Exarcheia, Athens
Photograph: Shutterstock

Where to stay in Athens

Heading to the Greek capital and don’t know where to stay? Take a look at our pick of the best neighbourhoods in Athens

Heidi Fuller-Love
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One of the many charms of Greece’s sprawling Acropolis-topped capital city is its diversity. Like the fine layers of filo pastry used to make scrumptious local custard pie bougatsa, this 3,400-year-old city is home to a rich and complex network of unique neighbourhoods. Each has its own charm, from multicultural Kypseli to nightlife hub Gazi, which coils around the city’s old gasworks. 

Athens sweeps from the foothills of mighty Mount Parnitha to the swanky bar-lined Athenian Riviera, and there are loads of great places to stay within this swathe of city. To help you narrow it down, we’ve picked five neighbourhoods in Athens that offer a concentrated dose of the best that the birthplace of democracy has to offer – from quaint Plaka to rowdy Exarcheia.

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Planning your next trip? Check out our latest travel guides, written by local experts.

Where to stay in Athens

Plaka

This picturesque neighbourhood is the oldest part of Athens, having been continuously inhabited for some 2,500 years. Its tangle of narrow bougainvillaea-bright alleys and paved pedestrian streets wind to the Acropolis high above, taking in neoclassical mansions, ancient sites and souvenir shops along the way.  Although it’s a magnet for tourists – and more expensive than other areas – Plaka still manages to maintain a small-village ambience, with the added bonus of being within easy hiking distance of the city’s most iconic monument.

STAY

Lap up those Acropolis vistas at AthensWas, a chic boutique beauty where highlights include cosy suites with Parthenon-view balconies and a lofty rooftop restaurant. For something more affordable, centrally situated Acropolis Select in nearby Koukaki is your best budget bet. 

EAT

Plaka might be one of the city’s priciest areas, but there are still a few places where good grub doesn’t cost a fortune. Traditional kafenio Glykis offers a good choice of meze snacks, from chunky keftedes (meatballs) to nutty Cretan graviera cheese. Seeking something more substantial? Grab a wobbly table at Saitia, a dimly-lit basement taverna where the cod served in garlicky skordalia sauce is out of this world. 

DRINK 

For a local vibe, sit yourself down on the wine barrel seats at Brettos and take your pick from their selection of liqueurs lined up along the colourful bar. If you’re in the market for more stylish sipping, however, head on up to Odos Lysiou’s plant-adorned rooftop terrace, where sumptuous signature cocktails are paired with spectacular Parthenon views. 

DO

Once you’ve gazed in awe at the Parthenon’s Pentelic marble pillars and gawped at treasures in the Acropolis Museum, escape the crowds at the less-frequented Canellopoulos Museum, which houses one of the country's largest private collections of ancient Greek artefacts.

If you only do one thing...

Experience a slice of the Greek islands at the heart of the capital with a stroll through Anafiotika, a sub-neighborhood of Plaka full of cat-prowled cobbled alleys and Cycladic-style houses. 

Psirri

Psirri is a hip hood with a taste of old-style Athens, where you’ll find everything from cane chair repair shops and art galleries to street art and live-music bars. An easy hop from Monastiraki’s tat-filled flea market and nightlife district Gazi, Psirri is party HQ for young Athenians who come here to hang out in the string of nightlife venues dotted around the main square, Iroon.  

STAY

Housed in a stylishly revamped century-old building with glass floors and pop art-lined walls, Asomaton overlooks the city’s oldest pedestrian street and makes a good base for exploring. If you’re on a budget it has to be City Circus, a hip hostel in a beautifully converted nineteenth-century building. Don’t miss the free wine at happy hour.

EAT

It might not be close to the coastline, but Atlantikos – which is a bit like a Greek version of a British fish-and-chip shop (and just as good value) – is rightfully hailed as one of the best places in Athens for fresh seafood. If meat is more your thing, grab a courtyard table at old-school wine bar Oinopouleion, or head to Krasopoulio tou Kokora for home-cooked food and wine served from the barrel.

DRINK

Liosporos Bistro, a funky jazz café-ouzeri just off Iroon Square, is perfect for laidback sipping. Or soak in the boho vibes at Cantina Social, a hard-to-find backstreet bar tucked away beneath a stoa (arcade) where you'll find reasonably priced drinks – including the lager-like Russian beer – and a soundtrack that spans everything from indie pop to disco.

DO

Check out one of the world’s top Islamic art collections at the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art; browse indie stores along Pallados Street; shop for sweet-scented herbs and pungent spices along market stall-lined Evripidou Street; and, finally, steam away aches and pains in traditional Turkish bath Polis Hammam.

If you only do one thing...

Wander the streets (or join a half-day tour) to see some of Psirri’s spectacular street art. Don’t miss the mural on the corner of Sari Street dedicated to the celebrated anti-austerity riot dog, Loukanikos.

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Kolonaki

Elbow-to-elbow with Syntagma Square and standing in the shadow of Lycabettus Hill’s pine-forested slopes, Kolonaki might be the city’s most elegant neighbourhood, but it’s no snob. Between the ritzy designer boutiques and high-end restaurants, you’ll find plenty of down-to-earth bars and tavernas, along with a raft of cool cafés where you can comfortably people-watch with your treacly ellinikos kafes (Greek coffee).

