72hrs in Athens
Athens is the city that gave birth to democracy and shaped modern society as we know it today. It counts more than 3,400 years in recorded history and has been at the centre of the arts, philosophy, athleticism, knowledge and science since almost forever. The Classical Athens of centuries ago was a powerful city-state and the cradle of Western civilisation where culture prospered and flourished. The heritage of this classical era is apparent all around in the Athens of today, waiting for visitors to discover the ancient treasures in the multitud of monuments that adorn its streets. Apart from the sensation of genuine awe inspired by the sheer volume of antiquity, Athens is also a contemporary city, additionally indulging in splendid weather mostly all year round that makes it an ideal destination, offering a plethora of experiences.
During the first moments of your visit there is a lot to take in. The city centre has the added advantage of everything being closely situated, so a stroll around the main areas will uncover a handful of landmarks effortlessly. Choose to stay in a central location in the historic part of the city at AthensWas, so that all the ancient wonders are (literally) at your feet. The imposing Acropolis rock with its impressive Parthenon dominates most of the areas, while the new Acropolis Museum shall definitely be on your bucket list. All of the compelling finds discovered in the Acropolis can be seen at the Acropolis Museum. Considered to be on the top 10 of museums to visit in the whole world by many travel mags. Allow for 2 to 3 hours to fully browse through all the intriguing artefacts. Located on the pedestrian Dionysiou Aeropagitou (Athens’ most upscale street which is the perimeter of the Acropolis rock) walking along it you will reach the quaint area of Thiseio and the picturesque Monastiraki, filled with cafes, tavernas and souvenir shops.
After having had your main cultural fix, indulge in a lazy afternoon and enjoy a traditional hot Greek coffee, which has a nice thick, aromatic blend, or alternatively, the cold alternative which is a freddo espresso (without milk) or freddo cappuccino (with milk froth). Our favourite place to enjoy such drinks is at Cafe Taf, home to one of the finalists in the World Barista Championships competition. Expect to find expert baristas serving handcrafted brews for coffee connoisseurs in a contemporary-style setting. For a more central location, our alternative is Tailor Made as it is historically one of the first ever speciality coffee shops in Athens. Located in the cosmopolitan area of Monastiraki area, in Agias Eirinis square to be precise, you will have plenty of shopping options as well. Tailor Made lends its name to the historical fabric shops that were once lined up around the square. A true bonus is the fact that you can buy their dry coffee, brewing equipment and infusions to take with you. All around the world, Greeks hold onto their family lukumades recipe, each with its own special twist. Lukumades otherwise known as ‘Greek doughnuts’ are sold all over Greece from small dedicated patisseries and are usually served as a treat in the afternoon with honey syrup and crushed walnuts. Get yours at hip joint Lukumades on the street Aiolou n°21. We love the honey and cinnamon combination, but there are dozens more to choose from.
Plaka and Anafiotika areas are directly under the massive Acropolis rock, and plays host to all sorts of interesting buildings, alleys and narrow passageways. The Ancient Agora is very well preserved, and as you walk around you’ll be surprised at all the excavation sites that are on full display. If you can’t get enough of historical Athens, then you may also visit the National Archeological Museum of Athens, or if it’s art you are a fan of, then Benaki Museum is the next stop for you. If you finish your tour of the Acropolis, we recommend heading down to the Keramikos (Kerameikos) Archaeological Site as well. Also it is easily reachable from the Monastiraki train station. The area was used continuously for burials from the twelfth century BC for a thousand years.
