Athens city guide: where to stay, eat, drink and more - Halong Junk Cruises

Athens city guide: where to stay, eat, drink and more

What to do

Benaki Museum, Pireos Street
It would be criminal to come to Athens and miss the Acropolis but visitors who stick only to the city’s ancient past are missing out. Part of the excellent Benaki art and design museum, which sprawls across seven sites, the Pireos Street gallery is a forbidding pink cube in the warehouse district of Gazi that hosts some of Athens’ best contemporary art exhibitions. It is particularly popular on weekend evenings, when it closes at 10pm.
138 Pireos Street, benaki.gr. Open Thurs-Sun 10am-8pm, Fri-Sat 10am-10pm. Admission €6

Athens Central Market
While London and Paris have converted their historic markets into tourist traps and shopping malls, Athens’ glorious Central Market is just as it’s been for decades. The sheer variety of fish and meat on sale in its grand, slippery-floored arcades is a sight in itself, but it’s also a good place to buy whole spices, cheese and olive oil. Four fine no-frills restaurants dole out tripe soup, supposedly a hangover cure.
Athinas Street, Mon-Sat 8am-6pm

Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika Gallery
One of Greece’s most important 20th-century artists, Nikos Ghika was also a seriously minted scion of an aristocratic family (and a Rothschild by marriage) with exquisite taste in mid-century modern design. The artist’s grand art deco house at 3 Kriezotou Street, just off Syntagma Square, was reopened to the public two years ago, and contains the artist’s studio and apartment, plus a beautifully laid-out three-floor survey of mid-century Greek art and culture.
benaki.gr, Wed-Sat 10am-6pm. Admission €7

Open-air cinema

Thissio open-air cinema.Thissio open-air cinema. Photograph: ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP/Getty Images

With more than 90 outdoor screens across the city during the hotter months (including September), open-air cinema is a key part of Athens’ cultural life. The best selection of films is arguably at historic Vox cinema in the Exarchia neighbourhood, which mainly screens arthouse films with subtitles. For the experience itself, however, it’s hard to beat the Thissio cinema, with its dramatic floodlit view of the Acropolis looming behind the screen.
Apostolou Pavlou 7,cine-thisio.gr. Tickets from €6, late April-late October

Shopping
Athens is, as you’d expect, a great place to buy hard-to-find and often reasonably priced Greek designer goods. Try Plaka’s Forget Me Not (100 Andrianou Street) to hunt down products from the cheekily named Salty Bags, a Corfu-based startup making beautiful bags out of old sails. Over in Exarchia, Paul Sarz makes intriguingly spooky jewellery that looks part-Victorian, part-classical. For souvenirs that go beyond the usual tat, meanwhile, call +30 210 92 45 064 to book a visit to appointment-only design shop Greece is for Lovers, which sells such tongue-in-cheek mementos as marble ice lollies and Zeus-style lightning bolt paper knives.

Must-sees

On the Way to PhilopapposOn the Way to Philopappos. Photograph: Casey and Sonja/flickr

Philopappos Hill park
For the perfect view across to the Acropolis, Mount Lycabettus and out to the Saronic Gulf, visit the monument and park on Philopappos Hill. You probably won’t have to share it with anyone else.

Classical ruins
Athens boasts some of the most spectacular, imitated classical ruins in the world. From the Parthenon to the Hill of Pnyx, these crop up unannounced on street corners in Athens the way shops do in other cities.

The Acropolis
The Acropolis Museum is almost flawless in content, architecture and layout: the only improvement could be replacing its mock-ups of the marbles frieze with the British Museum originals.

Alfresco drinking
Athens’ bar terraces are among its best features, especially at night. Go upscale on tree-lined Kolonaki Square, or try the punkier Plateia Exarchion in anarchist stronghold Exarchia, just down the road.

Where to eat

Melilotos.Melilotos.

