cities, drivers slam on the breaks the second a pedestrian sets their toe on a pedestrian crossing. This does not happen in Athens. But don’t fear for your life. Just be on high alert for random motorcycles riding along the pavement or cars jumping red lights.
Do give the city time. Trying to take in the Acropolis, visit all the must-see museums and hottest restaurants, hit the beach, and still make your flight or ferry in a weekend, is unrealistic. You’re on vacation. It’s hot here. There’s a lot to see and do and eat. So do stay for more than a day or two.
Don’t wear hot pants or crop tops if you’re planning on visiting any churches or monasteries. Some things are better left to the imagination. If you must wear hot pants, save them for a trip to the beach. And stay away from high heels, especially when visiting our slippery, sensitive marble ruins.
Don’t freak out at the “please do not throw paper in the toilet” signs plastered over every bathroom in the city. It’s a serious request. Athens is an ancient city, and the sewage system is pretty old, too.
Don’t assume that all Athenians do is drink frappé, eat souvlaki, wash it down with retsina, and ride around on donkeys in chitons. Or that you should do the same. Frappe is strong, instant coffee, and it may give you the shakes. Souvlaki is an occasional treat, not a staple food. Retsina, or too much of it, is a guaranteed headache. And donkeys can be found at the city’s zoo.
Do lather on the sunscreen. Even on a particularly sunny winter day, pale skins have been known to turn hot pink. From April to late October, you need your SPF, no matter how much you want to show your friends back home your golden glow.
Don’t try to climb the Acropolis in the middle of the day during the summer. No sunscreen can save you from heatstroke. Go early in the morning, or right before sunset.
Don’t fall into the eternal tourist trap. Wrongly or not, cab drivers worldwide are notorious for ripping off tourists. Ours are no exception. Make sure the taxi metre is turned on the second you sit down. Some routes - such as from Athens airport to the city centre have a flat fare. If your cab feels like an open oven and ash is flying through the back windows, feel free to remind your driver that it’s no longer 1960.
Don’t freak out about smoking. Though vaping is gaining ground, cigarettes are still a national addiction. There’s little you can do to avoid it (even when there are No Smoking signs everywhere). But there are some smoke-free restaurants and cafes. Even a bar or two. Luckily, you’ll spend most of your time in Athens outdoors anyway.