by Katherine Poseidon and Katia Mavrikou
Sun-tanned, exhilarated, inspired by all the Greek tourist attractions and local activities... Maybe a little sleepy, or feeling like you won’t need to eat again for a week... No matter what state you’re in after this unique travel experience when heading back to the Athens airport to return home, leaving Greece behind is always hard.
One of the best things to do to ease the transition, in our humble opinion, is by bringing a little of Greece home with you and stocking up on the best souvenirs from Greece. If you've made sure to hit either of our Athens must see summer spots, it's easy to find something to remind you of your trip if you’re ever feeling nostalgic. We’ve gathered a list of some of our favourites, both edible and non-edible, and wish you happy shopping - but make sure not to lose track of the space in your suitcase!
#1 Greek Wine, Raki or Ouzo
Greek wine has created a buzz in the last few years, and its diversity lets you take a drinkable souvenir with you from a number of fantastic locations. Depending on where your travels brought you, bring home the classic white Assyrtiko or sweet Vinsanto from Santorini, or local wines from the islands of Lesvos, Kefalonia, Limnos or Rhodes. Plus, it’s hard to go wrong with a refreshing white Moschofilero or one of the richest Greek reds, Xinomavro.
If you’ve spent time exploring Crete (one of the best places to visit in Greece!), take home a fiery raki/tsipouro or the sweet rakomelo, or try one of a huge variety of local ouzos you can find all over Greece (the best though to be found in Lesbos island, and if you're not very sure where that is, check out our blog post on Greek islands here!). Finally, one of the most unique tastes in Greece is the mastiha liqueur, a local speciality of the island of Chios.
Open up a bottle and pretend you’re enjoying Athens nightlife on one of the best rooftop bars in Athens or that you are on a wine tour in the middle of a vineyard in Santorini, and re-live magical moments.
Tip: If you’re nervous about packing any bottles in your suitcase, the duty-free shop at the Athens Airport offers a good selection of Greek wines and spirits that they will pack for you to carry on. There’s also a wine bar for a sip or two pre-flight!
Wine-tasting tours in Santorini
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#2 Greek Cosmetics Straight from Nature
Though the Greek climate may seem a little dry, this is actually a misperception, and the country has rich ecosystems with incredible biodiversity. Several clever companies have worked to harness the bounty of Greek nature and have bottled it up into high-quality cosmetics. The internationally-famous Korres has its own research lab where biologists work to identify the healing properties of various Greek plants, and they offer a huge variety of natural products, from sunscreen to body wash to makeup, made with the best Greece has to offer.
A similar company is Apivita, which is also inspired by the richness of Greece’s natural landscape and traditional philosophies of well-being and holistic medicine. If you’re out for a day of shopping in chic Kolonaki, the Apivita Experience Store is one of the more quirky things to do in Athens and definitely not a traditional souvenir shop. In addition to a market for their products, the store also offers a spa and hair studio!
Tip: Both Korres and Apivita have mini-shops in the airport, so you can grab a few goodies last minute! Otherwise, they can be found at nearly any pharmacy, and both have dedicated stores in central Athens.
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#3 Greek Honey
One of the most typical souvenirs from Greece is the famous honey, which is truly unlike anything else in the world. The most traditional is thyme honey, but you can also find delicious varieties including pine honey, heather, and chestnut. Take some home with you to drizzle over Greek yogurt, and grab some Greek walnuts (or Greek pistachios from the island of Aegina!) as well to complete the dish!
Tip: If you're in Athens, the best honey can be found in organic food stores or local open markets, so grab our Complete Healthy-Eating Guide to Athens and visit your closest open market (definitely an Athens' must see and one of the most adventurous things to do on your trip to Greece!)
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# 4 Everything Olive
Olive oil is of course a staple of traditional Greek food, but its rich taste is delicious in a variety of different cuisines, not just drizzled over a classic Greek salad. Wrap up a bottle inside your beach towel and nestle it safely into your suitcase, or pick up a bottle at the airport as you’re leaving to take as a carry on.
Olives themselves may not seem like the best thing to pack in your suitcase, but regular supermarkets sell a few varieties of Greek olives in vacuum-sealed packaging, which easily fit in your suitcase and are safe for travel (trust me, I’ve done it!).
There are few things more typically ‘Greek’ than the olive tree, and its gifts just keep on giving. Though the trees themselves are not tall, they produce a stunning wood that local artisans shape into a huge variety of gorgeous creations. The area of Monastiraki in Athens houses several shops that specialise in olive wood products, and they are the real deal.
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#5 Greek Spices and Flavours
You might know that already but food in Athens (and all around Greece!) is exquisite. One of the main reasons Greek cuisine is so delicious is the high-quality traditional spices they use. The most classic of these is of course oregano, which is sprinkled on everything from feta cheese to meatballs to tomatoes. A packet of Greek oregano is an easy-to-carry souvenir for a burst of Greek flavour wherever your travels may take you. A more exotic and luxurious spice is saffron (called 'Krokos Kozanis') grown in northern Greece, a well-kept and delicious secret for the foodies.
Another classic Greek flavour is ‘Mountain Tea’ (aka Tsai tou Vounou), which is local dried wildflowers brewed with hot water. Greek grandmothers almost as rule swear by it as a remedy for colds, and with a drizzle of Greek honey it can transport you straight to the mountainous regions of Greece.
