Athens Travel Guide
Ah, Athens. Mother of democracy, daughter of Zeus and naughty stepsister of the global economic crisis. Sure, Greece has had to navigate financial troubles of late, but don’t let that deter you. Things are cool here. Walking the streets of Athens feels as if no one told the Greeks of their troubles. Nothing can keep Athenians from their afternoon coffees, modern day street philosophising and laissez-faire attitude. Nor should anything stop you. Athens at its best feels like a good cup of Greek coffee: unfiltered, a tad sweet, and unabashedly bold. Wondering what to do in Athens? We’ve got you covered. Pack your bags and let’s head to The City of the Gods.
The best hotels in Athens
Plaka is the old central standby that gets all the love (and all the crowds), and understandably so: it’s the cultural heartbeat of the city and boasts a lot of Athens’ points of interest. 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. Flirt with Plaka as much as you like, but save some quality time for Athens’ less touristy side.
Even still, Plaka is a great base from which to explore the rest of the city. AthensWas Hotel is perfectly located in the middle of central Athens’ most important sites with a rooftop balcony offering unparalleled panoramas of the Acropolis and all of Athens. InnAthens is modern and tasteful with an archaic touch, featuring exposed stone in the rooms and centred around a quiet terrace and garden overlook. Breakfast is a crowd favourite here.
Northeast of Plaka you’ll find Kolonaki: elite, modern and sophisticated without being too pretentious. Home to Athen’s well-to-do and characterized by artisan shops, hip cafes and ritzy restaurants, it’s fashionable to be in Kolonaki. Especially on the weekends.
If Kolonaki is the grown-up and confident side of Athens, Gazi is its younger, wilder, eagerer side. Gazi, whose name comes from the defunct gasworks precinct surrounding it, looks crude in the light of day but springs to life late at night.
If you’re feeling bold and rebellious, make your way to Exarcheia, home to artists, anarchists, and alternative walks of life. Small and raw, rules don’t seem to apply here (like the indoor smoking ban). Although with a book, a coffee and a smoke, you’ll blend right in here.
If being close to the beach is a priority, 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 stay and a short walk from Glyfada’s exclusive shopping district and beach.
Where to eat in Athens
Walk past the intrusive restaurant jockeys on Plaka’s Adrianou Street and head south to the upscale Strofi, offering 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 mousse of grouper 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.
For drinks head central to trendy mixology bar The Clumsies, voted one of the world’s top 50 bars in 2015. Prohibition-inspired Minnie the Moocher in Kolonaki is one of the more popular local bars and arguably one of the most atmospheric bars in all of Athens. For a rowdier night out, head to sexy and showy Shamone in Gazi, the love child of Greek TV presenter Foti Sergoulopoulos and famous chef Dimitris Dimitriadis. Be prepared for a saucy show and don’t expect things to get going until after midnight.
Gazi | Photo: Matthew Trinetti
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 home ware 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.
Kallidromiou Street Market | Photo: Matthew Trinetti
Things to do in Athens
We’ll assume that if this is your first time to Athens you’re heading to the Acropolis. If you’re feeling adventurous on your way up its slopes, hunt for Anafiotika, a cluster of whitewashed houses and whirling staircases that are more reminiscent of the streets of Mykonos than an inland, modern metropolis. Plan to spend the better part of an afternoon in the new Acropolis Museum. Tastefully designed and built to mimic the layout of the Acropolis itself, it houses many of the ruin’s most relished artefacts. Step way back in time to wander in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Socrates, Plato and the others in the Ancient Agora of Athens, a site that’s been occupied without interruption throughout the city’s history. And here’s another tip on where to go in Athens: for an unmatched view of the city and the sizzling Aegean, take the short but steep urban climb up Mount Lycabettus. Go early in the morning to beat the crowds.
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Photo: Matthew Trinetti
Mount Lycabettus | Photo: Matthew Trinetti
Kolonaki | Photo: Matthew Trinetti
Brasil Suites Boutique Hotel
Chez Michel | Photo: Chez Michel
InnAthens | Photo: InnAthens
Shamone | Photo: Shamone
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