Gemista is a classic home-cooked dish

A foodie guide to Athens

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Athens has developed quite a reputation as a foodie destination, with modern Greek and fine-dining options slipping seamlessly alongside the tavernas, ouzeries and koutoukia (traditional, mostly family-run restaurants).

You could be looking for brunch, seafood, street food or something ethnic, or maybe you want to discover the beach bars and restaurants of the Athens Riviera. They all make up the Athens food scene and are as important to the way of life of locals as they are to the enjoyment of visitors, in a city that’s alive day and night. The only question is where do you start?

Our Foodie Guide to Athens introduces you to every food scene in the Greek capital, giving you a taste of what you’ll eat and where you’ll eat it. There are neighbourhoods you might recognise and others that will likely be new to you. We take you around Syntagma Square in the centre, down to Monastiraki and into Psyrri. We look behind the Kallimarmaro (Panathenaic) Stadium at Pangrati and either side of Filopappou Hill (next to the Acropolis) at the deli-bars and ethnic eateries of Koukaki and the traditional tavernas of Petralona. We couldn’t miss classy Kolonaki (under Lycabettus Hill) or rebellious Exarhia (a short walk from Omonia Square). And we head down the coast, from the fish restaurants around Piraeus to all the choices of the southern suburbs of Glyfada, Vouliagmeni and Varkiza … and continue to Sounio, at the southernmost tip of Attica.

So you’d better be hungry because you’re about to discover why your next culinary getaway should be in Athens. 

Athens food scene: Brunch

As soon as young Athenians discovered brunch, they embraced it with a passion. After all, this is a city where food – and life in general – isn’t something governed by time constraints (especially if that means you get to fully enjoy the night before). So brunch, for Athenians, isn’t so much a breakfast-lunch combo as it is a meal to be enjoyed at pretty much any time of day. It’s also about taking international trends and marrying them to Greek ingredients to create colourful, tasty dishes to be enjoyed with a range of coffees or refreshing drinks. Generally, it’s a weekend thing (and some eateries tweak their menus accordingly) but you’ll also find plenty of midweek options. Just check that brunch is being served. You’ll find that they vary in style – some brunch spots are converted neoclassical buildings, others are cocktail bars by night and cafes by day, and there are those that resemble French bistros or have a more industrial, vintage or even ethnic design. But perhaps the ultimate brunch venue in the Greek capital is on a terrace overlooking the Acropolis. How every day should begin! 

What you’ll eat

What makes brunch in Athens special is the way chefs have blended Greek and international ingredients. You’ll find eggs with spinach and graviera cheese from Naxos and Croque Madame with apaki (cured meat), sourdough and cheddar. Eggs Βenedict with smoked salmon can be served with sausage, tomato and feta and you’ll find sweet potato waffles with talagani (a grilled sheep’s cheese) and synglino (cured pork tenderloin, marinated in mountain herbs). Scrambled eggs can come with Cretan galomyzithra cheese and thyme-honey and egg-white omelettes might be filled with chicken apaki, avocado and mozzarella. Meanwhile, kagianas is Greek-style scrambled eggs (with tomato and sausage). Sweet and savoury pancakes are big favourites (rainbow pancakes with eggs and synglino; pancakes with fruit of the forest and Corinthian raisins & maple syrup, or maybe pancakes with tahini and honey or chocolate praline). A final multicultural twist is French toast tsoureki (a sweet bread from Thessaloniki) with mascarpone and banana.

Where you’ll find it

There are brunch spots in the centre and surrounding neighbourhoods, or you can look for more off-the-beaten-path options. (You’ll have the bonus of spotting some great nightlife places on the way.)

The classics

  • Kolokotroni St & surrounding streets (Voulis, Romvis, Lekka, Aiolou)
  • Mitropoleos St down to Monastiraki (Agiou Filippou, Athinas, Normanou streets) for rooftop terraces
  • Agia Irini Square
  • Psyrri (Sarri, Iraklidon streets)
  • Thissio (Apostolou Pavlou St)
  • Keramikos (Paramithias St)
  • Kolonaki (Skoufa, Tsakalof, Patriarchou Ioakim, Kapsali streets) for more sophisticated options

