Being a Tourist in Athens – It’s All Greek to Me

Being a Tourist in AthensThis 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

being a tourist in AthensUnlike 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. 


Get More Recommendations for Athens Restaurants Here. Or, if traveling around Greece, check out these Mykonos travel tips.


being a tourist in AthensAlthough I have some English translations for dishes we ate, and loved, I cannot share many of the Greek names.  It was just too difficult to even attempt to keep track. 

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?

being a tourist in AthensThat 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.

13 thoughts on “Being a Tourist in Athens – It’s All Greek to Me

  1. Edwina says:

    I was really amazed how friendly the taxi drivers were as well! Especially after my hotel warned me in advance that I might be scammed and explaining in detail how much it should cost… never had a problem, and had lots of friendly chats with the drivers, especially the driver from the airport to the city who explained all the sights on the route to me in detail, at 1am.

    And it also took me about an hour to find out the name of a restaurant I ate at so I could write about it, so I feel your pain!

  2. Chanel | Cultural Xplorer says:

    The only thing that helped me with the Greek in Greece was joining a sorority in college, where I was forced to learn the alphabet. I was surprised at how useful learning it turned out to be 🙂 – otherwise it would have all been Greek to me as well!

  3. Anna says:

    well, we call the stuffed vine leaves dolmas as well. Giaprakia is also used, but not that common, because they use this term in a specific area of Greece. I thought that most restaurants in Plaka do also write their name in English, but as for the streets, our signs always have the name in English too, so it’s not only in Greek!

  4. Greg25 says:

    I was also in Athens and to be honest it was a really hot and somehow confusing city for me during the summer time. All in all there is many interesting spots to visit there.

  5. Claudia says:

    Nice post!I’m sure you had a great time in Greece, like we did! Haha I find it funny, because same happened to us last summer! My boyfriend and I went to Athens and Santorini and the food was amazing, but .. it was all Greek to us! We got the hang of it eventually but, dear Lord, the names of the traditional delicacies (well, yes, the streets too!) were so hard to grasp and pronounce! From my experience the most important words for food are souvlaki, tzatziki and mousaka (they’re also delicious!). Also, vinsanto is the delicious wine in Santorini! What helped me during our stay was some videos with this nice guy, explaining basic Greek! Wasn’t even that hard! He also teaches how to count!
    As for the taxi, be cautious, because many drivers give higher price than the fare is or charge more for the luggage..
    I hope this helps! Safe travels!

  6. Nick K says:

    Athens is great my parents are originally from Greece but we must always have to fly into athens stay at one of the Hotels in Athens Greecethen fly out to the island of Karpathos and Rhodes and ill tell you what civilization can be scarce but the food and appreciation for Greece and small village living is amazing my grandmother used to go get fresh eggs god rest her soul at the age of 89 from up in the mountains from the chickens and milk from the goats that she later boiled at the house all in all Athens is great to goto but if you want that really peaceful vacation getaway look at the smaller south eastern islands.

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