This ultimate guide to post-pandemic Athens includes some of the best areas to visit —and experiences to enjoy— in the Greek capital. Almost everything listed here is downtown, within walking distance of Syntagma Square.
By Peter Poulos / Follow on Instagram
Sixteen months of in-and-out lockdowns has seen downtown Athens change in many positive ways. Streets were paved, trees planted, parks revived and cared for, graffiti eliminated and many new hotels and restaurants sprang up.
Athens is opening and filling up, so Mr. Stavros and I decided to share our official/unofficial list of where to stay, eat, visit, shop, sightsee and people watch.
Athens Guide to Ancient Things
Most of Athens’ famous historic landmarks are located downtown and can be visited on foot. A pedestrian roadway has recently joined them, so in theory you should be able to visit them uninterrupted by cars. However, this is Greece, so people drive their cars and motorbikes everywhere.
There is a lot to see, and in particular, the holy rock of the Acropolis involves quite a bit of climbing as well. You can buy one ticket that gets you into all the sites and lets you visit them over a period of days. The guide to ancient Athens follows:
Acropolis and surrounding monuments
The Parthenon is undergoing a massive renovation but it doesn’t take away from this awe-inspiring experience at all. Best time to visit is at the end of the day when the crowds of tourists have cleared out and the temperature drops a bit. Note: If the Acropolis site states it’s closing at 8 you can be assured they will start chasing people out at 7, so plan accordingly.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
The Temple of Olympian Zeus was the largest temple in the ancient world, taking over 700 years to build. There were originally 100 columns — of which only twelve are left standing now. Currently under scaffolding but still impressive. Keep an eye out for the army of turtles that inhabit the site.
First Olympic Stadium/Kalimarmaro
The first modern Olympic games were held here in 1896. This is a refurbished ancient horseshoe-shaped marble stadium that seats 50,000. Don’t miss the tunnel at the end of the stadium. The House of Dior just held a much talked-about fashion show there.
Socrates’ jail cell
Little known and rarely visited piece of history, this is just up the path to Phillipapou Hill.
The Kerameikos – Athens’ Ancient Cemetery
Continuously buried for 6000 years, this open-air cemetery is 30 feet below street level. Don’t miss the world-class museum there.
This is where the ancient Greeks shopped. Loaded with ruins. The best-preserved Greek temple in the world is here, the Temple of Hephaestus.
This is the market the Romans built after they conquered Greece in the 1st century BC.
Tower of the Winds
Located inside the Roman Agora, this is a must-see — an ancient marble clock. It is remarkably the only ancient monument that still has its roof intact. You are allowed to visit the inside too, which is a real treat.
Museums in Athens
Athens is a museum city, from ancient artifacts to modern art and everything in between. Athens has something for everyone. If you have just a few days hit the biggies, fine, but if you have more time you should branch out and explore. A guide to the museums of Athens:
The New Acropolis Museum
All the finds from the slopes of the Acropolis and the Acropolis proper. Must see in Athens. I would suggest visiting the museum before you tour the Acropolis, and hiring a guide, since it is not self-explanatory and oddly laid out. The building was designed by Bernard Tschumi and Michael Photiadis. Not their best work. But the artifacts steal the show and are well worth a visit. The “under the museum” archaeological site, showing an ancient street and buildings, is open now as well.
The National Archaeological Museum
The best collection of ancient Greek art in the world. A must see.
The Benakis are the Guggenheims of Athens. A wealthy merchant Greek family from Egypt who donated their private collection of Greek, Islamic and Modern art to the state. The main Benaki Museum is located in Kolonaki, in a grand neoclassical mansion, and tells the story of Greek history from ancient times to the present. The New York Times said, “It was worth a visit to Athens just to see the Benaki.” The Benaki has five museums in Athens.
The Museum of Cycladic Art
This is a private collection of very ancient art from the Cycladic islands, and Cyprus. Housed in two separate buildings. One an important 19th-century building designed by the architect Ernst Ziller. Excellent collaborations with modern artists. Wonderful café and museum shop. Great programs for kids. They’ve thought of everything.
