by Anastasia Valti-Spanopoulou
Cheap hotels and affordable meals are all swell and good for those who embark on a low-cost exploration of Greece, and believe us, nobody sympathises with travelers on a budget more than us. But as nondiscriminatory minds, we realize that people with a little extra cash to burn also have rights, including the right to information regarding where to get the crème de la crème of… well, pretty much anything one can wish for on a vacay. So suit up, big spenders everywhere, this one goes out to you! From the best restaurants in Athens, to high-end Greek shopping and VIP nightlife experiences, this Athens guide has everything you need to to sprinkle your holidays with a little bit of gold.
Indulge in Athens’ Luxury Hotels
All trips to Greece, regardless of their ultimate destination, start with the same question: ‘where to stay in Athens’. Thankfully for travelers everywhere, Greece’s investment in tourism has led to thousands of hotels in the capital opening their doors to visitors from all walks of life. For you who want to coat your walk through life with sugar and spice and everything nice, you’ll be happy to know that in Athens you will find some of the most luxurious and prestigious hotels in Greece. First off, out of all the 5 star hotels in the country, the most notorious one has got to be the Grande Bretagne, situated right on Syntagma Square. Apart from the breathtaking suites, the awesome pool, spa, rooftop restaurant with a view to the Acropolis, and all other kinds of luxuries offered here, politicians, big-shot journalists, and all people important will often choose the Grande Bretagne Athens for its incredibly elegant meeting rooms. Right next to this historic - and absolutely breathtaking - building, you will find another ‘big player’ of the Greek hotel world, King George Athens. Apart from their 5 stars and incomparable location close to some of the most important landmarks in Greece (e.g., the Parliament, the National Garden, and the Acropolis Museum), what King George and Grande Bretagne have in common is their impeccable service, high-end restaurants, and a rooftop with an outlandish view to the Acropolis. Grecotel Pallas Athena may not be looking towards the most important historic monument of the country, but to make up for it, it gives you plenty to look at on its inside. This glamorous hotel, located on the central Kotzia square, will make your jaw drop with all the fantastic art decorating its every inch. Among other unique experiences, it also gives you the chance to book one of its Graffiti Rooms, that are thematically painted by talented artists and much loved by children. So if apart from a lux hotel, you’re also looking for things to do with kids, perhaps booking at Pallas Athens will solve all your problems. If, on the other hand, what you’re really after is a little bit of a seaside scenery to complement your suite, you should know that the area of Vouliagmeni is home to some of the most widely acclaimed luxury hotels in Greece, that joke not about comfort and pleasure. More specifically, Grand Resort Lagonissi, Divani Apollon Palace & Thalasso, and Astir Palace (update 2017: currently closed down for renovation) are probably the most impressive Athens hotels by the riviera, as their top-notch facilities include anything you can imagine - from gourmet restaurants, to private beaches, spas, kids areas, tennis courts, meeting rooms, pools… and the list goes on! Among the many highlights we could mention about these places, keep in mind that Divani Palace is the only location providing thalassotherapy in Greece, and that Lagonissi Resort can also offer rooms with a private pool (how about that VIP pool party?).
