Athens Travel Guide

Athens Travel Guide

Ah, Athens. Mother of democracy, daughter of Zeus and naughty stepsister of the global economic crisis. Lying at the juncture of Europe, Asia and Africa, Greece is lucky heir to the heritage of the Byzantine Empire, four centuries of Ottoman Turkish rule and Classical Greece. And so, its capital city, regardless of recent financial troubles and political turmoil, is still, without doubt, one of the world’s finest cities, drenched as it is in ancient history, trail-blazing culture and year-round sunshine. As for modern Athenians, nothing can keep them from their bold afternoon coffee breaks, street-side philosophising and endearing laissez-faire attitude. Nor should anything stop you. Savour the city slowly, soaking up the affordable luxury amid world-class archaeological sites, before hitting the grungier neighbourhoods for a taste of contemporary Greek culture and its glittering nightlife. Looking for the ultimate Athens points of interest? Mr Hudson’s Athens gay city guide has got you covered.

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The best hotels in Athens

Let’s start this gay Athens travel guide with a roundup of the best places to stay. Plaka is the old central standby that gets all the love (as well as the crowds), and understandably so: it’s the cultural heartbeat of the city and boasts many of the best things to do in Athens. Sitting downslope from the famed Acropolis and sandwiched east and west between humming Syntagma and Monastiraki squares, Plaka is Athens’ oldest and most famous neighbourhood. It also happens to be the location of AthensWas Hotel, offering central yet quiet accommodation tastefully designed with an archaic touch. As well as daily traditional Greek breakfasts, the hotel also boasts a quiet terrace and garden rooftop balcony offering unparalleled panoramas of the Acropolis and all of Athens. Just 200 metres from Monastiraki Square is 14 Reason Why, a beautiful property on prime real estate within walking distance of Ermou shopping area and the Roman Agora, featuring a terrace and shared lounge.

 

The Foundry Hotel

The Foundry Hotel

Northeast of Plaka you’ll find Kolonaki: elite, modern and sophisticated without being too pretentious. Home to Athens’ wealthiest locals and characterized by artisan shops, hip cafes and ritzy restaurants, it’s fashionable to stay in Kolonaki. With that in mind, why not try the Coco-Mat Hotel Athens? Offering well-located, elegantly designed units within one of the city’s most vibrant areas, Coco-Mat is a modish haven, providing relaxation, homemade breakfasts and select services. If being close to the beach is a priority, however, head down to Glyfada, a lively, lovely and self-sufficient seaside neighbourhood 30 minutes south of central Athens. Luxurious and contemporary minimalist Brasil Suites Boutique Hotel is a fine choice if you plan on staying in the area, just a short walk from Glyfada’s exclusive shopping district and beach.

Brasil Suites Boutique Hotel

Brasil Suites Boutique Hotel

Like the tales of London’s rats, epic history is never far from your feet whilst in Athens. The historic neighbourhood of Psyrri is an alternative to the tourist hub of Plaka, home to The Foundry Hotel, an urban boutique hotel that fuses industrial design with mid-century stylings. The walls of The Foundry have seen a lot, having served as a font foundry in the 1930s before developing into a printing house and then a cultural centre and art gallery in recent years. The property is now an urban sanctuary with low-key interiors and a vintage character. Take lunch on the rooftop’s picnic garden oasis for awe-inspiring views over the landmark Acropolis and across the whole city.

The Foundry Hotel

The Foundry Hotel

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Recommended hotels in Athens
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If you’re not done running away from urbanity, then climb aboard a cruise ship for a full day trip on the Aegean sea, around the gorgeous nearby islands of Poros, Hydra, and Aegina

Things to do in Athens

Ease yourself into the start of your trip to Athens with a visit to this centrally located café/bar housed within TAF The Art Foundation. In addition to fresh roasts, desserts, snacks and cocktails in a beautiful courtyard location, this educational art foundation also hosts various contemporary art exhibitions and creative events. Another prestigious site for art and culture is the Museum of Cycladic Art, where visitors can explore important examples of Athens’ architectural history, including the 19th century neoclassical Stathatos Mansion. The Main Building, itself an esteemed example of modern architecture, designed by Ioannis Vikelas and built in 1985, is home to all the museum’s permanent collections spread over 4 floors and connected to the New Wing by a glass-roofed corridor.