Trending with locals

  • Pangrati (Proskopon Square, Profitis Ilias Square, Varnava Square, Effranoros, Aminta, Archelaou streets) 
  • Petralona (Iperionos, Alkminis streets)
  • Koukaki (Mark. Botsari, Falirou, Veikou streets)
  • Exarhia (Valtetsiou St)
Brunch by Monsieur Barbu By Monsieur Barbu

Athens food scene: Traditional Greek tavernas, koutoukia & ouzeries

Authentic grill houses, ouzeries and koutoukia (small, typically family-run restaurants where you might be treated to rebetiko-style folk music) are at the heart of the traditional Athens food scene. Many of the ouzeries and koutoukia appear untouched by time, with menus designed around dishes intended to be shared – gia ti mesi (for the middle) as we say. After all, bringing communities together is what they’ve always done, with koutoukia evolving from coffee shops that doubled as convenience stores in small settlements. Authenticity is at the heart of their design, with wooden or metal chairs and tables in the style of a village kafeneio, barrel-wine and sometimes even local products on sale, just like the olden days. There are tavernas in the city centre with flower-filled courtyards, typical of a Greek island. Common to all traditional eating options is the relaxed homely feel. 

What you’ll eat

You can’t get more authentic when it comes to Greek food than meze. Keftedakia (fried meatballs), dolmadakia (stuffed vine leaves), tzatziki (Greek yogurt, with grated cucumber and garlic) and saganaki (fried cheese) are favourites. As are tigania (either classic pan-fried pork or with soutzouki, a spicy sausage), spetsofai (sausages with peppers), apaki (cured meat from Crete), kagianas (scrambled eggs with tomato from the Peloponnese) and tomatokeftedes (tomato fritters) from Santorini.

For meat dishes, grilled handmade souvlaki or bifteki (beef patties) are always popular, or perhaps you like your bifteki stuffed with feta and Florina peppers or like the sound of pantsetakia (pancetta) on the grill or kotsi sti gastra (slow-cooked pork knuckle in a pot).

Classic magirefta (home-cooked dishes) are cockerel or meat kokkinisto (in red sauce) with spaghetti, lahanodolmades (cabbage leaves stuffed with pork and rice), giouvetsi (beef stew with orzo), gigantes bougiourdi (‘giant’ beans with a spicy feta sauce) and soutzoukakia giaourtlou (spiced meatballs in a yogurt sauce). All washed down with a Greek wine or beer, or maybe a liqueur like tsipouro or Cretan raki.

Where you’ll find it

There are classic Greek tavernas, ouzeries and koutoukia throughout the centre, with plenty of options in:

  • Plaka (Lisiou, Kidathinaion, Diogenous, Thespidos streets) 
  • Psyrri (Sokratous, Agiou Dimitriou, Esopou streets, around Agion Anargyron Square and Iroon Square)
  • Exarhia (Kallidromiou, Emmanouil Benaki, Valtetsiou, Methonis streets)
  • Monastiraki (especially on Adrianou St with a view of the Temple of Hephaestus, the Acropolis and the Stoa of Attalos, and along Mitropoleos St) 
  • Petralona (Troon, Kallisthenous, Dimofontos streets and around Merkouri Square) 
  • Pangrati and Koukaki, with pavement tables that are perfect for a nibble with a beer or glass of wine

Athens food scene: Modern Greek restaurants

A wave of creativity has swept across the downtown Athens restaurant scene in recent years, with talented chefs reinventing Greek classics and finding inspiration from ingredients sourced from small-scale producers. We’re talking about all-day eateries and bistro & cocktail bars or rooftop bar-restaurants where you can enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail and at the same time the sort of comfort gourmet food that’s vibrant and beautifully plated (and very affordable). Your eyes (and Instagram feed) will be taking the first bite. It might be a full meal or a few dishes to accompany your wine or aperitif. One way or another, you’ll be rethinking what you know about Greek food.

What you’ll eat

One glance at the menu and you’ll immediately see how your chef has been inspired by regional produce. Sample dishes include grilled mastelo cheese with mandarin marmalade, skioufichta (hand-rolled pasta from Crete) with mushrooms and truffle oil and tsouchti from Mani (thick spaghetti pan-fried with myzithra cheese and topped with a fried egg). Butternut squash might be roasted with sage and graviera from Naxos and chicken could be roasted with potatoes and kefalotyri cheese. You could have salmon fillet with orange and pink pepper, strip loin with buckwheat and goat’s cheese, risotto with pumpkin puree or cockerel stuffed with mushrooms and Amfilohias pecorino (the Greek pecorino!). 

