The Greek Capital
Athens’ claim to be the birthplace of democracy and a cradle of civilisation isn’t made lightly – and there’s history at every turn. No wonder nearly 30 cities worldwide have nicknames comparing them to the Greek capital. Look beyond the tourist traps and dig a little deeper to find a modern, cosmopolitan city with more than its fair share of decent bars, restaurants, open air clubs... and public transport that, finally, really works.
At the colourful Central Market, also known as the Agora (Athinas 42), you can enjoy the sights and clamour of the food, fruit and veg market, and pick up some pistachios and olives to take home. The daily Monastiraki Flea Market (Adrianou Monastiraki) is similarly full of colour and character, and is great for collectables and bits and bobs. The Plaka district has many tourist shops but is also a good place to buy arts and crafts, at shops such as Koukos (Navarchou Nikodimou 21). For clothing and accessories, the best area is around Ermou Street.
Food & Drink
From simple traditional tavernas to sophisticated foodie havens, Athens has a plethora of places where you can eat superbly well. Top of the scale is Varoulko (Pireos 80), for Michelin-starred seafood dishes. For reliable eats, you’re usually best off eschewing the touristy restaurants of picturesque Plaka. However, the lovely, historic Psarras (Erechtheous 16 and Erotokritou 12) is an exception to this rule, with outdoor tables overlooked by the Acropolis. Tzitzikas kai Mermigas (Aischilou 26) is in the modern city centre and offers excellent creative takes on traditional cuisine, as does nearby Melilotos (Kalamiotou 19), with tasty dishes such as barbecued pork.
This three-week celebration takes place before Lent, with street parties, costumes and parades. Apokries means ‘goodbye to meat’, so on Tsiknopempti (Smoke Thursday), as much barbecuing and consumption of meat is done as possible. On Ash Monday, the last day of carnival, Athenians fly kites on Athens’ hills and beaches.
World Jazz Festival
As an addition to the carnival celebrations, this mixes up a New Orleans vibe with the spirit of the traditional Macedonian Carnival, featuring Afro-jazz, swing, bossa nova, cabaret, traditional brass Greek instruments and Balkan jazz.
This national and religious holiday celebrates the anniversary of the beginning of the Greek revolution, with a military parade and a school parade the preceding day. Many children wear traditional Greek costume and carry Greek flags.
European Music Day
European Music Day takes place over three days, with free concerts on music stages all around the city, as well as in Technopolis in Gazi. Artists and bands are both local and international, playing anything from classical music to hip hop.
Athens & Epidaurus Festival
This is an unparalleled festival of ancient Greek culture, with theatre performances at the ancient Greek amphitheatre of Epidaurus, and a wide variety of performing arts in Athens, including at the ancient Odeon of Herodes Atticus.
There’s a particularly impressive choice of five-star hotels in Athens, which have wonderful facilities, lavish rooms, rooftop terraces, lush pools and views over the Parthenon – places such as Royal Olympic Hotel (Athanasiou Diakou 28-34), Electra Palace Hotel Athens (Navarchou Nikodimou 18-20), and Divani Caravel (Vasileos Alexandrou 2), which has a fantastic rooftop pool. At the other end of the scale, there is also a wide choice of smart three-star hotels, many of which also have rooftop Acropolis views, including the Central Hotel (Apollonos 21) and the Adrian Hotel (Adrianou 74), the latter with balconies.