Here’s a surprise: while the Athenians were locked up in a pandemic, a flurry of creative and entrepreneurial activity was underway. The result? A total of 272 new restaurants, according to the local industry association, as well as hundreds of other cafes and bars. The city has also acquired 34 new hotels offering 1,982 rooms in the past two years. And its cultural landmarks flourished, with the emergence of major national projects bearing fruit.
“We have seen a cultural revival and a growing gastronomy scene showing the new dynamism of the city,” said Vassilis Kikilias, Greece’s Minister of Tourism. Adding in building new hotels and upgrading old ones, Mr. Kikilias said made him “optimistic about the season”.
As of May, the number of foreign visitors to the city was still below 2019 levels, but by only 12 percent, and since then crowds have returned to central plazas and landmarks in numbers reminiscent of pre-pandemic days.
Covid vaccination certificates are no longer required to enter the country or visit shops, restaurants and museums, and since June 1, protective masks are no longer required in closed public places except for hospitals, pharmacies, public transport and ferries.
Cultural gems shine again
The Greek capital’s newest cultural gem (or rather an impressively polished ancient gem), the National Gallery It reopened last year after an eight-year overhaul worth €60 million. Twice the size of the original building, the elegant new building features a glass facade that allows natural light to illuminate the exhibits and offers visitors a glimpse of the city around every corner. You can spend hours exploring the three floors to map the evolution of Greek art over the course of nearly seven centuries. But even a short visit should not be overlooked by the attractive works of the modern Greek painters Konstantinos Parthenis and Yiannis Tsarochis with their dreamlike icons, and the luminous paintings of Orientalist Theodoros Rallis and post-impressionist Iakovos Ryzos.
A fourth floor dedicated to Western European art is due to open in the coming weeks and will include paintings by Picasso and Mondrian that were stolen in a daring one-man heist in 2012 and recovered last year.
Another treasure for art lovers is National Museum of Contemporary Art, a former brewery that opened in late February 2020 after an extended renovation, but closed almost immediately with the country’s first shutdown. Five floors of thought-provoking sculptures, videos, and installations by Greek and foreign artists—new exhibitions grappling with themes of nation-building, mass protests, and the environment—are topped by a rooftop terrace with a panoramic view extending from the Acropolis to the south coast.
Stimulated by a wave of creativity fueled by the social upheaval that came with the decade-long financial crisis, the capital’s independent art scene has boomed again during the pandemic, with exciting new spaces opening for art viewing. One of the most clever tobacco factories is a former tobacco factory in the gritty Kolonos district of Athens, whose pink and yellow facade has drawn comparisons with a giant Battenberg cake. After an exhibition debut last summer, the space reopened in June with a display of 18 large-scale facilities from the group businessman Dimitris Dascalopoulos, founder of Nyon, the cultural organization He repaired the factory, which recently donated hundreds of works to museums including the Guggenheim.
eating and drinking
There was an uproar about Linou Soumpasis & Co. Since it opened in December in the vibrant central district of Psiri. Regardless of the new pub and bistronomy labels, the self-proclaimed “simple restaurant” offers quality food with a modern twist from the bustling open kitchen. The focus is on fresh food, especially fish, with the menu updated daily according to the distance of the day. Modern dishes include John Dory’s light feather rice with seaweed in cucumber juice, and juicy Piper fish grilled in zucchini puree. Veal stew in chickpea soup is also popular, as is a selection of homemade bread and organic wines from small Greek producers. Expect to pay around €110 (about $116) for a three-course dinner with wine for two. Wines range from €22 to €150 bottles all available in glass.
a few blocks away, Gaston, The latest project by the people behind Kokovaya (Recommended in the Michelin Guide) It serves Mediterranean flavors and street food in a vibrant old-fashioned setting that is part classic Greek pub, part American diner. Dinner for two costs around €30, and highlights include a crunchy ham sandwich and a twist on tzatziki made with Gorgonzola cheese.