Photo: Paul Brennan

Photo: Paul Brennan

Claimed to cure many ailments and cleanse the skin of toxins, is Vouliagmeni Lake, situated just 20 kilometres from the city centre and therefore serving as the perfect retreat to discover a different – more tranquil – side to Athens. Maintaining a temperature of 24 °C thanks to underground hot springs, the water is packed with minerals and salts that your skin will appreciate. If you come on the right day, the various theatre performances and jazz concerts that are hosted beside the lake will also please your ears. And, if you’re not done running away from urbanity, then climb aboard a cruise ship for a full day trip on the Aegean sea, around the gorgeous nearby islands of Poros, Hydra, and Aegina. As well as spectacular sea views, Poros offers relaxation personified, with crystal clear waters and white sands, while artist’s refuge Hydra is great for a leisurely stroll.

Debatably the birthplace of the open-air cinema, Athens is no stranger to al fresco theatrics. While there are dozens in the city limits, the two most enchanting open-air cinemas are nestled beneath the Acropolis. First, there’s Cine Thisio which opened in 1935 and now serves up a unique experience, with its mid-movie offerings of traditional Greek snacks and beverages, such as homemade spoon sweets, gourmet fish roe (avgotaracho), wines and fiery brandies (Tsipouri). Then there’s the even older Cine Paris, beginning operation in 1920 and boasting wonderful views of the imposing Acropolis. Remaining open throughout September if the weather allows, the movies here are shown in their original languages with Greek subtitles.

Photo: Iuliia Isakova

Photo: Iuliia Isakova

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Recommended experiences in Athens
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Kallidromiou Street Market | Photo: Matthew Trinetti

Kallidromiou Street Market | Photo: Matthew Trinetti

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What to see in Athens

Top of the list of what to see in Athens is no doubt a visit to the Acropolis of Athens, the ancient citadel perched at rocky heights above the city at large. Containing the remains of several famed archaeological sites built by the advanced civilisations of millennia past, cross the entrance (or Propylaea) of the Acropolis to wander in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Socrates, Plato and many others. Before the midday heat hits, make sure to glimpse the Parthenon built in the 5th century BC and the sacred Erecthion which goes down in myth as the site of a great contest between Poseidon and Athena. The Ancient Agora of Athens is also notable as it has been occupied without interruption throughout the city’s history. For more knowledge on the subject, consider roaming the various archives and artefacts at the Acropolis Museum Agora of Athens.

Another top spot for Athens sightseeing is Monastiraki, a bustling square home to a 10th-century Orthodox monastery, once the hallmark of the Ottoman occupation. Now a beautifully painted little church of Panagia Pantanassa (the Most Holy Queen of All) is all that remains of the monastery, alongside which now stands the Tzistarakis mosque, founded in the 18th century triggering impressive economic growth and helping Monastiraki to become the commercial epicentre it is today. Over at Syntagma Square, visitors will find the site of the Hellenic parliament which remains guarded 24/7, 365 days a year by guards in traditional costumes of pleated skirts, leg tassels and pompom kicks. For a parliamentary catwalk like no other, make sure to find a spot in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier monument by 11 am to witness the Changing of the Guard.

Photo: John Koliogiannis

Acropolis

After exhausting Athens most-prized landmarks, discover what’s booming in this century with a walk through the gritty downtown district of Psirri. Find dynamic nightlife, alternative cafés, vintage stores and even an open-air museum of art. Don’t leave Psirri without having checked out Pittaki Street, also known as Athens’ Magical Lantern-Lit Alley, a street art installation developed by a non-profit, a creative studio and a group of art-loving locals who wanted to revamp their neighbourhood. Another off-the-beaten-track neighbourhood is Anafiotika, located in a little lesser-known part of Plaka, just a short climb and hunt away from the crowds. Adventurous travellers will love lofty Anafiotika, which features a cluster of whitewashed residences and whirling staircases. Reminiscent of the streets of Mykonos and a world away from the dusty metropolis below, find this beautiful spot on the north-eastern side of Acropolis hill.

Bright and early on a Saturday or Sunday you’ll want to make your way to Avissynias square where a vast antique market takes over the whole space, expanding onto Ermou street and all the way up to Thisseio metro station. Crammed with ceramics, records, old books and other antique finds, the market is also lined with various cafés and tavernas so that when you’ve had your fill of bargains you can have your fill of brunch!

The best annual events in Athens include Athens Gay Pride Week in June and the Outview LGBTQ+ Film Festival taking place between April and May. If you’d like to get involved in some charity work, there are various community projects in Athens geared towards LGBT life, for example, the awesome Color Youth organisation which aims to create a safe space and shelter for LGBTQ+ youth, while also raising awareness of institutional inequality. Another movement is the Athens Housing Collective, an organisation which helps LGBTQ+ refugees to integrate into Greek society, providing those in need with psychosocial support, food and healthcare resources, housing and job training.

