Guides

Where to Eat, Stay, and Explore in Athens

Beyond the Acropolis, one of the most iconic cities in Greece offers a dazzling array of sights, sounds, and experiences.

ONE MIGHT ASSUME that modern Athens is not defined by the Acropolis, home to the quietly glowing and iconic Parthenon, which has been sitting serenely atop the city since the fifth century B.C. But somehow it still sets the mood for the city, much like the Empire State Building does for New York City and the Eiffel Tower for Paris. And sentinel-like, it’s still visible from almost every corner of the city.

But descend from the windy plains of Attica into the dense, bustling, proud capital of 3 million plus, and you understand why Athens was the cradle of Western civilization, not to mention the birthplace of democracy, philosophy, and, most of all, drama! One can easily become overwhelmed by such theatrical claims to fame and heritage. So do as Athenians do — grab a table, order a frappé, and take a moment to soak it all up.

While Athens may be hard to separate from its ancient past, architecturally and culturally it is not defined by it. It’s this palimpsestic nature which makes it unique, even by Old World European standards. “Newer” sites, like the thousand-year-old Byzantine churches, tumble down from leafy hillsides, aside even newer Ottoman and neoclassical builds and timeless tavernas with wicker and wood chairs that spill into plazas shaded by fig, cedar, and acacia trees. It doesn’t take much imagination to envision Plato and Socrates sharing a bottle of wine in the shade of a tree.

In recent years, Athens has shed its image as the poster child for the 2008 economic crisis and reshaped itself with a stunning constellation of glassy modernist architecture and museums in development by the likes of Norman Foster and Kengo Kuma. Meanwhile, the next generation of local architects and designers are carving an Athenian identity into the city’s soul by revamping places like the ancient port of Piraeus, which has become an indie art hub, with galleries popping up in the quasi-industrial neighborhood of Agios Dionysios. Just 10 years ago, Athens was a place to drop anchor for a night or two before hopping over to an island. Today, in the midst of a new cultural era, it merits a much longer visit. And those who do make the trip will be richly rewarded.

Where to Stay

Acropolis views, sybaritic spas, and rooftop pool bars are some of the Olympus-like amenities you can expect to find in modern Athens and its sanctuary- and temple-like hotels.

Hotel Grande Bretagne

A historic stay
This landmark 321-room hotel built in 1874 of stone, marble, and wood remains a time capsule of grand old Athenian luxury. Overlooking Constitution Square and replete with a rambling spa, rooms with restored antiques, and blue and gold marble baths offer a respite from the city’s bustle. Suites... This landmark 321-room hotel built in 1874 of stone, marble, and wood remains a time capsule of grand old Athenian luxury. Overlooking Constitution Square and replete with a rambling spa, rooms with restored antiques, and blue and gold marble baths offer a respite from the city’s bustle. Suites come with butler service, which can unlock the city’s secrets, but don’t miss the rooftop garden bar and pool, both offering breathtaking views of the Acropolis, a secret in and of itself.

Four Seasons Astir Palace

A luxurious hotel just off the Riviera
Just outside the city, on a scenic stretch of the Athens Riviera, is this 303-room 1960s gem that reopened spectacularly as a Four Seasons in 2018. Bedrooms are drenched in coastal blues and beiges, while sea views and air and azure sky pour into them. A sun-dappled waterfront spa features a wide... Just outside the city, on a scenic stretch of the Athens Riviera, is this 303-room 1960s gem that reopened spectacularly as a Four Seasons in 2018. Bedrooms are drenched in coastal blues and beiges, while sea views and air and azure sky pour into them. A sun-dappled waterfront spa features a wide variety of treatments from oxygen masks and facials to four-hands anti–jet lag and mother-daughter massages. Michelin-starred food — like octopus-ink risotto with bergamot and sardines with eucalyptus and cherry gazpacho — is worth splurging on at its in-house restaurant, Pelagos.

Electra Metropolis Athens

Modern accommodations in the heart of the city
Located in the heart of Athens, around the corner from Syntagma Square, this fresh and modern property is swathed in hues of turquoise and white and maintains a youthful vibe. No wonder, since it’s built in the former Ministry of Education building and maintains a sexy rooftop pool with a... Located in the heart of Athens, around the corner from Syntagma Square, this fresh and modern property is swathed in hues of turquoise and white and maintains a youthful vibe. No wonder, since it’s built in the former Ministry of Education building and maintains a sexy rooftop pool with a waterfall feature, a wellness area, and a killer sun terrace with some commanding views over the Acropolis. Ask for a room with a balcony facing the Parthenon.

Where to Eat

Athens has earned a serious reputation as a foodie destination, with modern Greek and fine-dining options sitting seamlessly beside rustic tavernas, ouzeris, and koutoukia (traditional, mostly family-run restaurants).

Papadakis Restaurant

A signature destination for Aegean Island cuisine
Diners at this coveted restaurant in the foothills of Mount Lycabettus, in the upmarket Kolonaki neighborhood, include Jean Paul Gaultier and Carla Bruni. They come for chef Argiro Barbarigou’s signature Aegean Island cuisine, which she learned from her legendary chef father, who ran a restaurant... Diners at this coveted restaurant in the foothills of Mount Lycabettus, in the upmarket Kolonaki neighborhood, include Jean Paul Gaultier and Carla Bruni. They come for chef Argiro Barbarigou’s signature Aegean Island cuisine, which she learned from her legendary chef father, who ran a restaurant of the same name on the island of Paros in the 1970s. Her grouper with truffle, kakavia fish soup, and tagliatelle with mushroom, walnut, and San Michali cheese from Syros Island draw epicures from all over the globe, as well as a regular cast of Athenian regulars.

