Living in Athens, Greece – A Local’s Advice on What it’s Really Like [2021]

Living in Athens is quite an experience. Many people dream of packing their bags and moving to the Mediterranean but the fantasy is likely different from the reality. 

I have lived in Athens for four years at this point. There have been highs and lows to this time, just as would be the case with living anywhere. 

Living in Athens

Living in Athens doesn’t necessarily appeal to as many people as the concept of relocating to a Greek island. Athens doesn’t possess the same beauty as, say, the Cyclades.  

Living in Athens means contending with the ongoing ramifications of the Greek crisis, dealing with pollution, corruption, and congestion. The Greek way of life on the whole is typically more laid back than that in the west. But Athens certainly feels more “chaotic” than the islands.

Relocating to Athens 

Being a tourist at the Acropolis during my first week in Athens - Summer 2017
Summer 2017: Being a tourist at the Acropolis during my first week in Athens

I didn’t love Athens when I first arrived. I found it ugly and chaotic.

Honestly, the city took a really long time to grow on me. I still don’t love Syntagma and the centre of Athens.

However, I had moved to the cute and quirky neighbourhood of Pangrati. Arguably, this is one of the most artistic and charming of Athens’ districts.

Why is Athens so funky-looking?

Living in Athens: Ermou street
Living in Athens: Ermou street

Athens is not a beautiful city. Far from it.

Family and friends that came to visit me while living in Athens were often shocked by how run down some parts of the city are. When you consider Greece’s prominent role in history, you may expect to see a European capital filled with grand, ornate buildings.

This is not the case at all. But things haven’t always been this way.

In the early part of the 20th century, Athens was a different city entirely. Gorgeous mansions ran along leafy promenades and opened out into charming piazzas.

Sadly, Greece had experienced many financial and housing problems long before the renowned economic crisis that started in 2009. The return of Greek refugees from Turkey, the Axis occupation, and the Greek civil war left Athens with an overcrowding issue.

A solution was identified to solve this housing crisis: Antiparochi. In the 1950s, many of Athens’ elegant neoclassical mansions were knocked down to make space for apartment buildings.

If it looks like higgledypiggledy Athens was built in a hurry with no real city planning, that’s because it was. Many of the buildings here do look depressing and rundown.

This is not helped by the fact that there are very few green spaces. Many of the sidewalks are in really bad condition, falling apart, and filled with pot holes.

In some ways, this adds to the charm of Athens’ gritty character. Sometimes the most questionable-looking unsuspecting streets open out into lovely piazzas lined with tavernas and teeming with life. But when you are met with these views day after day, it can feel quite claustropobic.

My Charming Athenian Neighbourhood

I have lived in Pangrati, Athens for the last four years. Pangrati reminds me a bit of New York’s Greenwich Village before the hipsters gentrified it.

This district is filled with eclectic coffee bars, old book stores, and thrift shops selling vintage clothing and antiques.

Pangrati still has some of the “chaos” of Athens. It possesses the higgledy-piggledy building layout, the potholes in the roads and pavements, and the streets laden with ugly graffiti.

However, the magic thing about Pangrati is all of the cute “hole in the wall” hangout spots. There are so many charming bars, restaurants, and piazzas that are tucked away down unsuspecting sidestreets. 

That’s one awesome thing about Athens that most short-term visitors miss. It isn’t the Acropolis and the tourist sites that make it special; it’s the distinctly different neighbourhoods, each with their own unique personalities. 

The Athenian lifestyle

Living in Athens
Living in Athens

If there is one thing that you can credit to the Athenians, it’s that they know how to live. Here you will find that there is more emphasis on happiness, family time, and quality of life, than there is on material things.

This is a refreshing change from the mindset in many western countries. You can walk around Athens on any night of the week, often as late as 2-3am, and often find that coffee shops, tavernas, and bars are still overflowing with people.

Athenians, and Greeks generally, make the most out of their free time. They don’t simpy “live for the weekend” like a lot of western cultures.

That being said, Greeks do work incredibly hard. Most people work long hours and tend to work six days of the week.

