An American couple left Florida to work as digital nomads in Greece. Here they describe their experiences living and working in Athens since May 2021, when Greece opened for travel.
By Ian & Amy Anderson
Good travel is about experiencing the things you can’t find at home. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone and hesitantly saying “Ummm, okay, let’s do it!” It’s about having tiny wild fish nibble at your bare feet, eating sea urchin and climbing an ancient fortress. After three months in Athens, we know that Greece delivers an adventure you’ll never forget.
When Americans think of Greece we typically think of two things: the Acropolis and the white buildings of Santorini. But after three months of living in Greece, we now know that, just like Moussaka, there are many more layers to be enjoyed.
Before coming here we knew that Athens was a big city, so we assumed that Uber was available here — and we were right — but instead of the Uber app summoning some random dude’s car, in Athens, Ubers are actually taxis. It’s the same Uber app, but you get a standard-looking yellow taxi when you request a ride (and some of the time it’s a Mercedes taxi).
I’m assuming the Greek taxi industry had some influence in that decision.
Talking about getting around, Athens has something most US cities lack: a tram system.
Moving around Athens
The Athens tram is very easy to use. Simply go to any tram stop, buy a ticket and hop on. We bought the ten plus one ticket (not sure why they don’t just call it the eleven ride ticket) for around thirteen Euros. That comes out to just over one Euro per ride (as far as you want to go). That’s a great deal, considering a single Uber ride from Paleo Faliro to Piraeus costs eight euros.
The ticket can also be used with the electric bus system that can reach destinations outside of the tram track. The problem for Americans is that the digital signs on the bus (that tell you where the bus is going) are not in English. We avoided the bus system out of fear of not knowing where we would end up. Although, as I write this, it might have been a fun adventure to hop on one and see where it goes and if we got lost, just Uber back.
Once you have your ticket and you get on the tram, you scan it on the blue card reader inside the tram doors when you step in. At least that’s what we did… but that’s not what everyone does. After observing hundreds of passengers on my eleven rides, I can confirm that about seven out of ten people that get on the tram never scan a ticket. Maybe there is a valid reason why. Maybe certain groups of people (students, veterans, seniors, etc…) get to ride it for free? Not sure but many times I felt like the sucker that didn’t know something everyone else did.
You can take the tram to lots of places around Athens but before you hop on, do a Google search “Athens Tram Map” and download the map image to your phone. Our Airbnb (which I saved thousands of dollars on) is one block away from the Panagitsa stop so the three tram endpoints were the Acropolis (North), Glyfada (South) and Piraeus (West).
Our very first tram ride was to Monastiraki, where we ventured up to the top of the Acropolis to check out the Parthenon. In the United States, the words Acropolis and Parthenon are used interchangeably. Most Americans don’t actually know the difference between the two. What’s worse, is that sometimes those two words are not even used for Greek things. While we were growing up, there was a Italian restaurant called “Acropolis Pizza.” I used to not think much of the name, but now it feels wrong. Imagine the confusion and anger a restaurant name like “Eiffel Tower Tacos” would cause the French and the Mexicans.
For the American reader of this article: the Acropolis is the giant rock hill in the middle of Athens and the Parthenon is the ancient structure on top of it.
Digital nomads and web designers
Everyone’s Greek adventure is different, so before we tell you about a normal day for us in Athens, it’s important to give you a little backstory. We are Ian (40) and Amy Anderson (37), a married couple from Tampa, Florida, USA. We are both web designers and for the past twelve years we have been running our own web design and consulting company from our laptops.
We can work remotely from pretty much anywhere in the world so in August of 2020 we decided to take the leap and travel the world as digital nomads. We stay in Airbnbs (saving lots of money by negotiating) and change countries every three months or so. Prior to Greece, we had visited Aruba, Croatia, Italy and Montenegro. Greece has always been a place that we wanted to visit so we were super excited to learn that Greece was reopening to tourists on May 14th (and that was the day we landed at Athens International Airport).
After successfully negotiating with the Airbnb host and saving thousands of dollars on our three month stay, we decided to put our Greek roots down along the Athenian Riviera in a community called Palaio Faliro. I’ve tried saying that name dozens of times since we’ve been here, but my pronunciation is typically met with squinty eyes and tilted heads of the local Greek I am speaking with.
Living the digital nomad life in Faliro
Unlike Piraeus or Monastiraki, Palaio Faliro is more residential than touristy, meaning there aren’t tons of restaurants, shopping and activities to do around here but — don’t worry — you won’t be bored either.
