We need to talk about Athens. For a long time—as far as travelers were concerned—Greece’s capital was primarily seen as a jumping off point for the country’s collection of pristine coastal hideaways. You fly into Athens, check out the Acropolis, grab a souvlaki, and then move onto a ferry for Mykonos or a flight to Santorini. Most travelers have dismissed Athens as ugly and even dangerous. The economic downturn, not to mention the controversy surrounding the refugee crisis, only reinforced travelers’ lack of interest in this storied metropolis.
But the last few years have seen the rise of a new city thanks to a generation of local creatives investing not only resources but also time into adding more desirable layers onto this millennia-old capital, setting a stunning comeback into motion. They’re opening convivial cafes, edgy art galleries, see-and-be-seen cocktail bars, and bustling restaurants (some by transforming previously derelict spaces). And they’re doing it with an eye towards beautiful design. Today’s Athens is not only more exciting than ever—but perhaps more stunning, too. Here, ten design-forward Athenian addresses worth putting off the Greek isles for.
Where to Stay:
Design Hotels’ newest member in Athens, Perianth Hotel, opened in the summer of 2018 after the local interiors masterminds at Kstudio, who are responsible for many of the country’s most stunning venues, reimagined a 1930s building with a ton of clever, neo-modern flourishes. The stylish 38-room crash-pad features layers of texture thanks to marble furniture, velvet textiles, curvy wood fixtures, and terrazzo floors. Even the relatively subdued grey color palette is punched up with pinks, oranges, yellows, and greens perfect for your next Instagram post. The penthouse has its own plunge pool, but if you can’t swing the cost, the Superior Room with a balcony that looks out to The Acropolis is more modest but still spectacular.
Where to Go:
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
If The Acropolis is Athens’ ancient architectural icon, then Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, located a couple of miles outside the city center in the Kallithea district, stands as its contemporary counterpart. The 2017 unveiling of this multi-faceted project features the genius of architect Renzo Piano, who created a spectacular slope that doubles as the green roof that tops both the Greek National Library and the Opera (dramatically cloaked almost entirely in red). Surrounding them is a lush park planted with towering pine trees and groves of olive trees. The SNFCC has brought life to this largely ignored section of Athens, where locals are doing everything from listening to opera, researching literary archives, attending yoga classes, learning how to kayak on the canal, and more.
Where to Eat:
Steps away from the SNFCC, E&O Athens opened this autumn as part of the property’s rebranding as a Marriott hotel. While the rest of the 366-unit highrise presents a more subdued residential aesthetic, the rooftop at E&O is a colorful, playful, multi-use restaurant that seduces the palate with a delectable menu of pan-Asian fare. Think: glazed dumplings, stir-fried noodles, and raw seafood surrounded by an eclectic mix of outdoorsy furniture like sculptural bamboo chairs and jute rugs. There are two separate bars, plus a lounge done up with a foosball and pool table, making it so you can really while away an entire evening here.
In the up-and-coming Kerameikos area, pop in for brunch or coffee break at Latraac. It’s not your typical cafe, and serves as a beautiful example of how much creativity is bubbling in this ancient capital. Architect Zachos Varfi transformed a forgotten lot into an urban oasis complete with a skating bowl crafted out of 52 sheets of plywood. Latraac was crowdfunded (and backed by legend Tony Hawk) to provide local skaters a dedicated space to hang out. But even if you’re not a skater yourself, there’s still the super affordable menu, including beet hummus and pancakes with smoked pancetta, to keep you company while you people watch.
At impossibly cool Zampanó, a bistro and wine bar in the Psirri theater district, a mix-and-match aesthetic provides the backdrop to crowds of Athenians sipping local wines and tucking into seasonal Greek dishes (grilled sardines, mastiha ice cream are just two of the crowd pleasers). Sicilian architect and interior design duo Maurizio and Giuseppe Alito were tapped to create the design narrative of the space. Together, they tempered Art Deco pieces (copper and marble bar, the sculptural metallic chandeliers) with homier elements (wood chairs sourced from various flea markets, black-and-white stripe wallpaper) to create easygoing warmth in every corner. There is a decidedly local clientele here, but it is in fact the breakfast room of the adjacent City Circus Hostel.
Where to Drink:
Most locals consider Noel to be the most beautiful bar in all of Athens thanks to the delightfully over-the-top gilded chandeliers, grand oriental rugs, velvet curtains, brightly painted tiles, burlesque-style tasseled lamps, and, at times, massive decorative peacocks. It calls itself a holiday bar so there’s always a celebratory mood. Go here to toss back a glass of champagne or a refreshing cocktail.
One of the planet’s premier rum destinations, Baba au Rum is also touted as one of Europe’s best drinking dens. Their innovative spins on classics (subbing out gin for a Guatemalan rum in a Negroni topped with grated Tonka bean, for instance) are consistently recognized for sparking Athen’s now-booming mixology scene, but they also do a fabulous job of setting the mood with smart interiors that seamlessly blend tropical flourishes with modern design. You’ll definitely want a selfie taken right in front of the bold floral wallpaper.
Packed into a neoclassical house in downtown Athens, The Clumsies is nothing short of a cocktail emporium—for both the size and the quality of the mixology on offer. Brought to life by the local creatives from Nine Design, the various rooms of this multi-level bar each offer up a sense of whimsy in different ways. There’s the main room with a meticulously carved bar, club-room-esque leather stools, and a mural of faceless figures sharing a drink. Another is filled with potted plants, a long communal wood table, and colorful light fixtures in the shape of little houses.
Where to Shop:
At its flagship in the Kolonaki area, you’ll see why local handbag label Callista Crafts has become so fabulously successful since launching in 2013. Founders Eleni Konstantinidis and Celia Sigalou eschew overly trendy designs in favor of elegantly timeless carryalls cut from the finest Italian leathers and elevated with subtle but eye-catching details (everything handmade). Whether it’s a slouchy wear-everyday tote, the surprisingly roomy top-handle bag, or the perfect-for-a-night-out pouchette, the duo stamps these bags with one signature element: leather macrame.
Celebrity-approved jewelry designer Ileana Makri’s Kolonaki boutique telegraphs much of the same style as her baubles: elegant, sexy, and a little rock-and-roll. World renowned Kois Associated Architects, who also worked on the Museum of Cycladic Art, pieced together a truly glamorous home for Makri’s inventory of gold hoop earrings sprinkled with diamond baguettes, iridescent evil-eye pendants, and titanium cuffs adorned with multicolor diamonds and sapphires. Here, stone (like the stunning grey sedimentary rock that makes up the walls and stairs), glass, and metal create a natural foundation for the shop, but the angular shapes throughout, plus the pop of lush textiles like velvet, create a high-concept visual experience.