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athens city guide


image above by julia rothman

Today’s Athens city guide is brought to us by Christie Photopoulos, a magazine art director for Creative Solutions, who currently lives in London. Christie was born and raised in Athens, but always viewed the city with the eyes of an outsider since her parents worked in the tourism industry. From delicious neighborhood eats, to the best local hotels, as well as insider tips on transportation, Christie shares with us her unique view of Athens. Thanks, Christie, for an incredible guide to this ancient city! — Stephanie

If you need an extra dash of Mediterranean-inspired decor, check out Amy’s “living in: mamma mia!” post from last year right here.

CLICK HERE for the full guide after the jump!

Athens sprawls out to fill the Attica Basin, stopped only by surrounding mountains and the sea. Viewed from the air, it seems like a vast bric-a-brac of houses. In the maze of the streets is the heart and soul of the city. This is where I grew up, and the city has been growing up with me. Ancient and modern sit side by side, giving Athens a sophisticated feel. Elements of the traditional are evident in even the most contemporary structures. Whatever changes the passing of time has brought, Athenians maintain a strong cultural conscience and an insatiable appetite for fun. I wanted to write this guide to share some of the city’s best-kept secrets, allowing you to explore with a visitor’s sense of adventure but the knowledge of a local.

Inside Knowledge

Athenians love to party or sit drinking coffee for hours, laughing and chatting. Everything starts much later than usual — people don’t go out until 10pm or 11pm at night, so take your time during the day. Almost all places have table service, even bars with no seating room. If you stand in one place long enough, a waitress will find you. An afternoon siesta is common place, with shops closing between 2pm and 5pm on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Shops also remain closed on Sunday. Public transport in Athens has improved massively since the Olympics in 2004. The metro runs until 2am on weekends and the new tram also continues running until late at night. Taxis are still affordable, so this is another preferred method of transport. Just keep in mind that the tariff doubles after midnight. So without further ado, you are now ready to explore Athens!

Areas

Like any city, most of the action happens in the center (or kendro); people travel from all over town to go there. The areas around the Acropolis and Lykabetus Hill are the most popular, featuring restaurants, bars, and night life. The suburbs by the sea are also very popular, as they are packed with coffee shops and bars. A few of the areas worth visiting are listed below.

Acropolis/Thisio (Metro: Acropolis, Train: Thisio)

What to see:

New Acropolis Museum — A stunning, newly built museum housing marbles from the Parthenon and situated on the hill above it. The design of this building is meant to mirror the temple itself, with amazing views from its windows.

Jewelery Museum Ilias Lalaounis — Gorgeous gold creations honoring a tradition of jewelry making that goes back 4,000 years.

Coffee breaks:

Chocolat Cafe — One of the most commanding views in town. Ask to be seated on the top floor and you will be mesmerized by the Acropolis, seemingly close enough to touch. Great spot in the evening too, but very popular, so go early to get a table.

Drinks:

• Stop by a corner shop for some drinks and head to the rock below the Acropolis, called Mars Hill (Areopagus). A short climb up a rock brings you to a flat area with a fabulous view of the northeastern suburbs. Crack open a beer and watch the city light up.

Take a walk:

• From the Acropolis metro station, walk up Thrasyllou street to the little back streets below the Parthenon. One of the oldest parts of the city, this area boasts unique island-style architecture created by Anafi refugees who settled here. Beautiful winding streets and a grand view of the city make this a lovely walk.

Gazi (Metro: Kerameikos, or a short walk from Thisio Train Station)

Gazi used to be an industrial area, but now the warehouses have been converted into bars, galleries, and apartments. The old gas plant is now an industrial space for exhibitions, live music, events, and a cinema.

What to see:

Benaki Museum — The Benaki family have four museums in Athens. The newest edition is an ultra-modern structure in the district of Gazi, which is packed with bars, restaurants, and warehouses.

Technopolis — This former gas plant now accommodates live music, exhibitions, and events.

Drinks:

• Intrepid Fox —  Sloping down from road level into what was probably once an underground car park is a rock bar, classic Athens style. Pool tables, bar stools, and posters cover every inch of the walls. The ambiance is loud and laid back. Triptolemou 30, Gazi (+30) 210 3466055.