The main street that runs through it and down to Edem Beach has a small assortment of lovely cafes, convenience stores (that you can skip, I’ll tell you why in a minute), tram stops and souvlaki joints, as well as a huge church that any American would be enchanted with. The church, called the Panagitsa of Paleo Faliro, it has three ornate gold and blue doors on the front, light tan stones form the walls, burnt orange tiles are on the roof and it’s all topped with a blue cross that illuminates at night. Think of a typical Greek church and you’re picturing the Panagitsa of Paleo Faliro. It’s the perfect place for a digital nomad couple.
Being a “digital nomad” makes people’s brains tingle with thoughts of a never-ending Instagram-worthy life. I don’t want to disappoint you, but the reality is that we are still working while we are traveling, and it’s extremely important that we’re managing our work schedule to ensure that we meet all of our project deadlines.
Fortunately, we created a business model that doesn’t revolve around a traditional Monday through Friday 9-5 schedule, and instead all our web design projects are deadline based. This means we complete them by a certain date and not a certain time. Not having to sit at our laptops at a certain time of day gives us a lot of flexibility — plus it allows us to visit countries that have vastly different time zones than where our clients are located in the USA.
If it’s 4 AM and we can’t sleep… we can get up and push the latest design project forward.
If it’s a beautiful day and we want to go to the beach for a few hours… no problem, we’ll just work when we get back.
Assuming we are being responsible adults and having a “regular” work day, we typically get up around 10 AM, have some coffee and then we’ll get some exercise in.
Open outdoor gyms
The closest beach to our discounted Airbnb is Edem Beach (we’ll talk about the beach in a bit) and it has something most beaches don’t… a gym. Not a gym where you have to be a member and get a locker to put your stuff. This is a free, public outdoor gym right on the beach.
The exercise equipment is mostly bodyweight workout equipment (meaning there are no weights to adjust, you are just using your own weight as resistance) and a few human-powered stationary bikes. The pull down machine, leg press and exercise bench have enough options for most people who exercise.
The best part was that the majority of other people at the gym were older folks. People in their sixties and seventies would work up a sweat alongside me. This gave me hope about what’s possible when I’m that age. Most American senior citizens spend their time sitting in a chair watching the news and complaining about the neighbors. We hope that we’re as active as the Greeks when we’re senior citizens.
After the beach workout we head back to our Airbnb, shower, get food and get to work. We process all the emails that have come in overnight (typically these are updates to existing websites) then we push any in-progress projects forward. Like most web designers, on any given day we are designing web pages, resizing photos for galleries, setting up DNS records, managing web servers and quoting new projects.
After six hours or so of work (some days are much longer) it’s time to enjoy our evening in Athens. Depending on how work went, our evening might include a sunset walk along Edem Beach or maybe a casual dinner at one of the many restaurants at the Flisvos Marina. Evenings typically end with binge watching some Netflix shows.
Here’s a tip for other travelers / digital nomads: get yourself a VPN for all your devices. A VPN (among other things) is going to route your internet traffic through different countries which is going to give you access to country-specific content. This is important if your favorite Netflix show is only available in the USA and you are in Greece (or another country).
The digital nomad weekend
That’s typically our Monday through Friday, but generally speaking, Saturdays and Sundays are about doing all the fun things we’ve been thinking about during the work week.
When the weekend rolls around, we walk less than a half a mile from our AirBNB to Edem Beach (it’s about a 10 minute walk). After crossing Leof. Poseidonos – the busy street that runs in front of the beach — and then down one of the many walkways, you are taken down about twenty feet from the street level to the warm sand and palm trees.
Hitting the beach
Edem Beach is very sandy with a sprinkling of fist-sized rocks that are perfect for holding down the edges of your beach towel. Just like movie theatre seating rules, you’ll want to find a sandy spot with a good view of the water, but not directly in front of, nor adjacent to another beach goer. Position your towel in a staggered (and courteous) fashion and everyone can enjoy the view.
Remember when I told you that you can skip the convenience stores located along the street near the beach? Here’s a secret that those stores don’t want you to know… when you are on the beach, every four minutes (or so) you’ll see traveling salespeople singing the sweet sound of capitalism right by your beach blanket.
These folks have just about everything you’ll need during your stay on the beach and I love the sheer weirdness of their wares. You’ll see an assortment of fresh and prepared foods, cold drinks, sunglasses, colorful beach floats, henna tattoos and even massages — all brought right to your beach towel.
This symphony of wandering sales people seems to be internally orchestrated to not cross paths with a competitor selling the same thing along their sandy journey. Sure, the sunglass guy walks near the chip guy and the banana guy but you’ll never see two sunglass guys pitching their goods to the same sunburned tourist.
