Have you ever noticed things happen a little slower in Greece?
It’s part of the charm of the uber-relaxing Greek Islands. I recently discovered that capital city, Athens, is no different.
Athenians don’t head out for coffee or brunch until around midday, and dinner commonly starts at 10pm. An empty restaurant could be a sign of sub-par food, or it could simply mean you’re a few hours ahead of the crowds.
Spotting Athens’ best restaurants and bars can be quite tricky if, like me, you’re not much of a night owl.
Determined to discover Athens favourite restaurants and bars without staying out until all hours of the morning, I booked a Greek Nightlife Tour through Withlocals.
About the Tour
Withlocals’ Greek Nightlife Tour will have you strolling through popular nightlife districts with a local Athenian guide to point out their most-loved neighbourhoods, restaurants, and bars. You can choose from one of 4 guides depending on your preferred style. I opted for Kabalan, drawn in by his energetic introduction video on the website.
The private tour lasts for 2.5 hours starting at a time of your choosing (between 6pm and 8pm) and includes 4 alcoholic drinks and 2 tastings of authentic Greek food per person.
The drinks and tastings are usually enjoyed in pre-arranged restaurants and bars, but the local guides have some flexibility. Let them know if you have any food and drink preferences, dietary requirements, or Greek food fantasies, and they’ll do their best to customise your tour. So, while I’ll share my experience, yours may be a bit different. One thing is for certain – you’ll never look at Athens the same way.
I was pretty hungry on the night so asked my jovial guide, Kabalan, to change the tastings to something a little more filling. I expected to have to pay extra, but Kabalan knew a gyro from his favourite souvlaki shop was within the tour budget… score!
Kabalan isn’t your typical tour guide. But that is what made this experience so unique. It was authentic, honest and transparent. He was more than willing to go the extra mile, and bent over backwards to ensure my satisfaction.
Tip: If your schedule allows, book your tour on a Friday evening for the best balance between a lively atmosphere and space to have a relaxing chat.
Finding Authentic Greek Food and Drinks
Athens has no shortage of traditional Greek restaurants, but there are some restaurants that are, well, not so Greek. Having a local guide show you around takes the guess work out of choosing a good spot.
Our first stop was Avli, a trendy indoor/outdoor bar decked out with Volkswagen Kombi memorabilia. Even the bar was made from a refurbished old Kombi!
Our purpose here? Cheese and wine, of course.
But not just any cheese. Kabalan ordered talagani cheese, which he explained as a new entrant to Greek cuisine. The sheep-milk-cheese from Messinia is best served grilled and topped with a sweet sauce and candied cherries. The unfamiliar combination resulted in smooth flavours with a melt-in-your-mouth texture that paired perfectly with our jug of white wine.
Next, we headed over to Kabalan’s favourite souvlaki shop for my promised gyro. I’d thought myself to be quite the gyro connoisseur…until I met Kabalan. He knew every detail behind what makes a good gyro, down to how to cut vegetables to get the most complimentary flavours. I scoffed down a doner gyro, although Kabalan explained that pork is the more traditional meat.
After filling up on gyros, it was time for dessert, and Kabalan wasn’t satisfied with plain ol’ gelato. He insisted I tried the best mastic ice-cream and baklava from Konstantinidis, a sweet chain that’s been around since 1920.
I was amazed by how many foods Greeks can make from a simple ingredient like mastic (a tree sap) – it can be enjoyed as a candy, liquor, and as I discovered on this tour, a tangy yet sweet ice-cream that pairs perfectly with sugary baklava.
Our last stop was Gazi Pallas, one of Kabalan’s favourite bars in the Gazi neighbourhood. Inside the bar was set up like a night club with neon lights, a dance floor, high tables, and a DJ. We sat outside in a relaxed yet vibrant lounge area and soaked up the ambiance and music.
We arrived around 10pm so the bar wasn’t too full (the locals were probably still out to dinner!), but I got a good feel for the energetic atmosphere of Athenian bars.
Here, Kabalan ordered an authentic Greek drink, rakomelo (meaning “raki and honey”) for me to try. Kabalan assured that drinking rakomelo was actually good for me – it is a traditional remedy for a cold or sore throat.
While sipping our drinks, Kabalan shared stories about the region’s history and root words behind Greek cuisine, although he warned me with a smile, to not take him too seriously. When it comes to Kabalan’s stories, you have to “mind the gaps”, as he says. It’s worth noting this isn’t a history or cultural tour. It’s a nightlife tour. Some stories inspired me to do my own fact checking while others were downright hilarious.
Gaps or no gaps, Kabalan’s charming stories kept me entertained throughout the night.
The Bottom Line
When I went on Withlocals’ private tour in Athens, I didn’t like feel like a tourist at all. Kabalan treated me like an old friend visiting his home town, and he was taking me out for drinks at his favourite hangouts.
This tour is full of the local guide’s personal flair and there’s no doubt that we visited the same places Kabalan goes with his own friends and family.
If you want to discover the restaurants and bars that local Athenians love, and get off the well-worn tourist trail, this is definitely the nightlife tour for you.
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