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You may think of Athens as the gateway to the real reason that you’re visiting Greece: the islands. But over the last year leading up to my trip, I was tipped off by European friends in the beauty industry that Athens is quickly becoming the city everyone is moving to. Artists are setting up shop, chic new hotels are popping up, museums are becoming widely recognized, and foodies are taking serious notes. Even though Athens doesn’t have the polish of say, Florence, it’s got a distinct grittiness that some would argue makes it that much cooler.
Street art (both commissioned and illegally painted) give the city soul, while neo-classical architecture adds a dose of beauty and charm. Plus, discovering hipster croissant shops and under-the-radar retail destinations makes meandering through the energetic side streets feel like a treasure hunt. It was a busy 24 hours full of rewarding gems – read on below for what I packed into my trip.
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Nestled in a quaint alley in the chic Kolonaki neighborhood is Shila, a gem of a hotel that opened in 2021. Keeping all the charms of the 1920s landmark building intact, you’ll feel as if you are stepping into a friend’s fabulous townhouse rather than checking in for your stay. Though you’ll immediately covet all the vintage furniture and lighting fixtures, the hotel’s edgy art collection, curated clothing, fringe-y Turkish towels and body products are all shoppable. Touches like raw cotton sheets, mattresses treated with olive oil, and homemade jam set on vintage china for the breakfast spread will make your time there feel magical. They even left a gorgeous tray of soft boiled eggs and homemade carrot cake waiting for us in our room prior to our 3am flight. Insider tip: request the “Romantic Dust” suite which has the loveliest little garden terrace and spiral staircase.
When I first read Hamish Bowles’ article for Vogue on the art museums of Athens, I made a mental note that I would tour them myself at some point. Well, it’s hard to check out every museum in a mere 24 hours (with three kids in tow no less), which meant I had to choose. Since we forwent a proper Acropolis tour due to the blazing heat, we decided to head to the Acropolis Museum instead, which I had heard was phenomenal. And despite our being delirious from coming off an overnight ferry from Patmos, we very much enjoyed tossing coins into the ruins and learning about the magnificent archeological discoveries (it didn’t hurt that there was also air conditioning).
Later in the day we experienced what turned out to be a highlight of my trip; a street art tour in the Psyri neighborhood where we learned to uncover hidden messaging and political statements in giant murals and smaller scale artwork alike. It’s this kind of public art that gives a city real texture and it made me fall in love with it even more. While my tour guide isn’t available for public hire, you can book your own tour through Athens on Foot. If I had more time to explore the art museums, however, I would head to the Benaki Museum and the Musuem of Cycladic Art which I’m told are less kid-friendly. I also regret not having time to go the Breeder Art Gallery, housed in a former ice cream factory. Next time!
No trip is complete without bringing something home to remind you of your far-flung adventure. In my kitchen alone, I have floral candles from Guatemala, a figurine sculpture from Lisbon, framed butterflies from Paris and a straw rooster from San Miguel de Allende. Decor hunting in Athens was a bit tricky as we visited in the dead of August, when many shops were shut down. This was the case for Giorgos Goutis’ antique shop where we were banking on grabbing some treasures — we saddled up to the glass storefront and gave a collective sigh when we saw the vintage art — as well as Hyper Hypo, a newish book store brimming with unique coffee table tomes.
But when faced with adversity, you carry on! When I first read about Anthologist in the New York Times, I quickly added it to my list of “must-visits.” The brainchild of Andria Mitsakos, who splits her time in Boston and Athens, Anthologist is a thoughtfully curated space with everything from her brand’s own Egyptian woven bags (a rainbow one came home with me), antique suzanis, mid-century rose rugs, clay candlesticks, and even vintage Céline gold jewelry. But in truth none of those were the real reason the shop had me at hello: it was the building’s entrance, decked out with a winding staircase, an antique Czech chandelier and black and white tiled floors. My idea of interior h-e-a-v-e-n.
Next up was Naxos Apothecary, a huge space that’s not only filled with beauty products and tinctures, but also acts as a working pharmacy with an in-house lab (a customer was getting her blood pressure taken while we were there). My three daughters could have spent hours browsing the customizable creams and soaps, and in the end we walked out with a bunch of rollerball eye gels and some gifts for friends.
As we left, we were met with a welcome surprise; the Ancient Greek Sandals mothership (ie. Greek headquarters) was just next door. While the brand has a huge online presence, there is something about visiting the only brick and mortar that offered up every sandal style, alongside a Moroccan-inspired French jewelry brand that my 15 year old fell in love with while I scooped up a few copies of my favorite travel magazine, Yolo, which can be very hard to find.
Lastly we checked out one of the most magical places I’ve ever been, a spice and tea shop called Elixir. Inside were rarities like mountain tea and salepi, a flour ground up from a rare orchid bulb that you drink like tea (once considered an aphrodisiac in ancient times.) I was tipped off by an insider that this was the spot to head to, though the rest of the street was filled with specialty food shops, butchers and markets that are like stepping into other mini worlds.
There’s nothing better than a delicious breakfast and an Iced Freddo (which is basically a cold, nitro espresso) after a long flight overseas. A few blocks away from Shila was Philos, a stylish brunch spot with a mouth-watering menu. There, my 11-year-old discovered her love for Croque Madames, while my husband and I opted for baked eggs with wild mushrooms. My oldest ordered the Greek-inspired shakshuka.
An afternoon snack calls for heavenly Greek baked goods from Kora Bakery, known for its highly fermented sourdough focaccia and twisty cheese sticks. But here’s the thing about Athens — while it’s a city steeped in mountains of history, it’s also a super modern spot. This means I was able to find gluten-free options almost everywhere, most notably at the newly opened Asterisque, which offers everything from bread with dried figs to bagel sandwiches and even GF beer.
Like other major food hubs around the world, the dinner options feel endless. While Nolan (a beloved Med-Asian fusion restaurant) was closed for August, we really enjoyed Vezene, an elegant Greek-inspired bistro where we completely went for it. Between scorpion fish sashimi, pastas, beautiful local greens and local red wine, we had our fill in style.
What I Packed
Athens skyrocketed to a searing 112 degrees in July, so I prepared to walk around in the heat, though I ended up getting blessed with more mild weather. Either way, the assortment below are the items I brought that came very much in handy.
Suzie Kondi Jumpsuit: I’m so happy I purchased this jumpsuit right before the trip as it was breezy enough for day and cool enough for evening (when belted, of course.)
Vintage Gucci belt bag: My husband bought this for me when we first started dating a million years ago, and I have to say, it’s been traveling with me ever since.
Bottega Veneta Sunglasses: I lived in these all summer and especially on my summer travels. The green frames add a pop of cool factor, in my opinion.
Dune Sunscreen: The brand’s new mineral sunscreen came in handy with the kids, plus they make refillable travel-sized bottles that’ll be coming with us to the next sunny stop.
Stella McCartney Travel Essentials: It’s oddly tricky to find a great natural beauty brand that makes travel sized products (I carry on.) I’m old enough to recall Stella McCartney’s first foray into skincare and I’m so grateful it’s back.
Sacai x Nike sneakers: These were gifted to me and I wear them all the time. Sneakers are essential for marching around any major city, and you might as well look dope while doing so.
Paraval Pouch: I’m a big fan of Paraval’s monogrammable travel totes and recently, I purchased their pouch which I store eye masks, chargers, lip balms and of course, Xanax for the plane.
We’ll Always Have Athens
If you make your way to Greece, ignore the instinct to skip right past the cities. As enchanting as the islands are, Athens is bustling with sights and tastes all its own, and always well worth a visit. Next time I return, it won’t be just for 24 hours.