The Ilion Melathron
Athens Coin museum. Housed in one of the best neoclassical buildings in Athens. Great garden in the back that has a sweet café. This was once the palatial home of Heinrich Schliemann, the archaeologist who discovered Troy.
The Jewish Museum of Greece
This museum chronicles the rich Jewish life that existed in Greece for thousands of years that almost came to an end with the German occupation. It is also housed in a beautiful neoclassical building.
The National Gallery
Newly renovated, expanded and landscaped, the National Gallery is an excellent venue to appreciate Greek art and artists. Located across from the Hilton, it is a must visit museum.
Modern Athenian attractions and unique neighborhoods
The National Gardens
A Victorian-era oasis in the center of Athens. Part of the gardens are currently under renovation but this does not detract from a visit. Make sure to visit the turtle pond, and look for wild parrots and ancient ruins scattered about. You may see Mr. Stavros wading in the duck pond.
Athens main meat, fish, fruit vegetable and spice market is a must see. However, it’s not for the weak stomached. The streets that radiate off the market are filled with spices, cured meats, and other wonderful treats.
Kolonaki is one of Athens’ most chic neighborhoods. Located in downtown Athens, it is chock full of stores, restaurants, cafes, museums, etc. Great place to people watch. More shoe stores than any other place you’ve ever seen in the world! Full of Athenian Bauhaus architecture.
Changing of the Guards
This happens every hour outside the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of Parliament on Syntagma Square. The guards are called Evzones and they wear a traditional uniform, including the historic fustanella, leggings and spiked shoes.
The highest point in Athens. Heavily wooded hill, in the center of the city, topped with a small, whitewashed church. There is a funicular, to take up or you can walk for a good buns workout. Great views of the city.
This Cathedral was built from the stones of 100 Greek churches destroyed by the Turks as they finally retreated from Athens in the early 19th century.
One of Athens’ finest Byzantine churches. A must see for anyone interested in Ancient history as it is made of classical marble elements from ancient temples.
The Church of Ayia Dynami
This small 16th century, unassuming Byzantine church is one of the most loved in downtown Athens. Nestled under the Electra Mitropoleos Hotel.
Athens (and Europe’s) oldest neighborhood, located at the base of the Acropolis. Great place to explore. Loaded with old neoclassical houses, shops, cafes, ruins etc. Make sure to hike up to the area of Anafiotika.
Near the Central Market and One of Athens main squares. Shopping, ruins and cafes.
Athens’ 1st Cemetery
Not to be confused with Athens’ ancient cemetery, this one rivals Paris’ famous cemetery. Located in the neighborhood of Metz.
Ancient neighborhood facing the Acropolis. Café scene is one of the best in the city. Loaded with neoclassical buildings.
Plateia Agia Irini
This is the Soho of Athens. Go sit at Tailor Made or Rooster and people watch. Amazing architecture. Great to wander around the surrounding streets. Mr. Stavros loves to sit at Rooster. The cathedral of Agia Irini is a masterpiece of neoclassical architecture.
Athens’ ancient blacksmith’s neighborhood is now it’s East Village. Super cool, great vibe, tons of good one-off shops, good restaurants, fun hotel and excellent nightlife.
Athens Guide for Places to Shop
Everything you could ever want. Clothes, jewelry, shoes, antiques, books. The big chains are here as well as many small boutiques. Experience.
Athens largest department store. It has it all.
Syntagma – Ermou
This is a pedestrianized shopping zone that goes on for about one mile. This is where all the medium-end brands are located.
Filled with hipster one-off shops. Lots of vintage. If you have kids make sure to check out Little Kook.
Visit the small streets surrounding Athens Flea Market at Avyssinias Sqaure for the best in vintage lighting, furniture and objects.
Places to eat and drink
The café life in Athens is out of control. Many are packed all day long and there are literally thousands of them. Breakfast is usually non-existent, although all hotels will serve an American-style one. Most Greeks eat a koulouri (sesame round) spinach, cheese or custard pie on the run and they can be bought everywhere in the city.
