Go Local: Athens

Seeking out the perfect balance of old and new in this historical must-see.

There’s a reason Athens is so popular. Not only is it a great jumping-off point for further travel around Greece, it has its own charm and treasure trove of gems to offer any type of traveler. From the must-see historical sites to the new shopping districts and hip neighborhoods springing up all over the city, here are our top tips for your next trip to the Greek capital.

Restaurant at Grand Bretagne Hotel.
Restaurant at Grand Bretagne Hotel.

Accommodations

For a bit of old-school charm, try the Grande Bretagne Hotel; this high-end accommodation has flawless service and luxurious amenities, including a delightful free breakfast on the top floor with views of the Parthenon. You can also enjoy afternoon tea in the lobby or dine at the restaurant. From here it’s an easy 20 minute walk to the Acropolis; stroll by the National Garden on the way there, then on your return amble through the cobblestone streets of Plaka and explore its tiny local shops and sidewalk cafes.

The Selina Theatrou Athens & Cowork is a less pricey option that also offers an incredible rooftop where you can both lounge and work. Situated in Theater Square, Selina offers upcycled furniture, locally-curated art murals, and an on-site cafe, coworking space, and wellness center.

 

Evzones in front of Parliament in Athens.
Evzones in front of Parliament.

Sightseeing

There’s a reason Athens is such a top tourist attraction; the Greek capital was at the heart of the powerful Ancient Greek empire. Start out your visit to the Acropolis, an ancient citadel located on a rocky outcrop above Athens that contains the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historical significance, including the Parthenon.

Stop by Syntagma Square to view the impressive Hellenic Parliament building. You’ll find two Evzones (elite soldiers who are the Presidential guards) in ornate dress by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The perfect stillness of the guards, followed by the slow motion criss-crossing and elaborate movement as they change positions each hour, is fascinating. And if you’re in Athens on Sunday, stop by at 11am to watch a full Changing of the Guard.

 

Exhibits at the Acropolis Museum.
Exhibits at the Acropolis Museum.

Museums

While visiting the Acropolis, don’t miss the Acropolis Museum to learn more about the archaeological findings of the site, from the Greek Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece. If you get there early (it opens at 8am most days), go to the Parthenon first to enjoy it with minimal crowds and then visit the museum after. If you get there around 10-11am, do the museum first as it will be less crowded, then do the Parthenon afterward.

The Museum of Cycladic Art is another great spot that can’t be missed. It houses a notable collection of Cycladic and Ancient Greek art and artifacts. These belonged to Nicholas and Dolly Goulandris who started collecting archaeological objects at the beginning of the 1960s after being granted official permission by the Greek state.

Last but not least, the Benaki Museum features art from prehistoric to modern times, including an extensive collection of Asian art, and is housed in the Benakis family mansion in downtown Athens. The cherry on top? It has a rooftop restaurant with great views of the city, including the National Garden and wooded Ardittos Hill, that’s perfect for lunch before or after wandering the museum. The menu changes frequently but always highlights simple and delicious traditional Greek cuisine.

 

Paleo wine store and restaurant
Paleo wine store and restaurant in the neighborhood of Pireaus.

Neighborhoods

If you want to get your fill of art galleries, Pireaus is the perfect neighborhood. Check out modern art galleries Carwan and Rodeo before checking out Blue Cycle, a social enterprise that reuses marine plastic waste like fishnets to create new, high-quality materials, including vases and furniture. After, head to Paleo, a wine store and delicious restaurant.

Ermou St in Athens.
Ermou St in Athens. Photo by ChristosV licensed under CC 3.0.

For shopping, don’t miss Ermou Street, which crosses through the neighborhoods of Monastiraki, Psiri, and Thiseio. Start out your adventure by heading to the top of Syntagma Square. From there, walk down the steps and past the fountain to find the beginning of the 1.5km Ermou Street. After checking out some shops, your shopping adventure will lead you to the Kerameikos archaeological site, which includes an extensive area both within and outside the ancient city walls.

Papadakis Restaurant. Courtesy of Papadakis website.

Eating+Drinking

For some delicious, classic Greek food, look no further than Papadakis restaurant. Located in the picturesque neighborhood of Kolonaki at the center of Athens, Papadakis offers unique Greek flavors, fresh seafood, and a spectacular view.

For solid cuisine other than Greek food, don’t miss the Thai restaurant six d.o.g.s which, apart from the delicious food, has live music, DJs, club nights, and art exhibitions. For Vietnamese, don’t miss Dao Vietnamese Street Food.

For a nightcap, head to The Clumsies, a famous cocktail bar housed in a quirky, multi-room venue with a warm atmosphere.