Expat Essentials

Christina Hudson’s Expat Guide to Athens, Pt. 1: Neighborhood-by-neighborhood tips from the green north to the seaside south


One of the biggest questions we long-time residents get from newcomers is: “Which part of Athens (or the surrounding areas) is right for me?”

There is a lot of variety within our sprawling metropolis, so you need to consider a number of factors as you narrow down your choices:

• Tree hugger or a beach bum?
• Hustle and bustle, or peace and quiet?
• Work location?
• Which school for the kids?
• Culture vulture or a sports fanatic?
• Chi-chi or low key?

Be sure to check driving times to school/work while weighing your decision about where to live. Traffic in our city is no joke, and we don’t have the most reliable or extensive public transportation systems either, so sometimes driving is a necessity.

The green north

This part of the greater Athens area is by and large greener and less densely populated than many other areas. Some of the leafiest and most upscale neighborhoods, such as Kifissia and Psychico, are located in North Athens. The northern suburbs have lots of high-end boutiques and exclusive restaurants, big parks and playgrounds and they are also located in relatively close proximity to Pendeli and Parnitha mountains.

Sadly, Parnitha Mountain saw lots of serious forest fires this past summer, but thankfully there is still a lot of greenery that gifts residents with hiking opportunities, beautiful views and cleaner air than other parts of Athens.

It’s important to note that Kifissia is connected with downtown Athens via the green train line which makes it easy for commuters working downtown to avoid congested streets and car fumes on their way to work.

Psychico is just off the main multi-lane avenue which connects Kifissia to downtown. Commuters can drive or catch a bus to get to the city center.

• The more solidly middle-class neighborhoods of Vrilissia, Halandri and Aghia Paraskevi are lively areas with lots of trendy cafes, bars, eateries and shops. Halandri has the biggest and busiest commercial districts of the three.

You will find more modest houses and apartment buildings in these neighborhoods than in some of the more exclusive areas, but these are generally nice clean places to live and more down to earth than the fancier suburbs whose residents are sometimes overly focused on the latest designer handbag or wristwatch.

Maroussi is another northern suburb, the center of which is right on the green train line which shuttles passengers to the heart of Athens in just over 20 minutes. It has an extensive and veryª walkable commercial district. Maroussi is rather more densely populated than other northern suburbs (think lots and lots of 5-storey apartment buildings), but it also has many tree-lined streets and is generally quiet and well kept.

• The more rustic suburbs of Pendeli (split into Old and New Pendeli) lie right on the side of the mountain of the same name and are perfect for those who love pine trees, great views, fresh mountain air and quieter shopping areas. New Pendeli (Nea Pendeli) has a lovely and lively square with a fun ice cream parlor, several great restaurants, a super playground and open areas where the kids can bike away the long Greek summer evenings when the hot sun has gone down a bit. Just off the main square however, the peaceful streets are the appeal for
many who work downtown but like to escape the noise and traffic in their free time.

Old Pendeli (Palia Pendeli) is famous among Athenians for its tavernas which specialize in grilled meat dishes. It buzzes with families devouring their perfectly-seasoned chops and spare ribs for Sunday lunch.

Also, a good number of the city’s international/English-language nurseries and schools are located in the North, so expats with children commonly make their homes in this part of Athens.

South by the sea

South of Athens, the cosmopolitan seaside suburbs (Glyfada,Voula and Vouliagmeni, to name a few) are favorites for those who love the deep blue, open skies and cosmopolitan vibes. Along this coastline, you can find colorful marinas, esplanades lined with palm trees and, at the very tip, the archaeological jewel of Attica — the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio. The waters of Sounio are also said to be the cleanest in the Athens area.

Residents of the south also often enjoy delicious seafood in the coastal village of Anavyssos.

Glyfada is the largest suburb of the south and is a bit like a mini-Miami with its showy coastal residences, shiny stores and restaurants, huge seaside nightclubs and its modern marina.

