Living in Athens: Reflections After 2.5 Years in the Greek Capital

I try to keep my blog free of any personal, diary-type posts. I created this website so that it would be a useful travel resource about Greece, rather than something that documents my life events. However, I know that the vast majority of people that read High Heels and a Backpack are interested in living in Athens and living out their own “Eat Pray Love” style adventure with some handsome Greek god named Giannis… or at the very least, they want to travel through Greece

So, I decided to write an update about what things here have been like. It’s been a while since I published an update of this kind – I last discussed what it was like living in Greece just 12 months after arriving. Things have come a long way since then. Before I begin, please keep in mind that this is all my personal experience. Experiences here are different for everyone. I also live in Athens so that experience is somewhat different from living on an island or somewhere remote and “out in the sticks”. 

I moved to Greece kind of by accident. I was living in Naples, Italy and, wanting a change of scenery from the chaos of Southern Italy, I decided to base myself in Athens for two months to explore someplace new. I never intended to stick around as long as I have done. 

Living in 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 the centre of Athens, but I had moved to the cute and quirky neighbourhood of Pangrati

Pangrati reminded me a bit of New York’s Greenwich Village before the hipsters gentrified it. My neighbourhood 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 – 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 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. 

When I arrived in Summer 2017, I rented an Airbnb on Eratosthenous, near the old stadium “Kallimarmaro”. I paid £420 for a cute one-bedroom place. At the time, that was considered pretty expensive but property prices have soared phenomenally since then. Now you’re lucky if you find a place for £650 a month which, FYI is a lot in a country where the average monthly wage is £600. 

Choosing to Stay in Greece

Karpenisi, Central Greece
Karpenisi, Central Greece

I met a handsome Greek Policeman almost immediately after arriving in Greece and fell completely in love. I decided to stay to see where the relationship would go. It didn’t work out, but I don’t regret my decision. 

Writing about Greece on this blog has become my full-time job now, and I discovered a great passion for a country that I had never previously wanted to visit. 

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. 

When I arrived, I went to a lot of Couchsurfing meetings to try and meet people, but they were always just passing through. On Christmas Day during my first year here, some Israeli dude had organised a CS event like “I’m alone, let’s eat!!” so I went and that dude (aka my friend Mike) turned out to be one of my best friends in Athens. 

Mike is far more outgoing and social, and less cynical and grumpy than me, so he always made huge efforts to organise events and bring people together. In no time, there was a big group of us from all different parts of the world – Colombia, Israel, Spain, UK, Italy, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Ukraine, 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 or 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”. 

Everything is Transient

Athens is a kind of transient place. As you may know, the Greek economy is not great still. Most people come here to work in temp call centres, as an au pair, or to teach English. One by one, everyone from our group left. I kept making efforts to meet others and met a handful of British Journalists – they left too! I’ve been here for 2.5 years now and sadly I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. 

Mike was my last good friend in Athens and when we met for dinner last week, he revealed he’s moving to the US! I was thinking of ways to stop this. Destroy his passport? Tweet @ Trump and tell him he has extremist views? Plant a weapon in his hand luggage? I’m joking of course, but it’s strange. It’s the end of an era, as I was telling him! 

It’s a really odd feeling to walk around Athens and see places where your friends used to live, or places where you would all hang out together, yet they have all left. It has been the same kind of transience with the people that I would co-work with – Digital Nomads never stick around in one place for very long. 

Of course, I could make an effort to host more events or get out and meet more people, but over the last few months, rightly or wrongly, I didn’t feel like working to build a social circle again only for everyone to leave in another six months. I spent most of my time working or with my boyfriend. In my free time, I started travelling more around Greece. 

Moving Apartments 23,239 Times 

After leaving my first temporary Airbnb, I spent some time living with my Greek (now ex) boyfriend. However, he lived in a really small studio in Pangrati and honestly, it was so claustrophobic and we were basically on top of each other all day. If you only have one room, it is definitely not ideal if one person loves playing video games and the other works remotely. The lease wasn’t up on his place, and it really wasn’t big enough for two people, so I tried to find my own place. 

Finding an apartment in Athens was far from easy. It’s getting even worse now because so many apartments have been gobbled up by Airbnb. Property/rental websites are slim pickings and Airbnb has driven the cost of rent up to a phenomenal degree. 

When I first arrived though, living out of Airbnbs made sense. It wasn’t expensive and I wasn’t sure about how long I wanted to commit to living in Greece. Signing a year-long lease made me nervous. 

I rented a place in Patission for a while. It was HUGE and really nice, however the area was a little sketchy and after two months, the owner wanted to sell the property. I then rented a place on Dikearchou, near the Athens Cemetery. Unfortunately then, that landlord got greedy and kept increasing and increasing my rent until it really wasn’t worth it. I was basically paying UK rental prices. He thought he could make more money renting to tourists through Airbnb, so I left. 

Eventually, I found my apartment – a lovely two-bedroom place in Pangrati/Vyronas. The process was far from breezy though. Another thing I noticed a lot in Greece – Athens especially, is that as soon as people hear a British accent, they see dollar signs in their eyes and think that you have loads of money. 

I had a hard time finding a place because sometimes a listing would say one price on Spitogatos (our property site), and when I went to view it, the owner told me something else.

Once, a Spanish friend was leaving an apartment that she rented in Agios Ioannis and I was considering taking it over. She told me the rental price, and the owner tried to double it! Nada. Not happening. 

Exploring More of Greece 

Megalo Chorio, Central Greece

I’ve been spending a lot more time travelling through Greece lately. I’m lucky because I am self-employed, not employed by a Greek company and tied to an office. I can work as much as I like, wherever I like, so I made it my mission to see as much of the country as I could. 

Actually, there is so much Greece and not enough time! This year I went sailing around the Saronic, visited some of the islands near Athens, explored Central and Northern Greece fairly extensively, and based myself in Thessaloniki for a month over the summer

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 who 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. Whereas Athens can feel very claustrophobic at times as there is very little greenery. If anyone is reading this and is torn about whether to base themselves in Athens or Thessaloniki, I’d advise you to dive into the unknown and give Thessaloniki a try! 

We’re Going on a Break 

Vouliagmeni, Athens Riviera
Vouliagmeni, Athens Riviera

I love Athens and Greece in general, very much! It has been my love for this country that has helped me to turn my blogging hobby into my full-time job. I have never been certain as to whether I saw Greece in my future, but for now, it’s home and I miss Athens a lot when I’m away.

In October, I ended my long term relationship. My partner was Greek and he didn’t enjoy travelling. This, in part, was the reason why my travels slowed down quite a bit over the last few years. I wanted to be with him and to be honest, we probably lived in each other’s pockets a bit too much. The combination of my relationship ending and my friends leaving made me feel that I wanted a change of scenery – at least for a little while.

I always came back to Greece and to my boyfriend. It has been quite a while since I engaged in long term travel – something I really enjoy. I miss aimlessly wandering around the world like a Drifter.

I decided that I would rent out my apartment, and take a year to travel and explore new places. Greece is still home for now, and I will still return to Athens when the 12 months are up. 2020 will see a lot of new adventures and though I will be outside of Athens, I will still spend a few months in lovely Greece, exploring some of the lesser-known islands around the Cyclades and the Sporades. 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.

9 thoughts on “Living in Athens: Reflections After 2.5 Years in the Greek Capital”

  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

Leave a Comment