From under-the-radar neighbourhood favourites to starry fine dining in historic villas, these are our favourite places to eat out in the capital of Greece.
Parts of Athens are dazzlingly shiny and new – the glassy Acropolis Museum, the towering five-star hotels topped with rooftop bars and smart concept stores selling box-fresh streetwear. But you can still have a dinner as charming and home-cooked as you would on the islands; you just have to know where to look. Venture down cobbled side streets, or into hipster neighbourhoods of galleries and wine bars, to find these low-key treasures.
The old centre of Monastiraki is full of identikit cafes and souvlaki joints – simple pavement tables, eager waiters, a menu of classics. Look closely though and the patrons of Maiandros are some of the most satisfied. They’re charmed by its bantering hosts, live traditional folk guitarists and tender pork gyros. This is one of the warmest and most obviously family-run joints along this stretch of tourist-ready restaurants, just a few steps from the Temple of Hephaestus and the Roman Forum.
This handsome Neoclassical villa has been given a fine-dining makeover by a star chef: light pours into a chandelier-crowned conservatory, monochrome wallpaper sharpens up an elegant dining room and a romantic fairy garden has cushioned nooks that couples love. It’s slightly out of the centre, in trendy Keramikos, but worth making the detour for Aleria’s affordable wine-paired tasting menus – think reimagined watermelon and feta salads and crab with peach and fennel.
This local institution’s red-check tablecloths and decorative wine barrels have been around since the 1920s. The old brick-built oven in the yard roasts herby lamb and sweet stuffed peppers, while a mixture of Athenian elders and in-the-know tourists chatter raucously over sharing plates and rustic carafes of cheap house wine. There’s a small extra charge on Sundays when you’ll get some Greek dancing and music thrown in.
If you only eat one dish in Athens, it should be souvlaki – juicy cubes of meat heaped on fresh pita bread; each mouthful refreshed with a slathering of salad and tzatziki. Major arguments have been had over who skewers the best chicken and pork in town, but many locals and visitors agree on the tip-top quality and grinning welcome at O Thanasis, just off Monastiraki Square. Go slightly outside of peak lunch and dinner time to avoid a long wait for a table.
This stone-built Monastiraki deli feels cutting-edge with its ham hocks, dried chillies and loops of cured sausage. But its menu harks back to the Karamanlides, a community of Anatolian immigrants who brought cured and air-dried meats to Northern Greece. Sit within view of the market-style meat counter while you tuck into kofte sausages with yoghurt and pitas, or meatballs smudged with smoked aubergine cream.
A dinner in swish Kolonaki – home to VIP-roped bars and hipster brunch spots – is a must while in Athens. Keep things warm and authentically Greek with a table at this stylish, multi-level bar, decorated with folk art and a suspended bicycle. Dinner features classics with a twist: mushroom orzotto perked up with truffle or wispy kataifi pastries filled with cheese and black sesame paste. Fashionistas and creatives love the ironically chintzy wallpaper and lively brunch service.
Neither on-trend nor flashily decorated, this humble, sleepy bistro in cool Pagrati is the sort of place a local might tip you off about, just minutes before dinnertime. All of your Greek holiday favourites are here, prepared unfussily but with love: cheese saganaki, creamy fava-bean dip, courgette fritters, pork chops served with oven-fluffy, lemony potatoes. Staff are above-and-beyond friendly, and dishes are incredibly affordable for a capital city. Head to bar-trimmed Proskopon Square beforehand for an atmospheric aperitif among the trees.
This is a rewrite of an article originally by Eleni Vezyri.
You’ll need somewhere to call home for your trip, so take a look at the best hotels in Athens, or there are some fantastic boutique options for those looking for something a little different, bookable now with Culture Trip. You won’t be short of things to do with so many must-visit attractions, and you’re never too far away from an iconic historical site or two. Settle down in an Athenian rooftop bar when you’re finally done exploring for the day.
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