My Athens by Anastasia Mangafas
Greek-Australia ex-pat, Anastasia Mangafas adores her newly adopted home of Athens. So much so, she founded and dedicated her online magazine Why Athensto it. Here she shares her favourite city spots and experiences - from sailing the Athenian coastline, to the best eagle eye view in town.
What do you love about Athens?
Athens is constantly changing and always feels so alive. It’s full of contradictions; it can be chaotic and yet so organised at the same time. It doesn’t have the stifling feeling that you can sometimes experience visiting other cities, I think that’s because of the culture, the people, the architecture and of course, the gorgeous weather almost year round. The ‘platias’ or local squares, which you will find in all the neighbourhoods around town are one of the oldest features of living in Athens. Greeks love a long chat and these squares bring people together. Most of all, I love that you can order chicken “avgolemeno” soup at any time of the year and it will be as good as if your grandmother made it for you. Greeks understand what “food for the soul” really means.
Your favourite season/time of the year to be in Athens is?
Summer in June and July. The sun goes down after 9pm and the city is alive with festivals, live music and open-air theatres. A short drive away, are beautiful clean beaches to cool off in and I love sailing by catamaran along the coastline which is magical at sunset.
Fave places to grab a coffee?
Athens has a vibrant coffee culture and Athenians have mastered almost every way to make a coffee, from iced cappuccinos and frappes to the classic Greek coffee, you can even find an Australian ‘flat-white’ in the good places! The Underdog in Thissio is dedicated to producing high-quality artisanal coffee. Set in a beautifully restored neo-classical building, they grind their beans on site. Their baristas are winning championships all over the world and they make a very refreshing iced espresso, mixed with tonic water and fresh lime. For the best traditional Greek coffee, Mokka is located in one of the oldest districts in Athens and uses the old technique of brewing the coffee on hot sand. They serve it in copper pots (“briki”) ready for you to pour.
For a swim in Athens?
For Greek chic and luxury by the sea, Astir Beach in Vouliagmeni is set on 300 metres of coastline within the crystal blue waters of the Laimos Peninsula. It’s a beach with an entrance fee and has everything you can think of, including massage therapists, volleyball courts, restaurants and even an archaeological site on display! Lake Vouliagmeni is another of my favourites for a swim and where you can still visit in the cooler months, as the water temperature sits at 25 degrees Celsius. It’s tranquil and peaceful.
To grab some authentic Greek street food?
The street food scene has come such a long way in Athens from what the locals called “ta vromika” which were essentially 24-hour take away spots selling hot-dogs and gyros. Pieworks in Syntagma is a must if you want to eat a pie like no other. They’re famous for their “pitas yevmas” or meals wrapped in light, crispy pastry. Kostas Souvlaki is a fixture of Athens and Kostas junior continues a 65- year-old legacy that was established by his grandfather. If you’ve never eaten a souvlaki in Greece before, make this your first, so you can set the benchmark right. Get in early, he sells out by 3pm!
Cool places for brunch?
Brunch is a fairly new trend in Athens, which is surprising considering most Greeks skip breakfast, but now brunch menus are popping up everywhere and they’re doing a fantastic job of it. Brunch in Athens really means from 12pm. I would head to Ta Karamanlidika tou Fani on Evripidou Street, which is lined with spice shops and delis. It’s a charcuterie that does amazing things with bioorganic eggs and the menu is inspired by the Karaman Greeks of old Anatolia. For a lazy seaside summer brunch, visiting The House Project in Glyfada is like visiting a large beach house, with chill out rooms, indoor/outdoor areas for kids, and deck chairs along the shoreline. It translates to a really relaxing day by the sea. There’s a very chic adults only pool next door if you want to avoid sandy toes.
For some fine dining?
I love the food at Hytra. Its menu is very much about Greek flavours and you have the choice of either eating a la carte or from their degustation menu. Their wine list is a testament to how sophisticated Greek vineyards have become. Located in the Onassis Cultural Centre, it has a fantastic open-air deck in summer with great views looking back at the city and the Acropolis. Eat at Milton’s is another favourite of mine and this standard of food is so rare to find in Plaka. It is Greek food with French finesse thanks to the very talented Michelin starred consulting chef Alain Parodi, who has been involved with establishing the menu. They make an ”astakos-makaronatha” or lobster pasta that you won’t forget in a hurry.
A cocktail or wine with a view?
Couleur Locale is an all day venue close to Monastiraki station, where you can admire the Acropolis from their rooftop terrace with great views of old Monastiraki as well. They often have guest DJs and live music gigs on Sundays. For panoramic views that stretch all the way out to the Port of Piraeus, the Galaxy bar on the rooftop terrace of the Hilton Hotel is a great spot with delicious cocktails.
Best neighbourhoods to shop?
Psirri, centrally located for everything handmade and authentic including Greek fisherman’s caps, bouzoukia, ceramics and copper wares. You’ll also find vintage clothing and some cool places to stop for a coffee. For fashion, it's the two K’s; Kolonaki, which is very central and the leafy suburb of Kiffisia which is a 20 minute drive from the centre.
To hear some cool live music?
There are so many ways to enjoy live music in Athens with festivals and a full schedule of outdoor events during summer. The legendary Patti Smith will be performing in June and popular Greek singers are constantly touring throughout the year. I really enjoy going to Klimataria, a very rustic and authentic taverna featuring their resident six-piece band Rembeletiko who play Greek ‘Rebetiko’ music with a jazzy twist.
If you weren’t a local, which hotel would you check into?
There is a hotel boom going on in the city right now, with more than seven hotel openings in the last 12 months and more scheduled for later this year. I would check into the New Hotel, which ticks all the boxes for me; location, boutique style with good-sized rooms. I love the quirky design features and provocative art installations.
To get the best shot of the Parthenon?
The great thing is you can enjoy the view of the Acropolis from so many vantage points around Athens because of the building height limits in the city. I often photograph the Parthenon from the rock ledges on Philopappos Hill, which is only a ten minute walk from the Acropolis and you will also get great shots of the amphitheatre.
Lycabettus Hill is also a prime position where you will capture the Aegean Sea in the background.
A close weekend getaway from Athens?
The small island of Hydra, for its beauty and simplicity. You can also visit and return in a day. I also love driving down to Cape Sounio, about 90 minutes out of Athens which is a great way to spend a few days, close to several beaches and you can plan to visit the temple of at sunset.
Your favourite buildings?
Hellenic Parliament in Syntagma Square and the Academy of Athens on Panepistimiou Avenue. They were built in the 1800’s post Ottoman occupation and they represent a time when Athens was allowed to prosper, to dream and be great again. They are such important symbols for the city, I find them so inspiring.
Never leave Athens until?
You’ve dipped your toes in the Aegean Sea, watched the sunset from Lycabettus Hill, visited an Athenian bakery, attended an outdoor performance at the Theatre of Herodes Atticus and watched the changing of the guards outside Hellenic Parliament. Finally, you really must light a candle in one of the many churches you will pass during your time here. They are an absolute treasure of Athens and the Byzantine art and iconography is remarkable.
*Front & top images by Why Athens