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.
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!
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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
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.
• 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.
• 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.
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.
• 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 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.
• 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.
• 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.
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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
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.
• 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.
• 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.