Slowly and painstakingly exiting the rough patch of the economic crisis, Athens is on the rise again as one of the most interesting European destinations – and rightfully so. No wonder philosophy, democracy and arts flourished here during classical times, making its agora one of the most buzzing destinations in the then-known European continent. Today, Athens is getting back all of that.
Walking around the busy and narrow streets south of Syntagma square you immediately take note of the many refurbished buildings (be it for Airbnb listings of new hotel establishments) and the buzzing trade. Similarly, new restaurants and third wave coffee places have been continuously opening in the last 3-4 years, spicing up the Athenian foodie scene.
What better environment than this for discovering, curating and sharing the best of Athens one should not miss?!
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Southern view from rooftop in Syntagma Square
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Culture Centre
1. The coffee
The dispute over Greek, Turkish and Serbian coffee still goes on – regardless, as we wander down the streets of the Acropolis, we surely know that a double one (with just a tad of sugar) is the best way to enjoy a lazy day starting at Lotte. Served with a rose-flavored loukoumi on the side, the coffee is just enough to sip through your morning reads until you walk your way to the city centre through Plaka.
If you’re more on an espresso mood, there’s luckily more than enough options for you: The Morning Bar in Koukaki may be tiny to sit in but you can always enjoy a top roast on the go; Anana near Aiolou street serves great quality espresso from a classic Faema machine; a bit further up in Kolonaki you can also find Redd, serving their own roasted beans and just two beverages – espresso and flat white.
2. The street food
Whenever we stroll around Athens it’s hard to stay away from all the local delicacies that are abundant for those on the look out. Greeks are not big on breakfast so they’ll most likely have it on the go; and the cheese pie has been very popular with so many classic establishments around – Mam and Ariston in the city centre are our top choices, although Mike at Mavili Square is also dear to our heart (and mouth).
As the day goes on, we find ourselves around lunchtime on the rooftop canteen of an old office building right in the heart of Syntagma Square. A handful of tables with some plastic chairs make up the scenery of this canteen that has stayed open since the 1980s. Beef patties, omelettes, french fries and Greek salad are the only options Mr Yiannis serves – go ahead and dig in! Just make sure you don’t show up after 13:00 (cause it’s crammed with the locals).
If you’re looking for more to-go options, then Kostas is your safest bet for some kick-ass souvlaki. This tiny food spot opens only on weekdays and serves until they run out of stock, so get there on time for lunch. Sweet-tooths can go an extra mile down to Krinos for some traditional Greek doughnuts topped with thyme honey and sprinkled with cinnamon and crushed walnuts – what a delight!
Greek doughnuts with honey, cinnamon and crushed walnuts at Krinos
Cheese pie from Mike
3. The gardens
If you happen to follow the news around tourism in Athens, you’ll surely have caught wind of the city’s major development with the Hellinikon project, once home to the Athens Airport. Despite numerous delays in recent years, the project is about to kick-off with plans for a $8bn development that will ultimately attract 1m of new travellers to the Greek capital. While this is still on paper, other parts of the city around it have recently been transformed – most notably, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Culture Centre and the waterfront promenade in Faliro. Both are equally good of an excuse to escape the city centre for a few hours and enjoy some nice relaxing walks by the sea and (most likely) under the sun.
Another favourite walk I take is around the National Garden – starting from the Parliament, then going clockwise round the garden and down to the Panathenaic Stadium where the first modern Olympic Games were held back in 1896. It’s always a joy to enjoy this limited amount of nature in the city where smells from the orange trees hit you. When I’m down with my sports gear I also take the trek up the Lecabettus Hill where the views to the whole city are captivating!
The main entrance of the National Garden
4. The meze
Having worked an appetite from all the walking, I head south from Lecabettus entering Kolonaki, a packed urban and upscale hood, and making a stop at Dexameni for lunchtime. Springtime is a blossoming time in the Athenian backdrop and the real food indulgence though starts with the authentic Greek meze! At Dexameni, they offer small bites to share (they make an amazing omelette with french fries and cheese!) and pure Greek raki to wash it all down.
