This travel writer’s memories of former visits to Athens evoke graffiti, pollution, traffic and other details that major cities often include. However, a recent trip to Greece revealed details far more positive. Consider spending more time in Greece’s capital before connecting to islands and mainland cities. Immerse yourself in the enlivened metropolitan energy, which you’ll find to be contagious. Leave yourself time to absorb the museums while savoring the shopping and sumptuous cuisine of the enchanting Plaka – a popular Athenian neighborhood.
Sofitel, the airport hotel, provides you with the ease of flying to other destinations quickly. When you return from the islands or the mainland, stay at Hotel Grande Bretagne on Syntagma Square in the center of it all. You quite literally step out onto Syntagma Square into the realm of all things Athenian.
Footsteps away from the hotel is the Parliament building (and former palace) at the tomb of the unknown soldier, where the changing of the guard takes place hourly. The square is abuzz with people emerging from the subway stop.
Endless blocks of chic shops and cafés adorn the sidewalks through the Plaka. The toasty smell of freshly baked pretzels from the kiosks wafts through the air. The graffiti looks more artistic than ever before. The aromas of grilled meats and seafood fill the cafés. A fresh Greek “horiatiki,” or salad with feta cheese chunks and oregano, is a perfectly refreshing lunch.
Dining and Shopping
Achillion Leather Sandals and Bags does custom fittings for gladiator sandals; it’s a cultural excursion in and of itself to simply watch the staff work their magic. Kolonaki is another shopping area of sophistication.
Dine at Giouvetsakia Greek Tavern on 144 Adrianou St., also in Plaka. For dinner, eat at Milton’s on Adrianou 91. Find the Hermion Restaurant at Pandrosou 15.
The National Gardens of Athens feature the palatial Zappeoin building. What Central Park is to New York, these gardens are to Athens. Duck ponds, trails and towering trees enhance this shady forest-feeling in the center of urbanity.
The National Archeological Museum and the Acropolis Museum are stupendous. Drive a distance away to the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, which many people find more breathtaking than even the Parthenon – probably due to its sublime seaside view.
However, right there in the center of Athens is the Benaki Museum, and to call it a must-see is an understatement. This multi-level museum is housed in a former mansion. Several floors of cultural artifacts are mesmerizing with their life-sized replicas. Ascending each level of this ornate building elevates your comprehension of the culture.
The Hotel Grande Bretagne is not just a hotel – it’s an experience. You can dine there without being a guest. The hotel’s famous Alexander Bar is perfect for having champagne in the atrium to celebrate your arrival. This bar has been featured in Forbes for its historic tapestry of Alexander the Great; it’s a masterpiece of grandeur. The special touches of the hotel include a bedside treat of amaretto and truffles. Spend time in the cigar bar courtyard or the rooftop swimming pool. Enjoy an evening cocktail on the rooftop bar, or dine at the breakfast buffet. The rooftop view of the Parthenon at breakfast or at night is unforgettable.
Consider a day trip or extended time at the nearby Saronic islands of Hydra, Aegina, Poros or Spetses.
An express train to the limestone cliff top monasteries of stunning Meteora is also accessible from Athens – but Athens alone is a destination!