Athens: a city painted with sunlight, where light dances a ballet upon marble relics, reminding us of the souls who walked these very streets—including a coterie of poets, politicians and philosophers whose influence continues to inform modern life. Athens, the cradle of Western civilization, is no captive of her own history; instead, she revels in a present daubed with audacious graffiti and the hum of contemporary life.
It’s no surprise the Greek capital has long attracted travelers from around the world, eager to make the most of all the city has to offer. While the ancient sites like the Parthenon and Acropolis are always a must, there are also plenty of new happenings within the city, like the Athens and Epidaurus Festival 2023, a cavalcade of theater, music and dance, an ode to the locale’s effervescent heartbeat. The newly reimagined National Museum of Contemporary Art peels back the curtain on Athens’ thriving arts and design scene, revealing a city unafraid of the future, even as it reveres the past. Beneath the shadow of the Acropolis, and over plates of mezedes and endless chilled frappés, Greece’s narrative flits effortlessly from Dionysian to Apollonian in its showcase of old and new, wild and orderly, chaos and beauty. Here’s how to do it right.
Where to Stay
The brainchild of revered chef Costas Spiliadis, the Xenodocheio Milos is a masterstroke in capturing the essence of Greek heritage and haute cuisine. With a prestigious location in the heart of the bustling Plaka district, this landmark property elegantly unites the Athenian past with Spiliadis’ culinary vision.
An indomitable figure in the Athens cityscape since 1874, the Grand Bretagne remains one of the most dazzling hotels in the Greek capital. This regal institution, now a part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection, offers vistas that invite tales of the mythical gods themselves. It’s not merely the scenery that commands attention; each of its 320 rooms overflows with timeless grandeur and modern luxury.
Boutique opulence reigns supreme at the Dolli. This glittering newcomer to the Greek hotel scene is a rich tapestry of dining and recreational spaces, all housed within a framework of “neo-eclectic” architecture that offers panoramic views of the Acropolis and Monastiraki Square.
Perianth, a member of Design Hotels, marks its territory in Agia Eirini, a Byzantine-era square in downtown Athens humming with energy. This boutique property inhabits an Art Deco building from the 1930s, its design narrative told through custom furniture and muted pastel hues. The hotel’s layout reveals an effortless flow, with a radiant central lobby heart surrounded by elegantly appointed chambers.
Breathtaking vistas of the sea, a lush cradle of pines and the call of Athens’ vibrant culture—The Margi, just 30 minutes from the center of Athens, has it all. From its seaside vantage point on the Athenian Riviera, this hotel entices with an impressive array of dining options and recreational facilities. For those seeking an even more intimate getaway, the state-of-the-art Margi seaside Villa provides an exquisite retreat.
What to Do
After you’ve seen the expected sites (think the Acropolis, Parthenon, ancient Agora and so on), slip away to Anafiotika, a tranquil oasis just beneath the mighty Acropolis that whispers of a slower-paced life within its Cycladic-style whitewashed houses, adorned with bougainvillea and lazily sunbathing cats. Built by 19th-century workers from the island of Anafi, this tiny neighborhood has managed to retain its rustic charm amidst the city’s metamorphosis.
Carwan Gallery illuminates the Eastern Mediterranean’s dynamic creative landscape through compelling contemporary design. Relocating from Beirut to Piraeus in 2020, Carwan continues to further etch its name on the global art stage, curating exhibitions in prominent fairs and museums from Dubai to Miami, embodying the rich exchange of ideas, influences and craftsmanship. The gallery continuously fosters groundbreaking collaborations, with artists from India Mahdavi to Objects of Common Interest that amplify the region’s contemporary material culture.
Renowned for its rooftop bars, and sprawling markets, Monastiraki is a lively amalgam of Athens’ past and present. Navigating its bustling flea market feels akin to traversing a treasure-filled labyrinth: From intricate handmade jewelry to traditional Greek crafts, the market brims with tokens of Athenian life. Just steps away, the Varvakios Agora food market comes alive with vendors hawking their freshest goods, offering a sensory feast of the country’s rich culinary landscape amidst a spectacle of seafood displays and deli stalls.
