Here’s a surprise: While Athenians were locked up due to the pandemic, a flurry of creative and entrepreneurial activity was underway. The outcome? A total of 272 new restaurants, according to the local industry association, as well as hundreds more cafes and bars. The city also acquired 34 new hotels, accounting for 1,982 rooms in the past two years. And the cultural landscape blossomed and major rural projects blossomed.
“We have witnessed a cultural revival and a growing gastronomic scene that shows the new dynamism of the city,” said Vassilis Kikilias, the Greek Minister of Tourism. By adding the construction of new hotels and the upgrading of older ones, Mr. Kikilias made him “optimistic for the season”.
In May, the number of foreign visitors to the city was still below 2019 levels, but only by about 12 percent, and since then the crowds have returned to the central squares and monuments in numbers reminiscent of prepandemic days.
Covid vaccination certificates are no longer required to enter the country or to visit shops, restaurants and museums and since June 1, face masks are no longer required in closed public areas with the exception of hospitals, pharmacies, public transport and ferries.
Cultural gems shine again
The Greek capital’s newest cultural gem (or rather an impressively polished old one), the National Gallery reopened last year after an eight-year $60 million renovation. The sleek new building is twice the size of the original and has a glass facade that allows natural light to illuminate the exhibits and provide visitors with glimpses of the city at every corner. You could spend hours exploring the three floors charting the evolution of Greek art over nearly seven centuries. But even a short visit should not miss the fascinating works of the Greek modernist painters Konstantinos Parthenis and Yannis Tsarouchis with their dreamy symbolism, and the luminous paintings of the orientalist Theodoros Rallis and the post-impressionist Iakovos Rizos.
A fourth floor dedicated to Western European art will open in the coming weeks and will feature paintings by Picasso and Mondrian stolen in 2012 in a daring one-man robbery and recovered last year.
Another treasure trove for art lovers is the Νational Museum of Contemporary Art, a former brewery that opened in late February 2020 after extensive renovations, but closed almost immediately with the country’s first lockdown. Five floors of thought-provoking sculptures, videos and installations by Greek and foreign artists – new exhibitions grappling with the themes of nation-building, mass protests and the environment – are topped by a rooftop terrace with views stretching from the Acropolis to the south shoreline.
The capital’s independent art scene, fueled by a flurry of creativity, fueled by the social unrest that accompanied the decade-long financial crisis, has once again flourished during the pandemic, opening exciting new spaces to see art. One of the most edgy is a former tobacco factory in Athens’ gritty Kolonos neighborhood, whose pink and yellow facade has drawn comparisons to a giant Battenberg cake. After a debut exhibition last summer, the space reopened in June with a show featuring 18 large-scale installations from the collection of entrepreneur Dimitris Daskalopoulos, founder of Neon, the cultural organization that revamped the factory, which recently donated hundreds of works to museums including the Guggenheim .
Food and drink
Since opening in December in the lively central Psyrri district, there has been a lot of buzz around Linou Soumpasis & Co. Ignoring the neo-taverna and bistronomy labels, the self-proclaimed “simple restaurant” serves quality food with a contemporary twist from a bustling open kitchen. The emphasis is on fresh food, especially fish, and the menu is adapted daily to the appetite of the day. Recent dishes include a feather-light John Dory tartare with seaweed in cucumber juice and a tender grilled piper fish in zucchini puree. The veal cheek stew in chickpea soup is also popular, as is the selection of homemade bread and organic wines from small Greek producers. Expect to pay around 110 euros (about $116) for a three-course dinner with wine for two. Wines range from 22 to 150 per bottle and are all available by the glass.
A few blocks away, Gastone, the latest venture from the folks behind Cookoovaya (recommended by the Michelin Guide) serves Mediterranean flavors and street food in a vibrant retro setting that’s part classic Greek taverna, and part American diner. Dinner for two costs around €30 and highlights include the crispy pork sandwich and a twist on tzatziki made with Gorgonzola cheese.
