In the summer of 2021 something unexpected happened. Suddenly, out of nowhere – and from places near and far – everyone seemed to be heading to Athens.
And why not? Whether out of necessity or foresight, Greece was one of the first European nations to reopen its borders in the second year of the coronavirus crisis.
And Athens became the logical first step for thousands of travelers hungry for great food, world-class architecture and access to some of the best beaches imaginable.
A year later, Athens couldn’t be cooler – filled with sleek new hotels, cutting-edge art galleries and world-class fashion and design.
“Athens is a real love story for us,” said hotelier Leon Avigad, whose company Brown Hotels will open 50 hotels across Greece by 2025 – including nearly 20 in Athens alone. “We love the people, we love the ambience and the incredible support from the city.”
The company’s most intriguing property in Athens is Lighthouse Athens, a 220-room urban retreat housed in a former theater right on Omonia Square, the city’s traditional cultural hub.
The building’s original white marble facade hides cool concrete walls and sleek black parquet floors, which lead to a series of funky common areas, including a rooftop pool and nightspot.
And many rooms have balconies with Acropolis views (from $140 per night).
Meanwhile, the company’s Dave Red Athens has 87 industrial-inspired rooms with an equally super-central location at cheaper rates (starting at $58 per night).
But Athens’ new spirit goes far beyond its hotel boom.
“The city has a compelling sense that just suits you,” said Andria Mitsakos, a longtime New Yorker who moved to Athens 10 years ago, where she founded Anthologist, an e-com platform showcasing the best in Greek Draft. “We are a living, breathing, cultural hub of inspiration.”
Being Greece, much of this inspiration is literally thousands of years old. Some of the most inspirational of all can be found at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Kolonaki, a private museum housing thousands of works from Greece and Cyprus that showcase the Cycladic island’s distinctive, almost otherworldly aesthetic.
The museum is directly linked to the neoclassical Stathatos mansion, which houses a fantastic range of contemporary art.
The Cycladic Museum serves as the perfect warm-up for Athens’ real historical showstopper, the Acropolis Museum, whose glass-floored lobby literally hovers over an archaeological site.
Inside are thousands of artifacts found in and around the Acropolis, dating back to the Greek Bronze Age more than 5,000 years ago.
As well as the (literal) classics, Athens has seen the arrival of impressive centers of contemporary art and culture. Neon, for example, is a sprawling space in a former tobacco factory in the up-and-coming Kolonos neighborhood.
Founded by Greek collector and entrepreneur Dimitris Daskalopoulos, the almost 70,000 square meter center hosts large and small public art exhibitions (from sculpture to video art) both here in Athens and across Greece.
Equally innovative and cutting edge is the new Rodeo Gallery in the port of Piraeus, around 30 minutes by taxi from the city centre.
Housed in a converted warehouse, the gallery is the most prominent of a handful of hip art venues helping to transform this historic waterfront area, conveniently located near the equally compelling (and expansive) Stavros Niarchos Park, designed by Renzo Piano became .
Hungry? obvi! Then head to Cookoovaya – a lauded collaboration between five of the city’s top chefs.
It promotes “wise cooking” – food rooted in traditional Greek ingredients and techniques but with a modern flair. Think grilled Greek octopus with Santorini fava or whole fish of the day cooked how you like it – grilled, steamed, raw or in a soup or casserole.
The dishes here are ambitious and flavorful, so much so that a second outpost has opened in St Tropez.
Are you looking for something simpler? Then a traditional souvlaki is indispensable.
Every Athenian and Athenian clearly has their favourites, but two of the best are Kalamaki Kolonaki (Ploutarchou 32 St.) – which serves traditional lamb as well as chicken, pork and turkey – and O Kostas (5 Pentelis St.), which has been open since Serving perfectly cooked portions of meat-in-pita for more than 65 years (smart tip: say “yes” if the owner offers to add an extra helping of peppers, you can’t beat the kick).