Think of Athens and the first things that spring to mind are ancient ruins and camera-toting crowds (before they hotfoot it to the island-bound ferries at the port of Piraeus, that is). It’s true, the Acropolis is ever present and during summer the city thrums with schools of holidaymakers. But there’s much more to the Greek capital than temples and tourists. Strap up your sandals and allow us to introduce you to this chaotic but ever-so-charismatic city.

Need to know

Get to grips with the basics

  1. Rules of the road: Zebra crossings here are no more than stretches of road stamped with sketchy white stripes. Don’t expect to make it across in one piece while tapping away on your phone; this is a look-both-ways kind of city.
  2. Opening hours: Shops tend to open every day except for Sunday, with early afternoon breaks on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and 15.00 closures on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
  3. Eating out: Eating out in Athens is a laid-back affair; you’ll never be told, on making a reservation, that the restaurant needs the table back after an hour and a half (London and New York, here’s looking at you).
  4. Political unrest: Athens is no stranger to political demonstrations. Though it’s not rare to see road closures in the city centre, protests are mostly peaceful.
  5. Money matters: By and large, cash is king in Athens but card payment is on the rise. Most taxis only accept cash so make sure you have euros to hand before hopping in.

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Hotels

Hospitality at its finest

  1. Perianth Hotel, Syntagma

    New kid on the block

    A new addition to the Athens hotel scene, Perianth opened its doors in summer 2018, creating a welcome design-led outpost in the buzzing heart of the city.

  2. Athens Hilton, Ilisia

    Landmark lodgings

    Every room in this 1960s building has a private balcony and is tastefully decorated with white walls, wooden floors and a marble bathroom.

  3. InnAthens, Plaka

    Sound of silence

    An olive’s toss from lively Syntagma Square, this storied building has had many guises in its century-long history.

Vocabulary

Local lingo

  1. Yassas: Hello/goodbye
  2. Pame!: Let's go!
  3. Yamas!: Cheers!
  4. Parakalo: Please
  5. Efharisto: Thank you

Food and drink

Smart bites and top stops

  1. Café Avissinia, Monastiraki

    Old Athens

    A cabinet of curiosities awaits in this classic Athenian stop-in on Avissinias Square, home to a famous flea market. Chef Ketty Touros-Koufonikola has been collecting decorative pieces for decades, creating a cosy space packed with tapestries, oil paintings and ceramics.

  2. Cherchez La Femme, Syntagma

    Piece of Paris

    This is a polished breed of kafeneio, a place where you can sample meze while sipping ouzo or wine. Highlights include the saganaki (pan-fried cheese) with marmalade and the aromatic keftedakia (meatballs).

  3. Queen Bee, Kolonaki

    Regal selection

    Laid out on the counter at this popular café you’ll find French pastries (including the best croissants in town), cakes and sandwiches (try the mortadella focaccia).

  4. Warehouse, Exarcheia

    Speciality brews

    Greek barista George Loukas serves single-origin coffee and speciality blends from Africa and Latin America, as well as hot chocolate prepared with Valrhona chocolate. At 13.00, the space turns into a bar-cum-restaurant.

  5. The Clumsies, Syntagma

    +30 210 3232 682

    The cocktail list at this all-day bar is a kaleidoscope of spirits, infusions, spices and fruit, artfully blended into drinks with names such as Eau de Vie Fashioned.

Retail

Shop talk

  1. Zeus + Dione, Kolonaki

    Contemporary Hellenic

    During the crisis, Mareva Grabowski and Dimitra Kolotoura took a chance on a label inspired by ancient Hellenic culture. Now their pieces can be found at more than 50 wholesalers worldwide.

  2. Paraphernalia, Omonoia

    Unique pieces

    This shop presents a forever-changing collection of furniture, lighting, jewellery, accessories, plants and homeware – some new and others upcycled. Everything is for sale, including the antique furniture on which smaller pieces are displayed, from the woodcarving counter to the mug rack.

  3. Little Tree Books & Coffee, Makrigianni

    Pages with perks

    They say that too many cooks spoil the broth but, despite being managed by eight owners, Little Tree Books & Coffee is a wonderfully calm space near the buzzing Acropolis Museum. The titles are mostly Greek (often in their English translation) but there are a few French and Italian classics too.

  4. Savapile, Psyri

    Straw draws

    Savapile’s handmade straw hats have adorned heads in Athens since 1960. The brand has grown from humble origins, with founder Sava Sarigiannidis starting out using pots and pans for moulds.

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