Home to some of the most important ancient wonders in the Western world, Athens, Greece, could simply rest on its historical laurels. But there’s more to the Greek capital than just the Acropolis and the Agora. Set against a backdrop of archaeological riches is a dynamic, thoroughly modern metropolis, teeming with trendy bars, stylish restaurants, cutting-edge contemporary art venues, and sleek designer hotels. With so much to see and do in Athens, where do you start?
You can find many of these newfangled spots right in the heart of the city, in the bustling, tourist neighborhoods of Monastiraki, Koukaki, and Plaka. Others are located a bit farther afield—in upscale Kolonaki, hipster Thissio, bohemian Pangrati, and edgy Psyrri—but still within walking distance of all the major sites.
Ready to get a taste of modern Athens on a city break? Here’s where to eat, stay, and play right now.
Putting a healthy spin on classic Greek and Mediterranean fare, Nice-n-Easy remains a local favorite since opening in 2008. Organic, seasonal produce from the restaurant’s farm in Crete and meat from its water buffalo ranch in Northern Greece are on the menu. But its hilltop patio—overlooking the fashionable Kolonaki neighbourhood—is also a major draw. The tasty homemade pastas, salads, and sandwiches are named after celebrities, whose pictures dot the walls. Try the Sophia Loren pasta, made with traditional Cretan skioufihta noodles, wild mushrooms, and truffle paste, paired with a classic Greek “Anthony Quinn” salad. There are plenty of vegan and gluten-free options here, too
Brunch is an all-day, everyday affair at The Underdog, a sleek, industrial-style space tucked inside a restored neoclassical building in the trendy Thissio district. It attracts a hipster crowd who come for some of the city’s best coffee, made from ethically sourced beans that are roasted onsite. Eggs are available every which way—including a (slightly) healthier version of Eggs Benedict topped with guacamole and truffle-lime hollandaise. There’s Greek yogurt, of course, as well as a menu of pancakes featuring creative toppings such as cheesecake cream, red fruit compote, and Oreo cookies. The Underdog also offers a fantastic selection of handcrafted beer.
There’s usually always a line at Feyrouz—and for good reason. The combination bakery/restaurant/pastry shop in centrally located Monastiraki serves gourmet versions of Middle Eastern street food at affordable prices. Lebanese, Syrian, and Turkish delicacies are on offer, from savory pastries to flavorful soups to wraps stuffed with tasty fillings. A favorite is the signature Feyrouz wrap, with spicy minced beef, homemade baba ganoush, and seasonal herbs all tucked inside handmade dough. Or try the Peinirli, a Greek version of pizza, baked with mozzarella cheese, herbs, and chicken, beef, or pork. There are also myriad vegetarian and vegan options on the menu.
Housed in a landmark 1950s-era brewery in the Koukaki neighbourhood, the long-awaited National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) finally opened in full in February 2020 after more than a decade of refurbishment. Its collection focuses on art from the 1960s to the present, with 172 permanent works—including paintings, sculpture, conceptual art, photography, and video— by Greek and international artists. Francis Alÿs, Spencer Tunick, Bill Viola, and John Baldessari are just a few of the names here, but you can also see a treasure trove of works by modern-day Greek artists.
The late Greek shipowner Basil Goulandris and his wife, Elise, amassed one of the world’s finest collections of Impressionist, Modernist, and contemporary art. It’s on display at the Goulandris Foundation, an architecturally stunning museum that opened in 2019 in the artsy Pangrati district. Across its 11 stories, you can view around 200 masterpieces by Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, Kandinsky, Matisse, Giacometti, Braque, and Francis Bacon, with two floors dedicated to Greek artists from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
A hub for cutting-edge exhibitions for more than three decades, the Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Centre is one of the top places to discover Greece’s current art scene. The two-story space is located in a former industrial building in the somewhat underwhelming Ambelokipi district of Athens, about a 15-minute metro ride from Syntagma Square. Another reason to visit is for its chic attached restaurant-bar, 48 Urban Garden, whose lush, landscaped outdoor courtyard—complete with an Airstream trailer serving gourmet street food—is among the buzziest spots in the city.
See an exhibition, catch a concert, dance to techno, or just chill out with a cocktail in the garden of Six d.o.g.s, a sprawling cultural center/nightlife complex located in the heart of the historic city center. By day, digital nomads camp out for the free Wi-Fi and excellent coffee; come evening, it morphs into a vibrant space with live music and spinning DJs. Be sure to try one of the superb seasonal cocktails or fruity Hawaiian-themed drinks.
Set in the lively Psyrri district, The Foundry Suites is the ideal base for exploring some of Athens’s most eclectic bars and restaurants. A 1930 foundry has been redesigned to house 12 large suites, which feature high ceilings, hardwood floors, kitchenettes, and slick, mid-century modern furnishings. Custom design touches recall the building’s industrial past, notably, the gear-based mechanisms that open the large, iron-framed windows. Its crown jewel is the rooftop garden terrace, with fantastic vistas of the city and the Acropolis.
At the foot of the Acropolis sits this chic boutique hotel, with rooms set above a buzzy epicurean marketplace, bar, and restaurant. The bright, airy rooms, which range from small to family-size, are decorated in an ultra-contemporary style, with walnut parquet floors, patterned tilework, and custom lighting and furnishings. Bathrooms feature sink basins hand-carved from reclaimed marble and natural products produced for Ergon House. Top marks go to the lush rooftop terrace, where you can enjoy cocktails, Greek wines, and signature dishes along with spectacular Acropolis views.