Melilotos
Retooling traditional, local dishes at decent prices, Melilotos is at the forefront of an Athenian restaurant wave not unlike Britain’s gastropub boom. In a neo-rustic pistachio-coloured dining room, this restaurant near Syntagma Square serves excellent grills and unusual specialities such as one-year-old Cretan gruyère and aubergine salad with walnuts.
19 Kalamiotou, +30 210 32 22 458, melilotos.gr, €25pp

Kriti
The back of a humdrum shopping arcade may not sound like an obvious gastronomic hot spot, but Kriti has a reputation for serving the best Cretan food in Athens. Especially popular with local lawyers at lunchtime, this small taverna’s excellent menu includes such classic Cretan dishes as barley rusks topped with tomatoes and mizithra cheese and peppery sautéed wild greens.
5 Veranzerou, Kanigos Square, +30 210 38 26 998. Open Mon-Sat 11am-11.30pm, dinner from €20pp

Kosta
Late-night drinkers from Agias Irinis Square fill this classic souvlaki place, queuing for Kosta’s classic wrap of pork skewers or beef meatballs in pitta bread with salad, chips, tzatziki and hot tomato sauce. Quality is high and service is decent, given that you only need spend €5 to fill up here.
2 Agias Irinis Square. Open 6am until late, wraps from €2

Ama Laxei
It’s hard to imagine Ama Laxei’s beautiful courtyard, now packed with bougainvillea and palms, in its former role as the playground of a school. The food is a similarly attractive revamp of Greek tradition, with highlights including pork sausage with orange juice and mussels with ouzo.
69 Kalliodromiou, +30 210 38 45 978, €25pp

Where to drink

The roof terrace at Bios,The roof terrace at Bios

Bios roof terrace
Athens is one of those rare cities where sky bars don’t automatically mean a diet of white sofas and Cafe del Mar. Bios is a leftfield art space and music venue but its best asset is arguably its lovely, unkempt roof terrace, where you can watch the sun set behind the Parthenon while listening to anything from Autechre to the Smiths.
84 Pireos Street, bios.gr. Open daily 11am-4am

Some Bizzare
Athens’ current spot of the moment, this bar has an unlikely setting in the courtyard of a major bank. With no one to disturb outside office hours, Some Bizzare turns the courtyard into an open-air dancefloor until 5am at weekends. Expect a crowd of twenty- and thirtysomethings who (bar the tans) wouldn’t look out of place in London’s Dalston, and a shifting, largely electronic music policy.
7-9 Sofokleous Street, facebook.com/somebizzare.gr. Open Mon-Fri 8pm-4am (Sat 5am)

Bluebird
Tiny Bluebird is a gay-friendly bar-cum-bistro hidden up an alley near Syntagma Square. The decor is part Parisian cafe, part old-school tattoo parlour, though most of the very mixed crowd of drinkers stay out on the terrace, enjoying the (for Athens) unusually wide range of whiskies.
4 Ipitou Street. Open daily 5pm-2am

Tailor Made
If you want something other than thick, syrupy Greek coffee, Tailor Made is perhaps the best place in Athens. Roasting its own single estate coffees, Tailor Made also looks great, with a high ceiling decorated with tailoring patterns and a huge sgraffito (scraped plaster) bust. It’s in one of central Athens’ busiest spots for bars and cafes, Tailor Made’s terrace is also ideal for people watching.
2 Agias Irinis Square, tailormade.gr. Open 8am-2am (4am Fri-Sat)

Where to sleep

Fresh Hotel, Athens.Fresh Hotel

Fresh Hotel
With sleek interiors, and a rooftop swimming pool and cocktail bar, Fresh Hotel looks more expensive than it is. The surrounding neighbourhood, near the Central Market, is lively if a little run-down.
26 Sofokleous Street, +30 210 52 48 511, freshhotel.gr. Doubles from €76

A for Athens
Overlooking the square at Monastiraki, this boutique hotel could hardly be more central. Its rooftop bar can get rather crammed, but the intermediate floors with good-sized, sparely elegant bedrooms are calm enough. Book early and ask for a view of the Acropolis.
2-4 Miaouli Street, +30 210 32 44 244, aforathens.com. Doubles from €80

City Circus
Housed in a neoclassical mansion, this excellent hostel-cum-hotel’s helpful staff and self-conscious decor seem a world away from the grotty budget options of old. The immediate area’s elegantly faded 19th-century streets are worth a look around, too.
Sarri Street 16, +30 213 02 37 244, citycircus.gr. Dorm beds from €22, doubles from €60

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