5. The arts
Another thing the city has it going for it is art. The Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation opened a spectacular permanent collection in Pangrati in September 2019 with an array of both Greek exhibits but also renown pieces from Cézanne, van Gogh, Degas, and others. On the mezzanine floor, Ohh Boy from Pangrati operates an elegant café for those seeking a small bite. Fast forward to today and the latest opening has been the one at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in the emblematic building of the Fix brewery on Syggrou Avenue.
For more classic exhibits, you can head down to the Cycladic Museum, with a marvellous collection of the ancient cultures of Aegean and Cyprus, or the Acropolis Museum, housed in a Bernard Tschumi building facing the hill of the Acropolis with a rich collection of the Athenian marbles.
6. The drinks
With a dynamically growing start-up scene in Athens and many transient travellers for work, it’s always fun to go out and meet people. More so when the views are also great!
Back in 2016 I first elevated to the top floor of a derelict building on Ermou street to find Couleur Locale and this buzzing scene of electro music, food bites and views to the Acropolis Hill. Similarly, in 2019 two new entries as part of respective accommodation establishments launched rooftop places for drinks: The Foundry Suites first opened an urban oasis full of green to complement their accommodation offering with impromptu pic-nics and pizza from the wood-fired oven; and Ergon House opened their Retire Bar (homage to the Greek name of the last level of a building).
7. The dinner spots
Restaurants and new tastes have (almost) always been a personal trait of mine, so whenever something new springs up in the city I’m always tempted to have a go at it. Right before Christmas 2019, awarded chef Sotiris Kontizas and avid restauranteur Kostas Pisiotis launched an experimental food spot, Proveleggios, in the rough part of Metaxourgio. Although the menu changes almost weekly, the grilled meatballs are a sure bet for some Greek aroma and flavour. A few blocks away sits Aleria, a high end Greek creative cuisine restaurant that is definitely worth a visit (think deconstructed Greek pasticcio… amazing!).
But long before anyone even thought of opening a restaurant in this shady still neighbourhood of Athens, Seychelles was the one that put this hood on the foodies’ map. Pappardelle with lard and cheese, fine steaks and other small bites to pick from.
Pappardelle ragu at Seychelles
Grilled meatballs at Proveleggios
Smoked aubergine at Proveleggios
Deconstructed pasticcio at Aleria
8. The wine
As the food scene in Athens is getting more experimental, so does its wine offering… backed by some ever developing wineries in Greece. Oinoscent was one of the first wine bars that opened up in Athens and has recently complemented its cellar with some fine dishes. The more hip crowd either picks Heterocliton, only serving wines of Greek origin, or Drupes & Drips with its Italian-inspired tramezzinni.
9. The walks
On weekends, I also take time to walk around Plaka, especially early in the morning when it’s not busy of all the travellers flocking its narrow and cobble-stoned streets. There’s even a small part of this neighbourhood that was named from the island of Anafi for its uphill alleys where you kind of forget you’re in the centre of a busy metropolis. Pangrati is also a bit like that, despite the numerous cafés popping up lately left and right. There you can also find hidden retail gems such as the Chalk of the Town, a cute home good store.
And, when I want to combine a walk in nature with some urban action I surely go uphill to Philiopappos and Koukaki.
The change of guards in front of the Greek parliament
10. The brunch
Although brunch is not so close to the Greek cuisine, it is very close to our way of life. Long breakfast coffees that tend to merge with lunch are a must on Sunday, if not on other days – Queen Bee, a French-inspired bistro with some lovely pastries and egg dishes is a perfect spot in Kolonaki. A few minutes away is also the newly-launched Me Kolonaki, offering also tasty bites for brunch, and Philos for the more sophisticated crowd and some healthy alternative bites.
Once you go across Queen Sofia Avenue, you can also reach Ohh boy in the outskirts of Pangrati. Although service is not their highlight, they do make a good breakfast.
Fried eggs with feta cheese at Ohh Boy
Croissants at Queen Bee
Grilled cheese and spinach at Me Kolonaki
Poached eggs on avo at Philos
Chocolate covered croissants at Queen Bee