The revival of Europe’s classical capital has attracted plenty of artists, curators and digital nomads. But it’s entrepreneurial young Athenians who are opening pop-up restaurants, design collectives and guesthouses, regenerating derelict buildings in rough-around-the-edges areas such as Pangrati, Kypseli and Keramikos. Messy and unpredictable, Athens fizzes with an intense energy that burns bright into the night.
Everyone visits the Acropolis and the cleverly curated Acropolis Museum (€5, concessions €3), where you can get up close and personal with the antiquities, both above and below ground.
Hit the Parthenon first thing in the morning or just before dusk – at midday, the white marble reflects the high heat. To get beyond the symbolism, book a tailor-made tour with Athens Insiders, whose charismatic guides even get kids excited about ruins, with treasure hunts, pottery workshops and a running commentary of mythology.
Avoid the tourist traps in Plaka on a walking tour with Culinary Backstreets. You’ll get a taste for tsipouro (pomace brandy), served with fig paste and goat’s cheese in an artisan deli, cod cured in fenugreek at a 400-year-old taverna, and several regional variations of baklava – served with titbits of culinary trivia.
Natassa Pappa has mapped the stoas (covered arcades) that connect the commercial heart of Athens. Fans of typography, architecture and quirky old shops will love her Into Stoas trips.
Athens’ southern coastline is flanked by pine-fringed peninsulas, upmarket marinas and sandy beaches that are blissfully empty off-season. The fanciest (and priciest) option is Astir Beach in Vouliagmeni, where the Four Seasons will open its first Greek outpost in 2019. Until then, the buff and bronzed play beach racquet and drink cocktails at Krabo, the Margi hotel’s new beach bar on adjacent Zoska bay.
For clear waters with smaller crowds, head to the pebbly coves that flank Attica’s southern tip, then watch the sun set behind the temple of Poseidon at Sounion.
Where to Eat
With its butchers, beggars and braying hawkers, the central food market is a sensory assault. Take a breather at this deli-cum-ouzeri, where cheery waiters will ply you with house-cured pastrami and pickled anchovies at tiny marble tables. Sausages are strung like bunting around the deli counter: try “the rocket”, an extra spicy salami, if you dare.
- Around €20pp with wine, Sokratous 1 & Evripidou, +30 210 325 4184, karamanlidika.gr
Cherchez la Femme
At this inspired update of the traditional kafenion, Greek coffee is brewed over hot sand in a copper beaker. Dainty mezze of grilled octopus, smoked aubergine with grape molasses, and stuffed vine leaves go down well with craft beers (try Septem IPA) and Cretan raki served in crystal tumblers. The interior is retro chic – botanical wallpaper, crystal chandeliers, green marble tables – but the best people-watching is on the pedestrian street overlooking Athens cathedral.
- Around €25pp with wine, Mitropoleos 46, +30 210 322 2020, no website
Taverna tou Oikonomou
Ano Petralona, a gentle neighbourhood of low-rise houses and low-cost tavernas, is where locals go to eat well. This family-run taverna has been around since 1930. Neither the menu nor the decor have changed much: the baked aubergines, stuffed cabbage leaves and cockerel and pasta casserole, faded yellow walls and worn wicker chairs have a reassuring familiarity. It’s cosy in winter, but sitting beneath the olive trees growing out of the pavement on a scorching summer night is as Athenian as it gets.
- Around €15pp with wine, Troon & Kydantidon 32, +30 210 346 7555, on Facebook
Where to Drink
For over a century, the Athenian intelligentsia have congregated for an ouzo at this institution in the foothills of Mount Lycabettus. With kids running amok in the playground and waiters dashing up and down the hill, balancing trays of minty meatballs and cold beers, it’s like being on a Greek island. Go before catching a movie at the open-air cinema next door and come back for a nightcap: it’s open until 3am in spring and summer.
- Dexameni Square, Kolonaki, no phone, no website
Baba au Rum
This unpretentious tiki bar has one of the world’s most impressive rum lists. Ask one of the friendly bartenders to knock you up one of their signature daiquiris or a rum-based negroni, made with home-made syrups and bitters. Baba au Rum’s summer incarnation, Mary Pickford, brings craft cocktails and an art deco aesthetic to ritzy Mikrolimano marina.
Down a scruffy arcade, with no sign outside, this dive bar is popular for its cheap drinks and indie DJs. There’s often frenzied dancing in the atrium after midnight, as random films are projected onto the walls of the surrounding apartments. By day, it’s a hangout for old geezers from the flea market nearby.