Lunch is usually eaten around 2 or 3 pm and then dinner starts around 9 or 10 pm and generally goes till 12 or 1 am. Bars and clubs will open after that and stay open till the wee hours.
Guide for street food in Athens
Pay attention — because this is important. Make room for Athens street food in your calorie counter. Some of our fav places downtown are listed below.
Ariston – Pitas or Greek pies. Savory and sweet. Since 1906. Packed all day. Mr. Stavros recommends the shrimp pie.
Mam – Pies, focused on spinach and cheese pies. Grab one of each and eat outside the shop.
Krinos – Loukoumades, Greece’s answer to the doughnut. Covered in honey and finger licking good.
Kostas – The best souvlaki downtown. Spotlessly clean. Always busy.
Koulouri tou Psirri – Greece’s ubiquitous sesame rounds come from this bakery, so worth a visit to the mothership. Mr. Stavros highly recommends.
Feyrouz – Lahmazoun, Lebanese flat bread with spiced meat and sauce. Veggie available as well.
Fallafellas – If the name doesn’t want to make you eat there the falafel will knock your socks off. Prepare to wait in line.
Restaurants in Athens — Syntagma/Monastiraki Neighborhoods
Nolan: Greek-Japanese fusion. Not fussy and 1000% delicious. NFC! Make a reservation.
Dopios: The new kid on the block. Beautiful setting behind Klathmonos Square. Elevated Greek food done right.
Madame Fu Manchu: Across the way from Dopios another new entry to the Athens culinary scene. Authentic Vietnamese food served by the friendliest wait staff and overseen by the charming co-owners Luc and Dimitris.
Athenee: Athens famous Zonar’s Café reborn as a chic restaurant/cafe with excellent food and friendly service. Some of the city’s best people watching. Note: salmon and avocado plate should be illegal it’s so good.
O Tziztigas kai o Mermigas (The Grasshopper and the Ant) (Mitropoleos and Voulis Streets): This simple, charming restaurant has some of the best Greek food in downtown Athens. Very reasonable. Always busy.
Birdman: Order the burger and then write me a thank you note.
Maya Taqueria: If you are jonesing for good Mexican food go check out Maya. Excellent salsa, corn tortillas and chips, fish tacos, quesadillas and a killer margarita. Gluten free options.
Filema: Another solid Greek taverna frequented by locals. Excellent grilled sardines, giant squid, and a really delicious burger.
Ergon: The Greek version of Eataly. Not to be missed.
Trinatafylou: One of the best tavernas in downtown Athens.
Burratino: Excellent Italian restaurant in downtown Athens. Amazing pizzas. Negroni shots!! Ask for the Socrates, the friendly owner.
Thanassis: Classic Kebab House. Sunday afternoon is a fun, crazy, scene. Cheap and delicious. Besides Kebab they have excellent Greek salad, tzatziki and fries.
Papadakis: High-end Greek seafood restaurant in the heart of Athens’ best neighborhood, Kolonaki. Expensive but worth every penny. Argiro Barbarigou is the talented and charming chef/owner.
Zubaran: Casual fun restaurant with a great crowd and decent straightforward food.
Mavros Provatos: A perfect Athenian Mezedepoleio in one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods.
Seychelles: Excellent eclectic menu in the heart of Keramikos
Elvis: Hands down the best kalamakia (skewered meat) in Athens.
Funky Gourmet: When you’re looking for a Michelin star experience and Moussaka foam.
Vouliagmeni Neighborhood (outside the city center at the seaside)
Blue Fish, Vouliagmeni: creative dishes and always the freshest fish from chef Giorgos.
Taverna Louizidis, Vouliagmeni: great home cooking in a relaxed atmosphere. Excellent meze.
Guide to Bars in Athens
Rooster, Plateia Ayia Irinis: Fun bar with a mixed gay/straight crowd.
Clumsies, Plateia Klathmonos: The best cocktail bar in Athens.
