The steep little area around Kolonaki square is one of the liveliest meeting places of Athenians – the Greenwich Village of of Athens, where artists, writers, plutocrats, elegant ladies, young men about town, politicians, business men, lawyers, designers, diplomats, housewives and hurdy-gurdy men all jostle along together. We love the happy juxtaposition of the hyper-fashionable, the cultural, the frivolous, the essential, the expensive and the traditional Athens. And some of the best places to eat, drink, snack and get your hair and nails done in all of Athens. 19th century mansions, cutting edge apartments, narrow lanes, ancient stones and medieval cobbles are overhung with the smell of orange blossom and car exhaust, with a whiff of pine and sea now and then making a heady “Air d’Athenes” scent which fills the heart with delight. The below is by no means an exhaustive guide, and does not even cover the main things, but is rather a sample of the more esoteric delights awaiting the wanderer.
Village meets Athens at the Friday morning Laiki (folk) market on Xenokratous St for local colour and character – purple artichokes, heaps of cherries, tomatoes, aubergines, herbs and apricots, gleaming rows of fish still dripping sea water, cheeses, pots, pans and irresistibly 1950’s housewife dresses…. Xenokratous also has some irresistibly dark and cluttered little Aladdin’s Cave-like shops selling 19th century prints, old books, art deco lamps, hand made jewelry and other delights.
Hadrians’ Reservoir- on Dexamenes – the remains of the giant dressed stone facade with a charming, shady cafe whose tables line the steps up to it.
Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technology – this opened in late 2018 but closed again almost the next day due to covid- so brand new and the most fun your kids will have all day! The world’s first ever coin-operated drink-vending machine, (drop your euro in the working model and get a cup of holy water) singing automatons, musical mirrors that are height adjustable depending on who is looking at them (why is this not a thing today??) and other marvels- Roald Dahl meets Heraclitus.
Farma Mpralou- simple and excellent meat with a weekly menu, from the proprietor’s farm in Mpralou in Northern Greece – Milioni and Iraklitou St.
Ileana Makri – super-cool Athenian jewelry designer with a cult following and chicissimo shop on Patriarchou Ioakim – cocktail party atmosphere on busy days as her international regulars drop by whenever they are in Athens.
Ileana Makri shop window
The real Kolonakiotis‘ favorite home-cooking restaurants are Oikeio on Ploutarchou St for the lively atmosphere and comfort food, and Filippou on Xenokratous for a cool and quiet al fresco dinner in summer and cosy warming meals the rest of the year. Cabbage-wrapped dolmades with egg and lemon sauce is a winter classic.
The Museum of Cycladic Art- if you have seen the Benaki Museum just below Kolonaki Square, then b head over to this. Sandra Marinopoulou is director of this wonderful museum based on the collection of a private philanthropist and housed in a 19th century mansion designed by Ziller – one of the Bavarian architects brought over by King Otto 1 of Greece from Munich.
Newly opened in 2022, the National Gallery is a 10 minute walk away and has a sensational small collection of Greek painting from the early 19th century to now- from the bloodthirsty to the tender – worth the trip on its own. You just have to brave Athenian traffic lights and pedestrian crossings to get there. This reminds me of a story told about Ferenc Molnar, the great Jewish Hungarian playwright who emigrated to Manhattan during the war – but never got the hang of it there. Trying to cross Fifth Avenue one day he gave up and told his companion that it was not humanly possible. “But, Herr Molnar,” said his young friend, “See those people on the other side of the street? How do you think they got there?” Molnar looked at the people tantalisingly close across the abyss of Fifth Avenue, and answered, “They were born there.”
Even if you weren’t born next to the National Gallery, do try to get there!
Walk up the dog-poo and pine-scented path that winds up Mount Lykabettus for staggering views over Athens, (or take the funicular), then reward yourself with a cocktail on the terrace of the Hotel St George Lykabettus with views over the whole of Athens, the Attic plain and the Saronic Gulf. Watch the sun sink behind the Acropolis and the lights of Athens and the distant ships start twinkling in the dusk. The cool place to stay is the new and super luxurious “One Acropolis” – not Kolonaki but possibly the most spoiling serviced short term apartments in Athens with fabulous views over the Acropo on firstname.lastname@example.org