Hoxton — Modeled after an east London hang out, Hoxton is a parade of who’s who in Athens. Great for people watching and drink sipping! Voutadon 42, Gazi (+30) 210 3413395.

• Gazaki — A small space with lots of heart and a roof terrace for the summer months. Great music and cocktails means lots of dancing. The murals on the walls were created by a local design group, The Poor Designers. Triptolemou 31, Gazi (+30) 210 3460901.

Food:

The Bucher Shop — An unusual spin on Greek cuisine from all over the country. As the name suggests, many cured and cooked meats, delicious salads, and quirky deserts make this restaurant very memorable. Persefonis 19, Gazi (+30) 210 3413440.

Tapas Bar — Enjoy a drink, and if you get peckish, there is plenty of food to choose from. Triptolemou 44, Gazi (+30) 210 3471844.

Psiri/Monastiraki

What to see:

Monastiraki — The traditional Athens flea market. Turn left out of the Monastiraki station and walk along the main market street. You will find everything from shoes to records to beaded jewelry. Be  sure to haggle!

Psiri — Located across from Monastiraki square and recently renovated, Psiri is extremely popular in the evenings, making the main drag an ideal place to watch the world go by. During the day, the streets are quiet but stop at the main square pie shop to see the chef making traditional bougatsa pastries.

TAF (The Art Foundation) — Gallery, art space, coffee shop, and bar rolled into one, TAF is housed in a renovated turn-of-the-century building. The space also features a beautiful example of the classic 19th-century Athenian courtyard.

6 D.O.G.S. — Another art and event space with music and drinks thrown in to the mix. It aims to be an all-day/all-night meeting space for creative minds in the heart of the city.

Coffee:

• Dioskouroi —  Sit next to the train station under a leafy terrace and enjoy a frappe or a beer and some meze. Adrianou 19, Monastiraki (+30) 210 3253323.

Food:

Kouzina Cine Psiri —  A twist on traditional Greek food, the dishes are exciting and the decor cozy. Boasts a large wine selection, buzzy atmosphere, and a roof garden. Sarri 44, Psiri (+30) 210 3215534.

Shopping:

Sandals — Walk along Adrianou Street and you will find many shops with traditional leather sandals and bags. One of the most well known is Melissinos, just off Ermou Street in Psiri.

Outdoor movies:

Cine Psiri — Next to Kouzina, this is one of the few remaining open-air cinemas. Sit outside and enjoy a cocktail, removed from the hustle and bustle of the Psiri streets. Sarri 40, Psiri (+30) 210 3215534.

Plaka

The Plaka area is very touristy; however, you can still find some places off the beaten path.

What to see:

Frissiras Museum — An unassuming neoclassical building on the outside, the Frissiras Museum is actually a modern gallery space. Contemporary Greek artists exhibit there, and the building itself is worth exploring.

Food:

• Mono Restaurant —  Next to the Cathedral on Mitropoleos Square, Mono serves up traditional food with gusto. Large portions make this a good stop after walking around town all morning. 4 Venizelou Paleologou Street, Plaka (+30) 210 3226 711.

Drink:

Vrettos Distillery — On one of the main streets you will find the oldest independent liqueur distillery in Athens. Their family recipes have been passed down through generations. Unusual tastes sit alongside traditional flavors. Pop in to sample brandy, wine, and liqueur surrounded by large wooden barrels and friendly staff. 41 Kidathineon Street, Plaka.

Karitsi Square

In the past few years, Karitsi square has become a lively night spot, well hidden off one of the main roads in the center of town, Stadiou Street.

Drink:

• Use Bar — Relax with a coffee during the day or enjoy a drink after dark. 5 Karitsi Square, Athens (+30) 210 3235993.

Priza Bar — Priza, meaning “plugged in,” is just that with crowds spilling onto the street and using parked cars for drink coasters. Christou Lada 1, Karitsi Square, Athens (+30) 210 3244101.

Pure Bliss — Cafe restaurant and shop, this is one of the few places in Athens that boasts 90% organic produce. Their teas and juices are especially popular, while floor cushions and low seating make it an ideal place to relax. Romvis Street 24A, Athens.

Kolonaki/Lykavitos

Kolonaki is one of the most up-market areas in the center of Athens, making it a regular shopping destination and a place to see and be seen. Coffee shops on the main drag are busy and expensive but the beautiful buildings and views from the Lykavitos funicular make it worth a visit.