• Just before you get to Glyfada, in the area where the now-disused old Athens Ellinikon Airport was located, a huge urban development project is underway. It is set to include office buildings, residential spaces and smart green parks, one of which has been partially completed.

• A popular spot along the Athens Riviera (which is what some call this coastline south of the city), Voula has lots of seaside hotels and clear, shallow waters. Many locals swim all year long in Voula. The area’s climate is known to be quite mild even in winter. Sadly, locals and tourists complain about the cigarette butts and dog mess which are the scourge of many Greek beaches near the capital (and further afield too).

Asklipeio Hospital, one of the largest public hospitals of the greater Athens area, is located here, just 16 km south of downtown Athens.

Vouliagmeni an effortlessly chic area, whether you are sitting in a timeless, unpretentious taverna by the sea or sipping a contemporary cocktail at one of the area’s luxury beach bars There are many stylish apartments and deluxe single-family homes in the residential sections of Vouliagmeni and many affluent Athenians call this suburb home.

• Just south of Vouliagmeni proper lies a natural spa in the form of a brackish lake which is fed by underwater currents. Due to the fact that the water temperature rarely goes below the mid-20s Centigrade, the lake (which is also rich in hydrogen sulphide) functions as a year-round destination for locals and tourists.

The port of Rafina (Pixabay)

Affordable coastal suburbs of the East

Much more humble and modest than their southern seaside suburbian cousins, these little coastal towns are becoming more and more popular with Athenians who are tired of the city’s traffic and noise and who want to slow it down in their non-working hours. Rents are a bit more affordable than in Athens and those who don’t mind the commute say it is the best change they have ever made.

Lots of outdoorsy folks who were feeling trapped downtown during the pandemic lockdowns have made life changes including a move to one of these areas where they could work from home with a view of sea and sky. The eastern suburbs are also popular destinations for day-tripping Athenians looking for a quick swim and a meal at a small, family-run seaside tavern. Nevertheless, these burgs manage to retain their sleepy village charm as they lack the shine and high energy of the Athenian Riviera—alas, that is why they are also preferred by many.

• The little town of Nea Makri is lot less glamorous than the towns on the Athens Riviera, but it is also significantly cheaper. With a view of the mountains behind you and the sea in front of you, there is a lot to be said for living in this somewhat haphazardly-arranged area. You can get anything you need here without driving for more than 10 minutes and the cool sea breeze makes it so much more bearable than sweltering Athens in the warmer months.

The quiet and mild winters are perfect for outdoorsy types to get in their outdoor time all year long with little fuss and really, who doesn’t like to zone out looking at the big blue whenever it strikes their fancy?

Also, the historical village of Marathon (where the classic Athens Marathon starts) and the beautiful pine-lined beaches of Skinias are a just a stone’s throw from Nea Makri and not to be missed!

Rafina, the suburban port town of the Eastern coast of Attica, is home to about 14,000 permanent residents and the population swells in the summer as many Athenians have a summer cottage, modest apartment or even a trailer in the area. The warm months also bring cultural events to the suburb, such as a musical celebration of the full moon of August. Residents like to hop on the ferries at the port to get over to the nearby island of Evia or out to one of the wonderful Cycladic islands such as Syros, Naxos or Sikinos, to name just a few.

The port of Rafina is preferred by many over the port of Pireaus due to the fact that it is much smaller, quieter and less confusing to navigate.

You can jump to Part 2 here.

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About the author:

A Pittsburgher by birth, Christina T. Hudson is also half Greek and has – so far – spent most of her life in Athens, the chaotic but captivating capital city of Greece. She studied Language and Literature at Moravian College and has worked as a teacher, an editor, a writer and a photographer.

You can see more of her work here at A Pixel for Your Thoughts.

You can see more of her posts here.

See more about Greece in Dispatches’ archive here. 

See more about Athens in our archives here.

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