The revival of Europe’s classical capital has attracted plenty of artists, curators and digital nomads. But it’s entrepreneurial young Athenians who are opening pop-up restaurants, design collectives and guesthouses, regenerating derelict buildings in rough-around-the-edges areas such as Pangrati, Kypseli and Keramikos. Messy and unpredictable, Athens fizzes with an intense energy that burns bright into the night.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Explore Athens with an insider
Everyone visits the Acropolis and the cleverly curated Acropolis Museum(€5, concessions €3), where you can get up close and personal with the antiquities, both above and below ground.
Hit the Parthenon first thing in the morning or just before dusk – at midday, the white marble reflects the high heat. To get beyond the symbolism, book a tailormade tour with Athens Insiders, whose charismatic guides even get kids excited about ruins, with treasure hunts, pottery workshops and a running commentary of mythology.
Avoid the tourist traps in Plaka on a walking tour with Culinary Backstreets. You’ll get a taste for tsipouro(pomace brandy), served with fig paste and goat’s cheese in an artisan deli, cod cured in fenugreek at a 400-year-old taverna, and several regional variations of baklava – served with titbits of culinary trivia.
Natassa Pappa has mapped the stoas (covered arcades) that connect the commercial heart of Athens. Fans of typography, architecture and quirky old shops will love her Into Stoas trips.
Discover Athens’ museum mile
Stroll down Vasilissis Sofias Avenue and you can explore Greek culture through the ages in a single day.
The Museum of Cycladic Art (€7, concessions and Mondays €3.50) displays stunning bronze age figurines and ceramics, alongside work by contemporary heavyweights like Ai Weiwei and Paul Chan.
The Byzantine and Christian Museum (€8, concessions €4, under-19s free) is a poignant trove of sacred icons, mosaics and textiles, set in walled gardens with shady seating among the fruit trees and fountains.
The eclectic Benaki Museum (€9, concessions €7, under-22s free) collection covers everything from folk costumes to 20th-century paintings.
Stavros Niarchos park
Renzo Piano’s soaring new HQ for the Greek national opera and library is surrounded by a 52-acre park dotted with playgrounds and picnic spots. Admire the views from The Lighthouse, a glass box floating above the green roof; learn to sail on the 400-metre canal; take a free yoga class or catch an outdoor movie on the Great Lawn. •Free admission, apart from opera and ballet performances, snfcc.org
Neighbourhood to know: Koukaki
Designers, curators and savvy Airbnb users have discovered this working-class neighbourhood near the Acropolis. Visitors can brunch on pork and kimchi quesadillas and detox juices at Bel Ray). Writers bring their laptops to Little Tree, a cosy bookshop-cafe.
At Underflow, a beautifully moody gallery and record shop, you can browse the vinyl with a beer. Splash out on Kyma sandals and embroidered kaftans at True Story Athens or T-shirts hand-printed with ancient Greek proverbs at Athena Design Workshop (Parthenonos 30). Pick up provisions at Pantopwlion and head into the pine forests of Philopappou Hill for a sunset picnic. The summit has the best views of the Parthenon.
Hit the beach
Athens’ southern coastline is flanked by pine-fringed peninsulas, upmarket marinas and sandy beaches that are blissfully empty off-season. The fanciest (and priciest) option is Astir Beach in Vouliagmeni, where the Four Seasons will open its first Greek outpost in 2019. Until then, the buff and bronzed play beach racquet and drink cocktails at Krabo, the Margi hotel’s new beach bar on adjacent Zoska bay.
For clear waters with smaller crowds, head to the pebbly coves that flank Attica’s southern tip, then watch the sun set behind the temple of Poseidon at Sounion.