Start your Athenian adventure where it all began: at the Acropolis. The key to enjoying your visit is taking your time. Linger on its slopes, where you’ll find the Theater of Dionysus, believed to be the first theater in the world, and the original stage for ancient Greek performances.
Walking further up through the pine trees, you’ll arrive behind the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a larger ancient theater renowned for its flawless acoustics and where performances are still held in the summer. When you finally reach the summit, the Parthenon lies ahead, while the Erechtheion – lined with its six famous caryatids, marks the northern side of the citadel. Looking out across the city, Mt Lycabettus lies to the east and the glittering Aegean Sea to the southwest.
It’s impossible not to be swept away by the romance and history of it all. The winter months offer a chance to have this wonder of ancient civilization almost to yourself: ticket prices are reduced; the crowds thin out; and the cooler weather lends itself to friendlier climbing conditions.
Whereas the majesty of the Parthenon is in its scale and location, at the Acropolis Museum (15 Dionysiou Areopagitou) it’s all about the details. Below the Acropolis’ southeastern corner sits the award-winning Bernard Tschumi-designed building, which opened in 2007. In many ways, it reflects the contemporary Athenian experience, bringing the wealth of archaeological finds into a modern space and tracing a lineage from past to present.
The abundance of ceramics discovered on the slopes of the Acropolis are displayed on both sides of a grand central slope. In the Archaic Gallery, statues from that period (800 BC-480 BC) – one of the most tumultuous in the city’s history – are bathed in natural light. Outside, the Acropolis is in full view, keeping all these finds in context. On the top floor, the Parthenon frieze runs around the room, creating a life-size echo of the temple.
In the winter months the museum closes at 5pm (Mon-Thu), but stays open until 22:00 on Fridays and until 20:00 on weekends, giving you time to explore at a leisurely pace. On the second floor, there‘s also an impressive, spacious indoor/outdoor café-restaurant, great for another chance to gaze out upon the locus of Athenian history. It never gets old.
Refresh and Refuel
After all that sightseeing, take a break from Ancient Greece and taste the flavors of modern Athens. Nearby Koukaki is one of the city’s most popular neighborhoods, attracting trendy locals and savvy tourists alike. Head to Drupes & Drips (20 Zitrou), an Italian-inspired deli-café-wine bar that prides itself on serving “the best spritz in town.” They’re not wrong. Enjoy traditional cicchetti (open-face bruschetti) served with a variety of toppings, as well as generous plates of cheeses and cured meats.
The selection of formaggi embodies the happy marriage of Italian and Greek influences, with the opportunity to mix goat’s cheese from Mykonos and graviera from Skyros with San Pietro in Cera d’Api – an Italian speciality made from cow’s milk and treated with beeswax. A soundtrack of Italian hits will ensure you leave with a spritz in your step, too.
Establishments like Drupes & Drips and a flourishing creative scene have helped Koukaki earn its reputation as a happening spot. An afternoon stroll through the neighborhood lets you stop off at Sous Sol (6 Veikou), an art gallery and concept store that opened in 2012 and is just minutes from the Acropolis metro station. Owner Maria Velizioti curates covetable homeware, ceramics and art pieces alongside a treasure trove of desirable items made by local and international artists.
Further along Veikou is Poua Creations (88 Veikou), a boutique selling crafty accessories, jewelry and quirky clothes. Once you’re in the center of Koukaki, head to Trabala (36 Odissea Androutsou). This ceramics studio and workshop was founded in 2017 and its unique items are made in-store, perfect for picking up a one-of-a-kind souvenir. A few doors down is Me Then (36 Odissea Androutsou), a hip fashion boutique, with a mix of playful t-shirts, sweaters and tailored menswear.
Relax and Rehydrate
Hop in a cab or enjoy the scenic 20-minute walk through Koukaki and Plaka towards Syntagma and the heart of Athenian nightlife. On Ipitou Street, neoclassical buildings house a string of small, lively bars. Start at Blue Bird (4 Ipitou), where carefully crafted cocktails are served in an intimate, retro space. The twilight hour is the perfect time for a relaxing glass of wine or a signature “Ginger Jo” to cut the winter chill. Other options include rose petal Martinis and the sweet-filled “Bubble Trouble,” but it’s also known for its matcha lattes.
