You’ll probably need a kick-start this morning, so head for Manas Kouzina Kouzina, where they do a Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Located opposite Agia Irini square, where you had coffee yesterday, Manas occupies the ground floor of Hotel Emporikon (see To Stay below). Everything they use in the kitchen is locally sourced, so you’re in for a feast, with delights such as scrambled egg with smoked sausage, Cretan cheese pie drenched in honey and apple cake sprinkled with cinnamon.
Manas Kouzina Kouzina
To learn a little more about Greek folk music, head for the tiny Museum of Greek Musical Instruments in Plaka. Traditional regional instruments are displayed in glass cases with headsets next to each exhibit to listen to instruments being played. If you like what you hear, there’s a museum shop selling CDs.
Continue to Syntagma Square, home to the Greek Parliament, originally built as the Royal Palace in 1843. This is where the recent anti-austerity protests have been staged. In 2011, thousands of Greeks occupied the square, calling for change, only to be challenged by police with riot shields and tear gas. Since the January 2015 election, the situation has calmed somewhat and the barricades in front of Parliament have been dismantled.
Walk through the National Gardens, with towering palms trees, artificial ponds and strutting peacocks, to arrive in posh Kolonaki. A neighborhood of foreign embassies, up-market residences, designer-label boutiques, and schmanzy restaurants. There is obviously a lot of money here. Where it has come from and how much of it has been declared is anyone’s guess.
For a chronological overview of Greek art history, from the Stone Age to the 20th century, take a look in the Benaki Museum. On display are hordes of intricately crafted gold jewelry, marble figurines and religious icons featuring sultry-eyed saints.
Proceed to neighboring Exarhia. The total antithesis of Kolonaki, Exarhia is grungy and alternative, and much loved by students, bohemians, artists and anarchists. This was the site of the Athens Polytechnic Uprising, which ended in bloodshed on 17 November 1973, but ultimately caused the fall of the much-maligned military junta (1967-1974). It’s also where local teenager, Alexandros Grigoropoulos, was shot by police on 6 December 2008. Grigoropoulos’ death lead to several days of all-out street riots. There’s a shrine to him on the corner of Mesolongiou and Tzabella streets.
Exarhia abounds with cool graffiti and informal eateries. You’re probably not very hungry yet, but you must taste a local take-away souvlaki. Head for Axilleas Vergina (Valtetsiou 62), just off Exarhia Square, and order pita kalamaki hirino apo ola (chunks of skewered pork, wrapped in warm pita with fresh tomato, onion, fries and garlicky tzatziki).
You can burn off those calories with a hike, following the steps that zigzag through dense Mediterranean vegetation to the peak of Mount Lycavittos (970 feet). Planted with pinewoods, agaves and cacti, and crowned by a tiny white Orthodox church, this is Athens’ highest point. Affording amazing panoramic views over the city, sea and mountains, it’s a great spot for photos. On the northern slope, an open-air theatre hosts summer concerts, with recent acts including Dead Can Dance, Morrissey and The Dandy Warhols.
Make sure you reserve in advance for dinner at super-romantic Strofi. The best tables are on the roof terrace, and lie directly in the gleam of the floodlit Acropolis, making an unforgettable backdrop for your last night in Athens. Downstairs, walls are hung with photos of well-known actors and musicians who have eaten here. The proximity to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus makes it a popular post-theatre dinner venue during the Summer Festival. Choose from tasty dishes such as lamb baked with rosemary, or pork fillet stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, gruyere cheese and peppers. Ask your waiter to recommend a good bottle of Greek wine.
Round off with a nightcap at the equally romantic Brettos, a family-run distillery dating from 1909, where they serve their own raki (a potent liquor) in a quirky selection of fruity flavors. The colored bottles that line the floor-to-ceiling shelves are backlit, giving the place a lovely warm glow well into the early hours. In fact, you probably won’t want to go home, so we’ll leave you here.
Delta (from JFK in New York) and Air Canada (from Montreal and Toronto) fly to Athens International Airport.
To feel like a local in downtown Psirri, stay at EP16 apartments. Occupying a 1930s Modernist building, the five apartments (sleeping three-to-four people) have wooden floors, slick open-plan kitchens, marble bathrooms and whitewashed walls hung with works by contemporary painters and street artists. You also get a communal roof garden.
Alternatively, also in Psirri, on the pedestrian-only street of Aiolou, the 14-room boutique Hotel Emporikon reopened in January 2015. A carefully restored pink neoclassical building, dating from 1850, it had lain derelict for decades. You’ll find the informal eatery, Manas Kouzina Kouzina, under separate management, on the ground floor.
Jane Foster is a British freelance travel writer, with a background in architecture, specializing in Greece, Croatia and Montenegro.