My love affair with Greece is well documented via my Instagram from Santorini to Mykonos. I’ve experienced a few summers on the Islands but never cared for the capital city until early this year when I had the opportunity to briefly live in Athens. Athens, also known as the historical capital of Europe, was founded some 5000 years ago and is the birthplace of democracy, civilization, arts, and science has now become one of my favorite cities in Europe for a variety of reasons. For starters, Athenian people are the most welcoming and kindest people I’ve ever met in Greece. I was greeted with smiles and conversation at every establishment I walked into, offered free food at restaurants and a history lesson or guide to the city by each cab driver. Some of the best inexpensive Mediterranean cuisine can be found in Athens restaurants. How does a menu of fresh seafood, the best Greek salad, lamb, and moussaka for $12 to 16 maximum sound to you?
The city possesses the perfect Mediterranean climate and sunlight (super important for Instagram) and apparently, also a city that never sleeps! For someone who lives in New York, I felt like I finally met a European city that rivals my hometown in terms of activity. Each day, I woke up and explored Athens with great interest and enthusiasm. That’s why I’m happy to share my ultimate insider’s guide to Athens:
Plaka (pictured top)
Plaka is the oldest neighborhood in Athens clustered around the most historic monuments, the Acropolis, Parthenon, and Ancient Agora. This car-free area of Athens is a must-see for anyone visiting the ancient city for the first time. I recommend a few days of strolling in the little winding streets, shopping in the local boutiques, eating at local restaurants, and learning about the history of Athens by visiting the monuments.
The New Acropolis Museum
The New Acropolis Museum is located on the slopes of the Acropolis in Plaka and is a gallery dedicated to the findings from the Acropolis and other historical sites in Athens. I was told by numerous Athenians that it’s highly recommended to visit the New Acropolis Museum before going to the Acropolis and they were right. Here you will find three floors of gallery space dedicated to beautiful archaeological and preserved monuments restored using new technologies such as lasers. The Museum has a lovely café and bookstore located on the third floor.
The Acropolis is an ancient citadel and monument located above Athens dedicated to the goddess Athena. This ancient city is also home to other magnificent ancient sites such as the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike and Propylaea. It greets you as you enter, walk and drive around the city. It will be your compass and help to orient you as you explore Athens. I recommend a day of hiking to the Acropolis and learning about this archeological monument and certainly for the best 360 views of Athens from the mountains to the sea.
Stavros Niarchos Foundation and Cultural Center
This is by far my favorite place to visit and spend a day in Athens. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation and Cultural Centre (SNFCC) is a new modern architectural addition to the City of Athens. The space was funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, one of the leading philanthropic organizations investing in arts, culture and education. It’s a free public space and modern library for anyone to come and learn about arts and culture. Besides the fact that beautiful libraries have become a big thing on social media, the SNFCC struck me as a much-needed space and escape for families and anyone in the city.
Located in Plaka, the old town, Psarras the “old fisherman’s tavern” was recommended to me by a local taxi driver on my first day in Athens and it didn’t disappoint. Perched on one of the winding streets in the old town on the slopes of the Acropolis, this local restaurant is charming and centrally located to maximize the views of the city with a rooftop and outside seating area. I ate here a few times and ordered almost everything on the menu and it was all very good.
Taverna Saita is a family-owned local restaurant located in Plaka. It was recommended to me by two ladies in a local boutique store close by. This is where the local Athenians eat. I recommend a reservation in advance because they’re normally fully booked between 12.30 to 2 pm although I got lucky a few times with a walk-in.
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My favorite restaurant in Athens is Philos, a café and contemporary lifestyle store. The café is located in the historic neighborhood of Kolonaki housed in a building built in 1937. The property was once a famous art collector’s gallery and his vision can be seen throughout the store, dining rooms, bar, and even the bathrooms at Philos. The day menu is composed of brunch items such as pancakes — the best pancakes you’ll ever have — as well as a selection of healthy juices and smoothies. The evening menu is a selection of Greek food with a modern twist. The bar at Philos is a hidden gem with just eight seats. I recommend a reservation every time and also to pick up the latest copy of Vogue or Monocle while you’re there.
I was delighted to discover that Athens is a great city for vegetarian and gluten-free lifestyles. Avocado Cafe located in Syntagma became my go-to for a daily smoothie, fresh juices, and the most delicious vegetarian food. I once ordered their Rumi’s Dream, a Persian-inspired spin on risotto, made with avocado and edamame twice in one day.
The good news is that you’ll absolutely love everything at this Greek-Japanese fusion Michelin Guide restaurant located in Syntagma, the bad news is that you’ll probably not get a reservation unless you reserve far in advance. This modern restaurant with a twist is one of the most popular Athens insider restaurants to try. The menu and concept are innovative, composed of small dishes with a great wine list. I recommend that you order up and down the menu and try everything.
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The BG rooftop is located on the eighth floor of the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Syntagma Square. I recommend a drink or dinner here for a modern menu coupled with impeccable service and the best views of Athens.
Greece is home to numerous leading fashion and jewelry designers and Athens is home to a number of them. Kolonaki District is my favorite place to shop in Athens, here you’ll find many independent brands and local boutiques alongside globally-renowned designer brands. I spent a few weekends in Kolonaki window shopping and eating in cafes and people watching Paris style.
i-D Concepts Store
i-D Concepts Stores features a curated selection of Greek and international fine jewelry designers and clothing that’s unique and edgy.
Freeshop is home to Balenciaga and an adjacent boutique with a collection of trendy brands like Jacquemus, Acne Studios, Stand Studio, and a selection of well-curated local Greek brands.
New York has Madison Avenue, Athens has Voukourestiou Street, the most renowned and fashionable shopping street in Athens located between Syntagma and Kolonaki. Here you will find global designer brands like Hermes, Dior, Prada, Off-White in addition to the luxury store Attica and shoe heaven, Kalogirou boutique.
Which Athens restaurants, stores and sites do you love? Let us know in the comments.