Treat Yourself to Some of That Fine Dining
We all know that one of the best things to do in Athens, or anywhere else in this world for that matter, is eat, eat, eat. Food in Athens is never a problem, irrespectively of your budget, but if you have a soft spot for fine dining restaurants, you’re reading the right blogpost. The obvious place to start our suggestions, is the Michelin guide. Currently, there are 5 Michelin starred restaurants in Athens, which cover all sorts of appetites: Spondi (**), for Mediterranean-meets-French in a stone-built home environment; Varoulko (*), for seafood with a view to the port; Funky Gourmet Athens (**), for experimental, ‘funky’ haute cuisine; Botrini’s, for Italian in a suburban garden; and finally Hytra (*), for neo-Greek on a rooftop overlooking the Acropolis. Apart from these, there is a number of other top-notch places to eat in Athens, such as the Grande Bretagne Corner (that expands on the roof garden in the summer) and the Tudor Hall at King George Hotel - both of which are characterised by excellent gourmet Mediterranean and international dishes, flawless service, and formal dress code. Not far from the two famous hotel restaurants, and just before the tourist attractions of Thission, you will also find Dionysos Zonar’s, an all-time classic of Athenian dining. The food is mouthwatering, but you may very well just sit there for a coffee or a dessert - say, maybe an ekmek with ice-cream and sour cherry sweet preserve? - because the greenery and pedestrian streets of the area are super relaxing. In the less fancy are of Ilissia (behind the Hilton), two not at all less fancy restaurants promise to blow you away: CTC, with its minimal space and progressive take on Mediterranean food, and Vezené, that has become famous mainly for its seafood and exceptional meats, from eco-friendly, sustainable farming sources. Of course, not everything interesting is to be found in the city center. So for those of you making more extensive city tours, keep in mind that some of the best restaurants in Athens are actually found in the suburbs. For example, Salumaio d’Atene, in Kifissia, is an A class all-day bistro that will serve you some of the best ‘real deal’ Italian meals you’ve ever tried. The Rossini fillet with foie-gras and black truffle sauce is an absolute must. On the other side of the map, in Vouliagmeni, make sure you pay a visit to what is possibly the best Japanese restaurant in town - Matsuhisa. Apart from top quality fish, here you’ll find a variety of awesome cocktails, and best of all, you can enjoy everything on the menu right next to the sea. The view to the Saronic Gulf during sunset makes Matsuhisa a very unique Athens restaurant, if we may, an excellent choice if you’re looking for things to do on a date. And, by the way, if a special someone is indeed the reason why you’re reading this, let us help you out with some further reading in last week’s romantic Athens guide.
Toast to the Fantastic Athens Bars and Wineries
Adventure tours, food tours, day trips - there’s a ton of fun things to do in Athens but, there’s no doubt that sightseeing takes up a lot of energy. So what better than to lay back and unwind at the end of a long day with a good drink in your hand? If you’ve already read our post on the best rooftop bars in Athens, or our guide to the city’s best hidden bars, then you already know that Athens’ nightlife is extraordinarily vivid and multifaceted, which means that among others, you can also find plenty of upscale bars and wineries to toast the unforgettable travel experience you’re having. If you’re a classic wine kind of lad/gal, you will have no trouble finding great wine lists in pretty much any self-respecting upscale restaurant, such as Papaioannou - an elegant fish restaurant in the picturesque are of Mikrolimano in Pireaus, which apart from an excellent fish menu that changes daily according to the catch of the day, also offers an outstanding list of wines to enjoy with a view to the sea. Another unique wine spot in Piraeus is Paleo, a wine restaurant established recently by Yannis Kaimenakis, one of the most acclaimed sommeliers in the country. Kaimenakis has created what he likes to call a 'handmade' space, as he decorated it himself, retaining much of the old building's character and structure (this used to be a an old storage space, for tobacco most likely), and added custom-made elements, such as the wooden chairs in which he carved the names of all the wine producing areas he has visited. A selection of wines from Northern Europe is displayed within the sitting area, so you can observe the wine selection process while being served several sophisticated dishes on the menu. If you want to combine your wine tasting with some sightseeing in city center, you should definitely try Winepoint, a wine hub conveniently located in a short walking distance from the Acropolis, its museum, and all the relevant local attractions. Here you will find an incredible wine list, including many exclusive Greek wines, all of which you can accompany with a number of mouthwatering cold platters (for free, if you get a bottle!). Try the