If you’re worried that you’ll miss one of them when your eyes are closed, well, good news… they are also the loudest people on the beach. They want everyone to know that THEY are the ones selling the best “Coca Cola and Fanta products” so they yell it out every third step on their endless beach journey.
Most of the people that we saw purchasing these goods seemed to be either locals or non-USA tourists. In all honesty, we steered clear of consuming anything that was being sold on the beach.
In the USA, we are taught to avoid these types of salespeople and transactions at all costs, due to the possibility that the food or drinks have been tampered with or that the merchandise is a knock-off. If it’s not from a reputable store and sealed tight in environmentally-killing packaging, Americans aren’t buying it. There’s a good chance that American society, along with all of it’s over-regulation of things, made us too apprehensive to purchase anything these people were selling.
Maybe we (as Americans) should loosen up and give the mobile beach cuisine a try. In all the hours we spent on the beach we never saw anyone die after drinking the beer from the salesman’s (slightly dirty looking cooler) or from eating the loukoumades that were served unwrapped and directly out of a plastic grocery shopping bag.
But then again, maybe we were in the water at the time of death.
Between the warm sand, gorgeous ocean views and refreshing temperatures of the water, we enjoyed spending many hours each week at Edem Beach. The only downside is that just under the glittery ocean surface is an army of angry rocks that will bring any tourist to their knees. Literally.
In order to enjoy the water you need to avoid the endless sharp rocks that destroy your feet, but the techniques to do this will vary depending on your direction.
To enter the water you have to gently walk on the rocks, using your arms to shift your weight until it is deep enough to dive forward without tearing up your undercarriage. Gauge the depth correctly and you’ll be rewarded with a pleasant swimming experience; gauge incorrectly and you’ll end up with a bruised front side (and ego).
To exit the water, swim towards the shore until your elbows make an “L” and your hands are pawing at the rocks; the waves should just about be falling over your back. When the next wave pushes you forward, pop up quickly onto your feet and bravely deal with a few steps of rock until you hit the hot sand. If you think you are too cool for this crawl-and-pop technique — and you stand up too soon — you’ll drag out the agonizing rock march and awkwardly limp towards the sand. Keep an eye on the shoreline and you’ll see who chooses each method.
Overall, Edem Beach is fun and after a few hours of grilling our front and back sides it’s time to head back to our Airbnb, take a shower and find some food.
Endless culinary treasures for digital nomads
There are endless culinary treasures to be discovered in Greece, but where and how you get your food will drastically change the price. In our attempt to avoid overly tourist restaurants as well as American chain restaurants (I’m talking to you, McDonalds and TGI Fridays) here are our three typical dinner scenarios:
On lazy nights, we’ll use Wolt.com and get food delivered by scooter from the 417 restaurants around us within thirty minutes. The price can vary a lot so make sure you keep an eye out for the little Euro symbols (€) on the results page. The more Euro symbols, the more expensive it’s going to be.
Nights where we want to go out but still stay close, three blocks towards the beach is the very local restaurant called Tzitziras & Mitziras. Most of the Greek cuisine from your usual “20 Greek Foods You Must Try In Athens!” article you read online can probably be found here. As a bonus, there are a few friendly cats prowling the restaurant floor for scraps of food and if you give them a nibble, they’ll sit by your side the whole time. The menu includes a large list of Greek celebrities that have dined at the restaurant. I have no idea who any of them are but I do know that they are famous enough to be listed in the menu. So that counts for something.
If we want grilled meat (and who doesn’t) the closest souvlaki/gyro restaurant is Tasty Grill. Walking in, you can see and smell the moist hunks of meat spinning on the vertical rotisseries inside the open kitchen. The chefs who prepare the food welcome you to the restaurant with happy Greek greetings. Sitting at one of the ten (or so) tables, the lack of a front wall brings the street in full view as the electric tram, tiny European cars and speedy scooters pass by. The menu is handwritten in a paper notebook, which makes this experience even more enjoyable.
When we want to live it up a bit, we’ll grab an Uber and head over to Piraeus or Monastiraki for the night. For this article I’ll tell you about Monastiraki; however Piraeus is very similar but instead of Acropolis views, you’ve got views of gigantic yachts and the ocean.
Monastiraki is the area north of the Acropolis and its streets are filled with small shops selling clothes, jewelry, shoes, fresh juice, souvlaki, coffee, alcohol and anything else a tourist wants to splurge their vacation money on. At the entrance to each tourist shop is another jolly Greek shop owner happily singing the praises of their store to the hordes of tourists marching by.