Where you’ll find it

Modern Geek restaurants are mostly found in and around the centre (often doubling as nightlife spots):

The classics

  • Around Syntagma Square & Kolokotroni and Mitropoleos streets to Monastiraki and Psyrri (Sarri St)

More upmarket

  • Kolonaki (Milioni, Lykavitou, Skoufa, Tsakalof streets)

Popular with locals

  • Pangrati (Arhelaou, Arrianou streets and near the Kallimarmaro Stadium)
  • Koukaki (Genneou Kolokotroni, Falirou streets)
  • Petralona (Kidantidon, Eoleon streets)
  • Exarhia (Valtetsiou St) 
  • Athens Riviera and Paleo Faliro

Athens food scene: Fine dining

Taking the culinary revolution a step further is Athens’ fine-dining scene. Award-winning chefs and restaurants grow in number every year, even being awarded Michelin stars. What they have in common is meticulously selected local products (with an emphasis on farm-to-table) and the highest standards in culinary techniques. The dishes focus on Greek and Mediterranean cuisine, with fine seafood and meat options. But the best ingredient is often the location – perhaps the view of the lit-up Acropolis from a hotel or restaurant roof terrace or the sun setting over the Saronic Gulf by the coast.

What you’ll eat 

The dishes you’ll enjoy are as varied as they are exquisite (always depending on the inspiration of the chef). Some menu highlights include: tuna fillet with stamnagathi wild greens, hazelnut praline and coffee; Wagyu fillet with sauteed mushrooms, Allumette potatoes and Mavrodafni wine sauce; Scallops ‘a la polita’ with Topinabour chips and carrot puree; langoustines with eucalyptus, tapioca and radish; red pumpkin mousse with caramelised chestnuts, apaki and fresh black truffle; macaroons with wild mushrooms and hazelnut and rib-eye steak with anthogala cheese from Crete, green beans, peas and Romanesco broccoli florets. Tempted?

Where you’ll find it

The Athens fine-dining scene is concentrated around the city centre and the Athens Riviera. 

The classics:

  • Kolonaki (Patriarchou Ioakim, Voukourestiou streets)
  • Plaka (Adrianou, Meg. Alexandrou streets)
  • Lycabettus Hill & Filopappou St

Popular with locals

  • Pangrati (Ironda, Vrasida, Pirronos streets)
  • Keramikos (Paramythias, Plateon streets)
  • Around the Megaron Athens Concert Hall    
  • Athens Riviera (Glyfada, Kavouri, Vouliagmeni) 
  • Mikrolimano (near Piraeus)

Athens food scene: Fish and seafood 

It’s so easy to forget that Athens is by the sea. For the Athens food scene, this means that the seafood is sourced directly from the Saronic Gulf or the Cyclades islands. There are hidden gems for seafood all the way from the city centre to the beaches of the Athens Riviera and beyond. You’ll find plenty of options, from high-end (some with Michelin Stars) to family-run fish tavernas that have been operating for decades and have an island feel. There’s even a trend for fishmongers to double as seafood tavernas. You can’t get fresher than that!

What you’ll eat

When you’re eating seafood in Greece, it’s important to get your appetisers right. So whilst your main course is being prepared, you’ll be wanting to nibble on a horiatiki (Greek salad) or a dakos (the classic Cretan salad) and on dips like tzatziki, fava and taramosalata. Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) are also favourites with seafood, as are kolokithakia tiganita (fried courgettes) and skordalia (garlic dip). And how about something you might not have considered ordering before, like a Parian revithada (chickpea soup)? And don’t forget to order your boiled vegetables and wild greens to accompany your seafood.

As for your main meal, the sea’s the limit. Classic choices include fried or grilled red mullet (barbounia), sardines (sardeles) and squid (kalamari), as well as grilled seabass (lavraki), sea bream (fangri) or grouper (sfyrida). Octopus can be grilled, marinated with vinegar or stewed (stifado). You’ll find steamed mussels (mydia ahnista) and crab salad (kavourosalata). And a wide choice of rice and pasta dishes, like prawn spaghetti. 