selection of Greek cheeses, and make sure you reserve a table if you plan to visit on a Friday or Saturday because this place gets quite crowded. A similar combo of top quality wine juice and bites you can also get at Kiki de Grece wine bar, only here you will be served not just assortments, but a variety of gourmet nibbles to pair with whichever of the 50 Greek wines on the list you choose. The owner has put up a map on the wall, where she has pinned all the locations her dishes and wine varieties originate from, so you spend the night not just exciting your tastebuds, but also learning a little something about where this 'excitement' originally is produced. And now, for the heavy drinkers: whiskey, bourbon, and the rest, in what is probably the best ‘equipped’ bar and cellar in town, which goes by the name of CV Distiller. Of course cocktails are also available here, but more interestingly, you can book the downstairs floor for tasting events. If you’re up for seconds, you can take a two second walk over to the Hilton Athens, and go straight for the rooftop, where the all-time classic Galaxy Bar awaits for you with fancy cocktails, an even fancier clientele, and one of the best views of the city you can get. If, however, you're not the biggest fan of the city centre's hustle and bustle, you can always head towards Ampelokipi, to find one of the most talked about places to visit in town - Balthazar. This is a colorful bar-restaurant set up in the interior garden of an old neoclassical house, which send out all the good vibes of Athenian nightlife while at the same time giving you the impression that you're somewhere 'else'. For those of you who fancy the ocean more than the city or gardens, Island is a definite must see. Situated in the Athens Riviera - where all the nightlife magic happens in the summer - Island is mainly known as a night club, but it includes a restaurant, a wine cellar, and a cigar cellar. Whether you want to enjoy a drink at your table, or party by the decks, you’re still right there on the beach, getting a view of yachts coming and going.
Dig Into the True Greek Culture
Obviously, one of the absolute best things to do in Athens is explore its more-than-rich culture. What you possibly don’t know is that this culture consists of far more than the Acropolis of Athens, and the rest of the Athens tourism ‘classics’ from the ancient times. For example, a perfect way to explore Greek culture today is to plan a few day trips from Athens to the islands, which is why in a previous post we put together an island hopping guide for you. If you don’t have enough time to leave the capital though, there are still plenty of Athens attractions to keep you art and culture junkies happy and occupied for days! Palace Theater is surely a good place to start, as it has been welcoming Greece’s high society in its auditorium since the 1930’s, to present some of the most noteworthy productions in the country, ranging from drama, to music performances, ballet, modern dance performances, a.o. A similar thing is going on at Megaron Mousikis, the Greek music Hall, but on top of hosting large productions, Megaron also livestreams unique performances staged in London and other artistic capitals of the world. Keep in mind that it also has a small garden at the back, which is open to the public, and where small live performances are given by popular Greek artists every now and then, at a more informal register. Stegi Grammaton & Tehnon can also help arty up you Athens holidays, as it hosts not only performances and staged productions, but also visual arts and design exhibitions, movie screenings, contemporary Greek art exhibitions, and programs for children and schools. It’s basically a super-building for culture, but what makes it even more awesome, is that it’s part of the Onassis foundation, which regularly donates funds for education and culture related causes, such as scholarships for Greek students wishing to study abroad. Stavros Niarhos Foundation is also known to support such causes economically, and this year it too completed the construction of a cultural center - the much-awaited Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, which cost a little over half a billion euros and was donated to the Greek government to promote educational and cultural progress in the country. The Cultural Center is still in its infancy, but it is meant to host the first Opera House in Greece, as well as the National Museum of Modern Art. Nevertheless, it is worth paying a visit to this place for its amazing architecture and the stroll by the Athens Riviera, plus a few outdoor activities and fitness sessions that already take place in the garden. Finally, if you’re planning to visit Athens while the weather's still warm, do not miss out on the chance to book for a music, theater, or opera performance at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, as it is truly one of the most unique things to do in Athens ever. How often do you get to watch a night performance in a Roman amphitheater on the slopes of the Acropolis, while gazing at the illuminated Parthenon and the bright August full moon?