Next door is Ipitou The Bar, a corner spot with a big terrace and generous drinks, where you can sit outside under the festive fairy lights.
Minutes from Ipitou is Nolan (31 Voulis), a Japanese-Greek fusion restaurant that has made waves on the Athenian culinary scene since opening in 2014. Founded by Sotiris Kontizas, a chef with credentials from Nobu, the restaurant serves up a glorious hybrid of Asian and Mediterranean cuisines. Dishes arrive one by one, and are notable for innovative ingredient pairings: think soba noodles with tahini sauce and salmon sashimi or short fin squid with fennel, best enjoyed over rice. Nolan’s signature fried chicken packs a satisfyingly crispy punch.
Plates here are designed to be shared and, while they’re slightly more expensive than your average taverna options, the imaginative concoctions will have you ordering generously – nevertheless, your stomach will thank you. A drinks menu of Greek wines and unpasteurised island beers provides a harmonious complement to the food. The restaurant’s reputation means reservations are essential. If you can’t get a table at Nolan, there are plenty of tasty options nearby.
Oinoscent (45-47 Voulis), the city’s first wine bar, wisely pairs food to its 700 wines, rather than the other way around. Handmade flatbreads, sea bass ceviche or beef ragu sit alongside locally-sourced cheese and charcuterie boards. For an altogether meatier meal (the kind that makes charcuterie look positively restrained), head to Spitjack (10 Skoufou) for decadent rotisserie chicken and duck, porchetta and beef picanha in big, shareable portions, with sides of classic corn-on-the-cob and horseradish mashed potatoes. American-inspired cocktails and Parisian-inspired chandeliers add to the lavish atmosphere. Leave ample time to digest.
Whatever sumptuous feast you’ve enjoyed, you should finish your evening by embracing the vibrant bar scene to be found in the commercial triangle – between the main squares of Omonia, Monastiraki and Syntagma – at the center of the city. This area is home to the city’s broadest selection of drinking holes.
Your first stop should be Senios (15 Kalamiotou), a new-age Greek drinking spot that prides itself on old-school values of elegance and precision. A barrel-lined wall is the bar’s showpiece, but what happens behind the bar is the real attraction: award-winning mixologists create dreamlike Negronis, Martinis, and perfect Old Fashioneds.
Nearby is the aptly named Noel (59B Kolokotroni), a sparkling bar; its ornate Christmas decorations and general holiday theme are guaranteed to put you in the festive spirit. Later, head up Kolokotroni – perhaps with a short detour via world-renowned Baba au Rum (6 Klitiou) – to Kolokotroni 9 (9 Kolokotroni), an intimate hang-out with regular DJ sets, and The Bank Job (13 Kolokotroni), a bustling bar with extravagant cocktails. For a grand finale, head to Drunk Sinatra (16 Thiseos), where technicolor drinks will have you seeing double.
Art and History
Spend a morning with the custodians of culture. Along busy Vasilissis Sofias – known as the Museum avenue – you’ll find the Benaki Museum (1 Koumpari), the Museum of Cycladic Art (4 Neofitou Douka), the Christian and Byzantine Museum (22 Vasilissis Sofias) and the B. & M. Theocharakis Foundation (1 Merlin).
Start at the Cycladic, where collections of ancient Greek, Cycladic and Cypriot art are housed within the main building, while temporary exhibitions featuring internationally renowned artists are held in the Stathatos Mansion next door. At the Benaki, ancient Greek, Byzantine and neo-Hellenic works, including ceramics, jewelry, paintings and sculpture, are on display in the stately neoclassical building. The Byzantine Museum covers the oft-overlooked period of history between the end of the Classical period and arrival of the Ottomans. The museum’s lush gardens represent the Byzantine concept of Paradise. On a slightly different note, the B. & M. Theocharakis Foundation celebrates both music and the visual arts, with regular exhibitions on the floors above its main concert space.