The more upmarket you go, the more inventive the dishes. Some restaurants will let you choose your fish and the way you want it cooked. To give you a taste of a high-end restaurant menu, how about sea bream with chorizo and olive oil, flavoured with chocolate; red mullet tartar with Florina peppers, raisins and Messolongi avgotaraho (preserved grey mullet roe) or lobster spaghetti (astakomakaronada)?

But wherever you find yourself, don’t forget to order an ouzo or tsipouro, or a Greek wine that perfectly matches your meal.

Where you’ll find it

There are excellent seafood restaurants in the city centre and by the coast, where there are settings that make you feel like you’re on an island.  

In the city centre

  • Mitropoleos St and Monastiraki (Kalogrioni, Aiolou streets)
  • Kolonaki (eg Voukourestiou St) for modern options
  • Psyrri (Christokopidou Square, Avliton St) and near Kaniggos Square 
  • Exarhia (Emmanouil Benaki St)

Near Piraeus

  • Peiraiki (Akti Themistokleous St) for classic fish tavernas 
  • Mikrolimano for more fine-dining options
  • Paleo Faliro (Zisimopoulou St) & Marina Flisvou

Athens Riviera

  • Glyfada (Dimarchou Aggelou Metaxa Ave, Kiprou, Zeppou streets) by the sea and in courtyards
  • Kavouri and along Leoforos Poseidonos (the coast road) in Varkiza and Vouliagmeni
  • Sounio

Other coastal choices around 1hr from Athens include Marathonas, Loutsa and Schinias.

Athens food scene: Ethnic

As Athens becomes more multicultural, so its ethnic food scene continues to grow. Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, Lebanese, Thai, Mexican … even Ethiopian, Afghan, Peruvian and Kurdish food are now available to Athenians. Many ethnic eateries will make you feel like you’re visiting the country of origin. You can eat in or take away and there are even fine-dining ethnic choices in the centre. So if you fancy taking your taste buds global (and skipping Greek food for the night), you won’t be disappointed. 

What you’ll eat

All the classic ethnic foods are represented in Athens. Ever-popular fajitas, burritos and enchiladas (along with some less obvious choices) are on the menu in Mexican restaurants – along with Mexican Mules, sangria and tequila. Indian restaurants serve everything from classic chicken tikka and korma to prawn jalfrezi. Coconut milk, fresh lime leaves, lemongrass and galangal come alive in Thai restaurants. Or perhaps you’re in the mood for bao buns, Teriyaki noodles or sushi? There’s kibbeh and falafels from Lebanon, soutzoukakia (spiced meatballs) with saffron rice and gooseberry from Afghanistan and banh cuon (seasoned ground pork with rice) from Vietnam… You get the picture.

Where you’ll find it

Exploring the ethnic eateries of Athens will take you from classic neighbourhoods to districts you may never have discovered otherwise. There are plenty of options around Syntagma Square and down Mitropoleos St to Monastiraki (and on the surrounding streets). But it’s worth hunting around for the taste you’re looking for. A few pointers include:

  • Aiolou and Kolokotroni streets and Varnavas Square in Pangrati for falafel
  • Kolonaki (especially for sushi) and Peruvian & Japanese in Dexamenis Square
  • Koukaki, Petralona and Keramikos for Thai
  • Agia Irini Square for Lebanese
  • Kolokotroni (and surrounding streets) for Vietnamese and other Asian choices 
As Athens becomes more multicultural, so its ethnic food scene continues to grow

Athens food scene: Vegetarian & vegan

Greek food – and Mediterranean cuisine in general – was made for vegetarians and vegans, with an emphasis on seasonal vegetables and extra-virgin olive oil. So there are plenty of options in tavernas and restaurants, including salads, pulses and dips as well as heartier vegetable-based dishes typical of Greek home-cooked food. Vegan options are usually marked on menus (especially the modern and high-end restaurants). If you’re in a traditional taverna, it’s worth asking the waiter because Greek cooking uses plenty of ingredients like cheese, yogurt and honey. 

What you’ll eat

As well as the many vegetable-based dishes in Greek restaurants and tavernas, there is a growing number of exclusively vegan restaurants in Athens. You’ll find Greek classics reimagined with inventive substitute ingredients, such as pastitsio made with minced soy and moussaka made with minced red lentils (instead of beef) and a bechamel sauce of almond milk and cauliflower. Or perhaps you’ll be tempted by a risotto with quinoa, mushrooms, spinach, peanuts, truffle oil and cashew ‘parmesan’ or a plant-based burger? You’ll find lentil meatballs with baked potatoes, zucchini and avocado tartare and vegetable kebabs served with gluten-free pies. There’s even a vegan bougatsa.