People envy the Mediterranean lifestyle and there is often a perception that people in Southern Europe are lazy or don’t work often. This is far from the truth. They simply know how to make the most out of the free time that they do have.

The rising cost of living in Athens

Living in Athens
Living in Athens

The cost of living in Athens continues to soar with each passing year. This, in part, is due to problems caused by Airbnb.

Several years back, it was estimated that the living costs in Athens were around 30% lower than in other European cities. While it may be true that Athens is still notably cheaper than say, Rome, or London, costs are on the rise.

When Airbnb first arrived in Athens, it offered a glimmer of hope to those affected by the crisis. Many Athenians rented out their properties and spare rooms and saw it as a way to make up for income lost.

However, Airbnb is not regulated. The presence of short-term rental platforms like Airbnb has pushed the cost of living up and up and up. Now, Greeks cannot afford to live in their own Athens neighbourhoods.

In some districts, the cost of a studio apartment has soared from around €250 a month to over €500 in just a couple of years. This is not a marginal increase, particularly not in a country where the average monthly salary is between €500-€600 a month.

It is unfair for Greeks who are unable to find property, and it is unfair for foreigners who are perpetually overcharged and scammed. As an ex-pat, it is frustrating to always be charged a different price to the locals.

Again, this is not marginal. Foreigners are often quoted as much as 2-3 times as much as the going rate.

With Airbnb greed, and some assuming that the foreigners will pay whatever because they do not know the correct prices, it is unlikely that this issue will go anywhere any time soon. Dealing with corruption and landlords is a major headache of living in Athens.

I must have moved apartment 23,002 times while living in Athens (only a slight hyperbole!) I rented a lovely place behind Athens cemetery for a while but the owner kept increasing the rent so much that in the end, I was essentially paying UK prices!

Personal Life in Athens 

Ioannina, Northern Greece

Athens is different from other European capitals. The economy is still recovering and there really aren’t any international companies here. As a result of all of that, there is a very limited ex-pat community. 

Making friends in Athens

When I arrived in Athens in 2017, it was tough to meet people as there wasn’t much of an established Digital Nomad scene. Things have changed in the last few years.

Factors such as the Mediterranean lifestyle, proximity to islands, and lower cost of rent have attracted more remote workers. If you are considering living in Athens, you can find meetups and events through platforms such as Internations, Couchsurfing, and Meetup.

There are also many active Facebook groups for expats. You can simply post a comment here and for sure you will be able to find someone that wants to meet for coffee, organise a book club, etc.

The only issue is that Athens can be transient. A lot of people move here temporarily for the experience.

They live here for 6 months, a year or so, work in temporary jobs such as au pairs, call centre workers, or English teachers. After a while they leave, making it hard to find a stable friendship base.

Everything is transient

While living in Athens, I met my good friend Mike at a Couchsurfing meeting in 2017. He was more outgoing and social than me and he frequently hosted events.

In no time, there was a big group of us from all different parts of the world. We were friends from Colombia, Israel, Spain, UK, Italy, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Ukraine, and Greece.

At weekends we would have dinner parties where everyone made or bought something from their country. We would go to Latin clubs and try salsa dancing.

Sometimes we’d spend all night talking and laughing at sketchy tavernas where typos on the menu showcased dishes like “delicious bloaters” and “arrogant served in oil”. 

Sadly, one by one, everyone in our group left. I have seen a lot of people come and go over the last four years.

Exploring more of Greece 

Living in Athens puts you in a great position for exploring more of Greece. Primarily, there are many great places that you can visit on a day trip from Athens.

For instance, the magnificent ancient city of Delphi, the beaches of Vouliagmeni, and the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion can all be visited in just one day during your weekends. There are also many islands close to Athens that make a perfect weekend break – most notably the Saronic islands and some of the Cyclades.

Athens is situated in the southern part of Greece, and the country is larger than you may first realise. However, public transport links in Greece are excellent, and getting around the country generally does not break the bank.

