Eat Your Way Through Athens: A Complete Healthy-Eating Guide

by Katherine Poseidon

Though pretty much everyone agrees that Greek cuisine is among the world’s best, there are still enough misconceptions and unknowns that may, if you have specific dietary preferences, make travelling and eating in Greece seem daunting. However, the ‘Mediterranean diet’ side of Greek cooking, famous for supporting longevity and treating meals as a ritual of hospitality, is pretty much all around and the stereotype that Greek food is mostly meat is exactly that - a stereotype. ‘Surviving’ as a vegetarian (or anything else!) in Greece is not only possible, but totally enjoyable, and Greek food is diverse enough to keep all taste buds happy.

We’ve put together a guide to how to find healthy food in Athens that will help you navigate the wonders of Greek gastronomy whatever your dietary preferences may be - along with a list of recommended restaurants, useful maps and a handy vocabulary guide.

The Power of the Mediterranean Diet

Traditionally, the Greek diet was focused, by necessity, on fresh and seasonal local produce, and very light on meat, which was a luxury until fairly recently. Instead, Greeks ate (and still eat) lots of legumes and pulses (chickpeas, beans & lentils), high-quality dairy, like cheese and yoghurt, and of course the ever-present staple: olive oil. These eating practices are pretty deeply ingrained, and can easily be made to work for you when looking for healthy Greek food. In addition, the eating culture is often based around small sharing plates, sort of ‘tapas’ style, called mezes. This means that you can a) try lots of dishes and b) easily avoid trying to find something to replace a meaty entree, if you want.

Small Plates in Abundance! 

Of course, nowadays modern convenience has introduced all kinds of processed foods into the Greek diet, along with a huge variety of sweets and other slightly-less-than-healthy goodies. It also can’t be denied that the most famous of Greek street food - gyro / souvlaki / kebab - is not so friendly if you are either a vegetarian or gluten-free. However, don’t let this intimidate you! If you’re passing through Athens and looking to cater to a specific diet, this is the perfect time. The alternative culinary scene here is booming - the crisis of recent years has inspired many to turn toward creatively building on Greece’s abundance of incredible food and traditionally hospitable culture, and Athens' restaurants have a lot to offer. Plus, with a little guidance, a Greek taverna can provide a classic and delicious experience of Greek cuisine.

Navigating a Greek Taverna Menu

Best of the Veggies

If you’re looking to fill your plate with the best of Greek produce, most tavernas serve the ‘classic’ Greek salad, also known as horiátiki, made up of tomatoes and cucumbers, onions, peppers, olives and feta. If you’re a vegan, ask them to hold the cheese. 
Many tavernas will also serve just plain tomato-cucumber with olive oil (aggourodomáta), and in the winter months this is replaced with cabbage-carrot and olive oil (lahanokaróto).

Look out also for boiled vegetables - which, I promise, are a lot more delicious than they sound, and dressed with lemon and olive oil. These are usually seasonal too, and can include broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, beets, carrots and potatoes. Hórta - boiled greens - are made from any kind of abundant seasonal leafy green - dandelion greens, mustard greens, amaranth greens, chicory… It doesn’t really matter what exactly, but these become a magical way to get a big plates of leafy greens.

To Eat List:

  • Horiátiki Greek salad
  • Hórta boiled greens

Delicious and nutritious 'Horta' !

So much more than a Greek Salad

Most taverna menus include a selection of spreads, that are known in Greek as ‘something-saláta’ (melitzanosaláta, for example, is an eggplant spread). These are delicious, but need a little bit of savvy since it’s not always possible to tell what’s in them.

The most ubiquitous of these is tzatziki, made with yoghurt, but melitzanosaláta, mentioned above, and fáva, made with yellow lentils, are found in most tavernas and are usually without dairy or bread. On the other hand, skordaliá, a garlic-y spread, is often made with bread, to make it thick and creamy. You may also encounter pantzarosaláta, beet salad, which can be with or without yoghurt and might also include walnuts.

