Athens city guide

Athens can seem to be a sprawling jungle, but explore a little deeper and you’ll find picturesque squares, bustling markets offering great bargains and tree-lined boulevards lined with hip designer boutiques.

Most tourists are drawn to the Greek capital for its awe-inspiring ancient sites, such as the Acropolis and the National Archaeological Museum, but there’s much more to the city than history.

Hidden Greece partner Simon Lanyon said: “Most clients will go to Athens for a night or two before heading to an island, but the city has a lot to offer in its own right.

Its infrastructure was upgraded for the 2004 Olympic Games and, besides the obvious cultural attractions, there are great restaurants and a huge choice of places to stay, from basic hotels to boutique properties.”


Where to stay

The Fresh Hotel, situated near the Acropolis, the Archaeological Museum and the parliament building, is a stylish property that is ideal for clients looking for something special.

Guests can quaff a cocktail at the rooftop bar while gazing down over the Acropolis. The suites are equipped with leather armchairs, home cinema and private balconies. There’s also a rooftop pool and a fitness centre and gym with a sauna, hot tub and Turkish bath.

Follow in the footsteps of the rich and famous at the opulent King George II hotel, situated on Constitution Square. The 104 rooms and suites are decked out with antiques and chandeliers and all have marble bathrooms.

Rooms on the top floors offer breathtaking views of the Acropolis. The Royal Penthouse Suite takes up the entire ninth floor and has a private terrace and pool.

Art lovers should stay in Semiramis, a trendy boutique property in the northern suburb of Kifissia, with a lurid colour scheme of orange, pink and green. The hotel was created by designer Karim Rashid. There’s an outdoor pool and a fitness centre, and modern art takes pride of place in the lobby.


By day

Standing tall above the city’s skyline for more than 2,000 years, the Acropolis is Athens’ top attraction and is counted among one of the world’s greatest ancient sites. While wandering around the ruins, you’ll be treated to great views of the city.

The National Archaeological Museum merits exploration as it’s full of fascinating works from ancient civilisations, with works from the Bronze Age.

In the heart of the city is Syntagma Square where you can watch the hourly changing of the guards in front of the parliament building. For a really dramatic display, go at 11am on a Sunday when the army band plays.

Shop ’til you drop at one of the city’s numerous markets. For leather goods, lace, silver and jewellery, check out the Pandrossou flea market.

Catch the cable car up Lykavittos Hill for sweeping views of the city or climb the hill for a good workout. On a clear day when the smog fades, it’s possible to see the sea. The quaint church of Agios Georgios, which sits on top of the hill is worth a look.

Stroll around the medieval streets of Plaka, which teem with museums, restaurants, clubs and gift shops selling clothes, pottery and marble. Plaka is full of hidden charms, such as the Museum of Greek Folk Art and Plateia Filomousou, a pretty square.

See the old centre of city life, Athens’ ancient marketplace: the Agora, which dates back to the 6th century BC. Its grassy rambling landscape makes for a pleasant walk.

Visit the historical and arty neighbourhoods of Monastiraki, Psiri, Gazi and Thissio, which are great for galleries and antique hunting. The Museum of Greek Musical Instruments in Aerides comes highly recommended.

For a day trip outside the capital, catch a train to Ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games. Alternatively, head to Cape Sounion and the temple of Poseidon, a wonderful place for watching the sunset.

If you need to rest and refuel after all that sightseeing then bag a table outside one of the cafes that fringe the city’s many squares. Chill out among the ivy-laced decor at Oionos cafe in Plateia Filomousou or try Kydatheneon in Plateia Filomousou, frequented by locals and bookworms.


By night

If you visit Athens during the winter, go to a basement Bakaliarzidikos (restaurant). These specialise in tasty fried codfish with garlic dip (skordaya). Bakaliarakia tou Damigou, Kydathinaion, has been cooking up this delicacy for 140 years. Wash the food down with some delicious homemade wine.

Other local classics include souvlaki, moussaka and spanakopita (spinach pie). Locals don’t eat dinner until about 10pm, although restaurants open at 8pm.

If you want to get the evening moving, sample Greece’s favourite tipple, ouzo. Flavoured with aniseed, this potent drink is not for the faint-hearted.

Head to the coast after dark for some fresh air, a chilled drink and a sea view. Try Notos (meaning south), a cafe with indoor and outdoor seating that serves beer until 2am. Smoking is allowed everywhere, even right next to the no smoking signs.

If you’re prepared to stay out until dawn, get down to Psirri which has a flourishing night scene, with former workshops being transformed into airy bars and restaurants.

Soul Bar has a pretty garden decorated with Chinese lanterns and green plants, while Bee serves up great food in a relaxed atmosphere attracting a gay and straight crowd. Most bars stay open until 4am, while clubs usually jump until 6am.

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