Even if you want to travel from Athens to places such as the Sporades or the Ionian which are further away, it is very easy to do so. Living in Athens means that you have a plethora of domestic travel options right on your doorstep.

Athens versus Thessaloniki

I have also based myself in Thessaloniki for several months at a time. This gave me the opportunity to take a lot of day trips from Thessaloniki – including charming villages in Halkidiki, like Nikiti.

As someone who prefers mountains and nature to beaches and islands, I felt an immediate affection for Northern Greece. This is the “Central Macedonia” region of Greece and I find the people to be much friendlier here – perhaps the nicest in Greece!

I organised a lot of meetup events while in Thessaloniki over the summer and met some wonderful Greek locals. They have quickly become very close friends. 

People in Athens just don’t seem as friendly as in Thessaloniki. I guess it’s that “big city” thing.

Athenian drivers will speed through a red light, almost knocking you over, then turn their car around to pull over and tell you you’re a malaka! I think I preferred Thessaloniki more because it’s near the sea, too.

If you are torn between living in Athens or Thessaloniki, I’d advise you to dive into the unknown and give Thessaloniki a try! It may be lesser-known on an international scale but it has plenty to offer.

Final Thoughts

Vouliagmeni, Athens Riviera
Vouliagmeni, Athens Riviera

2021 will see a lot of new adventures. I will spend a lot of time outside of Athens and in other parts of Greece.

For instance, I will explore some of the lesser-known islands around the Cyclades and the Sporades (e.g. Alonissos). Perhaps I’ll post another update on my big fat Greek life in another year or two.

Until then, geia sou! Melissa xo


Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer and Blogger based in Athens, Greece. She writes for numerous high profile travel publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, Matador Network, The Times of Israel and The Huffington Post.

16 thoughts on “Living in Athens, Greece – A Local’s Advice on What it’s Really Like [2021]”

  1. Sounds like you’re soul searching. Looking for that one thing to sweep you of your feet and hold onto for the rest of your life. I know the feeling al to well.

    I’m from the Netherlands, and im living in London since last year. But I don’t like it here. Im considering going to Athens or Lisbon, but the reality is that I would rather explore what the world has to offer than stay in 1 place.

    I hope you’ll find what you want eventually.

    Reply
  2. Thanks for sharing your experience!! I am considering moving to Greece with my boyfriend of 5 years. He grew up in Greece and his family still lives there. He came to NYC for school a long time ago and we met here, but we are both sick of the “rat race” and he wants to live in Greece longterm. I have been to Greece 4 times on vacation. Two major points that you brought up really stuck out to me: 1) That there aren’t many opportunties for educated expats and 2) Women are expected to have a career AND do all of the household responsibilities. Both of these kind of freak me out, as I have three degrees here and would feel useless not being able to work! And I grew up with the gender roles totally reversed and I can totally feel how Greeks are behind with this. Any further thoughts on either of these?! Thanks! <3

    Reply
  3. Interesting blog but this is all common knowledge but reassuring in some way.
    I am planning on retiring (early 50s) to Greece. Luckily i dont need to work but the finding friends bit is a little worrying.
    The male attitude issue – all to well know unfortunately.
    I dont trust and never will trust the greeks… very sad.

    Reply
  4. Hi Melissa;

    do you have a recommendation for a good local website for rental/purchase properties within Greece? I see homegreekhome and tospitimou that have english sites, but they seem to cater to expats and the prices seem to reflect that. Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    • Hi Chris,

      Thanks for your comment. Have you tried Spitogatos or xe.gr? These are two of the most commonly used property sites in Greece. You can also check for listings on Greek Facebook property groups. However again, sometimes prices are inflated and you have to be aware of average prices in each area. If you receive a quote and you’re not sure about the price, it’s worth checking with locals/other expats in these groups.

