Katerina Panayotopoulou, managing director and consultant at luxury travel PR consultancy Ann Scott Associates, has lived in a number of cities around the world including London, New York and Geneva. But she always returns —and now has moved back—to her hometown and ultimate favorite city Athens. A mama of one (and with one on the way), she shares her tips and places to discover in this energy-filled city.
New Hotel. With a central location and walking distance to many key sites, New Hotel is designed by the Campana brothers and has a fun and unique atmosphere. The owner is a huge patron of the arts, and I love how the design fuses contemporary twists and influences from favela culture with local Greek home grown artists. There is a great rooftop restaurant and bar that offers excellent views over the city and the Acropolis, and there are connecting rooms which make it easy for families staying. The Grande Bretagne has traditionally been the grande dame of Athens hotels, and whilst it is a wonderful hotel, there is definitely now a new wave of exciting and modern hotels on offer in the city, a recent addition being the AthensWas Hotel with great design and a spectacular rooftop restaurant.
First Meal To Eat
I head straight to Kuzina in Thisseio. Located on one of the busiest pedestrian streets in downtown Athens, the restaurant has great energy, stylish design and the menu offers a modern take on traditional Greek recipes. There is also a small art gallery on the first floor as well as a beautiful roof terrace. Just soaking up the buzz here is a perfect start to a family vacation in one of Europe’s most fun capital cities!
Best Neighborhood for Strolling
Plaka. This is the neighbourhood directly under the Acropolis, and it offers a wonderful hybrid of the old and the new, which I feel is the true essence of Athens today. Here you will find plenty of markets, the obligatory souvenir shops (I still buy my leather sandals from here every summer), buzzing cafes, restaurants, and the ruins of the Ancient Agora. If you walk in the direction up the hill, away from the busy pedestrian streets you will find quieter pockets of Plaka, which is one of my truly favourite areas in Athens. You will stumble across stunning old mansions with the unique Athenian neoclassical architectural style, beautiful courtyards, stone steps going up the hill and quiet streets with mesmerizing views up to the ancient monument. Here offers a glimpse into old Athens in all its glory and it really is worth a walk here, allowing yourself to get lost amongst the tucked away streets.
Ideal Family Day for First-Timers
Start with a walk around Plaka. If it is a Sunday, start your morning off at the antiques flea market in Monastiraki. It is great fun with a lively atmosphere with much to see and soak up. Avissinias Square is the heart of the market, and you can find old furniture and antique objects, books, vinyl records, and much more. Even if you don’t want to shop, the atmosphere is fun for all the family to enjoy. Don’t miss popping into Avissinias Café, which retains the character of old Athens, as it has been around for decades and is a real establishment.
On for a coffee or lunch at Couleur Locale, which is tucked away in a side street and looks rather unimposing from the outside. But once you step out of the elevator and onto the terrace, you see what makes it so special—a hidden rooftop urban oasis with a fun, contemporary and colourful atmosphere and a splendid view of the Acropolis.
After lunch head to the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum, which cannot be missed on a visit to Athens. As well as the mind blowing artifacts on view, the modern building itself is spectacular with a huge terrace and café and there is an excellent programme for kids.
If the family still has plenty of energy in the late afternoon, head to the coast for a swim at one of the beaches which line the south coast of Athens. Athens features the longest coastline of any European capital, and there are a number of great beaches to choose from. The who’s who of Athens favour Astir Beach in Vouliagmeni, and one of my favourites is Yabanaki beach in Varkiza. It offers something for all the family—you can have the peace and quiet if you wish with daybeds, a stylish café and restaurant called Sea Yard whilst there are also the busier parts of the beach with watersports and a kids' water park. The House Project in Glyfada is also an excellent option for families. Designed to feel like an oversized beach house, it offers cleverly designed and colourful spaces where one can relax and unwind as well as an outdoor playground for kids.
Best Family Dinner
For dinner with the kids, head to Karamanlidika, which is located in the buzzing downtown area of Psirri. Housed in a restored neoclassical building with indoor and outdoor seating areas, this place oozes old world charm and style and offers a great atmosphere, local and authentic meze to share, and a well-priced menu.
Date Night Out
For a date night, there are many fun places to choose from in the centre, but for something truly unique head to Island restaurant in Varkiza on the coast. It is set on a clifftop overlooking the sea with a really stylish setting where white reigns supreme against the Aegean blue backdrop. True magic!
Ultimate Souvenir Shopping
Don't miss Forget Me Not, located in the heart of Plaka. This beautiful store features products and designs from over 150 Greek artists and designers. I love the clean and contemporary designs often influenced by ancient tradition and created by local artisans throughout Greece, and you can find fabulous sandals, beach tote bags (with fun kids' designs, too), home goods and much more. One of my favourite brands available here are the Zylo handcrafted wooden eyewear; stylish and original!
Totally True Athens Cliche
Watching a production at the Ancient Theatre of Herod Atticus, under the moonlit splendour of the Parthenon. Sitting on the original stone steps and watching a play or opera just as people did in the exact same spot 2,000 years ago is always an awe-inspiring experience, and I would recommend anyone visiting in the summer try and see a show here. I recently saw Aida here and was blown away.
Greek History Lessons
Athens is an excellent place for kids to connect with the amazing history, as it is available to view and experience everywhere. Even taking a subway ride on the Metro allows an educational experience for kids, as when the Metro was being created, they stumbled upon and dug up so many ancient treasures that they created a museum display of all the ancient objects in Syntagma (Constitution) Square station. Anyone can view when using the station.
Not to be missed is a visit to the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, on the south coast of Athens. It is a good sixty-minute drive from the centre of the city but definitely worth it, particularly at sunset. Seeing the magnificent monument dedicated to the ancient god of the sea against the sparkling blue waters of the Aegean as the sun sets is something that will remain etched in little one’s minds forever. Not to mention all those fascinating stories from mythology which took place here!
Side Trips from Athens
Easily accessible from the capital and just a short boat ride away, I love the small island of Spetses. It has a unique charm and is ideal for long evening family strolls admiring the grand aristocratic mansions that were built in the nineteenth century. There are lovely beaches around the island, all framed by thick pine trees, and there are some fun beach bars where the whole family is welcome. The legendary and much celebrated hotel here is the Poseidonion Grand, which has hosted the weddings of Greek royalty. I also love the intimate feel and clean lines of the Orloff Resort which is set beautifully within an 1865 mansion house.
Hydra is another island which has an abundance of charm. It is a car-free island, and therefore a haven for pedestrians. Kids love the traditional mode of transport here…the donkey! Artists from all over Greece and the rest of the world flocked to Hydra throughout the last century, so there are excellent artisan crafts created here plus a wonderful bohemian energy to be found alongside the island’s cosmopolitan vibe and elegant grey stone mansions.
Greeks are born with a love of the Mediterranean sea, and for the most fabulous swimwear, those in the know wear Paolita. The brand’s colourful and striking prints are seen on Athens hottest beaches, and this unique swimwear by a Greek/Mexican designer is now also making splashes across the globe. An ideal trip to stock up!