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The Insider guide

A little bit of what you can expect to get up to in the Greek capital
04.11.15 - 11:35 -
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The view of the acropolis from the New Hotel penthouse terrace. :: SUR
Pallas Athena Hotel
Even before Greece’s financial crisis, Athens had always been a vibrantly political city and many of the capital’s buildings have become canvasses for urban street artists.
Found on the predominantly neoclassical Kotzia square, the smart Pallas Athena 5 star boutique hotel takes inspiration from the creativity and urban art found across Athens. The brilliant white lobby has stand-out pieces of art that set the scene as soon as you arrive, whilst amongst the 63 guest rooms and luxury suites are ‘graffiti’ rooms with works by well-known artists who have created different themes to appeal to families, couples, and younger guests. There are also classic suites too, with more low-key décor and art.
Take a moment to explore the ‘Agreco Corner’, the hotel’s boutique for organic produce, fragrances and body care products from the Grecotel’s Cretan estate. The same products are found in the guest bathrooms.
Dining at the hotel’s Gourmet Restaurant is on-trend with its Cretan cuisine, including some excellent cheeses, organic vegetables and island lamb – three course meals are from 22 euro. Breakfast is very generous, with international favourites as well as mouth-watering Cretan delicacies.
New Hotel
This design hotel is close to the ‘Plateia Syntagmatos’, the constitution square, making it well connected with the city metro network and easy to get to from the airport, thanks to the direct X95 bus. It’s also steps away from the Parliament, so take the opportunity to see the regular changing of the guard ceremony.
The hotel’s unique ‘look and feel’ was created by the famous Brazilian designers, Fernando and Humberto Campana. Inspired by their iconic Favela chair, the hotel’s lobby is the first of many spaces that will make a real impact. An art installation of reclaimed furniture wood, including much from the original Olympic Palace Hotel, covers the walls of the entrance and the restaurant. The penthouse-style rooftop lounge is open till late. Breakfast in the New Taste restaurant is excellent and the morning chocolate cakes are irresistibly good.
The striking guest rooms include designer furniture, some vintage pieces from the original hotel, as well as signature design motifs from the Campana brothers. It all adds up to a great-value, cool, central place to call home whilst in the city.
The Benaki Museum
If you can’t take in any more ancient artefacts, then this museum offers a refreshing change with some memorable 20th century Greek art. (There’s also plenty of pieces covering the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods if you still have an appetite for history).
The Acropolis
So when in Athens, one has to visit the Acropolis, birthplace of modern western civilisation. But it’s worth bearing in mind that about 10,000 other people have the same thought each day. So it’s important to be prepared when heading to this ancient citadel, home to the iconic Parthenon, the Erechtheum and other remarkable sanctuaries and temples.
First of all get to the ticket office early, when it opens (between 8am and 8.30am) before the cruise ship groups arrive – allow 20 minutes or so to walk up to the entrance from the metro. The 12 euro ticket is valid for a few days and includes other ancient sights. Go now as the Greek government has suggested that prices may increase considerably by Easter 2016.
Wear super-comfy shoes as many of the paths are poorly maintained, and the rest, well they’re ancient.
At sunset embrace being a tourist and take the short walk to Areopagus Hill and take a selfie with the Acropolis as a backdrop.
The Acropolis Museum
Athens has no shortage of exceptional museums and galleries celebrating the country’s classical heritage, including of course the National Archaeological Museum. Yet I particularly enjoyed the new Acropolis Museum. Built ready to house the Elgin Marbles, (still controversially held by the British Museum), it has a permanent collection presented with contemporary flair, as well as temporary exhibitions. The restaurant is excellent too – a great place for lunch.
Central Market District
City markets have to be one of the best ways to get immersed within contemporary day-to-day city life. Head to the Varvakeio Market before breakfast for a lively start to the day. In addition to the central hall full of traders selling fish, meat, vegetables, cheese and more, the surrounding streets and alleyways offer a myriad of fascinating street vendors.
Outdoor Cinema
The balmy eastern Mediterranean climate means that outdoor cinema is a regular Athens pastime. Cine Aegli is one of the more commercial, but well located, just off Syntagma Square and set within beautiful gardens. One of the oldest is Cine Thissio – it also offers a spectacular backdrop of the illuminated Acropolis!
This basement restaurant, with a vintage feel, has no sign outside, and once inside, no menu. Sit, smile, and let the dishes and wine arrive – chances are you won’t spend more than 10 euro each.
No website – Head to corner of Theatrou Square and Sokratous street 9.
Varoulko Seaside
One of the best known restaurants in the city, now located at the Mikrolimano Marina, a cab ride out of the city centre. It’s a great excuse to enjoy some sea air, and further exercise the credit card – this is upscale award-winning Michelin star cuisine.
Psaras restaurant
Undeniably touristy, but if you’re looking for the quintessential Greek taverna experience with long wooden tables and woven seats set out under trees, then this is for you. Found in the quaint Plaka district which has a more charm than most areas of Athens.
Bios terrace
Cool, urban roof terrace, perfect for a drink whilst taking in a view of the Acropolis. Bios has much more to offer since it’s an indie arts and cultural venue within an edgy industrial space.