For a completely different take on Athens may I suggest you visit or stay in Pangrati, a residential neighbourhood set behind the Panathenaic Stadium. Known to the locals as Kallimarmaro, it’s an often-overlooked area that is now full of great restaurants, shops and bars, all at non touristy prices. Less obvious than Kolonaki or Monastiraki, Pangrati is close enough to the city centre yet far enough away to give you a local flavour of the daily rhythm of everyday life in Athens.
Start-ups are slowly adding a much needed boost to Athens as it emerges from its decade-long economic crisis. No more so than in Pangrati, whose low business rates attract small businesses keen to make a mark. You can eat and drink to your heart’s content around the three main squares of Varnava, Proskopon and Plastira, with new places popping up each month. You’ll find most of the action on Empedokleous Street – which essentially cuts through the heart of the neighborhood – or in one of Pangrati’s many leafy squares, packed every night and redolent of the halcyon, pre-crisis days.
On Empedokleous resides Colibri, a popular small bar-cafe known for its great American-grade burgers and pizzas. If it’s full when you arrive, just enjoy an aperitivo in the next door bar while you wait. On the next street, Ferekydou, is Mystic, which has a sister-restaurant in Exarchia and serves organic cannabis-flour pizzas and pastas with plenty of vegan and vegetarian toppings. Don’t miss stocking up on local products from Mystic’s old-school grocery store on the ground floor. In Varnava Square the traditional taverna Mouries has an ever-changing menu of whatever is best that day at the farmers’ market (held every Friday). For falafel-lovers, pop next door to Baba Ghanoush.
Find all the cool kids at the corner of Archimidou at Chelsea Hotel sipping coffee by day and quaffing cocktails by night spilling out onto the pavements. When late night munchies kick in, they head next door to Elvis, a 50s-themed Greek souvlatzidiko which simply serves deliciously-grilled skewers with french fries on the side.
On the edge of Pagrati, is Mets, an equally unassuming yet up and coming neighbourhood, located between Ardettos Hill, First Cemetery of Athens and Temple of Olympian Zeus. Here you will find the two-Michelin-star Spondi, but it’s mostly an area buzzing with quality, affordable places to eat and drink as well as interesting independent businesses such as Alepou, which houses a carefully curated selection of antiques, furniture and vintage accessories. Find gems like a bright orange 70s Hermes typewriter, vintage opaline glass and Greek advertising boards.
Tucked away behind Vasileos Konstantinou Avenue is verdant Platia Proskopon, or Scout’s Square, where you’re spoilt for choice on great cafés and tavernas. If you’re a book worm, don’t miss Lexikopoleio, one of the best bookstores in Athens, brimming with books and magazines in all languages. Treat yourself to a Valrhona hot chocolate at Petite Fleur, the specialty of this laidback French-inspired jazz café that spins jazz vinyl off an old turntable. At night, the square is the place to be where all the bars spill out on to and hums with activity until the early hours.
A few streets up, on the far quieter Arrianou Street, is the hugely popular To Mavro Provato. A foodie highlight and well worth the wait (book ahead if you can), The Black Sheep is a top-notch restaurant run by Evdoxia Pantou, serving modern Greek dishes at mezedopoleio (a taverna serving small meze dishes) prices. The atmosphere is buzzing, packed tables line the street under bitter orange trees and the waiting staff carry on the taverna tradition of ‘kerasma’, bringing out some very fine tsipouro and toast with fresh tomato salsa on the house. From Cretan xinomyzithra, to choriatiki, it’s all cooked home-style to perfection.
Where to Eat and Shop
Colibri, Empedokleous 15, Athina 116 35, Greece
Mystic, Ferekydou 2, Athina 116 35, Greece
Mouries, Platia Varnava, Athina 116 35, Greece
Baba Ganoush, Empedokleous 25, Athina 116 36, Greece
Chelsea Hotel, Proklou & Archimidous 1, Athens 116 35, Greece
Elvis, Archimidous 3, Plateia Plastira, Athens 116 35, Greece
Spondi, Pirronos 5, Athens 116 35, Greece
Alepou, Ferekidou 18, Athina 116 36, Greece
Mavro Provato, Arrianou 31, Athina 116 35, Greece
Where to Stay
The neighbourhood isn’t developed enough yet to house any hip hotels (yet) but you’ll find Airbnbs to rent www.airbnb.com> and Athens Green, Agras 25, has seven apartments. Rooms range from double garden studios to first-floor apartments for five. B&B doubles cost from €50 a night.
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