Discover the Greek Shopping Experience
Shopping in Athens is often associated with Monastiraki and souvenirs - which is not a bad thing at all. In fact, it’s loads of fun, which is why we recently gave you a post with ideas on the best souvenirs to look for in the city. However, that’s not to say that Athens doesn’t have a place for heavy shoppers. It actually has plenty of places for all you fashionistas! Most of these are found in the central neighborhood of Kolonaki, known for its designer boutiques selling both Greek and international brands, as well as its posh restaurants, fancy bars, and artisan coffee bistros. Among other noteworthy apparel shops, here you will find Linea Piu, the only boutique that collaborates with CHANEL, Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Dior, and John Galliano. Another Athens shopping hub with a very similar scenery to Kolonaki going on is Kifissia, only here things are a little quieter and greener because it’s the suburbs. In Kifissia you will find plenty of independent stores, but also several boutique branches that one can find in Kolonaki and other trendy destinations, such as Mykonos. For example, LUISA is a boutique with branches in all three of these places, and has been bringing designer brands such as Emilio Pucci, Valentino, Fendi, and Manolo Blahnik to the Greek market for years now. Similarly, Free Shop in central Athens and its stores in the northern suburbs is worth a visit for your new Balenciaga and your souvenir of Ancient Greek Sandals! If you want to visit the boutique of a specific fashion industry titan, however, you should head directly to Syntagma, and specifically Voukourestiou and Stadiou streets, where all the internationally acclaimed brands (eg. Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Ferragamo, Prada, Bulgari, Rolex) have their boutiques. A short walk from there, you’ll find what is probably the biggest Athens department store for clothes, called Attica. Its first couple of floors sell more casual brands, but the higher you take the elevator, the pricier and flashier the clothes get. Golden Hall mall in the Northern area of Maroussi probably offers fewer brands but a more holistic Athens shopping experience, which is proven by the fact that its hand-picked stores, beautiful building, chic bistros, and children’s playground recently won it the award for Europe’s best shopping mall. In all these shopping destinations we just told you about, make sure to look for Kalogirou stores, i.e. the uncontested high-end shoe boutique of the country, selling all sorts of fashionable shoes, from comfy Hogan trainers to Gianvito Rossi stilettos. Enny di Monaco, one of the hottest boutiques in Athens, is also a good idea for those of you who can't resist a pair of Louboutin's when you see them. And if you think we forgot about your bling, guess again because we left the best for last! The definitive jewellery shop Ilias Lalaounis combines techniques and designs of the past with modern trends and aesthetics to create some of the most original and enchanting pieces of jewellery you’ve ever set eyes on. And if your 'things' is diamonds, how about we give you some ‘exclusive’ and point you towards the Diamond Club Danelian, where diamonds are forever but not for everyone, given that customers are admitted by appointment to make sure experts give them their undivided attention.
Add Some Extra Wellness to Your Holidays
As much as we encourage walking tours around the city to really get to experience it, holidays are meant to be a time for relaxation, which is why some you time at a spa or wellness center is always an excellent idea. As we briefly mentioned before, many large hotels offer such services. In fact, luxury hotels are often the best places to go for a spa in Athens. Apart from excellent service, variety of treatments, and dazzling environments, these hotels also aim to add a little something extra that makes their spa facilities unique. So, for example, the spa at Grande Bretagne Athens offers among many other things an interior heated pool and a hair salon. Thalassotherapy Divani offers thalassotherapy; The Margi combines Ancient Greek and Indus Valley techniques in its massage treatments; and Thalaspa Chenot at Lagonissi Resort gives customers extended treatments over the course of multiple days. If you’d prefer to try a spa hammam, that’s also an option at Hammam Baths, which aims to bring steamed baths and hot massages back to our everyday lives while still maintaining high standards of service and facilities. Beauty services are also available here, and so is the possibility to mix and match services, to get the whole package, pampering-wise.
bespoke experiences you shouldn't miss on your athens' visit
P.S.: Everything you just read are purely personal opinions, and not meant for promotion in any way!
And speaking of pampering, we put together a map with all the suggestions above, to make life even better for you!