Diogenes

A beloved local spot ideal for dining with a group of friends
Gather your friends, grab a wobbly wooden table outside under acacia and mulberry trees, and order everything. Fava bean hummus, fish roe salads, grilled octopus, saganaki in a hazelnut crust, lamb shanks, pans of moussaka, and plates of crunchy zucchini tempura fill the tables of diners sharing... Gather your friends, grab a wobbly wooden table outside under acacia and mulberry trees, and order everything. Fava bean hummus, fish roe salads, grilled octopus, saganaki in a hazelnut crust, lamb shanks, pans of moussaka, and plates of crunchy zucchini tempura fill the tables of diners sharing high-quality traditional Greek food at this relaxed, cozy go-to beloved by locals and tourists alike. Located in the neighborhood of Plaka, at the foot of the Acropolis, this is an all-day meal kind of spot where Greek wines flow and time casually slips by with each opened bottle.

Nolan

Asian-fusion cuisine with a Greek twist
The menu of this Asian-fusion Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant (noted for its value) features mash-ups like bonito in ponzu; steamed rice with egg, truffle oil, and parsley; bean noodles with octopus and Kalamata olives; and heartier affairs like donburi with lamb and zucchini with miso and... The menu of this Asian-fusion Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant (noted for its value) features mash-ups like bonito in ponzu; steamed rice with egg, truffle oil, and parsley; bean noodles with octopus and Kalamata olives; and heartier affairs like donburi with lamb and zucchini with miso and smoked eggplant. But the real secret ingredient is chef Sotiris Kontizas’s biculturalism: he comes from a Greek father and Japanese mother, a harmony reflected in the stylish, compact, light-flooded restaurant with the long marble counter and streamlined wooden tables where stone bowls and modern pottery brim with seasonal Med-meets-Asian creations.

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What to Do

The city’s art and culture worlds have exploded in recent years, signaling a new cultural renaissance that merits longer visits for art and culture seekers who want to enrich their island-hopping holidays.

The National Gallery

An expanded landmark museum
The landmark museum finally reopened last year after a massive eight-year, 60 million euro overhaul, with a finished space that is double the size of the original, from a glassy modernist design by Architektoniki Ltd. Grammatopoulos-Panoussakis Architects and D. Vassilopoulos & Partners S.A. The... The landmark museum finally reopened last year after a massive eight-year, 60 million euro overhaul, with a finished space that is double the size of the original, from a glassy modernist design by Architektoniki Ltd. Grammatopoulos-Panoussakis Architects and D. Vassilopoulos & Partners S.A. The space houses over 20,000 pieces of Greek and European art from the fourteenth to the twentieth century, including works by El Greco and Picasso. Don’t miss Panayiotis Tetsis’s lively and monumental triptych “Street Market” located in the main atrium, which captures a colorful bit of Athenian drama.

Acropolis Museum

The ultimate place to examine artifacts
Every artifact and relic found at the archaeological sites of the Acropolis of Athens is housed in this sprawling museum, located at the southern foot of the Acropolis hill and designed by U.S.- and France-based architect Bernard Tschumi and Greek architect Michael Photiadis. Notable treasures... Every artifact and relic found at the archaeological sites of the Acropolis of Athens is housed in this sprawling museum, located at the southern foot of the Acropolis hill and designed by U.S.- and France-based architect Bernard Tschumi and Greek architect Michael Photiadis. Notable treasures include five of the six famous caryatids of the Acropolis (fifth-century marble statues of maidens that served as columns holding up one of the temples), sixth-century korai, and artifacts from the Greek Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece. If you only have time for one museum, this is it.

Anthologist

A Greek shopping experience
This brand-new concept shop and studio workshop/exhibition space is an “Only in Athens” original and emphasizes high-quality products made and informed by Greek designs including, but not limited to, painted ceramic espresso cups, vintage necklaces from Paros, and chic goddess belts inspired by a... This brand-new concept shop and studio workshop/exhibition space is an “Only in Athens” original and emphasizes high-quality products made and informed by Greek designs including, but not limited to, painted ceramic espresso cups, vintage necklaces from Paros, and chic goddess belts inspired by a belt buckle discovered by the company’s Greek-American founder Andria Mitsakos at a flea market in Athens.

NEON

For a dynamic experience of the arts
NEON, a nonprofit founded by collector and entrepreneur Dimitris Daskalopoulos, brings contemporary art closer to everyone through free art exhibitions and installations in public and private spaces. Notable current collaborations include the exhibition “Dream On” and Louise Bourgeois’s... NEON, a nonprofit founded by collector and entrepreneur Dimitris Daskalopoulos, brings contemporary art closer to everyone through free art exhibitions and installations in public and private spaces. Notable current collaborations include the exhibition “Dream On” and Louise Bourgeois’s installation “Maman.” “Dream On” brings together large-scale installations from the private collection of Daskalopoulos, as well as big-name works from Peter Fischli & David Weiss and Damien Hirst, among others, at the former Public Tobacco Factory, an emblematic early-modernist building in the Athens neighborhood of Kolonos recently converted to a cavernous contemporary art hub.
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Our Contributors

Adam H. Graham Writer

Adam H. Graham is an American food and travel journalist based in Zurich, Switzerland. He’s a frequent contributor to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Afar, and more. He typically spends a few months every year in Japan, and recently spent several weeks visiting Japanese vineyards in several different prefectures.

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