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Not So Ancient Greece: 8 Ways to Discover Modern Athens

Today's Athens is anything but a step back in time. Discover the modern Greek city with our guide.
Athens overlook Photo: Getty Images
Athens overlook Photo: Getty Images

Athens is a must for archaeology aficionados, but there’s so much more to the Greek capital than just ancient sites. This is a modern, vibrant metropolis whose labyrinthine streets teem with trendy offerings, from craft cocktail bars to hipster coffee shops to chic boutiques. Here are eight places to explore the modern side of this historic city.

For the full Travel Guide to Greece, visit Fodor's.

Borsalino Bar

Occupying a prime corner in the bustling central Monastiraki district, Borsalino Bar offers an intriguing, upscale craft cocktail menu in a swanky, blue-hued setting. Bartenders decked out in smart vests and ties whip up seasonal specialties like the Smoke and Mirrors, a sweet-and-spicy blend of mezcal, masticha (a liqueur from the isle of Chios), local red Florina pepper, smoked maple syrup, and grapefruit. Inside, it’s all plush velvet and cool jazz, while the terrace, with black-and-white striped awning, buzzes with locals and visitors on warm evenings.

Insider Tip: Low-alcohol cocktails are a category on most bar menus in Athens and usually are made with sherry, vermouth, or liqueurs instead of hard alcohol. If you want to imbibe without getting too tipsy, try Borsalino’s El Gato Americano, with Campari, vermouth, Mexican chili liqueur and a touch of beer.

Flaneur Souvenirs & Supplies

Skip the cheesy refrigerator magnets and tacky T-shirts and pick up an original souvenir from the Flâneur Souvenirs & Supplies, a concept store devoted to all things travel—and beyond. Shelves are stocked with local, independent brands like When in Greece (handcrafted tote bags), Little Rocks (recycled wood jewelry), and Sea You Soon (beautifully patterned beach towels). In addition to a well-curated selection of vintage-style notebooks, sunglasses, and stylish hats, there are whimsical gifts crafted by area artists and architects, including Greek spinning tops, maps of Athens you can color yourself, and stylish graphic T-shirts depicting ancient monuments.

Six d.o.g.s.

The massive music/exhibition space/bar Six d.o.g.s is a magnet for the cool kids of Athens. During the day it hums with digital nomads sipping coffee and working on laptops, and by night it morphs into a performance space where you can catch local bands or dance to DJs spinning underground techno. The highlight is the al fresco garden bar, which serves draft beer, wine, and truly excellent cocktails. Try the fun, fruity tropical libations from the retro Hawaiian-themed drinks menu made with flower syrups, exotic fruits, and even edible flowers.

The Underdog

Greeks take their coffee extremely seriously and The Underdog brews some of Athens’ best java, roasting fair-trade beans on-site. The chic, white-brick-walled multi-level space offers plenty of seating; there’s also a large, bright, glass-enclosed courtyard with lots of light. Brunch is popular here (try the pancakes) and is served every day, not just on weekends. If you’re craving something stronger than coffee, The Underdog offers a vast selection of handcrafted beer.

Avocado

Vegetarians and vegans flock to this bright, friendly café for everything from fresh-squeezed juices and salads to pizza and pasta. Avocado offers an inventive spin on traditional dishes — like a flavorful paella made with oven-roasted pumpkin, mushrooms, green beans, and seaweed served atop saffron rice — which means you won’t get stuck with typical tofu or veggie burgers. Many dishes are gluten-free, and there’s a special macrobiotic menu that includes tasty tempeh udon noodles in an organic soy sauce broth. The café is open for lunch and dinner.

Insider Tip: Don’t miss the signature appetizer of creamy avocado hummus served with homemade pita.

The Rooftop at AthensWas Hotel

Dine with the Acropolis as your backdrop at the Sense rooftop restaurant at the hip, year-old design hotel AthensWas. Seven stories up, the sleek indoor/outdoor eatery specializes in contemporary Greek cuisine — especially seafood — executed with a French touch. The primo tables are out on the terrace, where you can feast on dishes like sea bass with beluga lentils, fennel cream, and truffle with an unobstructed view of the Parthenon beyond.

Insider Tip: If you can’t score a dinner reservation, lunch is an easier bet — and you still get those awesome Acropolis views.

Al Hammam Baths

Nestled at the top of a hilly street in Athens’ most ancient neighborhood, Al Hammam Baths feels like it’s been around for centuries, yet it only opened last year. In the lower-level hammam, you can get a traditional scrub and soap treatment in a spacious white marble steam room, while on the upper floor, facials, Thai and Shiatsu massage, and detoxing body wraps are offered. An entire area is devoted to nails (including shellac manis/pedis), but unlike a typical nail salon, this one boasts fantastic views of the Acropolis through its windows. Head out on the adjoining terrace for an even better glimpse of the ancient landmark while enjoying complimentary tea and Turkish Delight.

Insider Tip: Al Hammam sells its own line of delicious-smelling organic soaps made in Crete — they make for an ideal, original gift.

Orsalia Parthenis

Edgy, androgynous looks for both men and women make the stylish, Athens-based Orsalia Parthenis a must for the fashion-forward. The eponymous brand favors comfortable, natural fabrics like cotton and silk in its minimalist, bohemian designs, which are simultaneously on-trend and timeless. The boutique is set in the heart of the city’s posh Kolonaki shopping district.