Skordalia meets Pantzarosalata!

Patatosaláta (potato salad) is common as well, and usually made without any dairy, nuts or bread products. Other spreads include taramosaláta, made with fish roe and it more often than not includes bread, and páprika, a spicy red pepper spread usually made with feta cheese and mostly found in northern Greece.

To Eat List:

  • Melitzanosaláta
  • Tzatziki
  • Fáva
  • Skordaliá
  • Taramosaláta

Feta Cheese & Beyond!

If you’re avoiding dairy, obviously, steer clear of cheese! However, if you are able to enjoy it, there is an incredible variety of Greek, locally-produced cheese available to try, and most non-deli-style cheese is pretty unprocessed. You may also find tyrosaláta, literally ‘cheese-salad,’ which is usually a whipped cheesey spread, based on feta or another salty cheese. One thing to be aware of is that saganaki - fried cheese - is battered with flour, so if you can’t eaten gluten it’s best to avoid this and other fried foods.

To Eat List:

  • Feta cheese
  • Saganaki

Greek Gyros, Kalamari, & More Classics

Greeks often eat in small plates, a huge variety of which are vegetarian and even vegan friendly, but if you are looking for a more hearty, meat-centred meal, most tavernas have a variety of food tis óras, which means that it’s cooked to order, usually grilled meat of some sort. International classics like pork and chicken are safe choices, and veal is often good too. Easy questions to ask in order to find out whether your meat is of good quality are whether it is Greek or imported (stick to Greek, more fresh!) and whether it’s frozen or not. Lamb and goat are the most traditional, and though their strong flavour is not to everyone’s taste, they are usually the closest to ‘grass-fed’ meat available, since they are basically ‘free-range.’

Greece is (obviously!) blessed with a huge variety of seafood, which is mostly seasonal and dependent on location. Restaurants are legally obliged to indicate which products are frozen, and if you’re eating next to the sea it’s a lot more likely you’ll be enjoying the daily catch! A number of fishy appetisers, such as gávros (anchovies) or sardéles (sardines) are usually consistently good, but because of seasonality, they should make it to the top of your list of things to do in the summer. 

To Eat List:

  • Lamb
  • Kalamari
  • Gávros
  • Sardéles

Octopus, fresh by the sea side!

Vegetarian and Vegan Taverna Staples

In addition to the salads (both kinds!) mentioned above, many tavernas have cooked food (magireftá) freshly made the same day. You can usually go into the kitchen and have a look at what’s on offer. Some easy and delicious meat-free choices include yígantes (baked broad beans, also vegan), yemistá (tomatoes or peppers stuffed with rice, again dairy-free), and laderá. This final category is also usually dairy-free and refers to vegetables cooked in olive oil like fasolákia (green beans) and briám (a mix of cucumber, eggplant, potatoes and tomatoes). Fakés (lentils) and revíthia (chickpeas) are also usually made without dairy. Dolmadákia (stuffed grape leaves) are also made with or without meat, and they are called dolmadákia yialantzí if they are vegetarian-friendly.

To Eat List:

  • Yígantes
  • Yemistá (and all the laderá)
  • Fasolákia
  • Dolmadákia

If you are lucky enough to be in Greece during Lent,  you have a major advantage, which is that Greeks traditionally fast from meat and animal products during this period. Look out for things marked as nistísima - dairy- and meat- free - and this applies even to pastries and fast food joints. One thing to watch out for - fasting rules allow some seafood (everything but fish) so don’t take the ‘nistisima’ label at face value if you’re a strict vegetarian or vegan! If you want to read more on Lenten food check out our older post here.

How to Eat Gluten Free in Greece

Gluten free can be a bit tricky to navigate, since it (correctly) seems like every meal in Greece is accompanied by bread. However, there are enough choices with veggies, legumes, meat and dairy that you should have no problem.

