This is a joke that just did not get old, at least with us, during our time being a tourist in Athens. It may annoy the Greeks, and it may be passé, but for us, it was truly our experience in Athens, Greece. It’s All Greek to Me.
Yes, I had that many problems with the language while being a tourist in Athens.
The Greek language uses the unique Greek alphabet, similar to Russian’s Cyrillic. It may look slightly familiar to the Roman languages, but then there are these unusual looking characters that are stuck in there to make it just confusing enough to throw me off. This was particularly true after visiting Spain and Italy for three weeks, where I can fumble my way through the language.
Finding Food While Being a Tourist in Athens
Unlike other cities we’ve visited, I cannot give specific examples or tips as far as what to eat, or even where to eat. Often, Athenians would ask us the name of the restaurant we went to, and that we raved about, but we could not even give them the name of the restaurant, or the street, or even the neighborhood because it was written in Greek.
When staying at the Civitel Olympic hotel in northern Athens, they recommended a nearby square with restaurants. We ate there twice. I cannot tell you the name of the square or the restaurant. Our favorite seafood restaurant when we were living like locals in Athens was called Kiourtos. I only know this because it said so on the wifi connection. The menu said something totally different.
In fact, even with the English menus, we were surprised that many typical Greek dishes that we ate had different names in Greece than what I was used to in the US. We lived in areas with big Greek populations – like New Jersey and Chicago, so I have been familiar with dishes like tzatziki, gyros, and kebabs. These were recognizable on the menus in Athens.
But, what I refer to as baba ganoush is called eggplant salad in Athens. I have always known stuffed grape leaves as dolmas, but in Athens they are called giaprakia. This was just one more thing to confused the heck out of me while being a tourist in Athens.
The food was good, recognizable, and easy to order once we learned the few little tricks, but everything was just slightly different from what we were used to in the US. It was all Greek to me.
Is it Easy Being a Tourist in Athens?
That is not to say that Athens was a hard place to get around for tourists. On the contrary, the bus was easy to navigate, as was the metro. Most places had an English language menu, even in very non-touristy neighborhoods. And, there was always a server nearby to help with the menu, and any questions we had.
Even beyond restaurants and public transportation, what is most important here is that everyone we met was unbelievably friendly and helpful, offering us directions, or suggestions on what to eat. The guy who greeted us at reception each day at the Civitel became obsessed with my blog, and offered us suggestions on dishes to seek out, and even tried talking us into returning to Greece to experience a real Greek Easter.
What was even more surprising was how nice the taxi drivers were in Athens. I despise taking taxis when traveling overseas, because I have been scammed more times than I can count. Because our hotel was north of the city, though, we were often left late at night needing a taxi home. Every taxi we took was clean, the fare was very reasonable, and the taxi drivers were all amazing. They were not only polite, but not one tried to scam us. And, when we took at least a half dozen taxis in a week-long trip, this was amazing.
So, yeah, the language in Athens was all Greek to me, making things a little bit of a challenge. But, my experience of being a tourist in Athens was surprisingly good. The food, the transport, the people, and even the taxi drivers, made the entire experience unbelievably pleasant.
Thank you to the Civitel Olympic Hotel for hosting us while I played the role of a tourist in Athens.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.