[spotlight series. Fanis fragoulis]

[Athens soundtrack. My Heart is on Fire]

It may at first seem somewhat intense and over-crowded, but there is a lot of richness to be found here in Greece’s capital if you have some time to get down and dirty. Unfortunately for us, we landed at 10pm and had to be out again by midday the next day, so there wasn’t a lot of time to really give this Greek Goddess a good go…but thanks to some awesome recos from our local friends – including our Athens insider– Fanis Fragoulis – we have managed to pull together a bunch of great little spots to give you a good kickstart for your visit to this city full of history and secrets.

Known for its vibrant nightlife, there is also an amazing creative energy here, a cultural edge - one that is even said to rival that of Berlin. Best to see for yourself...

To sleep.

Grecotel Pallas Athena: this is where we spent our sleeping hours, and we can absolutely vouch for this being the most perfect, and affordable sleeping option in the city. To be completely frank, we were a little concerned as we rolled up from the train station. The hotel building, with its super modern and shiny façade, was not our usual style….but once inside, it was a different story. We were greeted by the friendliest staff and shown to our room, which - complete with a ginormous blue hippo (!) - was light, bright and sparkling clean, with all the modern amenities and some great little design features as well. Perfectly located right next to the Athens City Hall, the Grecotel Pallas Athena is just a 5min walk from Omonia Metra Station (where the airport train pulls into), and only 10mins walk down straight down Athinas Street to the famed Acropolis. Each floor of the building has cute and unique design features – some amazing photography by an old Greek celebrity photographer (whose name we were unable to track down), and some great paintings on the wall. The highlight though – the breakfast! Possibly one of the best hotel breakfasts we have had to date. Plentiful options – Greek, Meditterean and Western – unlimited freshly squeezed orange juice, barista-style coffee, and amazing food (prepared using fresh products from the property’s farm, Agreco). A fabulous outdoor terrace as well. Concierge were super willing to help with directions, taxis (to Mount Lycabettus at sunrise; and also to the central bus station for our bus to Lefkada), recommendations, and printing services as well. It’s beautiful here.

To shop.

Leather sandals: they are everywhere. And they are cheap (especially having come from the Amalfi Coast where they will set you back 80 euro a pair. Expect to pay no more than 15020 euro here – different colors, different styles. Perfection.

To do.

Sunrise at Mount Lucabettus: start your day at 6am by getting a taxi to the base of Mount Lycabettus, and then walk the short distance to the top of the hill. This is Athens highest point (at 277 meters above sea level), and a beautiful place to see the sun rise over a new Athena day. Watch as the colors change, and the sun illuminates ampitheatres, the 19th century Chapel of St. George on the top of the hill, temples, green pines, and mountains. And of course what we came here for, to see the Acropolis shine. A beautiful, and peaceful, start to the day.

Visit the colorful Central Market on Athinas Street (the same street as our hotel). An amazing array of delicious food – fruit, nuts and spices, meats, cheeses (try all the Greek favorites – feta, graviera, kefalotyri). Its hectic, its buslting, and its lots of fun. You can also enjoy a meal at one of the small tavernas tucked into the market, and hang out with the locals. We love seeing all the old Greek men sitting on the sidewalk enjoying their morning coffees.

Visit the Greek Gastronomy Museum: located in a 150-year-old townhouse just behind the central food market, this museum of Greek cuisine was started by four young locals and is run by volunteers. There is a lovely courtyard café, and part of your admission price includes a half-hour cooking lesson. For reservations call +30 210 321 1311.

Yoga with Melina: if you are feeling like a good stretch, Ashtanga Yoga Kifisia is the only place to go. Melina is the queen of ashtanga, and offers a range of different classes at her lovely studio in Kifisia – a space dedicated to the teaching and practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.

Haircuts and shaves at Barber Stories. Cute retro barber shop on Kountouriotou street, Piraeus. Panagiotis the barber pumpes out old-school British haircuts, and traditional shaves as well.

Other recommendations we were given, but alas, had no time to check out:

To eat.

Amin’s Falafel (Tsamadou 15): we ran out of time to find this friendly Iranian - Amin, but we have heard good things about this guy who sets up his stand on the pedestrian zone outside the Immigrant’s Lodge (near Eksarheia Square) and pumps out late-night falafel. Perfect when you are needing a break from gyros, but need a feed after a fun night drinking beers - Eksarheia style (i.e. buying them from a kiosk and drinking them in a park, or other outside place). Always packed. Serves from 1030pm until 2am on weekends. Not always there though. Risk it.

Pi Box (Levidou 11): consistently getting good reviews, this popular eatery was desinged by the forener editor of Greek ELLE Décor and is located in the northern Athena surburb of Kifissia. 

Santorinios (Dorieon 8): this beautiful taverna is located in a small enchanted garden, tucked away in the midst of the Petralona’s urban sprawl. You could easily forget you were in Athens here, more likely on some beautiful Greek island. Super friendly owners, service, lovely design, and great food (and prices) – this place is perfectly authentic, and a great spot to visit. Try the ‘fava’. Open Tuesday-Sunday.

To drink (these recommendations come from the king of cocktails – Spiros – owner of 155 Cocktail Bar in Vasiliki. The man can certainly be trusted when it comes to where to find a good drink.

42 Bar: one of the best cocktail bars in the heart of Athens. Amazing cocktails. Anything you can think of. (Closest Metro station: Panepistimio or Syntagma Station).

Baba Au Rum: this cute retro bar pumps out jazz and old “pop” tunes, and classic cocktails. An impressive list of non-alcoholic ones as well. (Closest Metro station: Panepistimio, Syntagma or Monastiraki Station).

And a couple of drinking spots we were recommended:

Tailor Made: one of the newer bars downtown. A special Micro Roastery serving some seriously good coffee, great teas, and beautiful cocktails as well. (Closest Metro station: Monastiraki Station).

Romantso (Anaxagora 305): right off Omonia Square, this is a cool modern bar and culture center named after the magazine that was printed in the same old industrial building for 60 years. The original neon sign still flashes on after dark. Also check out their other venue – an alternative arts space in Keramikos – Bios.

To note.

The train from the airport takes about one hour into the center of Athens and costs 8 euro. They only accept cash. There are no atms at the airport train station, so make sure you have cash on you, otherwise you will have to go back into the airport to find an atm (what we had to do)!

Also, Greeks have a bit of a habit of underestimating the time it will take to do things, or get places. So if you ask a local how long it will take to get from the hotel to the airport, and they say 30mins, always allow 45mins-1hour. We got caught out a few times because of this! Greek time. Got to love it.