Some might not know it but Athens is a vibrant metropolis with impressive museums and culture, a thriving food and restaurant scene, quaint neighborhoods with unique boutiques, and four- and five-star hotels to rival other European capitals. We recently visited Athens for three days and we could have spent at least another day or two exploring all the wonderful attractions even further.
Here’s a curated list of our finds in Athens:
The compact and lively Plaka neighborhood, nestled between Syntagma Square and the Acropolis, is home to winding streets with festive outdoor cafés and restaurants, artisanal coffee shops, book shops, art galleries, and individual fashion, home and jewelry boutiques. Nineteenth-century townhouses and buildings washed in Mediterranean shades of mustard, apricot, terracotta and ocher have intricate iron balconies and ivy, vines and flowers decorating the facades.
Amorgosart is a shop with an enchanting treasure trove of found objects, antiques, religious articles, furniture, dishes, vintage toys, dolls, and artworks, where we could have spent hours just browsing. Location: Kodrou 3, Athina 105 58.
An odd combination of coffee bar and a wine and champagne bar totally works at Warehouse CO2, a sliver of a storefront with a standup bar and outdoor highchairs and tables. Location: Iperidou 1, Athina 105 58; visit warehouse.gr.
Inside a mosaic tiled arcade, COSMO 2, is a boutique with a collective of local based, jewelry and accessory artists, presenting their current creations. Location: Agias Filotheis 17, Athina 105 56; visit cosmo2.eu.
The steep, hilly streets of the Kolionaki quarter are lined with upscale fashion and home boutiques, top designer shops, food shops, and trendy restaurants and it feels much like the Athens version of the Saint Germain area of Paris.
Stathis Samantas designs exquisite, beautifully crafted women’s shoes and boots, displaying them like works of art on bookshelves with provocative black and white photos in his atelier. Location: Panagiotou Anagnostopoulou 22, Athina 106 73; visit www.stathissamantas.com.
We enjoyed a lunch of lobster gnocchi and sea bass tartare at Malconi’s Italian Gastropub, sitting outside and people watching the most fashionable locals. Location: Patriarhou Ioakim 43 &, Ploutarchou 23, Athina 106 75; visit www.malconis.gr.
One of the top jewelers today in Athens, Ileana Makri designs bespoke and ready-to-wear pieces using precious stones, diamonds and gold. The elegantly appointed boutique also stocks other upscale jewelry designers plus eyewear, fashion and home accessories, and handbags. Location: 13-15, Patriarchou Ioakim street, Athina 106 75; visit ileanamakri.com.
Chez Michel is a popular French style bistro, coffee bar and restaurant rolled into one. Location: Irodotou 15, Athina 106 74.
The Acropolis Museum at the foot of the Acropolis hill, houses an important and extensive collection of archeological artifacts in a 150,000-square-foot modern glass-and-steel building designed by Bernard Tschumi.The 4,200-piece collection covers a myriad of historic periods, including Roman and Byzantine, and the Greek Bronze Age. The ground-floor displays early discoveries from the slope of the Acropolis hill, the first and second floors contain objects and sculptures from the early history of the Acropolis, the third floor displays stone sculptures from the Parthenon, and the lower level is still an excavation site. The museum also has a rooftop restaurant and cafeteria overlooking the Acropolis, and a gift and book shop.
Location: Dionysiou Areopagitou 15, Athina 117 42; visit www.theacropolismuseum.gr.
Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum
On a quiet side street near the Acropolis Museum is the off the beaten path, Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum. One of the preeminent, fine jewelry makers in Greece, the brand began in 1969 and started by Ilias Lalaounis, who came from a family of jewelry designers. His bold designs influenced by ancient Greek history and using ancient techniques, catapulted Lalaounis into a prolific success story, opening 38 boutiques worldwide and the designing of over 50 collections and over 18,000 pieces of jewelry in a career spanning over 50 years. In 1993, in the former workshops, the Lalaounis was the first jewelry museum in Greece. Lalaounis died in 2013 and kept the business in the family; his three daughters now run the company and his fourth daughter heads the museum. The three-story museum is divided into six sections, which contain the permanent collection of 4,500 pieces from the company’s archives and temporary exhibits from international jewelry artists fill the rest of the museum.
Location: Kallisperi 12, Athina 117 42; visit www.lalaounis-jewelrymuseum.gr.
National Museum of Contemporary Art Αthens
The National Museum of Contemporary Art Αthens (EMST) is the only museum in Greece to exclusively focus on exhibiting and collecting contemporary Greek and international art. The close to 200,000-square-foot modern space was opened in 2000 and has an impressive collection of artists such as Bill Viola, Robert Wilson, Marina Abramovic, Nan Goldin and Nam June Paik, and national artists such as Stephen Antonakos, Nikos Hatzikyriakos-Ghika and Vlassis Caniaris. The museum also has architecture, design and photography exhibitions along with a café and restaurant and a book and gift shop.
