Despite the crisis-striken profile of Athens for the last 10 years, the area around Syntagma has continuously been transformed to a mosaic of colors, flavors and some good ol’ hospitality. The hordes of tourists on Syntagma square may be not our thing, but pretty much anything south of the square definitely is.
Athens’ city centre used to be dirty, crammed and noisy. But in recent years, mostly due to initiatives from the private sector, the area is not just a hub for commercial and corporate activity. A range of restaurants/bars, start-up hubs and local merchants have attracted the locals’ attention to the point it now feels natural to hang out south of Syntagma square.
First it was Agias Irene’s square and the coffee culture that got everyone going with notable outliers like six d.o.g.s. and B.o.o.z.e. for the more alternative crowd. At the time, Mama Roux’s brunch and Baba au Rum’s cocktails were a thing (and still go strong) while Kolokotroni street was getting revamped by the minute. Loud nights at the eclectic Dude bar (great post-drinks snacks at Food str. next door by the way!), Sunday lunch at Plaka’s Kafeneio and a whole lot more initially got us down there. Nowadays, regulars hang out at specialty coffee-shop Thirdplace, grab a bite at Cherchez la Femme or Nolan and wash everything down with some fine Greek wine at heteroclito wine bar.
During weekends, I would walk down the local food market of Varvakios and taste some of the fresh produce artfully promoted by the picturesque staff yelling left and right in an effort to increase the day’s proceeds. The streets around the old establishment of the Athenian stock exchange on Sofokleous street were full with graffiti and Krinos’ loukoumades (Greek doughnuts) were just about the only reason for going down to Aiolou street after indulging into a deliciously heavy cheese pie at Ariston.
On weekdays, I would ascend to the rooftop canteen on Syntagma square for some homemade beef patties and a hearty omelette in the building once housing one of the most prominent oil companies in Greece.
Ever since 2015, the area has been somewhat polished with prominent food dining places Nolan and Sushimou leading the race. Gaku, a more local type of sushi place, also opened its doors last year in the spot once made famous for its sushi Furin Kazan. Thankfully, parts of it has also remained relatively the same like the fruit market on Apollonos street.
Surely, more will soon happen with Athens’ tourism activity booming and lots of foreign investors following suit. Until then, there are still lots of things going for the area where the heart of Athens still beats!
Plaka – the old historical city of Athens with a great labyrinth of streets and alleys and an abundance of local shops
Hellenic Parliament – 1800s palace that has been at the forefront of public demonstrations through the years. Nice to catch the change of guards
National Garden – beautiful park next to the Parliament building and close to Syntagma square for a quick stop away from the crowds
St Irene’s Square – lively square full of cafes and ample people-watching; always hard to find a table during the busy hours of the day and night
Varvakios Central Food Market – great display of meat and vegetables in Athens’ most notable food market
New Hotel – posh hotel with a very good brunch and a nice small rooftop space
AthensWas – upscale serviced apartments very close to the Acropolis hill
InnAthens – very central boutique-style apartments with a nice inner courtyard and a cafe wine-bar at the lobby
Cherchez La Femme – very tasty bites in this Greek bistrot with a nice vibe all day long. Hard to find a table so best to reserve ahead of time. Read our full review here
Mama Roux – ethnic food dishes in this classic establishment by now right on Aiolou street
Melilotos – Greek cuisine with a twist and a busy setting tucked in on one of the paved streets around St Irene’s square
Noel – known for their indoors Christmasy vibes and their brunch. Food is ok but the decor is really rich and interesting
Six d.o.g.s. – lush garden at the back and a somewhat alternative crowd in this art space comprising of 6 adjacent bars
By the glass – one of the best wine bars of Athens with a vast collection of mostly Greek wine. Also offers tasty nibbles and a nice crowd during weeknights
To Kafeneio – traditional taverna in Plaka with a delicious dish of meatballs in tomato sauce
Ariston – one of the best cheese pies in Athens, known for decades now. Must try!
Kostas – the best souvlaki in town with queues forming most times of the day. Open only on weekdays until stock runs out
Krinos – honey-glazed Greek doughnuts in a traditional self-service establishment