What to see:

National Art Gallery — This gallery comprises many well-known Greek artists from Theotokopoulos (El Greco) and post-Byzantine art to the 20th-century work of Lytras and Moralis.

Cycladic Art Museum — The Cyclades, a group of islands in the Aegean Sea, developed a unique style that is evident through the various art forms found here.

Lykavittos Funicular — Take the underground cable car up the hill to enjoy a 360-degree view of Athens. Sunset is by far the best time to visit.

Shops:

• KOAN/Athens Voice — KOAN bookshop is worth checking out to browse all manner of books, from design and art books to limited editions. They also sell the annual collected covers of Athens Voice magazine, a free paper with a different artist featured on its cover each week. Skoufa 64 Kolonaki (+30) 210 3628265.

Drinks:

Jazz in Jazz — Climbing the hill to this well-hidden bar is worth it if you enjoy a bit of old-school jazz music. Dinokratous Street 6, Kolonaki.

Exarchia

With the Athens Polytechnic just down the road, this area has always been a student hang out. It has a distinctly bohemian feel, with students sipping coffee during the day and enjoying drinks in the evenings.

Drinks:

Hartes Bar — Located on the corner of a paved street, Hartes bar is a traditional Athenian house converted into a relaxed hang out. Seated outside, you can watch the world go by while inside, you can enjoy the music. Valtetsiou 35 & Zoodoxou Pigis, Exarchia (+30).

• Rezin Cafe — One of the oldest cafes in the area, Rezin Cafe is best known for its hot chocolate. The recipe? A whole chocolate bar melted into a cup! Emm. Benaki 53 & Tzavella Treet, Exarchia.

Books:

Floral Books & Coffee — This new bookshop/cafe on the corner of Exarchia square has quickly become a hot spot for book launches and literary events.

Metropolis Record Store — Metropolis is one of Athens’ oldest record stores. Now a neoclasical building on Panepistimiou Street, it has been transformed into much more. Enjoy free WiFi while browsing books and music, then stop for a drink at the top floor cafe. Artists often exhibit their work on the walls, while the ground floor features an excellent foreign-press magazine section. 54 & 64 Panepistimiou Street, Athens.

Hartovasileion — Meaning “paper kingdom,” this independent store features products designed by top local talent, offering everything from postcards to jewelry.

Music:

• Vibrato — The home for reconditioned guitars in Athens. A tiny store, filled to the rafters with lovingly reconditioned instruments. Tossitsa Street 22, Exarchia (+30) 210 3829024.

Food:

Fasoli — An unassuming favorite with the locals. Fasoli serves up traditional Greek food at very reasonable prices. Their Greek kitchens are open, so have a look inside at what the menu of the day has to offer. Em. Benaki Street 45, Exarchia.

Barbaras Food Company — Having moved from its original location in Kolonaki, Barbaras Food Company is still filling plates with its usual delicious fare. Em. Benaki 63-65 Exarchia.

• Kavouras Souvlaki — If you don’t have time to sit down for food, try the Greek take on fast food offered here. Kavouras is a favorite late-night snack stop, busiest between 2am and 4am. Themistokleous 64, Exarchia.

• Avli — This converted school is high up on the hill above Exarchia square. The covered garden is ideal in the summer, an oasis in the busy city. Methonis 58, Exarchia.

Outdoor movies:

• Cine Vox— Another beautiful example of the open-air cinema, the movie screen is sandwiched between buildings making the  experience feel like a well-kept secret. Themistokleous 82, Exarchia (+30) 210 3301020.

Glyfada

As the suburb I grew up in, I felt I had to include it, despite its geographical distance from the center of town. About 30 minutes out of town (by metro then bus or taxi, or by tram all the way to Glyfada square), Glyfada is nestled by the sea with many beaches to visit. What used to house holiday homes for the wealthy is now a large, leafy suburb with many shops and restaurants to rival those of the center. Most of the Athens night clubs move their premises to the coast in the summer time, making Glyfada very popular for pre-night club drinks and coffee.

Coffee:

Balux House Project — Situated next to Asteria beach, the Habitat Project is a modern space decorated exclusively with furniture from the shop Habitat. Walking in feels like entering someone’s home. Little secluded areas with games, pool tables, screens, and video games can distract from the fact that this cafe/bar is right on the beach, so make sure you sit close to the front for the best view. 58 Poseidonos Ave., Asteras Glyfada.

