Athens is making great efforts to be a more environmentally-conscious capital – so now you can spend an eco-friendly weekend in one of the oldest cities in the world. The Greek metropolis has a glut of existing or new vegetarian and vegan restaurants, while sustainably-minded projects are taking care of vulnerable communities with environmental awareness. Experience ancient classics on foot or using paddle power, and at the end of a busy day taking care of the planet, rest your head on the pillow of a blissfully eco-friendly hotel.
Got an eye for the old stuff? These are the essential archeological sites to visit in Athens.
Culture done, it's time for the good stuff: here are the 7 best gyros to eat in Athens.
SLEEP: Get back to nature at the Green Suites Hotel
The ‘green’ in this suburban boutique hotel in Nea Chalkidona refers to both the stream of eco-friendly measures and the design: from biodegradable in-room amenities (both the bottles and the gentle olive-oil-based products themselves), to solar panels, eco-friendly paint, rainwater collection, heat pumps and an underground garage is lit by light tubes from the leafy patio garden above, the list goes on. By the rooftop pool, umbrellas sport crochet shades and breakfast is organic and certified Greek. The minimal monochrome decor and architecture lend it a slightly futuristic feel, albeit in a fancy way, yet nature informs the design throughout. Calming earth-toned rooms mirror the lobby’s wavy white walls, which symbolise water evaporating to form a hanging raindrop on the ceiling. The façade features intertwining branches reaching up to the ninth floor, as if protecting the seamless cream interior.
8 Mak Milan
Sleep: Spring out of bed at the Coco-Mat Athens BC
Ancient and modern Greece blend to an alluring degree at this glamorous four-star overlooking the star of the Athenian sightseeing show, the Acropolis, in the gallery- and coffee-shop filled Koukaki neighbourhood. The BC refers to the Roman villa uncovered during the build, visible through the glass flooring in the parquet-floored, plant-filled lobby. Sleeping well is guaranteed on the mattresses the hotel is named after, made from layered coconut fibres and seaweed – if you like it that much you can buy one (see the display in the lower lobby by the cooling turtle pond). Work off the effect of menus laden with Greek ingredients on ergonomic wooden Coco-Mat bikes or the electricity-free wooden gym equipment.
Sleep: Find wheely good restoration at Asomaton
Rescuing this 100-year-old townhouse – once a repair shop for horse-drawn carriages – saved a historical building from dereliction. Strictly guided by the Greek Ministry of Culture, the 19-room Asomaton hotel retains as much of the original stone structure as possible, allowing the architect to upcycle while adding industrial-style touches such as painted metal stairs and beams. All the wines are Greek and the breakfast is locally sourced with fresh eggs, thick yoghurt, sun-ripened olives and creamy feta. Swerve the daily towel or sheet change in your calming brick-walled room for energy and water conservation and keep cool naturally on the rooftop, which also happens to offer the perfect Acropolis view. Contrasting with the natural tones and materials, pop-art style paintings by Philip Tsiaras – “the Greek Warhol” – feature figures such as Maria Callas, Jackie Onassis and Marilyn Monroe. All this 300m from the ancient Agora.
EAT: Enjoy blooming healthy food at Nudie Foodie
The charming, rose-covered doorway of this vegetarian and vegan cafe in the hip Psiri district is mirrored in the generous multi-sided menu. Nudie Foodie specialises in sweet and savoury breakfast and brunch staples, with a healthy twist – like fluffy matcha pancakes made from almond flour, eggs and coconut milk, topped with mango and raspberry syrup. Chef and owner Eva Kontaki also whizzes up cannabis tea and anti-inflammatory smoothies with turmeric. Gluten-free sweet treats include freshly-baked cakes, from frosted carrot to banana and date.
EAT: Find saintly plant-based substitutes at Veganaki
If you prefer your Greek classics minus the meat, Veganaki’s crowd-pleasing vegan moussaka blends aubergine, potatoes, and red lentils with a béchamel sauce made from cauliflower and almond milk. On a noisy corner three minutes walk from the Temple of Olympian Zeus, this well-established, all-day café is something of a temple itself for those in search of vegan and gluten-free dishes. Each is prepared healthily – nothing is fried and everything is made on site. Even the placemats are made of recyclable brown paper. Stay tuned for their carbon-neutral keto menu, coming soon.
