Destinations

The Ultimate Insiders' Guide to Athens

Stellene Volandes has been visiting the city since she was a child-but fell in love all over again as an adult. She knows where to eat, shop, and soak up history like a local.
IMAGE GETTY IMAGES / VALERY SHARIFULIN
Comments

The question I am asked most often (after “What jewelry should I get my wife for Christmas?”) is “Where should I go in Athens?” I fell in love with the city about 15 years ago, when, after years of annual visits with my family, I went to report a story on shopping for gold and was shown a different side of Athens by my friend Tina Daskalantonakis (follow her on Instagram, and see if you can stay at her brand new Grand Hyatt Athens, or at least have a drink on its roof). That was before the financial crisis, but Athens had an energy and a creative spirit—albeit one you needed an insider to tap into—that is coursing through the city now.


My Ultimate Athens Itinerary


DAY 1: WHERE TO STAY AND WHAT TO EAT FOR BREAKFAST

Wake up at the Hotel Grande Bretagne and have breakfast on the top floor, overlooking the Acropolis. Order your first frappé of the day, a shaken Nescafé iced coffee that is the unofficial drink of Greece. I order mine sketo—no milk, no sugar.

Now head over to Ariston, a bakery founded in 1910 that sells the widest variety of stuffed pitas I’ve ever seen, all made fresh—and mostly sold out by lunchtime. Walk back toward the hotel and over one block and sit outside at Zonars, a legendary café that was revived a few years ago by Chrysanthos Panas, who has restored its Art Deco glory and brought in a modern menu. Have a second frappé.

SHOP FOR JEWELRY

Now go directly across the street and into the Lalaounis store; try on as many 22K gold lion head rings and bracelets as you can. Buy something—even if it’s a beaded bracelet or an agate seashell coaster—because, for me, having something Lalaounis is an essential part of the Athens experience. (You can read more about why here.)

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Then head up Voukourestiou Street toward Kolonaki Square, which I think of as the Upper East Side of Athens. (I never say no to a third frappé at Da Capo, right in the center of Kolonaki.) And then it’s on to the Ileana Makri store, to buy a sapphire and diamond evil eye charm surrounded by tiny seed pearls (Makri is a pioneer of the form); Liana Vourakis’s legendary shop, for those beautiful enamel egg charms I often post about; Fanourakis, for singular woven gold and enamel pieces; Nikos Koulis, for emeralds and diamonds strung on black cords; Elena Votsi for some of the most original and inspired designs coming out of the country; and Lito, for some of the best geometric gold hoops.

TIME TO EAT AGAIN: THE ULTIMATE ATHENS LUNCH

You may now have lunch—maybe at Zurbarán, across from Ileana Makri, or go back down toward the center (look for the Syntagma signs) and past the Bretagne toward Agia Irini Square. This is one of my favorite new neighborhoods in Athens, built around a beautiful Byzantine cathedral and with charming restaurants and cafés. Since it’s a busy day, grab a souvlaki sandwich at Hoocut (they make the tidiest ones I have ever eaten), and then maybe treat yourself to the fried honey puffs at Lukumades, right down the street.

NOW FOR A MUSEUM (AND SOME ANTIQUING)

Then you have to keep walking, straight to the Monastiraki neighborhood, which is filled with touristy stalls but is also the home of Martinos, one of my favorite stores in the world, and one of the oldest in Athens. It has five floors of Greek antiques and portraits and vintage textiles, and you’ll wander them and want it all.

Spend a full afternoon at the Benaki Museum (one of the best collections of ancient and Byzantine jewelry and costumes I’ve ever seen). A recent trip ignited a new obsession with Greek island jewelry made during the Ottoman period. There is a wonderful restaurant on the roof, in case you need to stop for a minute, but I would keep going toward the Museum of Cycladic Art, which in addition to its permanent collection has exhibited contemporary work by Cy Twombly and George Condo (there is also a good café there).

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

HAVE A REST AND THEN HEAD OUT TO DINNER

I’m running out of room, and you might be running out of time, but dinner at Papadakis is a must for the spicy shrimp alone. As is a drive out to the Athenian Riviera for drinks at Island (also the brainchild of Chrysanthos Panas), which has a setting by the sea that Athenian dreams are made of. (For adventurous souls I’d also suggest an outdoor Greek concert at one of the nearby nightclubs. For the record, we throw flowers—we don’t smash plates.)

For the record, we throw flowers—we don’t smash plates.

Now, I haven’t even told you about the little bars and tavernas to be found in the stoas, hidden alleyways that connect the buildings of central Athens; or how to get into Ratka, the Athenian Elaine’s; or the wonders of the pork chop and fries at Telis (the only things on the menu); or the Greek-Japanese fusion place Nolan; or the cute Koukaki neighborhood, near the Acropolis Museum; or drinks at Clumsies; or the ice cream at Le Greche; or lunch at Diporto, a fish taverna in the basement of a fully graffitied building near Athens Central Market; or an afternoon at Astir Beach with lunch at Nice N Easy; or the loukoumi at the candy emporium Matsoukas.

I’m heading back in November (on Emirates; they fly direct from New York year-round) to give a talk at the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum. I will have more to tell and to post to the ongoing story of the #tandcathensitinerary. And you will too.

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

Comments
View More Articles About:
About The Author
Stellene Volandes
View Other Articles From Stellene Volandes
Comments
Latest Stories
 
Share
Plus how much a stay in the Jodhpur-based palace hotel will cost the celebrity couple.
 
Share
Matteo Guidicelli and his family-run Da Gianni in Alabang is the perfect place for dinner with family and friends.
 
Share
The actress opens up about the joys of having a steady job, her love of all things French, and why the midterms gave her hope.
 
Share
A royal expert explains the real reason they got behind the wheel before Prince Charles's birthday.
 
Share
Colvin's fellow war correspondent Janine di Giovanni talks to Pike about A Private War.
 
Share
Why all-organic and all-natural is the way to go.
 
Share
 
Share
Of course a Spanish village would make a great gift, Gwyneth Paltrow.
Load More Articles
CONNECT WITH US