STAY

Splurging is easy here, and if you really want to stay somewhere stylish head up the hill to historic hotel St George Lycabettus, where heady highlights include the sumptuous spa with its glittering rooftop pool. For a slightly less pricey alternative with oodles of character, choose one of Athens Flair’s four high-ceilinged, light-filled suites, housed in a listed neoclassical mansion that once belonged to Ellie Lambetti (one of Greece’s best-loved actresses).

EAT

Money not an object? Book dinner at the newly-opened sleek seafood restaurant at Xenodocheio Milos, headed by celebrity chef Costas Spiliadis. With food just as fresh but a lot less expensive, Nice n Easy is the city’s first farm-to-table restaurant. Every dish here, from salmon tartar sandwiches to poke bowls, is made with organic ingredients. Street-food fans should follow locals to Kalamaki Kolonaki, a hole-in-the-wall joint famed for its feather-tender grilled pork skewer souvlaki.

DRINK

With live music most nights and a staggering choice of gins and blended whiskies, Bar 56 is a magnet for locals. Or sip on classic cocktails at Ippopotomus, a grungy bar that’s been open since the ’70s, where a boho crowd hang out in cramped-but-cosy rooms patchworked with old film posters.  

DO

Spend a few absorbing hours admiring fourth-millennium BC figurines and other marble delights at the Museum of Cycladic Art; shop for handmade leather shoes and other Greek designer goodies along Skoufa, Pindarou and surrounding streets; and then get your health fix with a spa treatment using locally-sourced plant and bee products at holistic beauty emporium Apivita Experience Store

If you only do one thing...

Hop on the funicular and whizz to the summit of Lycabettus Hill at sunset to watch the lights come on one by one over Athens and the storied Saronic Gulf. 

Exarcheia

Centred around the historic Athens Polytechnic university, where students famously demonstrated against Greece’s military junta in the ’70s, Exarcheia is Athens’s hotbed of alternative culture. You’ll find some of the city’s liveliest bars, coolest vintage stores, most interesting food, and best-value accommodation here – just don’t expect a quiet night’s sleep.

STAY 

If you just need a place to crash at 5am, the centrally-situated Exarchion Hotel – which overlooks the neighbourhood’s lively Exarcheia Square – is your perfect pad. For somewhere more luxurious to sleep off that hangover, the Melia Athens has squeaky-clean suites and a gorgeous rooftop pool.

EAT

Exarcheia is one of Athens’s most multicultural neighbourhoods, so forget souvlaki and moussaka and try food from all over the world at Steki Metanaston, a café and community centre for migrants and refugees. Alternatively, check out Folia, an Afghan-run restaurant serving the best bolani pie you’re likely to taste in Greece. 

DRINK

With its lime-green tables, electro-pop playlist, cocktails served from a confession box, and a 3D print of Michelangelo’s David, Kobra is the cool new kid on the block. Or there’s Locamotiva, a cooperative-run bar and bookstore famed for its DJ nights, live music, and cheap drinks. Expect a student crowd at this community staple. 

DO

Check out Greek and international art at cutting-edge galleries such as Cheap Art and Polixoros Metaixmio; browse stores selling comic books and vintage vinyl around Botassi Street; and get a big dose of neighbourhood culture at Navarino park, a communal green space created and run by locals. 

If you only do one thing...

Exarcheia is famed for its taverns where you can listen to rebetiko, the music of passion and protest (‘rebet’ means rebel) that emerged from the city’s hash dens, hole-in-the-wall bars and brothels in the nineteenth century. The best place to listen is Navaggio ton Aggelon, a cosy meze joint that’s been hosting rebetiko nights since the ’50s.

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Piraeus

Although fiercely independent Piraeus likes to see itself as a separate city, it’s more connected to the rest of Athens than it has ever been before. A new metro link whizzes Athenians from Syntagma Square to Piraeus Port in 16 minutes, and there’ll soon be a cycle path that will link the port with distant Cape Sounion. And with a shedload of hip restaurants and cutting-edge art galleries opening their doors, this seaside ferry hub is now one of Athens’s most exciting neighbourhoods. 

STAY

Tucked into one of the pretty paved streets of Piraeus’s high-flung Kastella enclave, The Alex is a perfect perch. At its rooftop restaurant, gorge on gourmet grub and take in sweeping views over the Saronic Gulf. As you’d expect in Europe’s busiest ferry port there are plenty of budget hotels along the waterfront, but in terms of comfort, the centrally-situated Filon Hotel is one of the best. 

EAT

If you can get a seat, it’s well worth splurging for seafood brioche drizzled with avocado cream and other briny delights at Varoulko Seaside. Headed up by celebrity chef Lefteris Lazarous, this Michelin-starred restaurant is one of the more high-end places to eat in the city, and offers views over Mikrolimano’s low-key harbour. For good old-fashioned home-cooked food in a cosy setting, family-run Kafeneio Riris gets our vote.

DRINK

Once Piraeus’ down-at-heel red light district, Troumba now teems with trendy nightlife venues. If you’re seeking something sophisticated Paleo Wine Store, in a revamped tobacco warehouse along art gallery-lined Polidefkou Street, is justly famed for its selection of limited-edition Greek organic wines.

DO

Check out the world-class art galleries, including London’s Rodeo and Beirut’s Carwan, that have taken over the warehouse buildings along cobbled Polidefkou Street; admire meticulously restored railway carriages and other train-themed artefacts at the fascinating Electric Railways Museum; and then join locals beneath the stars at open-air cinema Cine Votsalakia.

If you only do one thing...

Shop for bric-à-brac, antiques and retro clothing at Piraeus’s bustling Sunday morning flea market.

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