38 Athanasiou Diakou
EAT: Fill up on cruelty-free comfort food at Avocado
Organic and seasonal produce is the backbone of the varied menu at this ever-popular spot on a sidestreet between Syntagma and Plaka. The owners of Avocado set up this homage to all things edible (as long as they are healthy and cruelty-free) opposite their NYSY yoga and pilates studio (now at Monastiraki). The food is so good that you can expect departing customers to stare whistfully at your order of puttanesca penne with Kalamata olives, nori, capers, garlic, and pepper flakes, (served vegan also) or the wholesome vegan, gluten- and a wheat-free macro plate of brown rice, sweet potato, Greek seasonal greens, and organic tofu in tamari sauce. Squeeze onto the little terrace or dine inside, lounging on the cushioned floor of the zen room.
SHOP: Curate the perfect zero-waste home
Providing tourists with eco-minded gifts that trump the ubiquitous, landfill-headed fridge magnet, this attractive space opened five years ago in anarchist-minded Exarchia. Plasikourgeio founders Francisco and Daphne originally designed machines to compress and shred the neighbourhood plastic waste that concerned them. What began as a lab for recycling said waste into everyday objects became a temple to plastic-free, zero-waste alternatives, with every item either recycled, recyclable, reusable, or compostable and produced in Greece (bar the odd bamboo toothbrush). Stock up on easy-to-pack items, from sweet-smelling handmade vegan soaps to biodegradable cleaning cloths.
SHOP: Revive and thrive in a former market
Built in 1935, Kypseli Municipal Market survived demolition to become a social-minded enclave in one of the city’s most densely populated and multicultural districts. A true example of people power, the local community saved the building to provide a sustainable social and cultural hub that revived the neighbourhood. The modernist building houses a light-filled space, home to ethical shops with a social purpose, from second-hand goods to those championing local farmers and producers. It also hosts cultural events such as Street Outdoors, with its cool Balearic beats and art shows. If you’re in the market for browsing fruit and veg, then wander along to the heaped-high stalls lining the laiki agora – the local farmer’s market – on Ydras street each Thursday.
42 Fokionos Negri
SHOP: Embrace social innovation with Shedia Home
Homelessness spurred by the Greek financial crisis was the main motivation for creating this non-profit, which also helps the socially excluded. Shedia Home is an artfully-designed café, bar and events space in central Athens that trains and employs individuals experiencing destitution. Here (and on the website) you can buy art made with leftover copies of Shedia, Athens’ Big Issue and participate in upcycling workshops. Look up as you enter the space, lined with herringbone wooden walls panels and metal furniture, and you'll see 53 paper houses hanging from the ceiling – all made by former homeless people. It’s also designed with accessibility in mind, so wheelchairs users can get up to the lowered bar or sit comfortably as they dine from a menu created by a Michelin-starred chef available in Braille and audio (a sexy-voiced local actor details the dishes), heavy with locally-produced olive oil.
DO: Pollution-free pottering around the historic sights
Step away from the hustle and hum of Athens with a stroll along Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, the city's most popular pedestrian promenade, a wide, tree-lined avenue linking Athens’ main archaeological sites. Traffic and noise-free, you get the best views of the Acropolis, Parthenon and the Herodion as you walk. Admire the neoclassical and modern architecture lining the route – and then shift your attention to the stalls selling gold and silver jewellery, buskers strumming guitars and the tree-covered terrain surrounding them, home to ancient ruins and multiple species of birds.
DO: Employ some paddle power
As a non-motorised watersport, kayaking scores top eco-points, and a sunset paddle along the Athenian Riviera at Cape Sounion rewards with the cooling sea breeze from the Aegean. High above on a rocky cliff, the Temple of Poseidon stands out against the bluest of skies, which blushes a pinky-orange as the sun sets. Look out for Bryon’s signature scratched on the 6th-century Doric columns – although the sight of some of Greece’s 3,000 islands is equally impressive. The beachfront taverna will woo you with freshly-made, minty tzatziki, roasted aubergine and garlic-packed melitzanosalata, and creamy split-pea puree. Tour operator Trekking Hellas takes sustainability seriously, ditching plastic bottles, employing bamboo food containers, using tablets to avoid printing out information, transferring equipment by bike, and using electric cars.
DO: See a rocking good show
Hollowed out in the rocks just below the Acropolis, the open-air Odeon of Herodes Atticus – known locally as the Herodion – comes to life every summer. No air-con or heating is needed to enjoy this 4,500-seat stone amphitheatre, built by the eponymous Atticus in 161 AD, in memory of his wife. Today, it's the main venue for the Athens Festival from May to October each year, and has hosted everyone from Frank Sinatra to Sting and Maria Callas. Following Jan Garbarek, Patti Smith and Jeff Mills this summer, a performance of Waiting for Godot and the Led Zeppelin Symphonic will be on in September. Modern accessible additions include marble ramps and seating for wheelchair users.