Two newcomers to Athens’ gentrified industrial districts are also drawing crowds. Tzoutzouka in Rouf offers an adventurous take on traditional Greek dishes, such as a rich ewe dish in red sauce with homemade pasta and spicy hard cheese for around €30 per person with wine. Proveleggios in nearby Kerameikos is the latest venture from the brains behind the super popular Nolan restaurant, serving innovative dishes such as hand-pulled noodles with sweet wild vegetables in tare dipping sauce and cocktails on a tree-lined patio set against an indie rock -soundtrack. Dinner is about €35 per person without drinks.
For cocktail lovers, Athens offers a dizzying selection of new drinking establishments. At the bar in front of the bar, in a bustling pedestrian alley near the main Syntagma square, energetic young staff members prepare classic cocktails using ingredients produced on site, with prices starting at €7. Those who have their drink wanting a city view can join a bohemian crowd at Attic Urban Rooftop in the bustling Monastiraki district, one of several new rooftop terraces, where cocktails are priced from €11 to €13.
In the up-and-coming neighborhood of Petralona is Line Athens (the sister bar to the Clumsies’ world rankings) where the staff shake cocktails with homemade vermouth, most priced at €10.
In the same area is Hervé, the discreet new restaurant of Paris-born Hervé Pronzato whose experience as a chef in Athens has included stints at the Michelin-starred Spondi and Hytra. Hervé has a 17-item tasting menu with a mix of dishes that reflect Mr Pronzato’s take on international cuisine for €95 per person. There is no sign – to enter you key in a code given to you with your reservation.
In Soil, in the Pangrati district, Tasos Mantis, also a former chef at Hytra, serves “earthly gastronomy” with vegetables and herbs grown on his own farm in a renovated neoclassical building with a serene garden. A tasting menu, for €86, includes shrimp in an orange, pecan and fennel sauce and scallops with yuzo kosho, grapefruit and candied lemon.
Top options for both food and lodging include understated lavish Xenodocheio Milos, which bills itself as the capital’s first “5-star gourmet hotel” — the latest venture from celebrity chef Costas Spiliadis, who owns his restaurant brand Milos. has established in locations including New York, Montreal and London. Rooms start at around €230 per night, while dining starts at around €60 per person, with specials such as sea bass baked in sea salt and paper-thin baked zucchini and aubergine.
New accommodation, along the coast and in the city
One of the newest spots for hotels is the so-called Athenian Riviera, a 60-kilometer-long coastline dotted with marinas, beaches and secluded coves, about a 30-minute taxi ride from the city center. Opened there in 2019 on a pine-clad peninsula, the Four Seasons Astir Palace offers 303 rooms (from €1,700 in July and €1,100 in August) and fine dining with sea views at the Michelin-starred Pelagos restaurant . A 9-course tasting menu including crystal caviar, red shrimps and squid risotto for €160 per person.
Wyndham’s Ramada Attica Riviera recently opened in a quiet spot on the Riviera and offers spacious rooms with sea views from €120 per night with more hotels opening in the coming months.
In Athens itself there is no shortage of choice for accommodation. Of the 34 hotels opened in Greater Athens during the pandemic, 26 are located in the city center. New to the revamped central Omonia square is the Brown Acropol with its modern take on the 1960s Athens aesthetic (it has 165 rooms from €130 a night). It is one of four hotels opened in the capital by the fast-growing Israeli chain Brown. In the same square, in the heart of the historical and commercial district of the capital, is Marriott’s ultra-trendy Moxy Athens City, with its bright interior, cheerful staff and comfortable rooms from €170 per night.
A few blocks away, close to the nightlife of Psyrri, the quirky Selina Athens Theatrou, part of the global hospitality brand, has bright, mural-decked rooms and airy co-working spaces from €90 to €120 per night.
And in the heart of the city near the Greek Parliament, the capital of Athens – MGallery features a rooftop infinity pool overlooking the Acropolis and prices from around €300 per night.
The pandemic has also brought some closures, most notably the capital’s iconic Hilton, which closed its doors earlier this year after nearly six decades, although it is expected to reopen in 2024 as part of the luxury Conrad line of the chain.