Explore the Greek capital’s unrivalled ancient architecture and burgeoning design destinations via our Athens guide

Cat Olley
Photo credit: Christos Drazos

From ELLE Decoration

Considered the birthplace of Western civilisation and democracy, this metropolis may still be emerging from its financial fall, but it feels buoyed by a fresh creative scene. Today,Athens is a melting pot of new design talent, with a host of charming cafés and restaurants, hip bars and carefully curated shops, all nestled among the world’s most stunning ancient ruins.

Photo credit: Nikos Daniilidis

WHERE TO STAY

Designed by K-Studio, one of the country’s hottest creative firms, the 38-bedroom Perianth Hotel faces onto the Byzantine-era Agias Irinis Square, neighbouring the buzzing Monastiraki district. Its art deco-influenced interior reflects the 1930s converted office building it calls home, with blush and sage-green velvet upholstery, terrazzo floors and brass-accented walnut furniture.

Don’t miss the adjoining Zen Center Athens, where guests are offered a free meditation or yoga session (from £115 per night; perianthhotel.com). To live like a local, check into one of the seven self-catering Athens Green Apartments. Previously home to many Greek poets, actors and film directors, the town house in which the apartments are located is now owned by furniture designer Yannis Zachariadis – expect an eclectic mix of vintage and modern pieces sourced from around the city (from £45 per night; athensgreen.gr).

For a luxe stay, try the five-star AthensWas hotel by maverick designer Stavros Papayannis. Its 21 suites echo the playfulness of the 1950s and 70s, with pieces by Le Corbusier and Ettore Sottsass, while its rooftop restaurant Sense has views of the Acropolis (from £160 per night; athenswas.gr).

Photo credit: Perianth Hotel

BREAKFAST & LUNCH

Start your day at Takis Bakery in the bohemian Plaka district to sample its koulourakia, a traditional, pretzel-shaped sweet pastry topped with sesame seeds. For lunch, head to Ama Lachei, which serves meze-style modern Greek dishes on its greenery-filled terrace – try the mouth-watering charred octopus, and mashed green pea and aubergine salad with drizzled syrup and walnuts. A favourite among locals, snug Yiasemi specialises in beautiful, homemade vegetarian and vegan dishes, such as its baked mushroom, parsley and pine nut tart and Cretan tapas-style dakos – a Greek version of bruschetta topped with feta, plump tomatoes and aged olive oil (yiasemi.gr).

Photo credit: Yiasemi

WINE & DINE

Headed up by award-winning Greek-Japanese chef Sotiris Kontizas, Nolan’s fusion cooking is a culinary delight. Its delicious, elegantly simple dishes are technically spectacular – try the soba noodles and smoked salmon in a creamy tahini sauce (nolanrestaurant.gr). For a more relaxed affair, head to chic restaurant Zurbaran in the cool Kolonaki district, where the contemporary menu spans the Mediterranean from Spain toIsrael (zurbaranathens.gr). Listed in the top ten of the world’s 50 best bars, The Clumsies is a must for a late-night tipple. We’ll make ours the ‘Clumsy Negroni’, a blend of the bar’s own Old Tom Gin, vermouth, Campari, beeswax and pepper (theclumsies.gr).

ART & CULTURE

The Greek capital is a museum in itself, with ancient relics dotted throughout its meandering narrow streets. The first stop has to be the Acropolis and its museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with more than 4,000 objects and artefacts on display (theacropolismuseum.gr). Lovers of the Surrealist art movement should head to the Museum of Cycladic Art, which houses a collection of marble sculptures from the Bronze Age that inspired Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí (cycladic.gr). Continue your cultural tour at the Benaki Museum – once home to the philanthropic Benakis family, who donated their private collection – which is filled with Islamic art, Chinese porcelain and Byzantine paintings (benaki.org).

Photo credit: Nikos Daniilidis

SHOPPING

Founded in 2014, interiors and lifestyle storeParaphernalia has become a popular fixture on the city’s shopping scene. Inside, you’ll find a vast collection of curated items, from contemporary ceramics by local designers to decorative textiles woven by hand and limited-edition prints (paraphernalia.gr). Pickup quirky gifts at Forget Me Not, where a maze of rooms houses a treasure trove of designs by Greek makers (forgetmenotathens.gr). For something totally unique, head to d.Mod – the team in this part-store, part-workshop craft the furniture on offer in-house using only sustainably sourced materials (dmod.gr).

ESCAPE THE CITY

Leave the beat (and heat) of the Athenian streets by embarking on a 45-minute drive south of the city to the beaches of Astir. This stunning green peninsula is dotted with chic hotels, spas and stylish Athenians soaking up the rays. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a ferry ride from the Athenian port to the island of Aegina, known for its charming harbour and the Temple of Aphaia.

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration September 2019

Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.

SIGN UP