Where you’ll find it

You’ll find vegan options in centre and in the suburbs of Athens.

  • Around Syntagma Square and Kolokotroni St (Perikleous St) 
  • On Akadimias Avenue and Solonos St (below Kolonaki)
  • Koukaki (Falirou St)
  • Keramikos (Dekeleon St)
  • Glyfada 

Athens food scene: Street food

There’s no way we’re letting you leave Athens without sampling the street food. Athens is, after all, a city that never sleeps. So the idea of souvlaki and gyros (see below if you haven’t yet had the pleasure) is what keeps many people moving when shopping in the city centre or looking for some late-night food after enjoying some Athens nightlife. Street food in Athens comes in many forms, from the much-loved kantines (either food trucks or small stores) to hole-in-the-wall-style shops selling handmade pies (cheese, spinach or something sweet). There’s also a new trend in takeaway pastas and ethnic tastes with ingredients that are relatively new to the Greek culinary map. Or it could just be a koulouri (sesame seed-coated bread ring sold by vendors on street corners) to keep your hunger at bay. 

What you’ll eat

Pride of place when it comes to Athens street food goes to the souvlaki (grilled cubes of chicken, pork or beef on a stick) and gyros (thinly sliced pork from a rotisserie) wrapped in a pita with tzatziki, tomatoes, onion and fries. If you want everything in there, ask for your pita me ap’ola”. Another option is to have your souvlaki on the stick – just as it is, without any of the trimmings. Of course you’ll find hot dog, burger, falafel and pizza stands. But if you’re looking for a Greek snack, try a cheese or spinach pie (tyropita or spanakopita). There are even higher-end street food options with exotic-sounding choices such as pancetta sous vide with ginger, oximeli (an ancient Greek dressing with vinegar and honey), coriander, cabbage, chutney, chilli oil, onion and mint-yogurt and bagels with slow-cooked pork knuckle, cream cheese with chives, cranberry sauce and caramelised pumpkin. You’ll find street food options in every neighbourhood of the city (especially the nightlife spots), so it won’t be long before you’re satisfied.

All streets and neighbourhoods in this guide are indicative. You’ll find examples of some food scenes in other neighbourhoods of Athens and on other streets in each neighbourhood.

FAQs about Athens, Greece

The capital of Greece is one of the most important cities of antiquity. Its Golden Age came in the 5th century BC under the general Pericles, when the Parthenon was added to the Acropolis. Other ancient highlights enjoyed by visitors today are the Arch of Hadrian and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which is still used to stage musical and theatrical events during the Athens & Epidaurus Festival. Athens is famous for its museums (including the Acropolis Museum and National Archaeological Museum) and has a thriving restaurant & bar scene, making it an up-and-coming city break destination. 

The Athens Riviera is the coastline of beaches, restaurants and bars from Paleo Faliro (near the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Foundation Center) up the coast towards the southern suburbs of Athens (Glyfada, Vouliagmeni and Varkiza) and all the way to Cape Sounion, the southeastern tip of Attica. There are popular beaches in Glyfada, Vouliagmeni and Varkiza, where you can hire sunbeds and umbrellas and enjoy facilities. There are also smaller, more hidden nearby beaches in Kavouri. Further down the south coast are quieter, more secluded swimming spots, like KAPE and Sounio beach, close to the Temple of Poseidon. 

The Saronic Gulf contains numerous islands that can be enjoyed on a day trip or a day cruise/short island-hopping itinerary from Athens. The closest island to Athens is Aegina, famous for its antiquities and pistachios (with the nearby islets of Angistri and Moni). A little further into the Saronic Gulf is Poros and beyond that Hydra. The furthest away island in the Saronic Gulf is Spetses. All can be reached by ferry or hydrofoil from Piraeus. Other islands that can easily be reached from Athens are Tzia or Kea (with ferries from Lavrio) and Andros (with ferries from Rafina), the closest Cyclades islands to the mainland. 

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The Delicious Athens Food Tour

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Olive oil, sweets, Greek ‘meze’, wines, Greek street food and much more - Greece is...

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