a small guide to athens

Posted on August 30th, 2012

I love Athens. The craziness, the congestion; even in a heat wave the place leaves me pumped. It’s life in a petri dish. It’s so terribly, organically, inescapably human. I didn’t stay in Athens long. I was in transit to Icaria. Two days only. But this is what I tried (and which I’d recommend to anyone popping by).

Seriously, the view from The New Hotel to that big lump of rocks there on the hill…

* Stay here: I was booked into The New Hotel, near Syntagma Square. My mate Bill at thecoolhunter suggested I check it out. The place is designed by the Campana brothers, who’ve cleverly reinterpreted the former Olympic Palace hotel originally built in 1958 – they pulled it down, then rebuilt it using broken bits of the hotel as well as the retro furniture. They workshopped the project with design and architecture students from University of Thessaly. So clever. Took me a while to work out that the walls were made of old bed legs and the chairs were rebuilt with bits of an old ladder.

Chair. Re-used.

The cafe attached to the restaurant…re-used walls and chairs

The feel is very “public service office chic circa 1975” or “movie set in a small town starring Robert Redford in his youth”,  and is totally kooky and functional and all the more fun for it. You can also get a feel for the place from this video I did when I first arrived.

Full disclosure: I was upgraded to the penthouse suite (the shot above through the window is from the penthouse bedroom).

More 1960s chair deconstruction at the New Hotel

* Snack here: I mentioned to the reception girl at New Hotel that I wanted to eat something home-cooked-in-vibe: she pointed me to Yiasemi. So cute. And the Greek mum who makes all the dishes was so generous and sweet. I ate eggplant and drank water. Water. Water. The Greeks are so good with plying you with it.

Γιασεμί (Yiasemi)

* Eat souvlaki here:  I met some nice Greek boys that night. Yiannis (below) asked if he could take me out the next night to show me around. As I like to travel like The Yes Man, I said…”sure”. We took me to the best souvlaki place in town, where the locals go, although it’s in a slightly sedate, posh area.

Yiannis was a competitor on Greek Masterchef. He took me to Καλαμάκι Κολωνάκι.

Souvlaki! This place is famous for theirs. Go!

* Go for a drink here: Yiannis also took me to a very cool bar – The Art Foundation – housed inside an abandoned building complex with a “square” in the middle. The empty rooms house art. The square hosts music. That night it was a band featuring a cello. Mad. Hot. Dark. Fun.

The Art Foundation in Athens’ “meat packing district”!

* Read Greek poetry: While in Athens I read some Kavafis: “As you set out for Ithaka, hope your road is a long one…”. Indeed! When you set off on a journey, hope it’s not going to be rushed and projected forward. Athens’ heat helps drag you down to right now. Trust me.

* Eat homecooked food here: I mentioned the next morning to the New Hotel staff I wanted to eat somewhere “home kitchen-ish”. In true Greek hospitable form, Natassa said she’d take me to the best place in Athens. And so four of us lunched at Paradosiako (just down the road from New Hotel). It was seriously authentic – vlita (greens), calamari, sardines, stuffed vegetables and wine.

With Natasa at Paradosiako.

* Read this too: You might also like to check out my mate George Calombaris’ foodie guide to Athens. He knows his Greek joints.

This is all. But please add your bits below to flesh out this guide for others. It’s a bit like place a rock on a cairn…helping those who follow in your traveller footsteps. And feel free to ask questions…


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  • Steph

    Hi Sarah

    I was wondering if you could put together a guide to travelling by yourself? I’ve travelled quite a bit but there is so much more I want to see/do and the one thing that holds me back is the thought of going it alone. How do you manage financially (travelling solo always seems more expensive), how do you avoid getting lonely (that’s a big one for me), any other tips you want to share? You seem to have loved your time in Europe so any advice would be much appreciated. Maybe a post…

    Thank you!


    Kris Cleary Reply:

    Good idea Steph.

    I’ve done solo travel myself quite a lot. It’s funny when people say ‘so youre going on your own?’ because I know that you’re really never on your own you know. You always meet up with somebody for a day trip or end up traveling with them for a week or so.

    Trust me, it may be scary to go off on your own but you’ll look back at it being one of the best things you’ve ever done!


  • Andrew

    Agree Steph,
    that something on solo travel would be good. I think there’s a choice to be made. If you want to meet up with people make sure you do some tours, courses where you will interact with people in the same situation as you (or else be very good at chatting up strangers) or make links with courch-surfing groups before you go . Alternatively, reflect on what is so wrong about being alone, being comfortable with your own thoughts, and don’t force anything. It’s an interesting exercise.

    I went to France and Spain last year for a couple of weeks which was mainly spent alone, because my partner couldn’t get time off. There were times that I was keen on company but I surprised myself with my general level of happiness and independence. I found that I noticed so much. One of my most memorable experience was eating a 10-course degustation menu overlooking the Mediterranean (not that it was cheap). It helped, probably, that I had a bit of a personal academic project to focus on at times. But I would be happy to go again, just that I would add some tours in the mix.

    I see an interesting balancing act in Sarah’s travels in her ability to go solo (long walks in Spain by herself) while also meeting and chatting up strangers (and clearly, being chatted up by strangers!).


    Steph Reply:

    Thanks Andrew. Great advice!


  • Ha, I was in Athens in July and stayed at the New Hotel. Loved the breakfast!!!
    All the staff were very helpful. We were there for three nights and ate at Avocado every day! It’s just around the corner from the hotel. A lot of their menu is raw and it’s all vegetarian. It was 39 degrees when I was there and the food was perfect.
    We then went to Glyfada and spent a week there. It’s 15 mins outside the city and by the beach and known as the Beverly Hills of Athens! It’s not grungy and touristy like the city, the restaurants are amazing (and very inexpensive) and the people are all very friendly.
    I loved it.


  • Sarah, thanks so much for posting this. I will be spending a month in Greece next year and this looks like an amazing guide to Athens. I’ve never been so I can’t wait to explore the city and then run away to a small remote island.


  • Morgan Cooper

    It was a great article. I would be spending some time in Athens with my hubby and couldn’t resist more myself of not going to that epic city.


  • Lee Hallman

    Thanks for the recommendation Sarah. The rooftop restaurant at the New Hotel was also good