      Kind Regards,
      Melissa

      Reply
  5. Hello Melissa

    When I am reading about your friends leaving one by one, I saw a part from my life. I am living in Athens for 4 years now and I watched everyone leave one by one and I became more alone. In my country I have a group of friends and I am very active but unfortunatelly in here it is not the case for me. If you decide to come back one day, lets grab a coffee in Piraeus and enjoy the sea view. Wish you a good luck with travel and looking forward to read your new adventures

    Reply
    • Hey Gulden! I am sorry to hear that. It seems a very transient place doesn’t it? I am actually back in Greece at the moment but I’ve been travelling around the Ionian and the Sporades for the last few months. Perhaps I will be back in Athens in December so would love to grab a coffee or so. Take care! Melissa

      Reply
  6. Melissa,

    Thoroughly have enjoyed your blog. I came to Athens on a whim circa Christmas, 2018 and ended up staying off and on for almost two years.

    I very much agree with the pros and cons…the Greeks are incredibly friendly, but as you noted, they tend to want to date and marry within their own culture. And aside from a few consultancies like Ernst & Young, there are not a ton of young international professionals.

    Having said that, there is something immensely charming about Greece. It gets under your skin in a good way. The pace of life is so strange and different. “I’ll meet you in Psiri for dinner at 9pm”….means…oh…11pm, perhaps. Or the following week, perhaps. And heaven forbid you need to schedule an appointment with a plumber to drop by your flat.

    As much as it irritated me initially, I have to admit I came to really appreciate that way of life. And I very much appreciated how family-oriented even a large city like Athens is. Certainly very different from my homeland, the US.

    And while I felt bad for the local businesses…I have to admit enjoying the lockdown and the post-lockdown lack of tourists. Being along in Greece just with Greeks…felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity.

    Plaka is beautifully surreal without tourists.

    Anyway, thanks for your wonderful writing. If you’re still around when I return in 2021, I’ll be happy to buy you one of those strangely sweet but cold coffees. 😉

    Reply
  7. Hi Melissa,

    We have owned a property in Rhodes since 2007 on the understanding we would retire there by 2025, however, never expected the Brexit effect, we continue to visit at least 3 times a year, independent in paying our electric, water and annual property tax in September, we both have 106/2007 beige cards and don’t know if these need to be renewed when we can next get over to Greece. Although we are not yet living in Greece, do you know if we should be reapplying for a replacement card.

    Many thanks

    Paul.

    Reply
  8. I found your account very interesting. I am looking to find somewhere to retire. Somewhere where the winters are warmer, cost of living cheaper and friendly locals. However, being an older single woman, this is not proving that simple. So far, I can’t get into Australia or Florida and the Spanish seem all too waspish post Brexit ! Any ideas ?

    Reply
  9. Hi Melissa. I only just found your blog, so I need to drop you this line to tell you how much I enjoyed your writing. If you ever get time to update this blog, please add some links to any other articles that you have authored. I share a lot of your mindset, and suspect that in our hearts we are both simply ‘people of the planet’ rather than feeling we only belong in one particular place, hence the little voice that occasionally tells us to ‘move on’. I’m a retired English businessman living with Evangelia, my Greek girlfriend in Chalkida (south Evia), both of which I love very much. Anyway, you sound a like a very interesting and ‘normal’ sort of girl (LOL, I say that only because many other writers, particularly mainstream media journalists are all lost their minds with TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome) and can’t put together a single sentence without mentioning Trump, or labeling anybody as a ‘racist or Nazi. Anyway, if you ever get bored, need a quick break from Athens, or your brain needs some vigorous discussion on almost any topic, you just contact us. Keep up the good work, I’d like to read more.

    Reply
  10. Thank you for sharing your experiences! I met my Greek partner in the UK just after we’d finished studying. He had to move back for military service and to work in the family business last year. We kept in long distance for a while but I broke up with him recently. Even though Athens is beautiful I just struggled to see myself move there, recognising issues with integration, the job market & negative perceptions of women! I just felt I’d be constantly dependent on him until I could learn Greek.

    Reply
  11. Hi Melissa,

    I am a Greek living in Athens and I have found it very interesting to read about our country through the eyes of someone who is not biased (with what Greeks are) but also from one that lives here long enough to have their own point of view. Go on and explore!

    Reply

Leave a Comment