The Weekly Getaway: Athens turns from ancient and classic to modern and hip
Once thriving as a powerful city-state and a global hub with the port of Piraeus, Athens went through a rough patch and is slowly transforming itself back to a modern metropolis.
Over the last few years, retail space across the city centre went vacant and business overall plummeted. On the aftermath, creative minds and entrepreneurs alike started creating a new foundation that is slowly catching up with other modern capitals. Meanwhile, tourism is booming which may well mean you can easily find yourself visiting us soon!
Acropolis, Plaka and Koukaki
Of course you'll want to go off the beaten path when you get here, but first there is a lot of history in this area to go unnoticed. Take a stroll up the Acropolis hill to discover the foundation of the ancient citadel and the magnificent Temple of Parthenon. Some of the marbles have been carefully moved to the new Acropolis Museum (despite those still held at the British Museum) and a stop there can serve as a nice break.
You can then wander around the old city of Plaka with its pebbled streets and colorful backdrop. If you really want to explore the centre like a local, opt for Koukaki, an area that has recently attracted the youth with a bunch of new bars and cafes around.
Once thriving as mainly a luxury shopping district, this area went through a rough patch and is still recovering. Cafes and restaurants on the other hand are popping up like mushrooms. Whenever you visit, chances are it's going to be warm so you can catch some sun at Dexameni cafe as well as some nice Greek meze.
On the same note, Flower in Mavili square, a good 15min walk from Kolonaki, offers a relaxing vibe for a coffee or a small eat. Just opposite the square you can find a foodie's heaven for pastries, Mike. Try the oven cheese pie (see below)!
If you're keen for some of that Greek culture, you can visit the Cycladic Museum that recently renovated its shop and cafe.
Piraeus, Mikrolimano and the SNFCC
If you're visiting during the summer then you definitely go by Piraeus port along the way to the Greek islands. If not, never mind! There used to be a commercial yet traditional and authentic feel to it, these days most of it has washed away. Still though you can enjoy great fish at Papaioannou in Mikrolimano or opt for a burger instead at Mpar-Mpee-Kiou close-by.
Finally, for some arts and culture, you can visit the newly opened Stavros Niarchos Foundation Culture Center spanning an area of 50 acres and an architectural masterpiece designed by Renzo Piano. Definitely worth a visit during the day, or better yet a stroll just before sunset.
Far and beyond: Vouliagmeni and Kifisia
Further out towards the south, Vouliagmeni is the perfect destination during the summer months. With a coastline of more than 5km, it offers one of the best beaches around with both organised (think Astir beach) as well as more adventurous options (think below Island club). And then there's Cape Sounio about another 20km down the road with the Temple of Poseidon which is another must.
Finally, if you want to explore the northern suburbs Kifisia has been bustling with shops against the real estate crisis. It also offers many options for small snacks, coffee and drinks. Different Beast offers a very tasty brunch after 10am, Paramalo is famous for its oysters and seafood and Eleftheriadis is a traditional taverna with almost just one specialty, their peinirli (see below).
Acropolis - the area surrounding the Acropolis hill, the Parthenon and the Acropolis museum is ideal for a stroll through history and culture. Make sure to get early and beat the crowds
Plaka - once the old city of Athens, Plaka is part of the historic triangle featuring pebbled streets and alleys, neoclassical residences with small manicured gardens and some interesting rooftop terraces with bars and cafes. Ideal for exploration walks and small treats and next to busy Syntagma square. Full Syntagma neighbourhood guide here.
Koukaki - recently attracted the hip crowd, this mainly residential area close to Plaka has now filled with vibrant bars and cafes. Best to visit during the night. Full Koukaki neighbourhood guide here.
Kolonaki - once considered the prime shopping location of the city centre, Kolonaki has slowly turned into a restaurant/bar scene with some businesses and museums around. Full Kolonaki neighbourhood guide here.
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC) - the most recent and largest land development in Athens (and nearly a $1bn project), the foundation includes the new facilities of the National Library of Greece, and of the Greek National Opera, as well as the Stavros Niarchos Park. Interesting to visit with many attractions and happenings
Athens Was - boutique hotel on Aeropagitou street, ideal for business and pleasure around the Acropolis area
Inn Athens - urban small residences in the heart of Plaka, featuring a nice courtyard at the company of a wine bar
New Hotel - recently launched small hotel with a nice rooftop area and infamous brunch served on the ground floor, also located nearby
Greek and Mediterranean food
Thanasis kebab - traditional kebab just off Ermou street, Athens' busiest shopping destination. That's as basic as it gets
Kritikos - ideal for a getaway outside the city (on the way to the airport), this is where you'll get a sense of Greek meat at its best (see pictures above and read our review). Full restaurant review here
Nikkei - taking its name by the latest trend of Peruvian-infused Japanese cuisine, Nikkei has a nice vibe for dinner and drinks
Mpar-Mpee-Kiou - juicy burgers in this fast-paced joint in Piraeus. Try the Tsaki-Tsan or Velizevul burger (chilli-infused!)
Coffee, drinks and small eats
Dexameni - relaxed outdoor cafe in a pedestrian streets up the hill from Kolonaki square, offering some tasty Greek meze
Flower - located next to the fountain Mavili square, a cute place for a breakfast coffee and snacks. Also serves tasty pizza in the evening
Couleur Locale - spectacular views to the Parthenon in this rooftop terrace bar, offering buzzing instrumental music and great cocktails
Kinono - nicely done bar at the area of Koukaki with a long bar and signature marbled floor, an ode to the ever lively 70s
Small 8 - hidden gem in the residential area of Pagkrati for a relaxed coffee
By the glass - Greek wine bar with a nice garden opposite the street featuring live jazz nights during the summer