Location: Kallirrois Avenue & Amvr. Frantzi Str Athina 117 43; visit www.emst.gr.
One of the premiere boutique hotels in downtown Athens, the New Hotel is part of a small stable of hotels by the YES (which stands for Young, Enthusiastic and Seductive) Hotel Group, which is owned by Dakis Joannou. Centrally located by Syntagma Square and bordering the Plaka neighborhood behind the Acropolis, the 79-room, five-star hotel is a quirky mix of recycled, architectural elements from the former hotel and modern design. Art is a major focus with the hotel, as owner Joannou is a passionate art collector, with one of the foremost contemporary art collections in Greece; the art is displayed in the rooms and in the public spaces. We liked eclectic décor in our 300-square-foot Studio, room No. 504, with vintage postcards framed on the walls in glass, a chair made of recycled bits of wood, and the zigzag-shaped sink made of resin in the spacious bathroom. The room was on the fifth floor and had a terrace with unobstructed views of an ancient Russian Church and the largest public garden in Athens. The cozy Art Lounge and restaurant on the seventh floor has a panoramic view of the Acropolis and other attractions, plus a vast collection of over 2,000 art books. Our exceptional dinner experience started with an appetizer of three classic Greek dips—fava bean puree, tarama and smoked eggplant puree served with warm pita bread—followed by their signature dish of slow-baked pork with sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese, and for dessert a raspberry tart topped with Greek yogurt ice cream. The New Sense gym and wellness club has new workout equipment, a sauna, steam room and jacuzzi. The New Hotel is a member of Virtuoso Preferred Hotels.
Travel advisors should contact Reservations Manager Vagelis Michaloudis at [email protected].
Hotel Grande Bretagne
The grande dame of luxury hotels in Athens, the Hotel Grande Bretagne is part of the Luxury Collection from Marriott Bonvoy. The historic hotel, opened in 1874, officially hosted the foreign mission to the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, along with hosting international diplomats, dignitaries, royalty and political figures and celebrities, including Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren and Maria Callas. The 300 guestrooms and 56 suites, which include 24-hour butler service, have a classical décor with a mix of antiques, sumptuous fabrics and plush furniture, as well as floor-to-ceiling windows. The highlight of the hotel is the legendary GB Rooftop Restaurant and Bar, where we enjoyed a near-perfect martini (they offer eight varieties), while we took in the sensational view of the Mediterranean, Acropolis and Lycabettus Hill. The hotel has a full range of other dining options including an atrium, garden lounge, a tapas and cocktail bar, a grill next to the outdoor swimming pool, and a winter garden lounge with an afternoon tea service.
For more information, visit www.marriott.com/hotel-grande-bretagne.
Restaurants and Cafés
There’s almost an overwhelming array of restaurants, cafés, and bars in Athens on the grand boulevards and narrow, cobblestone side streets, most with outdoor terraces.
Our neighborhood go-to restaurant in the Plaka quarter was Taverna Saita, a charming tavern with wood-backed chairs with straw seats, green and white checkered tablecloths, and cream-color canvas awnings on a cobblestone plaza. We savored well-executed typical Greek fare, such as moussaka, grilled feta cheese, oven-baked eggplant and the Saita special salad of capers, marinated anchovies, peppers, and tomatoes. Location: Kidathineon 21, Athina 105 58
2 Mazi Restaurant
For dinner, 2 Mazi Restaurant was our favorite restaurant in Athens. The Michelin-rated, award-winning restaurant serves elevated and modern Greek cuisine at its finest, using small producers from around the country. The gorgeously presented dishes served on glazed ceramic dishes included smoked tuna tartare, braised lamb with eggplant puree and wild greens, and a sensational passion fruit mousse with mango coulis and chocolate ice cream. Another special feature about 2 Mazi Restaurant is the delightful, enclosed outdoor terrace decorated with hanging vines, glass lanterns, and wrought iron gates. 2 Mazi Restaurant also offers an all-vegetarian menu in addition to the regular menu. Location: Nikis 48, Athina 105 58; visit www.2mazi.gr.
Located in a historic 400-year-old building, To Kafeneio tavern has a cozy interior with a working fireplace and just 18 tables with ceramic tile tabletops, exposed stone walls, wall tapestries and wood and straw chairs. Menu specialties include stuffed grape leaves, kessaria pie filled with pastrami sausage, cheese and peppers, a classic Greek salad, and warm fava beans in olive oil. Kafeneio has an extended outdoor dining area. Location: Epicharmou 1, Athina 105 58; visit tokafeneio.gr.