Cafe Kafe — Situated on Zisimopoulou Street 9, which is the spot for coffee in Glyfada, Cafe Kafe has a different take on the usual beverages.

Cafe Chocolat — The Glyfada branch of Cafe Chocolat is possibly the most popular on Zisimopoulou Street. It is famous for it’s giant smoothies, served in large glasses and decorated with fruit. The food here is great, as well, if slightly above average in price. Zisimopoulou 12, Glyfada.

Drinks:

Molly Malones — A traditional Irish bar in the middle of Glyfada, Molly’s has become a meeting place for foreigners and locals alike. The staff know how to pour a Guinness as well as any barman in Dublin! Very friendly and laid back service makes this bar a favorite. Yannitsopoulou 8, Glyfada.

• Anima — Glyfada’s alternative music bar, with DJs playing late and a terrace for enjoying drinks. Kyprou 48, Glyfada (+30) 210 8982142.

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26 Comments

Kate (Southern-Belle-Simple)

Oh I’ve always wanted to summer in Greece….such a beautiful spot. How lucky of the author to have been brought up there! Sadly, I’m afraid the only Athens I’ll be visiting anytime soon is Athens, Georgia (although a wonderful burg in its own right!)

Kristie

A hearty vote for Vrettos/Brettos on the Plaka! The ouzo is absolutely amazing, and they sell it in metal canisters perfect for bringing back home. An absolute must-stop! [If it wasn’t on the list, I was fully prepared to petition for it!]

Erin T.

I live in Athens, Georgia, and at first wondered what my little city did to merit a City Guide. Someday I’ll visit the “original.” Thanks!

Nina

Yay, perfect timing, I’m going to Athens in 2 weeks – I can’t wait to check out some of these places!

Miss Stovetop

What a lovely list :) Wish I knew about some of these places when I visited last year around the same time.

There is another restaurant called Kuzina (http://www.kuzina.gr/), a short walk away from Monastiraki station and it was beyond anything I’ve ever tasted. There desserts were unique and delightful, and the all white decor, wall stacked with wine bottles… everything was absolutely amazing. My main aim to go back on a holiday to Athens is to eat at Kuzina! LOL. Even now on a boring day, I go to their quirky website and look at their fun menu.

I’m happy to share some images and info just in case anyone’s interested in a more detailed account of this restaurant – http://stovetopdancing.blogspot.com/2010/04/food-holidays-greece.html

And a few other decor n food shots from Greek restaurants – http://stovetopdancing.blogspot.com/2010/04/good-food-better-decor-and-great-knick.html

Heather B.

My husband and I went to Athens in June– the city was incredible, feeling both old-world European and middle eastern all at the same time. One of the notable higlights was stopping by the little shop of Greece is For Lovers. They were surprised to see a bunch of dusty Californians but excited and eager to share the details of their great designs. Definitely worth a visit!

http://www.greeceisforlovers.com/

kristin

We visit Athens at least once a year. It’s so great to get some new ideas on where to go and what to see. Thanks!

Matilde

While studying there this spring I lived next door to a small shop called Greece is for lovers – an amazing store with amazing young design

melina

Good! Many visitors to Greece brush Athens off as a quick trip to see the Acropolis, then *off to the islands we go!* Being Greek and having been there many, many times, I’m so glad you focused on the dirty, gritty city of Athens. A side note for readers who will be traveling there: Keep your eyes open throughout all of the streets for some of the best street art/graffiti you will ever see. It’s everywhere, like a constant museum tour.

Quinn

I visited Athens for a few days before “going off to the islands” and I loved the city but must return again soon because I barely got to visit any museums! I arrived in the middle of a huge strike about 2 years ago and everyone was closed or on strike. Our electricity was frequently out, trash service was on strike, the subway on strike…but the city was great and I still wandered the streets and ate delicious food.

Lindsay

I wish I had this 3 weeks ago! My boyfriend and I just got back from Athens, and it is amazing! We actually ended up at Bretto’s and took in a movie at an open-air cinema. We had a great time; I can’t wait for a return visit so we can try some of the other suggestions.

