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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
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The late afternoon view by the sea in Glyfada.
The late afternoon view by the sea in Glyfada.
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Athens

The late afternoon view by the sea in Glyfada.
The late afternoon view by the sea in Glyfada.
  • By Omaira Gill
  • Photos by Myrto Papadopoulos
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Having emerged from a difficult time in its recent past, Athens has entered a new phase as the epitome of all things cool. Although people say Athens is the new Berlin for its bar scene, or London for its emerging street-art culture, none of them do the city justice, because Athens is distinctly itself and incomparable to anywhere else.

World-class bars jostle for space with Michelin-guide eateries and good old honest souvlaki to offer something for everyone, all under the gaze of thousands of years of history. So whether you want to take in the sights, marinate in gorgeous bars across the city, or both, these are the places that no visit to the city would truly be complete without.

Meet Omaira Gill

Omaira moved to Athens from the U.K. after meeting her husband at the 2004 Olympics. When she’s not writing about the Greek economy, she’s writing about her beloved city, cosplaying at gaming and comic conventions, and raising her two sons. Her favorite places in Athens are the rapidly vanishing ungentrified streets around the main market.

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IN THE ACTION
Koukaki
If a few years ago you would have told someone that you’d be staying in Koukaki, they’d have assumed it was because that was the only place you could get a room. But Koukaki has blossomed into one of the hottest places in town thanks to a wave of young Athenians who have moved into the old apartments. The result is a quirky urban neighborhood brimming with funky bars and places to eat that’s close enough to the city center. Find the neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
Glyfada
If you want to be able to get to downtown without much fuss but don’t want to stay in the middle of the urban jungle, the stylish old neighbourhood of Glyfada is the place to be. Located along the southern coast of the city, its tree-lined boulevards and a rambling beach promenade are the ideal place to drink your coffee Greek-style, which means taking a minimum of two hours lingering over your cup. Central Athens proper is a meandering tram or an adrenaline-inducing taxi ride away. Find the neighborhood.
Neighborhoods