There are a few classic Greek dishes that may contain sneaky gluten - pastítsio and mousakas are both made using bechamel sauce, and some of the salad-dips mentioned above use bread as a thickener. Also many sweets are made with phyllo dough, which is wheat-based.

For most Greek restaurants, their ‘calling’ is beyond simply providing the customer with a satisfactory meal, but rather the whole experience of eating is meant to be enjoyed to the fullest. So no matter your preferences or possible restrictions, it’s likely that hosts will do their best to accommodate them.

One of the most recent fads in Greece is bread and baked goods made with ‘zea’ flour. This is still a kind of wheat so is definitely not gluten-free, but it is an ‘ancient grain’ which some say is easier on those who are gluten sensitive. (You might also see this referred to as Díkokko Sitári.)

Where to Find Healthy Food in Athens

We've gathered together a list of some of the best choices in Athens for healthy eating, with a twist. Most of these places don't fall neatly into categories of 'vegan,' 'lunch cafe' or 'coffee shop,' for example, because they combine a variety of elements for (in my opinion) more flexible dining. They're in random order, because I would be hard-pressed to choose favourites (spoiler alert: I did save the best for last though!). Have a scroll through the list and check out our choices, plus there's a map at the end if you're looking for something to eat in a certain area of Athens. Happy eating! 

One of the newest places on the scene in Athens is Wild in the City, right behind Syntagma Square, which offers a variety of snacks, sweets and sandwiches all made with real food and largely unprocessed - sweets without refined sugar or gluten, sandwiches made with paleo-friendly bread, and bulletproof coffee. They are constantly innovating and offering some of the most progressive eats in the centre.

Wild in the City on Voulid street behind Syntagma Square [pic by Wild in the City]

Wild in the City

  • Where:  Stoa Bolani, Voulis 7 
  • Which metro station:  Syntagma
  • When: Mon - Fri 09:00 - 20:00; Sat 09:00 - 18:00; Sun 11:00-16:00
  • Other info: +30 2103315776 / info@wildinthecity.gr / http://www.wildinthecity.gr/

Several juice bars have popped up recently, including Fresh Juice Bar and Pure Juice Bar. The latter is located in trendy Kolonaki, and also offers smoothie bowls, almond milk with their coffee, and turmeric lattes.

Pure Juice Bar

  • Where: Sina 21, Kolonaki
  • Which metro station:  Akadimias
  • When: Mon - Fri: 09:00 - 20:00; Sat: 10:00 - 19:00
  • Other info : +30 213 036 3671 / purejuicebargr@gmail.com / http://purejuicebar.gr/

Pure Juice Bar on Sina Street in Kolonaki [pic by Pure Juice Bar]

Fresh Juice Bar

To get a quick green fix, The Salad Project offers you the chance to build your own salad in any combination you can imagine, with fresh and creative ingredients as well as their own offerings too.

The Salad Project

  • Where: Syngrou 13, Koukaki
  • Which metro station:  Akropolis
  • When: Mon - Fri: 10:00 - 18:00
  • More info: +30 210 9241402 / contact@thesaladproject.gr  / http://www.thesaladproject.gr/

Rosebud in Kolonaki has a mixed menu [pic by Rosebud]

A classic choice for vegetarian Athens, Avocado offers a fully plant-based menu with delicious and creative choices to suit any taste. Its central location near Syntagma Square is also a plus. In the same vein, Rosebud in Kolonaki has a mixed menu that includes meat, but it offers a vegetarian souvlaki that is equally popular with meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. Also in Kolonaki, Nice n’ Easy is one of the most transparent restaurants in Athens, in terms of how they source their ingredients. Their menu is very diverse and caters to basically any dietary preference, though prices reflect the quality and the trendy neighbourhood.