Nia

Melissinos sandals are great. They are handmade on the spot to fit your feet and are very comfortable after being worn in. Sandals while you wait! This place is partly known for the number of celebrities who have gotten sandals here – including Jackie O. Order online if you can’t go in person: http://www.melissinos-art.com/eng/sandals.html

I also have to recommend Mamacas (http://www.mamacas.gr/) in Gazi. Fantastic food! It is homecooking in a modern atmosphere. And Gazi is just that – modern. Cool area.

annie_stru

Nice guide Christie!
If I may, I would like to make an addition to this.
–First of all an absolute must for every visitor is the National Archaeological Museum. It’s the most important museum in Athens along with Acropolis museum. And it is very close to Exarchia.
–An also very important museum is the Athens Byzantine & Christian Museum. Located close to National Art Gallery and very easy to reach by metro (evangelismos station).
— And finally the Herakleidon Museum. It is a small musuem housed in a beautiful
neoclassical building and it futures Escher & Vasarely works and some very important temporary exhibits. It is located at Thision (short walk from the Thisio Train Station).
–A very nice place to have a drink at Monastiraki is the James Joyce irish pub and if you are feeling hungry there is Ouzou Melathron a nice taverna at the corner next to James Joyce.

That’s all I can think at the momentt! :-)

Kelly

I had the same first assumption as Erin T. Except I was a little let down it wasn’t for Athens, GA. I think a pretty nice little tourist guide could be written up for it as well. I kinda miss my college days in Athens. There sure are a lot of Georgians that read this blog, makes me proud!

Εύα Αν.

Μπράβο Christie Photopoulos, πολύ καλή δουλειά!
(well done great job !!)

Sara

I spent a semester living in Glyfada – this post made me so happy! I haven’t been back since the Olympics, and I would love to see all the changes (and ride a working subway in Athens!).

Stephanie

I studied abroad in Greece and it was the experience of a lifetime!! I lived in Porto Rafti a coastal city about 45ish mins outside Athens, I loved it there! One place that we would always go if we were going to walk around the Plaka is a small little corner restaurant called SABBAS, best gyros EVER! (and on a college students budget!)

Stephanie

I also got Melissinos sandals, best purchase I made they fit perfectly and have held up great (even after 2 years) I got the John Lennons…Can’t wait to go back!!

GEORGIA

Christie,it’s such a pleasure reading your Athens Travel Guide. Athens city is underestimated by many tourists as they feel a desperate need to leave it quickly & head for the islands. I travelled with my family to Greece last September & it was truly an overwhelming feeling in the heart of Athens that captured the essence of life. Antiquity, history,delicious food & beauty.

We can’t wait to to go back & continue didscovering!

Larkin

What a great perspective on Athens! I definitely printed this page off and brought it with me when I went a couple years ago, when I was looking for ways to introduce my then boyfriend to this wonderful country. We had a lot of fun, and greatly enjoyed looking for some of the places mentioned here. I have to comment, however, and add a note of warning for those of you who wanted (like I did) to enjoy the view from the Areopagus. While the Acropolis is beautiful when it is all lit up, and the Areopagus has a great view of it, at night and early evening it is not very safe. After the tour groups leave and the site is locked up the walkway through the archaeological park is not well-lit and the Areopagus itself ended up being crowded with young kids looking to party and a number of homeless that must use the park to sleep. While we had brought Mythos and gyros from nearby to enjoy, we ended up not staying long, as the party atmosphere was a bit strong for us when we just wanted to watch the sun set and the Acropolis light up, and we kept being scouted out as targets for pick-pockets. My boyfriend almost had his travel pack stolen, and we are usually pretty good travelers, so that was a first for us! Maybe try one of the rooftop tavernas or coffeeshops, instead?

Anyway, sorry, just a quick warning – and I hope it doesn’t take away anyone’s plans on enjoying the city. I love Athens, can’t wait to go back and try more things on this list! The area around the Acropolis, especially the Plaka (and yes, the street art is fantastic there!), are like old friends, but I really should branch out :)

Rach

So excited for my trip to Greece in just under a month! I will definitely (and as usual :) be using these city guides to help me get the most of my travels. Thanks for all the fab tips!!

melissa

I noticed there were not any hotel recommendations on this post… does anyone know of a good place to stay??

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