Photo: Arthur Yeti

Photo: Arthur Yeti

Photo: Clark Van Der Beken

Photo: Clark Van Der Beken

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Kolonaki is your best bet for sheer volume and variety of dining options

Where to eat in Athens

Walk past the intrusive restaurant jockeys on Plaka’s Adrianou Street and head south to the upscale Strofi, which offers intimate views of the Acropolis and an inspiring take on the usual Greek fare. (It gets crowded, so reserve ahead and ask for a seat in the rooftop garden.) Further east, foodies will love the fine dining experience at Spondi and its impeccable ambience and unforgettable tastes from fresh seafood mousse to foie gras with candied bergamot, almonds and basil.

Kolonaki is your best bet for sheer volume and variety of dining options. Philos, meaning “friendship” in Greek, is a cafe and concept store that successfully bridges fashion, design and cuisine together into one homey destination. Nearby is Chez Michel, a new local haunt with a sprawling outdoor patio that has quickly captured the hearts of the locals. Self-proclaimed “Greek Chic” Gaidaros (meaning “donkey”) is a perfect spot for weekend brunch or a cheeky cocktail. For a healthy organic pick-me-up, swing by Pure Juice Bar just off Kolonaki’s main Skoufa street. In Gazi, check out highly rated seafood joint Sardelles and its next-door neighbour Butcher Shop, a meat lover’s dream come true. If you’re on the coast in Glyfada, don’t miss local favourite Sardelaki, famous for its ambience and variety of fish on offer.

Spondi

Spondi

Photo: Oleksii Khodakivskiy

Photo: Oleksii Khodakivskiy

Shopping in Athens

Kolonaki is where you’ll find Athens’ most unique shops, including Mr. Wood, a small accessories boutique hawking sunglasses, watches and mock bow ties made with as much wood as is structurally possible. Apivita is your one-stop shop for natural fragrances and creams made from all-natural iconic Greek ingredients like bee’s honey and pomegranate extract. Eftychia Ceramics is a small ceramics studio and shop run by Eftychia Barzou with handmade ceramic dinnerware, decorative and functional homeware on display. For more traditional name brands head to Attica, Athens’ most glamorous and Greece’s largest department store, sitting adjacent to Syntagma square.

A must-see market is Athens’ largest Central Market (or Dimotiki Agora, literally “Public Market”) where you’ll find 80 fruit and vegetable stands and over 250 butchers and seafood vendors selling and shouting. If you’re in Exarcheia on a Saturday, skip the tourist crowds at Central Market and ramble around the nameless farmers market on Kallidromiou street instead. For classic Greek biscuits and sweets, jam pack a box of goodies at the aptly named Athens Bakery in Kolonaki.

Apivita | Photo: Apivita

Apivita | Photo: Apivita

Athens nightlife

Easily the most liberal city in Greece, Athens – despite strong influence from the Greek Orthodox Church – offers a progressive European attitude towards the rights of its LGBT community. The city’s LGBT scene continues to thrive, finding its feet in the hip Gazi neighbourhood, a run-down old gasworks precinct that springs to life at night. But Gazi isn’t the only place to get your queer nightlife kicks. Oh no…

Start out by getting a better perspective on how your night will pan out at the heighty Galaxy Bar @ Hilton, the Hilton Hotel’s own iconic rooftop bar which marries fantastic panoramas with expertly crafted cocktails. Luxurious without being pretentious or intimidating, the Galaxy Bar is a prime meeting spot for sundowners and glittering city views. Back down at ground level, feel free to sniff out the finest gin den in the city; The Gin Joint Bar which has garnered a great international reputation as a welcoming waterhole for gin-based cocktails and friendly, gin-fuelled conversation.

Shamone

Shamone

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Stay in Gazi for a taste of Athens’ wilder queer nightlife offerings, with a side of hot young men to boot

Maintain cool composure over at Enodia Bar, a laid-back setting for dates and early evening chats. Featuring a relaxing terrace area for intimate moments, this café bar also hosts a great range of FB-advertised events where they spin some of the best retro Greek remixes. A welcome new addition to the gay nightlife of Gazi meanwhile, is DAVID, a fun gay bar that transforms into a nightclub as the night wears on. Casual and inclusive, arrive early for coffee before switching to cocktails and proceeding to dance the night away until 6 am.

Stay in Gazi for a taste of Athens’ wilder queer nightlife offerings, with a side of hot young men to boot. Packed nightly with stylish locals, Noiz Club is one of the trendiest gay clubs in the city, with its own resident DJ favouring Greek and international pop hits. To top the night off, hard-core partygoers should stagger on to Sodade2, a gay club with two dancefloors blaring either deep house or pop. Crowded all summer long but still popular throughout the year, Sodade2’s busiest night is Saturday for its no school/work parties, while Monday is Greek Night. Γιούπι!

Photo: Elcarito

Photo: Elcarito

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