Enjoy the fresh air with a walk through the National Garden, behind Syntagma Square, a sanctuary for botany lovers and home to over 500 different plants. You’ll encounter statues of Greek philosophers, politicians and monarchs, as well as an impressive rendering of Lord Byron, scattered throughout its green spaces.
Just to the south of the park sits the Zappeion, a neoclassical ceremonial hall commissioned by Evangelos Zappas. Cross Vasileos Konstantinou Avenue, and you’ll find the sublime Panathenaic Stadium. Originally built in 330 BC, the stadium was erected anew to host the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. It also welcomed the 2004 games and, fittingly, is the finishing point for the annual Athens marathon.
A Modern Icon
Swap the bustle of central Athens for the serenity of the coastline at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) at 364 Syngrou. (A free bus leaves from Syntagma Square approximately every half hour, or you can take a taxi.) This amazing structure, a Renzo Piano-designed masterpiece, is the latest addition to Athens’ architectural landscape, and will astound you as you approach it. While it pays homage to the forms, both architectural and social, of ancient Greece, the building is clearly futuristic in its rendering.
Panoramic views out over the city and the Saronic Gulf from one of the largest green roofs in Europe set the stage for the SNFCC’s vision and innovation. The variety of trees and plants in the sprawling green gardens reflect the richness of the flora of the Mediterranean, with oregano, thyme and lavender fields flourishing throughout the year. Firming up the complex’s eco-credentials are bikes which you can rent from the front of the park. The building itself is home to both the National Opera and the National Library of Greece; these two wings are separated by a large piazza – the contemporary reimagining of an ancient Agora, which is busy throughout the day.
For a light lunch, the Canal Café overlooks the building and the canal, with a fresh and healthy menu made from local ingredients. Nearby is Thalassinos (32 Lisikratous), a renowned seafood restaurant serving up fresh fish and wholesome classics. Try the octopus, celeriac and mashed potatoes; zucchini linguine with fish roe; and tomato rice topped with cuttlefish. Afterwards, you can head back to the SNFCC to catch one of the free performances, screenings or events that take place across the venue throughout the year. A full program is available on their website.
The Time-Trodden Path
If you’d prefer to build up an appetite before you sit down for dinner, head back into town for a pre-sunset stroll around Filopappou Hill. To get to the historic “Hill of Muses,” walk up from where Rovertou Galli meets pedestrianized Dionysiou Areopagitou, which skirts the Acropolis, then follow the path up towards the Filopappou Monument. The short climb through olive groves and pine trees will evoke conflicting feelings of timelessness and historical presence. The hill is named for a tomb created in honor of an immigrant, an exiled prince; the area also boasts Socrates’ prison (located to the north), where the philosopher was believed to have been imprisoned and sentenced to death, and the Dora Stratou Theater to the west, where you can catch traditional performances in the open air during summer.
The neighboring Pnyx Hill was originally the site of the Athenian public assemblies and offers equally panoramic views of the city. Continuing on to the Thiseio metro station, you’ll rejoin Dionysiou Areopagitou and pass a variety of enticing jewelry and handicraft stalls crammed between cafés and restaurants. Expect to hear the sound of drums and guitars as musicians gather at twilight to play to the evening strollers.
The laidback neighborhood of Petralona, one stop on the metro from Thiseio, provides the perfect after-work tonic. Sporting a mint-green industrial exterior, The Holy Goat (36 Kidantidon) is a self-proclaimed “punk bistro” with concert pictures and vinyl records on the walls and “God save the Goat” placemats on the tables. It follows a rule-breaking approach to Greek flavors, with innovative creations such as deconstructed sea bream ceviche and red snapper cabbage rolls, building a stellar reputation. The bar here is a draw, too, with cocktail options and a comprehensive whisky list.
Walk around the corner for post-dinner cocktails – or for ping pong. At Lola (11 Kiriadon), Petralona’s coolest hang-out spot, there’s the option for both. The chic-but-homely interior draws a mostly local crowd, and a friendly atmosphere keeps them there. Stay warm indoors, enjoying cocktails from mason jars or, if the weather allows, take a seat at the tables placed haphazardly outside. Downstairs in the basement, challenge a friend to a game of ping pong, soundtracked by upbeat jazz.
Room with a View
For the evening’s finale, take a taxi to Bios (84 Pireos). Walk through an understated entrance on the side of the elegant Bauhaus building and climb to the rooftop. In winter, the main action takes place inside a greenhouse-type bar that sits on the large terrace. Funky blue lights and an array of plants set the tone, while DJs fond of disco and house music create an energetic atmosphere and revelers gather to enjoy views of the Parthenon illuminated against the night sky. If you have the energy, continue into the heart of Kerameikos, where Athens’ creative community gathers along Plateon at atmospheric cafés and bars to enjoy beers and meze.
Open the Treasure Chest
For those with an interest in history, a visit to the National Archaeological Museum (44 Patision) is essential. Though a little further away from the main sites, the museum has one of the largest and most prestigious collections of ancient works in Europe, more than justifying the detour. Its amazing exhibit items – some date back to the Neolithic era – demonstrate the wealth and the achievements of ancient civilizations: gold jewelry from Troy and intricate glassware from Delos are exhibited alongside important examples of Classical, Roman and Hellenic sculpture. There is a whole section devoted to the discoveries at Mycenae, and the opulence on display is staggering. The Antikythera Mechanism, thought to be the world’s first computer, is here, too.
Walk to Omonia, find the subway platform with the 1930s tiles, and take the metro to Thiseio, where you can begin a stroll through the antiques district. Sunday is the best, and busiest, day to visit the famous flea market, when antique dealers join the regular shops to bring a further degree of bustle and vibrancy to the area. Avissinias Square is the chaotic centerpiece, with plenty to rummage through, as furniture, trinkets and eclectic homewares are strewn about. Browsing this plethora of weird and wonderful objects can prove wholly absorbing, especially as the sun languishes overhead and music from nearby bouzouki players reverberates around the square. If you have any spending money left, it’s likely to disappear when you are tempted by some serious bargains – so prepare your best haggling techniques and start thinking about ways to ship any impractical purchases home.
Continue along Ifestou, which is jam-packed with shops offering leather backpacks, sandals, handcrafted jewelry and vintage clothes right alongside stores dedicated to touristy t-shirts. Pause for a coffee at TAF (5 Normanou), where you can also check out contemporary artworks and pick up souvenirs made by Greek artisans. In the end, you’ll spill out onto the boisterous Monastiraki Square, watched over by the Tzisdarakis Mosque and the Acropolis above.
For one last gaze out over this eternal city, head to one of the rooftop terraces around Monastiraki Square. Those who crave sweet endings should make for 360 Cocktail (2 Ifestou), which serves a decadent chocolate brownie to go with its drinks and offers views of the old terracotta roofs below. A newer addition is Anglais (6 Kirikiou), a tropical-themed bar where you can sit on custom-made furniture and look out over Monastiraki and Plaka.
Time for One More?
Half an hour away by taxi is Vouliagmeni Lake, a natural wonder near the coast known as the Athens Riviera. The lake is popular throughout the year, not only as a peaceful place in beautiful natural surroundings, but also as a swimming destination, since the water here – a mixture of seawater and freshwater – remains around 24° C year-round. From here, a short trip to Faidon Delicatessen (28 Agiou Ioannou) in Voula is worth it, for some of the best cheeses in the city.
Nestled on the slopes of Mt Ymittos is the Byzantine-era Kaisariani Monastery, which dates from the 11th century. The best way to get there is by taxi, a short ride up into the forest. The sense of tranquility and solitude is superb. Inside the church, wall paintings from the 1600s remain largely intact. Make sure to bring cash for the €2 entrance fee. A 15-minute walk east from the parking lot is Kalopoula, a charming rustic café in the middle of a forested park.