Two newcomers to the modernized industrial areas of Athens are also attracting massive crowds. Tzotzuka At Roof, he offers adventures of traditional Greek dishes, such as a red-sauce-rich lamb tagine with homemade pasta and spicy hard cheese for around €30 per person with wine. Profligious In nearby Kerameikos is the latest attempt by the minds behind the hugely popular Nolan, serving inventive cuisine like hand-pulled pasta with sweet wild vegetables in empty dipping sauce and cocktails on a tree-lined terrace against indie rock. Dinner is about 35€ per person without drinks.
For cocktail lovers, Athens offers an amazing selection of new drinking places. in The pub in front of the pubIn a crowded pedestrian-only walkway near central Syntagma Square, energetic young staff prepare classic cocktails using ingredients produced on site, with prices starting at €7. Those who want to have their drink with a view of the city can join the bohemian crowd at Urban attic on the roof In the bustling neighborhood of Monastiraki, one of the many new rooftop terraces, where prices for cocktails range from €11 to €13.
The same area is home to Hervey, The new hidden restaurant of Hervé Pronzato, born in Paris, whose experience as a chef in Athens includes stints at the Michelin-starred spondaic And the Hetra. Hervé has a 17-course tasting menu that offers a mix of dishes that reflect Mr. Pronzato’s eating of international cuisine for €95 per person. No sign – to enter, you hit the code you got with your reservation.
in SoilIn the Pangrati district, Tasos Mantis, who is also a former Hytra chef, offers “earthy gastronomy” using vegetables and herbs grown on his own farm in a renovated neoclassical building with a tranquil garden. The tasting menu, priced at €86, includes shrimp in orange sauce, pecans, fennel and scallops with yuzu kocho, grapefruit and lemon confit.
Upscale options include both dining and simple luxury lodging Zenodochio Milos, which bills itself as the capital’s first “5-star gastronomy hotel” – the latest project of celebrity chef Costas Spiliadis, who has established his Milos restaurant brand in locations including New York, Montreal and London. Rooms start at around €230 per night, while dining starts at around €60 per person, with specials including sea bass baked in sea salt, fried zucchini, and delicate eggplant.
New residence along the coast and in the city
One of the newest locations for hotels is the so-called Athens Riviera, a 60-kilometre coastline dotted with marinas, beaches, and secluded coves about 30 minutes by taxi from the city center. Opened in 2019, the Four Seasons Astir Palace on a pine-covered peninsula there offers 303 rooms (starting at €1,700 in July and €1,100 in August) and fine dining with a sea view in Michelin-starred. Pelagos Resturant. A nine-course tasting menu including crystal caviar, red prawns and baked octopus ink for €160 per person.
Wyndham Ramada Attica Riviera Hotel Recently opened in a quiet location on the Riviera, it offers spacious rooms with sea view starting from €120 per night, with more hotels due to open in the coming months.
In Athens, there is no shortage of accommodation options. Of the 34 hotels that opened in Greater Athens during the pandemic, 26 are in the city center. New arrivals at the renovated Omonia Central Square include Brown Acropolis With its modern take on the aesthetics of 1960s Athena (featuring 165 rooms starting at €130 per night). It is one of four hotels opened in the capital by the rapidly expanding Israeli chain Brown. On the same square, in the heart of the capital’s historical and business district, is the ultra-modern Marriott Moxy AthensWith its bright interiors, cheerful staff, and comfortable rooms, from €170 a night.
A few blocks away, near Psiri’s nightlife, is the quaint Selena Athena Theatre, part of the global hospitality brand, with bright, frescoed rooms and airy coworking spaces from €90 to €120 a night.
And in the heart of the city near the Greek Parliament, Athena Capital – MGallery features a rooftop infinity pool with a view of the Acropolis and prices start from around 300 euros per night.
The pandemic has caused some closures as well, notably the capital’s iconic Hilton which closed its doors earlier this year after nearly six decades, although it is expected to reopen in 2024 as part of the luxury Conrad hotel chain.