Athens is overflowing with ancient treasures and modern-day gems, with views of the Acropolis at almost every corner and a decidedly vibrant, contemporary vibe. Named for Athena, the goddess of wisdom and courage, the Greek capital buzzes with character, culture and creativity. From the historic hillside Plaka neighborhood to the Acropolis Museum, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center and striking views from Mount Lycabettus, there are countless essentials, but this selection of places provides a jumping-off point for some lesser-known delights.
Allouche Benias Gallery
In the vibrant neighborhood of Kolonaki, inside the gloriously restored and renovated 1882 Deligeorgis Mansion, Allouche Benias Gallery is the sibling of NYC’s Allouche Gallery and showcases work by contemporary Greek and international artists in a stunning setting. Closed Sundays and Mondays, the gallery has been thriving and supporting local talent for a little over three years. Their show Who’s Afraid of Komodo (curated by Kostas Efstathiou and Eugenia Vereli) was a particular standout, with work by Greek artists Margarita Bofiliou, Eirene Efstathiou, Alexandros Douras and others. But the gallery consistently holds dynamic shows worth visiting.
A take on the Greek word “ετερόκλητο” or “eteróklito,” meaning varied, mixed or motley, heteroclito is a wine bar located close to Mitropoleos Square in the city’s historic center. With 200+ wines available, many by the glass, the bar focuses on natural and low-intervention wines. There are options from all over Greece, from Thassos to Rethymno in Crete, and beyond. We recommend trying an Assyrtiko, a grape native to Santorini that leads to a dry, crisp, citrus-forward white wine—thanks to the island’s volcanic soil. There’s also plenty of charcuterie and desserts available to nosh while tasting the many varieties.
Number three on 2020’s The World’s 50 Best Bars list, all-day bar The Clumsies has been open since late 2014 and is a five-minute walk from heteroclito. Serving coffee in the morning and cocktails and food by Michelin Star chef Nikos Karathanos in the afternoons and evenings, the plant-filled, two-story venue features a classic, rustic timber interior accented by bright blue chairs and neon lighting. Founded by bartenders Nikos Bakoulis and Vasilis Kyritsis, the bar might be high on the World’s Best list, but there’s a decidedly laidback and friendly atmosphere, making selecting a cocktail far from intimidating. They also offer a selection of five pre-mixed, bottled cocktails available at hotels and stores all over Greece.
Located in Kolonaki, boutique hotel Shila is discreetly nestled in a quiet, car-free lane. Blending 1920s bohemian elements with bold, contemporary design touches and modern amenities, the six-suite property feels at once cozy and expansive, familiar and otherworldly, refined and opulent. The suites (except Romantic Dust and Garden Retreat) are on the second and third floors which are accessible by stairs or elevator, and while each room is different, the tranquil, old-world atmosphere carries through. Antique fabrics abound, but beds (with natural mattresses) are covered with new, custom linens. Decorated with an eclectic selection of art, mismatched textiles and light fixtures, and plenty of plants, each room also features practical amenities from air conditioning and heating to a bar stocked with various treats including Greek wines and local snacks. Each morning from 8AM, breakfast is delivered to the suite (croissants, toast, eggs, fruit, yogurt and guests’ choice of coffee) and while there’s no other room service, the hotel provides take-out menus from some of their favorite nearby restaurants. Meals can be easily ordered (and delivered) via the in-room iPad. With a spacious rooftop, this hotel is more than just a place to sleep.
A 15-minute walk from Shila, in the Exarchia neighborhood—best known as an anarchist refuge—Ama Lachei (ΑΜΑ ΛΑΧΕΙ) serves up Mediterranean cuisine with contemporary twists in a large, leafy terrace that was once a schoolyard. There’s also indoor dining, but the expansive, sun-dappled patio provides the most alluring atmosphere—perhaps with a local cat or two wandering through. Super-affordable and approachable, the menu includes lots of Greek wines and small dishes (as well as some internationally inspired options). We recommend a classic: slow-roasted lamb with potatoes, a simple but satisfying dish that’s cooked with plenty of rosemary. This restaurant is open every day from 10AM and feels quite far away from the bustling city.
i-D Concept Store
With a firm focus on jewelry and accessories, the i-D flagship concept store (which opened in 2012) mostly stocks pieces by Greek designers, but with a smattering of goods from abroad. There are pieces by Ileana Makri, Lito, Sofia Zarari and A&W Mouzannar, spanning fine, demi-fine and costume jewelry. They also offer up leather goods, perfumes, candles, sunglasses, watches and more. Be sure to take a look at the Yiorgos Eleftheriades (an Athens-based designer) store just a five-minute walk away.
National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens / ΕΜΣΤ
Located in the former FIX brewery, the The National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens (ΕΜΣΤ) underwent a massive restoration and now exists as an expansive, crisp space housing modern art from Greece and beyond. Close to the Acropolis, the museum’s collection contrasts the nearby ancient ruins with work spanning industrial sculpture to video and more. The permanent collection comprises 172 artworks by 78 Greek and international artists. Founded in 1997, the museum’s mission is to preserve and promote Greek art, to develop scientific research in art theory and history, as well as—of course—share tremendous artworks with the public. The museum—which is closed Mondays—displays art across seven levels (from the basement to the fourth floor), so we recommend leaving yourself several hours to explore.
Hero image courtesy of Pia Riverola and Shila