Once you’re ready for round two of exploring, the largest shopping high street is located straight ahead from Syntagma Square, where the Greek Parliament is situated with the honorary Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, called Ermou. It is brimming with quality clothes stores primarily and is busy usually most of the time the shops are open. Leading all the way down to Monastiraki and Thiseio, you’ll begin to notice that antique shops and stalls begin to appear, selling interesting and raw finds. Shops operate from the morning until about 5pm, except for Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays when shops close at 9pm, and Saturday until 3pm. Since shopping can be a way of losing track of time and a real stimulant, you can take a break and get back to base in order to tuck into an unsurpassed Athenian rooftop gastronomic experience, with a view to die for: the top of the Acropolis! Speaking of views, a favourite local spot is Mount Lycabettus (meaning the mount of wolves, as it has been said that it was once the refuge of the wild wolves of Athens). If offers fantastic panoramic views of the Panathinaiko Stadium or Kallimarmaro, the temple of Olympian Zeus, the Parliament and Acropolis. It is also the host of a very popular open air concert venue at the top. If you are lucky enough to experience a concert there, you shouldn’t miss the chance due to its phenomenal acoustics.
Not to miss out is the fashionable Kolonaki neighbourhood. It is a more upscale area with lots of trendy restaurants and boutiques, so take your time here to look after selective pieces. For a hip retail experience, we recommend cool cafe and boutique concept store Philos. The contemporary store leads customers through the artistic side of Athens, with dozens of independent brands for design, household goods and books. We spent most our our time downstairs with an issue of OpenHouse magazine whilst gulping down a delicious open sandwich with salmon and sliced cucumbers.
Interestingly to mention is the Attica department store located on Panepistimiou n°9. The establishment covers 5 floors of over 800 clothing brands, serenaded with design touches and cute corners. Attica Mall reminded us of Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Some of the brands you can shop are Burberry, Paul Smith, Fred Perry and La Martina. We additionally recommend visiting COCO-MAT Hotel Nafsika, as it’s inhouse store and graffiti-embellished rooftop scenario is something to experience.
For a genuine feel for Athens, no visit is ever complete without a visit to the Central Meat and Fish Market. This is the best place to get closer to the locals. It is loud, animated and the market stalls are chaotic. The amount of local products are a testament to the abundance of farm activity in the peninsula. Also not to miss out to eat is at nearby Tis Theatrou to Steki on Theatrou street nº3-7 is open every day of the week except on Sundays. It is a cheap, entertaining and uses some of the freshest ingredients. Small plates for sharing range from 3 euros and includes fava sprinkled with shallots and onions, black eye bean salad (our fave!), sardines, codfish fritters and other bites.
We recommend staying a few nights at New Hotel in Athens. New Hotel is a part of the group of YES! Hotels, making echoes of a hip, design instalment in a privileged area of the city. It fully encapsulates the Yes! Hotels philosophy - Young, Enthusiastic and Seductive. Rooftop lovers will be happy to learn about the Art Lounge situated sky high, with panoramic views of the city. Within the same YES! Hotels group, in the northern suburbs of Athens lies hotel TWENTYONE. This property is in the uptown neighbourhood Kifisia, also known as the Beverly Hills of Athens for its abundance of shops and tree-lined streets with neo-classical buildings. The major shopping malls of Athens are located on the main road artery leading up to Kifissia, and once you arrive there (by train from the centre or by taxi around 25 minutes) you’ll find some designer stores for exclusive luxury shopping! This area is great for unwinding and getting to know another side to Athens.
The Athenian Suburbia is well worth the hype. After having sampled the main points of interest within the Athens city centre, on your last day you may want to venture out to the outskirts. The northern parts of Athens are known as the more luxury neighbourhoods such as Maroussi, Kefalari and Kifisia (as mentioned above) are the posher areas, they have their own hub of leisurely attractions with a slightly different ambiance. Another difference you’ll notice is that these neighbourhoods are surrounded by green surroundings, something that is lacking in the centre. Perfect for enjoying a coffee and stroll. Alternatively, if you can make your way towards the Southern regions of Faliro and Glyfada that offer a lovely coastline and generous views of the calming Mediterranean sea. This coastline is also known as the Athenian riviera and goes all the way to Sounion, which boasts the stunning Temple of Poseidon built on the top of a cliff. Visit Sounion around sunset so that you can experience breathtaking vistas from the cape.
Athens is the best starting point for a Greek island adventure, so if you are planning a trip to Greece, it is best that you also experience what Greece is renowned for, all in one go.