Athens is the “Cradle of Western Civilization” for good reason. This city has more than 2,500 years of history under its belt. In its heyday, the Greek metropolis spawned cities, democracies, philosophies, art movements and much more and today, there’s a vibe that makes you want to spend days getting lost in Athens’ contemporary culture. Here’s the perfect two-day itinerary.
First Day in Athens
Drop your bags at Luxury Collection Hotel Grande Bretagne, an elegant 142-year-old property in the heart of the city. This is old school hotel luxe and old school Athens. Suites have butlers, the view of the Acropolis is unparalleled, and it’s position in Syntagma Square makes it perfect for walking.
Once you’ve put on comfortable togs, make the 15-minute journey past Syntagma Square until you’ve reached Plaka, the oldest section of Athens with narrow and windy streets at the base of the base of the Acropolis, history’s most epic mount. A walk around the massive archaeological park is a must, so purchase the multi-attraction pass ticket, which gives access to the Parthenon, Temple of Olympian Zeus and all of Athens’ archaeological sites for five consecutive days
After all of the walking, you’ll have worked up an appetite worthy of the gods. Head down the Acropolis and back toward Syntagma for an outside table at Tzitzikas & Mermigas. This laid-back modern taverna has an outstanding appetizer lineup of tzatziki, soutzoukakia (meatballs in tomato sauce) and more, so fill up. Once you’ve put down the saganaki (fried cheese), it’s back to Hotel Grand Bretagne for a timeout at the GB Spa, a spot offering a classic delight of saunas, Turkish baths, a pool and treatment rooms.
My idea of a great aperitivo is one that mixes up a cocktail with a great view. Put on the finest resort-chic outfit and grab a cab to the Acropolis Museum for a night visit. The gorgeous, all-glass building sits face-to-face with the Acropolis, reflecting the glowing Parthenon in its glass panels.
This gorgeous landmark has an incredible collection of Greek art and sculpture. Not to be missed are level one’s Caryatids, six female figures that held up the Erechtheion on the Acropolis, and level three’s Parthenon Gallery, a beautiful display of the frieze marbles and casts. The entire floor is built to the exact dimensions and orientation of the Parthenon’s cella. Back on level two is a terrace, which has a front-row vista of the Acropolis.
For dinner, take a cab to Piraeus, Athens’ port city for fish and maybe even some art. Like many major ports, Piraeus is a charming chaos of restaurants, nightclubs and fast-food shops. Have the hotel concierge book you a table at Varoulko, a chic dockside restaurant in the Mikrolimano marina, the smaller and slightly less chaotic port in Piraeus.
The maître d’ at Varoulko will call you a taxi. Try to get back to Syntagma Square just a few minutes before the hour to watch the Evzones, the changing of the Presidential Guard, a five-minute display of pageantry. (Tip: Though this changing happens every hour daily, a special ceremony, with official uniforms, occurs on Sundays at 11 a.m.)
Second Day in Athens
After you enjoy a beautiful breakfast from Hotel Grande Bretagne’s rooftop, head to the National Archaeological Museum (two metro stops from Syntagma Square, but personally, I suggest a cab because of pick pocketing). This is the best museum in the world for Greek antiquities — most notably, a larger-than-life bronze Zeus.
From the museum, walk to the Ancient Agora, a sprawling site that was the city’s original meeting square. You can walk around temples and trek in the Stoa of Attalos, a monumental, two-level building that stretches roughly 380 feet. For lunch, enjoy a bite at Quick Pitta, a relaxed gyro spot, just outside of the archaeological site in the Monastiraki neighborhood.
After lunch, be sure to stop by EMST, Athens’ new national museum of contemporary art. To be frank, the space can be walked through relatively quickly, but a visit gives you an idea of what is going on in creative Greek and international circles.
Stroll back in the hotel’s general direction to the nearby Kolonaki neighborhood, a vibrant area filled with boutiques and cafés. Our favorite right now is i-D, a store that curates a dynamic collection of clothing and accessories by Greek designers. Designer Mary Katrantzou loves “Lalaounis— it specialises in heritage pieces inspired by ancient Greece — or Kessaris for more contemporary brands.” And yes, you’ll find Balenciaga, Armani, Gucci and pretty much every name you love.
Stick around after you’ve finished shopping. By 9 p.m., Kolonaki square transforms to a bustling center of cocktail bars, shops and eateries. Pedestrian street Tsakalof is a standing-room-only thoroughfare that has everyone vying for an outdoor table or stool. But, at some point, even those eating wind up at Minnie the Moocher for a cocktail closer to the evening.
A version of this appeared in Forbes Travel.