Mastiha is another totally unique Greek flavour, made from the resin of trees that only grow on the island of Chios, with traditional medicinal uses. It’s also used to make a delicious liqueur, as well as a huge variety of other treats and even cosmetics. The Mastiha Shop near Syntagma Square is an emporium for all things mastiha, and they also have a little branch in the airport (so don't forget to add it to your list of what to do in Athens!).
Tip: For all kinds of spices and many other Greek delicacies that are travel-ready, check out Matsouka off Syntagma square and the brand new Yoleni's in Kolonaki. At Matsouka, you’ll find not only Greek oregano and mountain tea, but Greek almonds, walnuts and pistachios, dried giant beans (gigantes) and mouthwatering sweets as well; at Yoleni's you will find all sorts of traditional Greek food artisanal products AND you'll be happy to hear it's not just a deli but also serves delicious Greek dishes! If you 're far from Athens and find yourself in a small village, ask around for local specialities and be sure to stock up!
Walking tours of Athens still open
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#6 Leather Sandals and 'Tagari' Bags
Remember our Athens' guide to retail therapy and shopping? This is one of the highlights. Coming home with a pair of handmade leather sandals is one of the best ways to carry your travel experience with you, quite literally. The famous shop of Melissinos the sandal maker is famous for a reason - this multi-generational family enterprise has been cranking out its signature product for years, and they have a loyal following include a number of celebrities. Get your own pair and channel your inner Jackie O.
And then there's the 'tagari' bag, what used to be the essential 'carry on' of peasants (a colourful handbag woven in looms) and what now has transformed into a fashionista must-have that can be found in shops around Monastiraki and alleys of Greek islands.
Tip: In the last few years, the Greek fashion scene has revealed top notch Greek leather sandal makers such as Ancient Greek Sandals, fashion brands such as TRIA ETC and Zeus + Dione and 'tagari' bag makers such as Kooreloo and Tagari Handmade, all of which are available online (so won't burden your baggage allowance!)
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#7 Greek Jewellery to Protect you from the Evil Eye
If you’ve spent time checking out some of Athens walking tours, you’ve definitely passed through the touristy areas of the city -one of the top things to do in Athens- and have probably noticed some blue glass eyes staring out at you from the shops. These are traditional talismans against the ‘evil eye’, and are one of the most typical Greek tourist souvenirs. (We explain more about Greek superstitions in our post '10 Things you Want to Ask but Don't Want to Sound like a Tourist').
If the evil eye charm isn’t quite your thing, tasteful gold or silver jewellery with unique Ancient Greece-inspired designs are easy to come by if you have some time to look. Greek craftsmanship, especially in gold, is superb - We like a family-run shop called ‘Byzantino’ which offers traditional designs and more modern interpretations in the centre of Athens. The shopping district of Kolonaki also has many chic jewellery stores, like Ileana Makri's beautiful store on Patriarchou Ioakeim street.
Tip: For more on Greek jewellery visit the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum (or the storefronts of the famous Greek jewelry maker if you want to pamper yourself or a loved one with a timeless gift!), or take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Benaki Museum’s impressive collection of Greek handcrafted jewellery (one of the best tours you will ever have the chance to join!). Did we mention that both places have beautiful cafés where you can take a quick coffee break?!
Exciting walking tours you don't want to miss!
#8 Greek Art Through the Ages
You definitely don’t need us to confirm that Greek art across the ages is spectacular, and capturing just a piece to take home with you is worth it if you have space in your luggage. The Benaki Museum and the Museum of Cycladic Art are not only among the best things to do in Athens but they also provide some of the best Greek souvenir ideas. The museum shops offer miniatures or replicas of some of Greece’s most priceless artistic treasures, including ancient coins, Cycladic figurines, traditional pottery, silkscreen prints and silver items.
Tip: The Benaki Museum also sells beautiful and high quality jewellery inspired by the whole continuum of Greek history - from ancient motifs to Byzantine designs, to their modern interpretations. If high-end travel is more your style, check out our luxury guide to Athens too!
#9 Alternative Souvenirs
We could go on with the list of what to do in Athens if you are souvenir-hunting and what to buy, but you may want to remember your unique experiences with some more alternative souvenirs. Three of our favourite shops, the newly-opened Flâneur Souvenirs & Supplies, the alternative hub Forget-Me-Not and the inspired design shop Greece is For Lovers offer a wide variety of more modern and hip Greek goodies for you to take home. Grab a colouring book with the major Greek attractions to work on on the airplane, a notebook to jot down memories, a printed tote bag to carry back the REST of your souvenirs, quirky greeting cards, and tons of other fun and different little things made mostly by Greek designers. Support local innovation and creativity AND head home with something unique and memorable. Everyone wins!
Where to next?
The Athens Airport is truly a windfall for edible souvenirs. In addition to wine and all of the yummy things we outlined above, you can also find fresh things to enjoy on your flight or to try and tote with you. From the classic Greek yogurt to delicious feta cheese, this is your last chance to stock up on the best of Greek cuisine! They have recently opened a branch of the famous Thessaloniki Bakery ‘Terkenlis’ inside the airport terminal - grab a sweet eggy brioche-like bread (tsoureki) to go - it smells divine, travels well and your friends at home will love it - if you can resist devouring it on the plane! The Athens Airport also offers an official app, which includes various discounts at the airport shops (and we even prepared a guide with a number of other useful apps for travel in Greece!)
PS: Did we forget something? We would love to hear your thoughts!
PS2: As always, all opinions expressed in this article are entirely personal and are not meant to promote.
Beautiful cover pic is by Mastihashop via Facebook.