For many visitors to Greece, Athens is a pit stop on the way to the islands: Check out the Acropolis, the Agora, and you’re done. But if you linger a little longer, you’ll discover a modern side to this ancient capital. There are hip craft-cocktail bars, a lively contemporary art scene and stylish cafés that dish up cutting-edge cuisine. Here’s where to find them.
Organic and farm-to-table aren’t just buzzwords at Nice-n-Easy: This Kolonaki restaurant owns a vegetable farm in Crete and a water buffalo ranch on Kerkini Lake, where it sources the meat for its delicious signature meatballs. The healthy salads, house-made pastas and satisfying sandwiches are best savored on its sprawling hilltop patio.
Café Ivis serves traditional Greek mezes like salty taramasalata and creamy hummus, grilled Crete sausage and beet salad topped with yogurt in an unassuming corner spot in the lively Psiri neighborhood. The tiny taverna’s wallet-friendly prices and generous portions make it a big hit with locals.
If you tire of Greek fare (is that possible?), pop by colorful Taqueria Maya, just a stone’s throw from central Syntagma Square, for California-style tacos and burritos. Fresh fillings include spicy lamb barbacoa with cilantro, and sweet potatoes with chorizo. Wash it all down with a refreshing Greek beer.
Yoleni’s new seven-story flagship store, set in the Kolonaki shopping district, stocks more than 2,500 regional products. Among its treasures are a dizzying array of olive oils and honeys, along with cured meats, fresh cheeses and handmade pitas, so you can assemble the perfect picnic lunch. It also houses the country’s first olive-oil bar, where you can try extra-virgin offerings paired with wine, beer and even chocolate.
Don’t know your Assyrtiko from your Avgoustiatis? Let Sofia and Dimitris Athanasopoulous of Fine Wine, an all-Greek shop in historic Plaka, educate you on the native varieties. Many bottles hail from small producers not found outside the country, and most are priced around €15 (about $16 USD). You can book a tasting with local cheeses, starting at €18.
Along Monastiraki’s narrow streets, in the shadow of the ancient Agora, is Athens’ famed outdoor flea market, a jumble of stalls selling everything from antique furniture to old typewriters and ancient coins. Though open daily, Sundays are prime time for bargaining with vendors gathered in Avissinias Square. Look for deals on vintage china and sterling silver.
Lined from floor to ceiling with bottles of brightly colored liqueurs, Brettos looks ultramodern, but this Plaka distillery/bar is the oldest in Athens, dating to 1909. Sample a distinct mastika liqueur, made from tree resin, or brave a boozy glass of ouzo, served straight from big wood barrels.
A new entry to the city’s booming craft-cocktail scene, Noel shakes up some of Athens’ best drinks on busy, bar-lined Kolokotronis Street. It sports theatrical-styled décor, with deep-red walls, Oriental carpets, ornate chandeliers and a mish-mosh of curios. It’s the perfect backdrop for creative libations like the Autumn in Paris, a blend of white rum, mastic liqueur, cinnamon and apricot bitters.
Coffee shop by day and wine bar by night, Drupes & Drips is a favorite of Plaka denizens who stop by for a cappuccino in the dog-friendly space or a quick espresso through the open window. Enjoy your selection with a divine pastry from Takis bakery across the street.
The modern, glassy Acropolis Museum houses treasures from 2,500 years of Greek history. Some 4,000 artifacts are displayed on its three levels, but the crowning glory is the massive, full-scale reproduction of the Parthenon’s inner temple, replete with original sculptures and friezes.
The city’s National Museum of Contemporary Art opened last fall in a former brewery in the Koukaki neighborhood. Its permanent collection features more than 1,000 Greek and international artists from the 1960s onward. A series of rotating exhibitions include collaborations with cutting-edge art institutions like the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp.
The season for “cinema under the stars” runs from May to October, with more than 90 pop-up outdoor screens all over the city. One of the most famous is the 1920s-era Cine Paris in Plaka, where you can soak up great views of the Parthenon from its enormous roof garden and watch new releases or classic Hollywood flicks (subtitled in Greek).
Four Hour Getaway
Hop a ferry (four times daily, two hours by express) or a plane to the volcanic island of Santorini, said to be the inspiration for Plato’s Atlantis. While a popular stop for cruise ships, you can dodge tourists by renting a scooter and getting lost in the island’s winding streets leading to ancient villages, the famed volcanic black beach or the majestic Thira archaeological site. A few of the half dozen wineries have public tasting rooms, and the Koutsoyannopoulos Winery has a charming wine museum. Sit back and sip Assyrtiko, the island’s signature varietal wine, while taking in the jaw-dropping views on the caldera side of the island.