Avocado

  • Where: Nikis 30, Syntagma
  • Which metro station:  Syntagma
  • When: Mon-Fri: 12:00 - 23:00; Sat: 11:00 - 23:00; Sun: 12:00 - 19:00
  • Other info: +30 210 3237838 /  happy@avocadoathens.com / http://www.avocadoathens.com/

Rosebud

  • Where: Skoufa 42 & Omirou 60, Kolonaki 
  • Which metro station:  Panepistimio
  • When: Mon - Sun 9.00  - 1.30 
  • Other info:  +30 2103392370 / info@rosebud.gr / http://www.rosebud.gr/

Nice n’ Easy

  • Where: Omirou 60 & Skoufa, Kolonaki
  • Which metro station:  Panepistimio
  • When: Mon - Sun: 9.00  - 1.30 
  • More info:   +30 210 3617201 / kolonaki@niceneasy.gr / http://niceneasy.gr/en/

Mystic Pizza in Exarheia and Kalimarmaro for delicious pizza in healthy versions! [pic by Mystic Pizza]

Mystic Pizza in Exarheia has a totally different but just as delicious vibe. Though their pizza is incredible, they also have a wide selection of pasta and rich salads, in creative and healthy combinations. All of their doughy goods are made with hemp and spelt flour, and their menus include nutritional information in English. (Plus they have just opened a second location in Pangkrati, right behind the Panathenaic Stadium).

Mystic Pizza Exarheia and Kalimarmaro

  • Where: Emmanouil Mpenaki 76 , Exarheia | Ferekidou 2 , Kalimarmaro
  • Which metro station: Omonoia | Syntagma (for Kalimarmaro store)
  • When: 12:30 – 00:30 (Exarheia) | 13:00 - 1:00 (Kalimarmaro)
  • Contact info: +30 210 3839500 (Exarheia) - +30 21 0959 2092 (Kalimarmaro) / http://www.mystic.com.gr/en/
 Mama Tierra near Omonia [pic by Mama Tierra]

Mama Tierra near Omonia [pic by Mama Tierra]

Another economical choice for casual dining is Mama Tierra, located in the centre near Omonia. Their vegetarian menu focuses on cafe-style food, with an Indian twist to a number of dishes.

Mama Tierra

  • Where: Akadimias 84, Omonoia
  • Which metro station:  Omonoia
  • When: Mon - Fri: 12:30 - 21:00;  Sat 13:30- 21:00
  • Other info: +30 21 1411 4420 / hello@mamatierra.gr / http://www.mamatierra.gr/en/

For quick street-food, Falafellas and Feyrouz offer vegetarian choices with Middle Eastern flavours in the middle of the historic centre near hip Agias Eirinis Square. Both usually have a line out the door, and though their menus aren’t extensive, it’s impossible to go wrong. Nearby Just Made 33 features many classic snacks, sandwiches, and coffee, all with fresh ingredients. The central location near Monastiraki makes it a great place to stop and refuel with ‘just made’ goodies. Another street-food choice near the Archaeological Museum is Up!, which offers fresh juice, salads and other healthy snacks.

Falafellas

  • Where: 51 Aiolou, Platia Agias Eirinis
  • Which metro station:  Monastiraki
  • When:  Mon-Sat: 11:00 - 00:00
  • Other info: +30 2103239809 / info@falafellas.gr /  http://www.falafellas.gr/

Feyrouz

  • Where: Karori 23 & Aiolou, Platia Agias Eirinis
  • Which metro station:  Monastiraki
  • When: Mon-Thurs:12:00 - 10:00; Fri-Sat: 12:00 - 23:00
  • Other info:  +30 21 3031 8060 / feyrouzstreetfood@gmail.com / http://feyrouz.gr/

Feyrouz for a Middle Eastern flavour, located in the middle of the historic centre [Pic by Feyrouz]

