Athens is one of the oldest cities in existence and has a fascinating dining scene. Traditional tavernas and ouzeries mingle with contemporary restaurants, fast food joints and cafes to create a truly diverse dining landscape. Who knows what you’ll find in Athens.
A Historic City
Athens is full of historic monuments, having been inhabited for around 7,000 years. The city has been swept through a number of cultures including Hellenic, Dorian and Ottoman.
Athens colorful history adds to the culinary experience you’ll find there. While the city now boasts over 3-million people in its urban area, it has seen many faces, battles and artistic triumphs. One look at the Parthenon, located in the Acropolis, during sunset and you’ll be smitten.
Greek culture was born in Athens, a city named after the goddess Athena who, in mythology, battled Poseidon for rule over it. The two higher beings were to present a gift each, Poseidon’s being salt water to represent naval rule; Athena’s was an olive tree symbolizing peace and prosperity. The Greeks chose democracy and thus was born the basis of western culture and politics.
Explore the Tastes of Greece
In Athens you’ll find a variety of great restaurants. While commercial, touristy restaurants are popular with visitors it’s often at the family owned tavernas that you’ll find the real cuisine of Greece.
Greek dining is epitomized by fresh seafood, simple flavors and mezethes, or “tapas”-like shared plates. Look for eateries where you can see the food prior to eating it, or that advertise fresh fish on their menus. Whether you’re in the Plaka or Psiris in central Athens or enjoying the sea views in the Microlimano, you’ll find fish on the menu.
Start with a glass of house wine (often better than the bottled) or anise-flavored ouzo and a couple meze while you peruse the menu. If you’re ordering fish, notice whether the price is per kilo or for the whole dish as eating fresh seafood, like many places in the world, can get expensive. If budget is of no concern then enjoy the best you can get!
One important thing to do when dining out in Greece is to notice where the locals are eating. Don’t be caught in tourist traps that feed you commercial foods. It’s not every day you get a taste of Greece, so it has to be worth your dollars.
Common foods in Greece besides the variety of seafoods such as various small fish like sardines and anchovies as well as octopus, include pork and lamb dishes like gyro or souvlaki; vegetable dishes that include eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes and green beans; rice and pastas. If you’re stopping for a quick bite grab a gyro, or pita sandwich, or go for a fresh greek salad. Many things here are simply flavored with garlic, herbs, lemon, salt, pepper and of course olive oil. Check out an ouzerie or café for an afternoon drink and simple meal.
Vegetables and legumes are important inclusions in the Greek diet and vegetarians will find tons of options for dining. Enjoy tasty falafel (chickpea patties), bean soups or dolmades, which are grape leaves stuffed with rice and fresh herbs.
Greek desserts pleasure any sweet tooth without going over the top. Greek yoghurt, nuts and honey are common ingredients in Greek desserts, many of them wrapped in phyllo pastry.
Great coffee didn’t become popular in Greece until recently but now you’ll find a ton of cafes serving cappuccino and frappe (iced coffee). Coffee in Greece is unlike coffee in the United States though. You may be served instant coffee or coffee that isn’t so finely strained. A little grounds never hurts, and actually makes the coffee seem better, a little more rustic.
Where to Dine in Athens
Athens is a huge city, and it can feel overwhelming when you first get there to know where to go. Inquire with the hotel staff or make friends at local cafes to learn where the diamonds in the rough lay.
The main dining areas of Athens include:
Plaka-this is the oldest part of Athens, this mainly pedestrian area features most of the touristy places, but also some great dining gems and cafes.
Psiri-you’ll find a lot of culture and history here. Known for its anti-establishment stance Psiri features fine dining, tavernas and cafes alike. It’s advisable to start first with Plaka and Psiri when doing adventurous dining in Athens.
Mikrolimano-this breathtaking area of Piraeus features fresh seafood dining with incredible views. This is an especially busy area during the summer, and features some of the more expensive restaurants in Athens.
Kifissia-this is upscale Athens. You’ll find a lot of entertainment venues and expensive, beautiful restaurants here.
This is only a touch on what is available for dining in Athens, but gives you a good start. Be open to new things and really explore the tastes of Athens!