2 Days in Athens, Fine Dining Edition
Food & Wine
Athens is not just the gateway to the Greek Islands, but a city of culture, nightlife, and delicious food. Athens is often overlooked as travelers fly in from all over the world and make their way to destinations such as Mykonos and Santorini. I had the pleasure of spending two days in Athens this past summer before setting sail on a ferry to the islands and I had some top notch meals and the opportunity to immerse myself in the historical wonder the city offers.
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Where to stay
Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens
Luxe property along the Aegean Sea with refined rooms, private beaches and seasonal bungalows.
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Hotel Grande Bretagne, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Athens
A historic hotel known for its spectacular views of the Acropolis, as well as its best-in-class service and elegant suites.
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Indulge in boutique luxury and coastal charm at The Margi, where elegant accommodations, lush gardens, and a tranquil setting in Vouliagmeni, Athens, create a delightful stay just steps away from the azure waters of the Saronic Gulf.
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Day 1: Welcome to Athens
Due to living on the east coast, an overnight flight to Europe is always a standard for me. I like to catch some sleep on the plane and hit the ground running in the morning to integrate myself into the timezone as seamlessly as possible.
Upon arrival to Athens, a pre-arranged pickup from the airport is the best way to ensure a comfortable ride to your accommodations. While there are cabs available, some of them can be small and may rely on you to use your GPS and provide direction. While I trust my sense of direction, it can be a bit overwhelming in an unfamiliar bustling city. Plus, who doesn’t love being picked up with their name on a sign when you get through customs and being whisked away in a Mercedes? (All for around the same price as a cab might I add!)
In any place, the first thing I want to do after dropping my bags at the hotel is have a cup of coffee, and in Greece, they do not disappoint! Athens has many outdoor cafes, take a walk through the neighborhood you are staying in, find a table to take in the views, and order yourself a Freddo Cappuccino. The iced, frothed, milky goodness (this comes from somebody who uses almond milk regularly) plus fresh espresso is a heavenly combo. One of my best friends and I have searched high and low in New York for a comparable with no luck. Maybe it's the relaxed Greek way of life we are missing? In any case, do yourself a favor and order one.
One of my favorite restaurants for breakfast is Me Kolonaki where I can grab fresh avocado toast with a poached egg, or one of their many grain bowls rich with chia seeds and any kind of fresh fruit you want.
After sustenance, stretching your legs feels great post a 9+ hour flight. Take a walk through Monastiraki Square and the flea market and maybe have a pair of leather sandals handmade custom for you.
If you are continuing your explorations in Greece, these are a stylish and comfortable addition to the wardrobe. As it can get really hot in Athens, I would highly recommend staying at a hotel that has a pool. No matter what your activities of the day, an hour or two spent by the pool with views of the Acropolis or the Ocean, you can’t go wrong. On this trip, we stayed at a hotel that had a pool overlooking the Acropolis and catching some sun, relaxing, and looking at the breathtaking view (with a glass of a local Greek white wine) was one of my favorite hobbies.
After a luxurious afternoon by the pool, getting cleaned up and heading to our first dinner reservation was on the schedule. I find that planning my days around a dinner reservation is a common theme around my travels and I have never regretted it. Night one was spent at Aleria. Set up in what seems to be a converted stately home, as soon as you walk up to this restaurant, you know the ambiance is going to be delightful. While the indoor dining room is lovely, make sure to snag a reservation in the garden if you can. The stone walls covered with plants, the lush trees, and elegant lighting and candles placed perfectly, ensure a relaxing atmosphere to dig in on what is sure to be one of your best meals in Athens. There are two tasting menus to choose from: Earth and Sea or Garden and Nature (five or six courses with each). You will not be disappointed in either menu, we got one of each to taste it all. I would also recommend adding the wine pairing. The star of all dishes in my opinion was the pumpkin mousse with truffle.
After thoroughly indulging, it is time to take in the views of the city at night and grab a drink at one of the many rooftop bars in the city. A notable option is the GB Roof Garden at Hotel Grande Bretagne.
Day 2: Historical ruins, relaxation & seaside dining
Starting the day out with a coffee (Freddo cappuccino!) and breakfast at the hotel is always my go to, but day two wasn’t for a slow start. I was ready to see all of the historical ruins of Athens.
I found that self guided tours and a pair of walking shoes were the best way to enjoy exploring without being on too tight of a schedule. We started out seeing the Temple of Zeus and then headed to the Acropolis Museum, with a plan to see the Acropolis after lunch.
Pro tip, and one I wish I would have thought out: save the Acropolis museum for the afternoon and take the hike up the actual Acropolis in the morning. I mentioned earlier that it gets HOT in Athens, especially in the summer. When the late afternoon sun is at its peak, it can be a rough walk up to the top of the Acropolis, while the museum has air conditioning you could enjoy in the afternoon.
Regardless of our now learned from mistake, the walk up to the Acropolis was worth every drop of sweat and by no surprise the favorite part of this quick stay in Athens. Seeing the Odeon of Herodes, the Temple of Athena, the Parthenon are all a once in a lifetime opportunity and must be seen while in Athens. These activities if you take your time will take up a good chunk of your day.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat for lunch at one of the many cafes lining the streets below the Acropolis and then headed back to the hotel to cool off with a dip in the pool. As I said, having a pool at your hotel is pretty much a must and if you are there to explore, it's a great way to restore your energy after walking around the city in the heat. After cooling off and taking a rest, as you might guess we were off to dinner reservation number two! This restaurant came recommended from one of my Greek friends and so naturally I was excited.
Varoulko Seaside Restaurant sits on the edge of the city in Pireas. We had our hotel arrange a car to take us to and from the restaurant to keep things easy. The restaurant is multiple stories and similar to Aleria, while the dining rooms are lovely and have a high end feel, make your reservation for outside on the terrace. You will get a beautiful view of the harbor and the ocean breeze while you enjoy your dinner.
We opted for the tasting menu which is perfect if you love fresh seafood. The seabass was light, flakey, and cooked to perfection and was by far my favorite out of the menu items. Greece has a lot of excellent white wines and were perfect to pair with this menu rich with local seafood.
Once again, we ended our night with a nightcap at the lovely hotel rooftop to get one more view of the Acropolis and the city lit up before heading out on our ferry to the islands in the morning.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Greece.