Bringing you details from the first stop on our Greek vacay for this Travel Tuesday.
We took a redeye flight from NYC to Athens, departing at 11:55 pm on 8/29, arriving at 4:05 pm on 8/30. Our hotel was about a 30 minute drive from the airport so we still had a bit of time to enjoy the city – it wasn’t a totally wasted day.
Day 1: Friday, 8/30
We arrived in Athens and took a cab from the airport to our hotel. When we arrived, Albert decided to pay the nominal fee for an upgrade, which put us on a much better floor and gave us access to a separate concierge and hospitality suite. After dropping our stuff off, we went straight to the pool. Do not pass go; do not collect $200. When you stay at the hotel with the largest outdoor pool in all of Athens, you make a point to chill out there.
The pool was lovely. The water was far too cold for me to get in, but I was happy lounging poolside with the complimentary snacks and a button you could press for drinks. Yes, a drink button. Oh cabana boy!
After some relaxation I stopped by the suite for some espresso. I had a terrible bout of allergies (one eye was swollen halfway shut due to hay fever) so I hadn’t slept in about two days and was exhausted. The caffeine was a necessary pick-me-up. We then got all showered up and got ready for a night out in Athens. I had done a bunch of research and had a list of restaurants and bars that I showed to Albert. He picked Klimataria, mostly because in addition to being a traditional taverna, it had music.
The food was good but definitely not the best of the trip My stuffed peppers were not that great but Albert’s lamb was tasty enough. The best things were definitely the complimentary tzatziki (heavy on the dill – in a good way) and the melted cheese appetizer. The grilled shrimp were also good – and shocking to Albert who didn’t realize they’d come with their heads on. If that’s not your thing, don’t ever bother ordering shrimp anywhere in Greece because that’s always how they’ll be served. It’s a good thing – that’s how they have so much flavor.
This dinner is the first place we realized Greek Life = Late Night Life. The music at this “family restaurant” didn’t even start til after 10 pm. We had a great time clapping along before walking to our next destination: a bar I’d read about in the Psyri neighborhood. There is basically bar after bar here. We stopped in one on the way that didn’t even have a name but did have a cool open air atrium space.
The main destination, however, was The Clumsies. This bar is great. Amazing mixology and a really cool space with several different levels and rooms. You order your drink with a blacklight, which may be a bit gimmicky, but the bar was cool enough that we didn’t care.
Once it hit 2 AM, I was spent so we went back to the hotel to go to bed.
Day 2: Saturday, 8/31
With no real agenda, we slept in on Saturday. The only touristy thing we wanted to do was the Acropolis, and we realized it was a little more than a mile walk away – that’s nothing to New Yorkers! Once we got there, we considered just looking at it from below and checking it off the list. I’m so happy we ended up deciding to buy tickets because it was a nice little hike and was pretty amazing to see up close.
From there, we walked to lunch, stopping first at Pitaki Street because, honestly, I wanted that cool Instagram shot. Shocker – Instagram is not real life. The alley is very short and the umbrellas are very dull – those photos are heavily edited to make the colors look so vibrant. That said, the Mary Poppins café at the end of the tiny street was adorable – like NYC’s Serendipity on crack – and we agreed it would have been great to be there after lunch. As it was, we were starving. It was after 2 PM so we needed lunch, not dessert, and headed off in search of sustenance.
Most places we saw in the area looked pretty touristy. When you see “continental breakfast” and “club sandwich” advertised on the chalkboard, you should figure you’re not going to be getting authentic food. We decided on Nikita’s because it looked the most “local.” It was definitely a good choice. We later learned it’s been family owned and operated for years so it’s definitely more of a locals’ spot. Albert had a Greek salad and souvlaki, we split some tzatziki, and I had an order of grape leaves. You’ll soon learn I had a bucket list of food items on this trip, and stuffed grape leaves was very high on the list. These were amazing and the yogurt was so thick it felt like a crime eating it.
Once full, we decided to walk around a bit and went back to the Psyri neighborhood because we wanted to see it in the daylight. It’s not just bars here – we walked up and down a street that had spice markets, one after the other, and some good meat and cheese shops. I picked up a spice mix for fish from a street vendor for a grand total of 1 euro. I’ve already used it and it was soooo good on salmon.
After our stroll, we were super hot so we decided to head back and take advantage of that huge pool. After laying out for a few hours, we stopped by the executive suite for some happy hour goodies, and then started to get ready for a night out.
We only had two nights but several places to check out. We started by going to Little Tree Books and Coffee because I will hunt out any cool bookstore – no matter where I am. It was also very close to a restaurant I’d read about so we figured it was a two birds, one stone situation. The bookstore was adorable and they don’t just serve coffee – they’ve also got wine/cocktails and a nice little food menu. I loved that they brought out a little amuse bouche with our drinks!
For dinner we walked around the corner to To Kati Allo. This basically looks like a bare bones NYC pizza joint, but the food is incredible. When you arrive, you simply look in the case to see what they have available. We ordered olives, stuffed peppers, and pasticcio (another item on my bucket list). Wow. No frills at this place but lots of flavor.
We decided to make To Kati Allo our “appetizer” and went back to Psyri to go to Ta Karamanlidika for a deli experience. This farmhouse chic spot was churning out delightful food. In addition to meats and cheeses, they have a galley kitchen to prepare hot food. We got burekas (yes, another bucket list dish) and keftes (sausages). The meat and cheese plate was good, but the hot food was great. I’ve had some good burekas in my life, but these may have been the best. Though we were completely full, I couldn’t say no when they brought out a complimentary dessert of ultra thick yogurt topped with candied orange in honey syrup. It was so delicious and not overly sweet.
From there, it was back to our hotel to stop by Galaxy Bar, the rooftop bar at our hotel. Almost every guide/blog I’d read recommended hitting up rooftop bars in Athens, with Galaxy Bar always making the top of the list. How nice to discover that was the rooftop bar in our hotel! We had one last drink and stared at the unobstructed Acropolis, lit up to show off its glory.
- Accommodations: We stayed at the Hilton Athens, thanks to Albert’s points. This wasn’t a trendy hotel by any means (felt very business-y), but it was in a convenient location and they were super accommodating. Plus there’s that massive pool and a great rooftop bar.
- Foodie Field Notes: Athens was the only non-island we went to on this trip, so use this city as your chance to get non-seafood items.
- Stuffed veggies: Filled with a rice and meat mixture and bound with tomatoes to give it a nearly risotto-like texture, this is definitely something to try.
- Little Kook (The Mary Poppins Café): Great if you’ve got kids
- Acropolis: Do it.
- Psyri: This neighborhood is where it’s at. Lots of bars and fun restaurants.
- Bottom Line: When we told people we were only going to Athens for a day and a half they all said “great, that’s all you need.” Maybe it’s because my expectations were low, but I really enjoyed it. It’s got a nice city vibe.