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Eat

BREAKFAST
The Pie Shop
If you don’t want to go for the traditional Greek breakfast of coffee and cigarettes, grab a pie. The Pie Shop is a storybook-perfect addition to Athens’s competitive pie scene. Pies inspired by recipes all over the world allow you to take a breakfast trip to Jamaica, Peru, Korea and beyond. Apart from an extensive savory selection, you’ll also find divine patisseries (often in bite-sized samples at the register), the pastry for which is made fresh each day using French butter. The store’s motto is “bake the world a better place,” and who can argue with that?
BTW: The best seller is the Peruvian tequeño served with a portion of guacamole.
The Pie Shop, Voulis 16, Athens, 10563
BREAKFAST
The Underdog
If you didn’t know about the Underdog, you wouldn’t give it a second thought. In fact, if you didn’t know where it was, you’d walk right past it. But the Underdog is the runt of the pack that surprised everyone, thanks to a barista team that has won awards both locally and internationally. And it shows. If you didn’t think something as simple as a cappuccino could leave you fawning over its perfection, prepare to be surprised. This place unfolds before you in a cool industrial setting with an excellent musical selection. Breakfast is served from 10 a.m. (Note a no-laptop policy on weekends.)
BTW: All the coffee is roasted in-house, and the shop sells some of the team’s own coffee blends to help the flavors from your trip linger once you’ve left.
The Underdog, Iraklidon 8, Athens 118 51
LUNCH
Hoocut
Souvlaki is easily Greece’s favorite quick-fix food, and at Hoocut, the slapped-together, greasy nature of souvlaki has been replaced with an attention to detail that turns a simple meal into a delicious experience. The place is the brainchild of some of Greece’s most accomplished chefs, who added a slow touch to this fast food. The ingredients are top-notch and carefully sourced, and everything, including the pita wraps, is prepared on-site. It’s without a doubt the best place in Athens to try souvlaki that doesn’t compromise on taste or quality while still being surprisingly affordable.
BTW: There’s an art to eating souvlaki, so save yourself the spills and tear off the paper around your wrap in spiral strips as you eat.
Hoocut, Plateia Agias Irinis 9, Athens, 105 63
LUNCH
Ergon Foods
Set inside a glass atrium that contrasts the traditional (a living olive tree) with the modern (a wall mural by Greek street artist INO), Ergon Foods has a philosophy of showcasing the finest Greek ingredients in its artfully prepared food. Everything is prepared fresh in front of you. Smoked fish may not set your world on fire — that is until you try the sardine gyros at this place. The gently smoked sardines in a rich, slightly spiced tomato sauce served in crispy pitas will change your mind.
BTW: Finish off a meal here with a short walk down the road to La Greche for freshly made ice cream.
Ergon Foods, Mitropoleos 23, Athens 105 63
DINNER
Zisis
Zisis has placed itself firmly on the Athenian food scene with its simple concept of seafood served in paper cones. You can either take the cones away to eat while you walk, or enjoy a sit-down dinner with a wider menu. But it’s not just the cute gimmick that won over the city’s foodies; the seafood here is top-notch and very fresh. Even the portion of salad stuffed into the bottom of the cone comes with a delicious dressing! Try the fried prawns or sand smelt with lashings of their chili and mayonnaise sauce, grab some napkins and hit the road.
BTW: Combine your seafood cone with a take-away cocktail from Take Your Cocktail Out, which is less than a block and a half away.
Zisis, Athinaidos 3, Athens 105 63
DINNER
Nolan
If you get to eat only one meal in Athens, pick Nolan. Chef Sotiris Kontizas has drawn on his Greek and Japanese roots to create a fusion menu that’s earned this place a well-deserved spot in the Michelin Guide. Some of the food combinations seem to make little sense at first glance, but when you take a bite, you realize how the flavors work in harmony, like bitter greens with bonito and sausage. Also try the soba noodles in tahini sauce, a well-balanced symphony of Greek and Japanese tastes. The desserts are pretty spectacular, too, and all for a wallet-friendly price.
BTW: Nolan is extremely popular. Lunchtime walk-ins are possible, but for dinner, you’ll need to be weeks in advance.
Nolan, 33, Voulis 31, Athens 105 57
LATE-NIGHT
Baba au Rum
Gone are the days when a cocktail in Athens meant sticky floors and rainbow-colored monstrosities poured from ready-made mixes. Baba au Rum was Greece’s first bar to make it onto the list of the world’s 50 best bars in 2013, ushering in a new age of finesse and expertise in the city’s bar scene. Rums are at the heart of the cocktail menu here, but so is a whole spectrum of carefully selected spirits from around the world. Sitting at the bar and watching the bartenders at work is something akin to alchemy and magic combined, and they spare none of the flair when it comes to preparing their luscious mocktails, too.
BTW: Try the Spicy Baba, the bar’s most popular cocktail, which combines aged rum, ginger, berries and lime.
Baba au Rum, Klitiou 6, Athens 105 60
LATE-NIGHT
Kokkion Ice Cream
Athenians love their ice cream, and this artisanal shop, tucked down a graffitied side street in Psyri, has won itself a cult following. Its rich, lively flavors crafted from fresh ingredients and a very Instagrammable store keep both locals and visitors milling around at all hours. Try the thick, aromatic kaimaki ice cream made with fresh buffalo milk, aromatic masticha resin from the island of Chios and orchid roots (salepi), but be sure to ask about the daily specials before you order. It has a good vegan selection and also does coffee.
BTW: Not done for the night? Then hit Psyrri, Athens’ lively bar district, which is around the corner from here.
Kokkion Ice Cream, Protogenous 2, Athens 105 54
(Athens illustrator Bary Sevi for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. The Athenian standard of driving is “Escaping the Zombie Apocalypse.” Avoid driving in the city center at all costs. The locals will not humor your rookie attempts at navigating our streets.
  2. If you’re traveling with babies, prepare for the paradox of having them fussed over endlessly but a general lack of highchairs and changing tables. Thankfully, that’s starting to change.
  3. Ouzo may be the one drink that visitors want to try, but you should definitely chat with the bartenders to explore the growing choices available from Greek distilleries, including masticha liqueur and Greek gin.
(Athens illustrator Bary Sevi for The Washington Post)