This fresh multi-level bookstore and project space, situated in Athens’ historic center, is a haven for art and design enthusiasts. Discover a well-curated mix of books and magazines covering a variety of subjects, from fashion and pop culture to art and architecture, both locally and internationally published. Special editions, prints, posters and zines are among the many treasures, with artist and designer collaborations on the horizon. Beyond print, you’ll find Greek design collectibles and gift items, perfect to take home to friends and family.
A repository brimming with over 3,000 Cycladic, ancient Greek and Cypriot artifacts, the Museum of Cycladic Art is a microcosm of the region’s profound historical legacy. Marvel at the enigmatic marble figurines and remnants of the Bronze Age, or venture into the captivating world of ancient Greek art collections.
Where to Eat
Ama Lachei, an oasis in the burgeoning neighborhood of Exarcheia, is a testament to the robust flavors of Greek gastronomy. Merging traditional recipes with inventive twists and authentic ingredients, Ama Lachei has curated a tempting Greek palette at reasonable prices. The backdrop is a dream, too, with a verdant courtyard that comes alive with tables dappled in the lively aura of the district.
Spearheaded by Chef Sotiris Kontizas, whose Greek and Japanese lineage influences his culinary creations, Nolan redefines the contemporary bistro. This minimalist haven, a stone’s throw from the city’s bustling hub, serves an enticing array of dishes imbued with Asian flair and Greek nuances, all intended for shared dining. With an adjoining patisserie, Sweet Nolan, the brand’s ventures extend to delectable desserts sold directly to the public.
Feyrouz is a bustling family-run eatery in Athens, beloved for its Levantine cuisine. Curated by Greek-Antiochian matriarch Kyria Feyrouz, this culinary hotspot is a treasure for vegan and vegetarian diners, thanks to the veggie pies, tabbouleh and orange blossom galaktoboureko. The newly opened dessert cafe, right across the street, caters to baklava enthusiasts, enhancing the overall Feyrouz experience.
This Japanese-inspired pub reimagines Greek street food with a Tokyo twist, creating an eclectic blend of culinary cultures. Under the lively rhythm of ambient music, patrons savor meticulously grilled yakitori and yakikushi, paired with unique cocktails in a cozy, inviting space.
Pharaoh—seemingly a chic wine bar to an unobservant passerby—has already captivated Athenians with its tantalizing offerings. Rooted in culinary lineage, dishes here echo the cherished recipes of mothers and grandmothers, including slow-cooked meatballs and succulent pork chops that come straight out of the wood-fired oven.
Where to Drink
A 2023 addition to Athens’ Monastiraki district, Wine is Fine combines French and Greek culinary traditions in a relaxed atmosphere. Set among diverse stores in a transitional area, it buzzes with an authentic spirit, and tends to attract an arty crowd, thanks to a menu filled with organic wines and inventive takes on classics like beef tartare and fresh salads. The open kitchen offers a chef’s-eye view, and wine by the glass ensures optimal pairings.
Evidenced by its recurring presence on The World’s 50 Best Bars list, Baba Au Rum is rightfully famed for its cocktail craftsmanship, with a special focus on rum. It blends a convivial neighborhood ambiance with an avant-garde menu, promising an unforgettable cocktail experience.
As the sun dips below the horizon, this hidden gem, nestled in the labyrinthine alleys of Monastiraki, morphs from an eclectic day bar into a buzzy nighttime hotspot, where only the coolest Athenians dance the night away to the beats of resident DJs.
Conceived by visionary mixologists Nikos Bakoulis and Vasilis Kyritsis, The Clumsies, another frequent name on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, is a tribute to innovative Greek mixology. From afternoon until dawn, this versatile locale offers an exquisite selection of cocktails and a refined menu, solidifying its reputation as one of the city’s premier destinations.