SO you’ve seen the Acropolis, now what? The Greek capital can be a tough nut to crack for those not in the know. It’s dirty, it’s smelly, it’s chaotic, and the allure seems to wear off once you’ve ticked the wondrous temple to Athena off the list. But if you give it a chance, Athens will surprise you with its vibrant arts scene, quirky bars, amazing food experiences and its penchant for all-night revelry. Athens is the introvert at the EU party – you have to buy it a drink before it will talk to you, but once you do, you’ll be lifelong friends.
As the sun starts to wane over the ancient city, the young Athenians come out to play. First stop is one of the rapidly growing number of rooftop bars overlooking Monastiraki Square. A for Athens is a local favourite. Its cocktail bar spreads out over two levels on the rooftop of a hotel, accessible only via a hidden lift in the lobby. There’s a certain incomparable magic to sipping mastic cocktails while gazing out at the ancient Parthenon as the day’s baking heat gives way to the sun’s last dazzling orange rays.
A for Athens
Miaouli 2–4, Monastiraki
Athenians rarely do dinner before 10pm, so to fit in with the locals you’ll need to switch your body clock to ‘Greek time’. En route to your dining destination take a leisurely stroll through the Plaka or Monastiraki districts. Their cobbled streets are lined with stores selling everything from tourist kitsch to quality handmade Greek produce, including olive oil, cosmetics and products made with the Mediterranean mastic tree – don’t be afraid to haggle! The Athenians have also proudly declared parts of the inner city an open-air gallery, with politically charged street art encouraged and staunchly protected by locals.
You’d do well to stumble across the Vintage Wine Bar and Bistro, where proprietor Panos Kyriazis and his team of oenologists will take you on a wine flight across the country, from the airy whites of Santorini to the earthy reds of northern Greece. Vintage claims to have the widest ‘by the glass’ selection in Europe, at very Greek prices.
Vintage Wine Bar and Bistro
Mitropoleos 66–68, Athens
In Athens, there are very few tourist traps, so eating like a local is relatively easy. Even in the restaurants lining Mitropoleos off Monastiraki Square, which teems with tourists year-round, you’ll find equal numbers of Athenians. A local favourite is Thanasis Kebab, which has been churning out portions of kebab (yes, kebab, not souvlaki) since 1964. Don’t even bother with the menu, it’s called Thanasis Kebab for a reason, so just go with it. If you’re lucky, you’ll be allowed to order chips and salad as an accompaniment.
There are more adventurous, up-market dining options too. There’s been a resurgence of Greek hospitality over the past few years and leading the charge is Kuzina. It serves up modern takes on Greek classics and its rooftop terrace, which overlooks the lit-up Temple of Hephaestus in the Ancient Agora, has one of the best dinner views in Athens. The wine list and the service are also exceptional, which is not so common in Greece.
Mitropoleos 69, Monastiraki
Adrianou 9, Thisio
In Athens, midnight is still too early to hit the nightclubs. Start your night (yes, start) at one of the city’s quirky, edgy, hidden bars. Among them, TAF / The Art Foundation is a standout. Behind its hidden wooden door lies a series of traditional Athenian homes in a quadrangle. The houses have been repurposed as gallery spaces hosting works by upcoming Athenian artists, and the quadrangle has been converted to a funky cocktail bar.
A short stroll away, six d.o.g.s has similarly turned an old Athenian building into exhibition spaces, concert venues and a sprawling garden bar. It has a line-up of local and international acts and exhibitions and in the summer it heaves with young hipster types well into the night, who sip on cocktails and local craft beers.
There’s a burgeoning bar scene in Athens at the moment. The Clumsies was recently awarded sixth spot in the World’s 50 Best Bars. It sits a little further afield in the university district and caters to the area’s well-heeled clientele. The innovative cocktails are equally opulent with prices to match. Despite this, it’s open all day and well worth seeking out.
TAF/ The Art Foundation
Normanou 5, Athens
Avramiotou 6–8, Monastiraki
Praxitelous 30, Athens
For a truly unique Athenian experience, seek out what the Greeks call ‘the bouzoukia’ – a performance of local music staged in a large hall, like Kentro Athinon, where the audience sits at tables, sips spirits and throws flowers at the performers. Depending on which venue you choose the musical styles can vary from rebetika (the Greek blues), traditional folk music and modern classics. A word of warning: it can be expensive, and you may need to book your table well in advance and be impeccably dressed to get past security.
Pireos 142, Athens
Time to hit the clubs! The Gazi district heaves with bars and clubs of every variety and the music pounds until daybreak every night of the week. It’s here that young Athenians really cut loose – anything goes, as long as you don’t get caught. Think of it as a little taste of Mykonos on the mainland.
The concept of breakfast in Greece extends no further than a coffee and a cigarette, so as you stumble back to your bed, pick up a pita giros or a souvlaki from one of the street vendors. Regardless of its quality (or lack thereof) you’ll be happy for its greasy deliciousness.
Fly from Sydney to Athens via Doha
with Qatar Airways from US$985 return.
It may not look particularly exciting from the outside, but the guts of New Hotel promises all kinds of creativity, plus the terrace offers some of the best views of Athens. Each of the 79 rooms has been crafted to reflect aspects of Greek culture and the New Taste restaurant features columns cobbled together with wood from furniture recycled from the former Olympic Palace Hotel that once stood on site.
Get all the details on what to do after you’ve recovered from your big night out on Greece’s tourism website.