Baba Au Rum, Syntagma: Another excellent cocktail bar.
360, Monastiraki: Fun roof top bar.
Heteroclito, Syntagma: Inexpensive wine bar with a great vibe.
By the Glass, Syntagma: Chic wine bar with excellent food in a historic building next to InnAthens hotel.
SixDogs, Monastiraki: Thank me later.
TAF, Monastiraki: If you find this bar you will be the coolest kid on the block.
Tazza: Fun bar with good food and drinks.
Guide to accommodations in Athens
HIGH END (in order of preference)
We are a bit obsessed with this new hotel, housed in an exceptional interwar building. Nicely appointed and perfectly located on Plateia Ayias Irinis. Super friendly staff. Stavros says five paws friendly.
This is the Grande dame of Athenian hotels and one to add to your bucket list. Located across from Parliament on Syntagma Square. The city’s best view from the eighth floor bar/restaurant. Food is good, not great, and a bit pricey. Nice place to have a drink. Sixth floor rooms facing the square are best. Pool. Mr. Stavros approved.
Part of the Yes Hotels Group. Super chic design. Excellent location. Fun hip place. Great restaurant and roof deck. Helpful, friendly staff. Checks all the boxes. No pool.
Located next to the Grande Bretagne. This is the younger child of the Grande Bretagne. Big useless lobby but nice if you want to be by yourself. Chicer crowd. Nice rooms.
There is more marble in the Hilton than the Acropolis. This is a giant hotel, but very well run and appointed. Greek 60’s elegance. Think Yannis Moralis. The rooms are generous. Food can be very expensive. Best pool scene in Athens. (currently under renovation). Just outside the immediate center of the city. Insist on a room with an Acropolis view.
Electra Palace and Electra Mitropoleos
Nice hotels located in the middle of Plaka and near Syntagma Square. Quieter than the GB and KG. Recently renovated. Roof top pools. I prefer the Mitropoleos. Do not confuse with the Electra Hotel on Ermou Street. Mr. Stavros loves to roll around on the entrance mat.
Athens first gastronomy hotel. Perfectly located for exploring the ancient and modern city. Ask for a room facing the Acropolis. Friendly, helpful staff. They serve a nice breakfast. First floor market is a lifesaver.
Opened (April 2015) modern design hotel. Excellent location, Acropolis neighborhood, for exploring the monuments of ancient Athens. Top floor rooms have Acropolis views. Nicely appointed. They make excellent cocktails on the roof top bar.
We really like this hidden little hotel. Feels like you’re in a London mews. The location could not be better for exploring. Historic building.
Small, boutique hotel in a lovingly restored neoclassical building designed by the architect Ernst Ziller. Rooftop restaurant and bar. Wonderful views of Athens’ Cathedral and the Acropolis.
Athens Capital Center Hotel M Gallery
The newest addition to Athens luxury hotel scene. Looks nice from the outside and location could not be better. However, I have not personally toured the hotel so I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly.
Located in Plaka, this little hotel gives a lot for the money. Some rooms are small and don’t have great views so you need to be particular about what floor and view you want.
Now you can experience what it’s like to stay in an old Athenian neoclassical house. Small, bohemian chic, B&B in Plaka. Great vantage point for exploring the city. Hippy chic. Your host John is a winner.
Great little hotel right in the heart of hipster neighborhood Psirri. Ask for Kayle when you make a reservation.
Some helpful pointers
Athens is a very safe city but there is petty crime so you need to be careful.
While riding the metro keep phones and wallets in a very safe place.
Look both ways before crossing a one-way street.
Look both ways before stepping out on a sidewalk.
Don’t leave phones and other valuables on a table while dining.
Don’t hang your bag off the back of a chair while dining.
If you wear a backpack, don’t put phones, wallets and other valuables in the front pocket if you are in crowded places.
Don’t believe anyone that suddenly befriends you on the street and then suggests a place for dinner.
Tipping is not the same as the US. 10% is the norm and considered generous and appreciated.
Peter Poulos is the Executive Director of the Hellenic Initiative.