Wandering around you’ll find a vast selection of food establishments, but one of the more visually interesting places is the Little Kook. It’s a strange name for a strange place. The exterior is heavily decorated in an multi-layered, eye-popping collection of bright colors, statues of fictional characters, horses, lights, flowers, and umbrellas AND they change the entire thing about three times a year. When we visited, it was like Peter Pan and Pirates of the Caribbean vomited (tastefully) onto the building and the adjacent street. Even if you don’t want any of the diabetes-inducing desserts, you need to walk by just for a ridiculously awesome selfie.
Being so close to the Acropolis there are lots of rooftop restaurants in Monastiraki, too many to list here (Google “Monastiraki Rooftop Restaurant” to see what I mean). Each one will have tiny tables crammed close together along with a great view on the Acropolis. The food at these restaurants is mostly average and typically overpriced but you aren’t paying for the food here, you’re paying for the view.
Your view of the Acropolis (from any restaurant) gets better looking as the night goes on. The bright afternoon sun makes the giant rock formation seem almost Photoshopped onto the perfect blue Greek sky. As the orange and red colors from the setting sun brush the sides of the Acropolis you start to see intricate shadows in the rock base that give it beautiful depth and an ancient texture. When nighttime arrives, huge upward facing lights illuminate all the sides of the rock and the Parthenon in a golden glow. The pitch-black night sky canvas with the elevated ancient nightlight makes the last few overpriced drinks of the night all worth it.
More things to do in Athens
If you’ve gotten this far and want more adventures in Athens, here are seven additional things we really enjoyed:
Lake Vouliagmeni: Ever swim near the base of a giant rock formation? Ever have wild fish nibble at your feet? Why not do both of them at the same time? The still, blue-green water of Lake Vouliagmeni is surrounded by umbrellas, cocktails and food on one side and a giant rock wall on the other. The only thing I didn’t like is the cost to get in. For three people it costs 54 Euros just to enter (food and drinks are extra).
Psarades Restaurant: This extremely local restaurant (yay!) is where we first tried sea urchin. To be honest, it just tasted like chunky salt water but it was an experience we wanted to have. The best thing we had (and highly recommend that you order) was the baklava. Even if you’ve had baklava before, you haven’t had it like this. This isn’t some tiny piece of baklava, it’s a tall cake-slice size piece of baklava with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It’s baklava perfection. Months after those few minutes of baklava heaven, I still sometimes think about its honey, nutty goodness.
Acropolis and Parthenon: Like the Colosseum in Rome and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, this is something every traveler needs to experience once. It’s higher than I expected, and if you are not in shape you are going to have a tough time on the rugged sandy trails and stone steps that snake up the side. There is no elevator or cable car to get you to the top, you gotta walk this one. Once you get to the top, you’ll see amazing views of Athens from the sea to the mountains. Being so close to the Parthenon makes you think of the centuries of Greeks that stood here before. The tickets were 20 Euros per person, but totally worth it. Do this.
VR Utopia: If shooting zombies, swinging a lightsaber at oncoming musical notes and firing a bow and arrow at an invading army of warlocks sounds like fun to you… then head to VR Utopia. The owner is a great guy who really loves VR, he sticks by your side the entire time and guides you through all the virtual fun. This VR experience is much more exciting than the five minutes you get at Allou Fun Park. It’s an incredible deal at 10 Euros per person per hour but don’t just show up at the door… you need to make an appointment first.
Nest Rooftop Restaurant: What I’ll always remember about the Nest Restaurant in Piraeus isn’t the food, it’s the place where I took the best photo of my life. The view from the front of the restaurant is spectacular. You’ll see the Acropolis and all the way down the coast to Glyfada BUT if you head past the bar (on the right) and go outside, you’ll see hundreds of white Piraeus buildings clinging onto the side of an enormous hill. If you catch it at sunset, you can take an amazing photo like this:
Piraeus: Near the cruise port is the area of Athens called Piraeus which has tons of stores and restaurants and an awesome circular marina filled with boats. Along the edge of the marina are tons of restaurants and bars, and at night the place explodes with people. If you’d like a chaotic restaurant and bar-hopping evening, head over to Piraeus on a weekend night.
Skybar 360 (Poseidon Hotel): Across the street from Edem Beach is the Poseidon Hotel. From the street it looks like any other hotel, but it’s hiding a surprise on top. After taking the elevator and a few flights of stairs you’ll get to the top of the hotel where you’ll find lounge chairs, a pool, drinks and food. Stay here until the sunset and make sure your phone is charged for all the selfies you’ll be taking. When it gets dark and the street lights turn on, it’s a great place for something like this:
At this point in the article I hope you are ready to book your flight to Athens, negotiate huge savings on your Airbnb (it’s easy!) and start your own Greek adventure.
Follow the authors of this article for more digital nomad adventures: