It’s no secret that downtown Athens is a bustling metropolis, filled with historic landmarks, world-class bars and endless ways for travelers and locals alike to spend their days. What most Athens newcomers may not know however is that just 25 minutes north of the centre, sits a cluster of charming suburbs waiting to be explored.
Accessible by train, bus or cab ride, the suburbs of northern Athens feel almost a world away from the trademark chaos of downtown areas. Take the leafy suburb of Kifissia for example. With long, lamppost-lined streets, sophisticated boutiques and cafes filled with the “Beautiful People”, this suburb has an almost Parisian feel about it.
Nearby Halandri is the popular kid on the block right now, with a main square that centers around the charming Aghios Nikolaos church and overflows with revelers who have no shortage of places to eat, drink and be merry. Keeping an almost watchful eye over the northern set of suburbs, sits the majestic Mount Penteli.
Ask any local from the area and they’ll tell you they have all they need on their doorstep. Once you make a trip over to the north side, you’ll quickly see why.
WHAT TO DO
The Great Outdoors
What downtown Athens lacks in greenery, the northern suburbs provide in spades. When it’s time to breathe in lots of that wonderful Greek air, get your hiking boots and explore the lush surrounds of Mount Penteli.
Penteli marble was used to build the Panathenaic Stadium (aka the Kallimarmaro), the site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and the marble quarry can still be found on the mountain. Accessible by foot and car, a day spent on Mount Penteli can also take you to caves, springs, a monastery, and if you’re lucky, the well-hidden Penteli waterfall (Insider tip: some areas are only accessible via organized tours). To cap off your day in the green, head to the Mount Penteli observatory for a stellar view of Athens.
If you have access to a motor vehicle, the 45-minute trip further north to Varibobi is worth it to simply wander around the historic Tatoi Estate. Previously home to the Greek royal family, today it is a picture of eroded grandeur and (with a little imagination) conjures up visions of royal family life in the late nineteenth century. The grounds are expansive and are a relatively little-known secret of the capital.
Some might argue that the northern suburbs are a little far from the famous beaches of Athens. While stunning swimming spots like Nea Makri and Schinias Beach are 50 minutes away by car, there is a hidden swimming oasis in the heart of Kifissia. When it’s time for a dip in the sun in a pinch, those in the know head to the Semiramis Hotel for an afternoon of relaxation, set in a Technicolor paradise. (Insider tip: Sun beds cost €25 on weekdays and €35 on the weekends with different rates for children 2-12 years. In high summer, it’s best to call ahead and reserve your spot).
Escape rooms have become a favourite past time for local young Athenians, and Halandri’s own Mindtrap Escape Room is among the top escape rooms in Athens. Get some friends together and spend the evening trying to uncover clues, crack codes and make it out alive.
From escape rooms to dressing rooms; at Athens’ famed shopping centre The Mall, the most difficult decision you’ll need to make is when to stop shopping. Home to major retailers like Zara, H&M and Sephora as well as an extensive food hall and cinema, The Mall has it all, under one rather large roof.
Perched unassumingly just off the main street of Kifissia sits the charming open-air Cinema Chloi. A stalwart of Kifissia, the cinema has been entertaining locals with films since they can remember. Summertime sees the cinema abuzz with activity with no shortage of pre-movie dinner options and places for a post-movie cocktail.
Kifissia is also home to two important cultural spots. The Goulandris Museum of Natural History is a scientific and educational center and is filled with information for the curious, big and small. On the other hand, lovers of fine art will adore the Kouvoutsakis Art Institute. With over 1,500 paintings and sculptures and free tours for all visitors, you’ll be taken on a journey of Greek art from the 19th century to modern day.
For those wanting to experience Athens like a local, a Laiki (Farmers’ Market) occurs weekly in most Athenian neighbourhoods and is a great spot to load up on fresh produce for your stay (they are held from the morning to the early afternoon on different days of the week in different areas so ask a local to guide you). As you walk the length of the street lined with stalls that are set up by local growers selling fresh produce, you’ll also get a great insight into every-day Athenian life. If your Greek is up to scratch (and even if it’s isn’t), say hello to one of the growers and you just might get a story or two!
WHERE TO EAT
Start your day right
Brunch may still be in its infancy in Greece, but Kifissia’s Different Beast has done its part to educate the locals on what constitutes an excellent brunch. Owners Alex and Evita left London to create a serene corner in Athens, serving up a hearty and wholesome all-day brunch with favourites like eggs with avocado and their famous toastie, oozing with Greek cheeses.
For a more decadent start to the day, pay a visit to Mr Peacock in Halandri for a stack of fluffy pancakes, smothered in chocolate. Stay a while longer in the elegant courtyard and no one could blame you for ordering a cocktail or two!
For Greeks, lunch is traditionally the most important meal of the day. For a delightfully fresh seafood lunch, make your way to the suburb of Erithrea. Barbounaki restaurant is named after the popular red mullet found throughout Greece that is traditionally fried up and served with boiled wild greens. At this cute eatery, fish is treated with the utmost care and respect. (Insider tip: these fish experts only serve the catch of the day but the menu isn’t updated as regularly. Ask the staff what’s available before you order).
Staying fueled throughout the day in Athens is a breeze, with souvlaki vendors, creperies and bakeries on almost every corner. For a taste of authentic, handmade Greek pies, pastries and sweets made using quality ingredients, look no further than A la Grek in Halandri. The moment you step into the warm and delightful little bakery shop, the gentle wafts of butter and an endless array of baked goods will leave you ordering one of everything, including head baker Kostis Kostakis’ cookbook “Pites Apo Heri” (Pies Made by Hand).
Gelato is the perfect partner to an afternoon of exploration, and Solo Gelato in Halandri has been serving up artisanal gelato since 1951, winning industry awards and earning an ever-growing group of devotees (including yours truly) in the process.
The North, by night
Telemachos Art Grill in Kifissia is, simply put, a carnivore’s dream. With a focus on quality meat, cooked thoughtfully, this fine-dining grill follows the philosophy that “meat is art”.
From art to controversy, those who subscribe to the heated debate around what constitutes a “real carbonara” will have a new entry to add to their list. At Giacomo in Kifissia, the carbonara is the number one seller on the menu and is famed all over Athens. We suggest you leave your views at the door and step inside for an undeniably rich version of the pasta dish, served up under a grand old chandelier.
For humble taverna fare, Halandri’s Bakalotaverna serves up honest, authentic Greek food, best enjoyed under the stars (insider tip: ask if there are any tables available on the roof). This is where locals come when they want food that tastes like grandma’s, without the washing up.
WHERE TO DRINK
Your morning hit
There’s a coffee connoisseur in every group and even the biggest coffee snob will be satisfied with the offerings at Kudu Coffee roasters in Neo Psyhiko. Swing by for your morning coffee fix while they roast up their own beans.
For those who wish to stay hydrated, To Bazaki in Halandri is a sweet little set-up with organic cold pressed juices and tailor-made juice cleanse programs, designed just for you.
Cocktails & More
If cocktails are your thing, make a beeline for Halandri’s ever-popular and always-good Theory Bar & More. Theory boasts a gorgeous fairy-lit courtyard, amazing cocktails (the Negroni is a must-try), great bar food and an atmosphere that just won’t quit (and you won’t want it to).
From courtyards to rooftops, head down the road and up the stairs to Big Mouth, where you’ll enjoy the only rooftop bar in the area, made even more memorable by great tunes and lots of happy faces.
Craft beer is slowly but surely making its presence felt in Greece with craft breweries popping up in Athens, Thessaloniki, Crete and even Santorini. Tucked away quietly in Halandri sits The Local Pub, a casual drinking spot that’s serious about small-batch beers from around the globe.
For something a little left of centre, head to Kokkini Svoura (Halandri) where drinks are teamed up with live performances. Fancy some live jazz with your martini or an iced tea with a side of indie rock? At this eclectic bar, every day offers something a little bit different.
Places to see and be seen
Good music, pizza, cocktails and a secret ingredient: the owners at Recipe in Kifissia have figured out what it takes to keep the locals coming back regularly for their nightly cocktail or coffee. So much so, that the front courtyard of this small bar often overflows onto the footpath on most nights, and the patrons don’t seem to mind at all.
Less than a five minute walk away; the delightfully pretty garden lounge at Artisanal presents the perfect way to while away an afternoon or evening with good friends over a spritz, wine or coffee.
Synonymous with the area of Kifissia, the Dalliance House sits chicly on the corner of Kiriazi and Alonion. A Neoclassical house converted into a multi-room cafe/bar/restaurant, this local favourite has something for everyone, day or night.