Just Made 33  

  • Where: Evaggelistrias 33, Monastiraki
  • Which metro station:  Monastiraki
  • When: Mon–Sat 07:30 - 24:00; Sun: 09:30 – 24:00
  • Other info: 2155258062 / info@justmade33.gr / http://justmade33.gr

Up - Κυτταρική θρέψη

  • Where: Akadimias 91, Omonia
  • Which metro station: Omonia
  • When: Mon-Fri: 07:00 - 21:00; Sat: 08:00 - 20:00
  • Other info: +30 21 1402 5900 / https://www.facebook.com/Up

If you want to try the ubiquitous Greek souvlaki, check out either Kalamaki Kolonaki, in Kolonaki or Elvis, in Metaxourgeio. Both are a little further from Monastiraki Square, but worth a short trip for consistently high quality and delicious street food.

Kalamaki Kolonaki

Elvis

Another good Kolonaki choice is IT, an all-day place with brunch choices, takeaway sandwiches and other healthy goodies, plus hearty entree salads and a great selection of meat, fish and vegetarian mains. The atmosphere is bright and tables on the sidewalk allow you to enjoy your munchies while people-watching in one of Athens' chicest areas. 

IT

  • Where: Skoufa 29, Kolonaki
  • Which metro station: Syntagma
  • When: Mon -Fri: 08:30 - 01:00; Sat: 10:00 - 01:00; Sun: 12:00 – 18:00
  • Other info:  +30 210 3635773  / www.itrestaurant.gr/en/

 

 

Yi in Glyfada is a paradise for vegan and raw. [Pic by Yi]

For a day further south along the sea, Yi in Glyfada offers an incredible menu of raw and vegetarian food, including feta made from cashews, fresh almond milk made in-house, and vegan desserts.

Yi

  • Where: Grigoriou Lampraki 69,  Glyfada
  • Which metro station:  Elliniko (best take a taxi or bus fom there- unless you're up for a long walk)
  • When: Mon - Sun: 08:30 - 00:00
  • Other info:  +30 2109648512 / yiathens@yahoo.gr / https://www.facebook.com/YiAthens/?fref=ts

Also down South, Perivoli in Vari is a a MUST thing to do with kids in Athens. It's a self-sustaining veggie farm which serves its own organic produce, funky juices and herbal iced teas, as well as a variety of super healthy stuff with brunch and lunch options. The Perivoli is ideal if you’re visiting with your family, as kids get to visit the chicken and worm farms to get up close and personal with the food chain.

  • Where: Kyrgion 15, 16672 Vari (on the way to the airport)
  • Which metro station: buses heading to/from the airport, No. 125, 120, 115, 116 - bus stop: Katsiki or Tsangaraki, located on Varis-Koropiou Ave. 
  • When: Mon - Fri: 16:00 - sunset; Sat - Sun: 10:00 - sunset
  • Other info:  +30 210 89 63 000 / info@perivolivari.gr / http://perivolivari.gr/

Perivoli is one of 25 MUST things to do in Athens. Discover 24 more here

If you are a street-food lover, chase the ‘Food Truck’ which has revamped the street food scene with a healthy twist; a cool thing to do with your friends. Moving around different neighbourhoods in Athens, the Food Truck serves Greek delicacies from ‘horta’ to traditional Greek pies. Check its Facebook page to find its current location! 

Get to Fysis for a healthy dessert! [Pic by Fysis]

For sweet treats, try Fysis. This bakery is further afield, with two branches towards the northern suburbs, but they provide a variety of classic Greek biscuits and cake in both gluten-free or sugar-free options.

Fysis  

  • Where: 450 Mesogeion, Agia Paraskevi
  • Which metro station:  Nomismatokopeio
  • When: Mon - Fri: 07:30 - 22:30;  Sat: 08:30 -23:00; Sun: 08:00 - 22:30
  • Other info: fisis@fisis.eu / http://www.fisis.eu/en#about

Rakor in Metaxourgio [pic by Rakor]

Melilotos near Monastiraki [pic by Melilotos]

Finally, my top recommendations for simply great quality Greek food with lots of choices for all diets is a tie between Rakor, in Metaxourgio, and Melilotos, near Monastiraki. Both offer menus that are Greek-inspired, but with creative twists on the classics and lots of healthy options. The menus change seasonally based on what is fresh and at its best, and include diverse meat and non-meat choices.

