Before my arrival I’d quizzed my Athenian friends for their insider knowledge; I really wanted to uncover the beauty of Athens. I’d been told to stay near Kolonaki Square – a trendy, buzzing neighbourhood full of good food and boutique shops. I’d rested on Agistri Island and I was now ready to rock and roll. Here is my Insider’s Guide to Athens.
St. George Lycabettus Boutique Hotel is a beautiful base. The cute rooftop pool and bar is spotted with white pots of geraniums – just like my granddad has. The restaurant view is just as impressive – you can eat your eggs while taking in the panoramic view of the Acropolis.
St. George Lycabettus Boutique Hotel | Kleomenous 2, Athens 106 75 | +30 21 0729 0711
The hotel is nestled against the slopes of Lycabettus Hill – which is well worth hiking purely for the the view of Athens. Half the fun is walking up there amongst the Athenians. Mums, dads, kids, grandparents, young lovers, dogs, all pushing forward with their arms folded behind their backs, talking about the meaning of life. If the hike is too much, or you’ve eaten too much baklava and can’t move, you can always opt for the cable car. Post hike, you’ve definitely earned yourself a cocktail or two. Head to Galaxy Restaurant & Bar on the Hilton Hotel rooftop for sunset drinks.
Get set for the beauty of Greek ruins. The Acropolis and its monuments form the greatest architectural complex left by Greek antiquity to the world. Plans for The Acropolis were put in place in the second half of the 5th Century BC, after Athens had just thrashed the Persians. Around the same time a democracy had been established. The Parthenon and the small temple Athena Nike are my highlights.
The Acropolis | Dionysiou Areopagitou, Athens 10558 Greece | +30 210 3214172
For its size, the heart of Athens is actually quite easy to walk around – but it is hot. On the way down from the Acropolis I took a stroll through Anafiotika, a 19th century neighbourhood on the northern slopes of the Acropolis hill. Anafiotika seems far removed – it’s almost as if you’ve entered a long lost land. Bougainvilleas climb whitewashed walls and cats pounce from balcony to balcony. Cafes are squeezed in between endless runs of stairs. Anafiotika Café was always packed with locals – a good sign. It offers traditional Greek food, hearty salads, great coffee, homemade lemonade and a free shot on departure.
The waiter told me the name Stephanie is Greek, and it means Crowned One. He also suggested we were probably cousins. What’s not to like about that?
Anafiotika Cafe | Mnisikleous 24B, Plaka, Athens | +30 21 032 44 428
Another good tip from my local mates – check out the Museum of Cycladic Art. Here you can see bits and pieces from the 3rd millennium BC. Unbelievable!
Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art | Neophytou Douka 4, Athens | +30 210 72 28 321-3
Get Your Shop On
Finally, what’s a trip to Greece without dropping some cash at the shops. Plaqa and Syntagma Square in the centre of town have the staples like Massimo Dutti and Zara. Kolonaki has a few of the big chains, like Sisley, but also lots of little boutiques and family-owned stores.
My favourite is Graffito just near Kolonaki Square. I walked past the shop on its opening day and instantly fell in love with the clothes, shoes, homeware and friendly staff. There’s everything from locally designed bags and shoes, to leather lounges and film set lights to a cute little cactus collection. The raw food cafe serves excellent coffee and top-notch gluten free chocolate pie. Don’t forget to ask to look at the kooky artwork in the back patio. The staff had to literally push me out of the store at closing time.
Graffito | 34 Solonos Str, Athens Centre | +30 21 036 08 936
Another cute little food surprise is Era Nuts. Past the old, heavy wooden doors is a magical display of nuts, herbs, spices and sweets. Almonds, cashews, dried fruits and your healthy fare are presented in tall glass bottles along with an evil selection of chocolates, baklava, homemade honeycomb and Turkish delight. Of course, wine and spirits are also on offer. Heaven.
Era Nuts | Patriarchou Ioakim 1, Athens 106 73, Greece | +30 21 1411 2832
Stephanie Hunt is an Australian journalist. She’s currently based in the Middle East and works for Al Jazeera English.
Steph and her husband created Habari Productions – a photographic, storytelling, travel hub. Together they’ve explored places like Syria, Iran, Mongolia and spent 2012 living with Africa’s most remote tribes.
Follow Steph on Instagram @habariprod + @stephofarabia, Twitter @habariprod + @stephaniejhunt and Facebook.
Read more from Steph and Ben and purchase their photographic prints at www.habariproductions.com