Do

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
Architect Renzo Piano’s beautiful and eco-friendly vision has made the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center the main attraction along the city’s southern coast. It’s home to the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera, a sprawling Mediterranean park and saltwater canal. A glass viewing bridge offers sweeping views of Athens from the Acropolis down to the coast. It’s perfect for relaxing, having a picnic or letting the kids run free.
BTW: Activities are put on all year, including free outdoor movies and concerts in the summer, so check the website before visiting.
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, Syggrou Avenue 364, Athens 17674
Alternative Athens street art tour
It doesn’t escape the attention of visitors that Athens is littered with graffiti. Delve beyond the mindless scribbling and discover some true talent on the Alternative Athens street-art tour. Lasting three hours and guided by street artists themselves, the tour showcases some of the best examples from the city’s vibrant street-art scene, explaining the background of the artists and what each piece means. It’s a good way to see some typical Athenian neighborhoods, too.
BTW: Food and drinks are not included, so stock up from street kiosks as you wander.
28 Karaiskaki Street 105 54, Athens
Areopagus Hill
This famous rock at the foot of the Acropolis offers the best view of the city at all hours of the day. Sitting here, you can sense the eons of history surround you as ancient and modern collide, which is strangely comforting and perspective-giving. If you’re under a moonlit summer sky, nowhere in the city is more beautiful or more romantic.
BTW: The rocks here are worn and slippery even when dry, so forget how cute your sandals are and wear sensible shoes.
Areopagus Hill, Theorias 21, Athina 105 55
Athens Walkthrough
It’s surprising what you can find hidden away down one of Athens’s arcades, or stoas. A convenient shortcut, a 3-D printing shop, a wine bar or even a stretch of the ancient city’s original walls. Once ignored and now enjoying something of a renaissance, the stoas of Athens are fascinating microcosms hiding all kinds of secrets and treasures. Popular with designers, stoas tend to be where craft shops make their homes and are great places to pick up locally made souvenirs and gifts.
BTW: Tours run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and are not available on Sundays.
Anaxagora 3-5, Athens 105 51
Hammam Baths
Hammam culture has taken off in Athens, and the Hammam Baths are the place to experience it. Whether you want to rejuvenate yourself after a day’s sightseeing or you partied too hard in Psyri’s bars the night before and need a little TLC, the various packages at the Hammam Baths will replenish you and set you up for the rest of your stay. Unwind in an authentically designed marble space with a raised platform in the center for massage and toweling treatments, and top off your visit with a glass of hot tea and rose-flavored loukoumia, the Greek equivalent of Turkish delights.
BTW: Couples massage sessions are available, and there are women-only days.
Hammam Baths, 17 Agion Asomaton Street, 1 Melidoni Street, Athens 10553
Flisvos Marina
Leave the chaos of the city center behind and head to Flisvos Marina, where you can enjoy a great meal or snack, or take selfies in front of sparkling yachts. Roughly a half-hour tram ride from Syntagma, Flisvos Marina is where locals go in the evenings to wind down as they stroll the beach promenade. The marina itself has an enormous variety of bars, coffee shops and restaurants, and it’s usually a few degrees cooler than the city in the summer. Wander past the yachts to the open promenade to catch some of the best sunsets in Athens.
BTW: For a cheaper option than the pricey coffee shops here, cross the main avenue (carefully) and get your coffee to go.
Flisvos Marina, Palio Faliro 17561, Athens
Omaira Gill
Omaira moved to Athens from the U.K. after meeting her husband at the 2004 Olympics. When she’s not writing about the Greek economy, she’s writing about her beloved city, cosplaying at gaming and comic conventions, and raising her two sons. Her favorite places in Athens are the rapidly vanishing ungentrified streets around the main market.
Twitter
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Myrto Papadopoulos
Myrto is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post based in Athens, Greece.
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CITY GUIDES