Rakor

  • Where: Plataion 10 & Granikou, Metaxurgio
  • Which metro station: Kerameikos
  • When: Tues-Thurs: 14:00 - 12:00; Fri-Sat:14:00 - 12:30; Sun:13:00 - 19:00
  • Other info: +30 21 1710 8877  / https://www.facebook.com/Rakor-Restaurant

Melilotos

  • Where:  Kalamiotou 19, Platia Agias Eirinis
  • Which metro station:  Monastiraki
  • When:  12:00 - 01:00
  • Other info: +30 2103222458 / info@melilotos.gr / http://www.melilotos.gr/

Need more inspiration? Check out a few more suggestions on where to energize after a run (or the Athens Marathon, in this case!)

Getting Creative in the Kitchen - Make your own Greek Recipes!

If you are visiting Athens with specific dietary concerns, you may feel more comfortable staying in an AirBnB-type accommodation where you can prepare your own interpretation of Greek cuisine. Finding fresh and high-quality veggies and fruit and other ingredients is not difficult but requires a little planning.

Open air produce markets ('laikí agorá' ) can be found in almost every neighbourhood, weekly

The central market on Athinas Street (close to Monastiraki Square) is brimming with seasonal produce, though it is only open until late afternoon and closed all day on Sunday. Across the street is the meat and fish market, which is an experience all on its own. Open air produce markets are a staple and can be found in every neighbourhood on different days - one central choice for fresh produce is the laikí agorá in the neighbourhood of Kolonaki, open from Friday morning until about 2pm on Xenokratous Street. These markets also sell a wide variety of olives (you can ask to try them to find a variety you like!). In a pinch, there are carts selling produce in Monastiraki Square, at basically all hours of the day.

Central Athens' fish market (Varvakeios Agora) on Athinas Street is a must-see

You can easily find minimally processed dairy even in neighbourhood supermarkets. If you’re looking for the ‘real deal’ Greek yoghurt, it is sold in clay pots and is usually full fat. Organic meat is not as easy to find, but the more traditional Greek classics of lamb and goat are essentially free range and raised without added hormones or anything else.

Local neighbourhood supermarkets are usually equipped with the staples, but may not have a huge variety. You should be able to find soy milk, for example, but we have also gathered a list of some of the best organic shops (below) if you are looking for more specific items or organic produce.

Find the Healthiest Meal Near you With our Map

Side Note: As always, the opinions expressed here are purely, solely & utterly our own!

So now that you're fully energized, if you feel like running check out our Runners' Guide to Athens!


Important Vocabulary to Know

Dairy Galaktomiká
‘Lenten’ Friendly Nistísimo
Meat Kréas
Gluten Glouteíni
Flour Alevri
Nuts Xyrí Karpoí
Allergy Allergía
Organic Biologikó
Bon Appetit! Kalí Órexi!
Does this have… ? Aftó periéxei…?
I’m a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat/I don’t eat dairy Eímai hortofágos. Den tro kréas. Den tro galaktomiká.
I have an allergy Ého allergía
I have celiac disease Ého kiliokáki


Where to Buy Healthy and Organic Food in Athens

To stock up on fresh produce and other healthy goodies, you can find the fresh open-air organic markets labeled with a green pin, while the green dots indicate organic shops. Click on them for more specific information about hours, locations, etc!


Here are some unique things to do in Athens to burn those calories! 


PS: Share with us your yummy discoveries in Athens @thetravelporter #thetravelporter !

Did we forget something? Sharing is caring so please share your healthy-eating intel! :)