Design Inspiration: Athens
Athens is an overwhelming mix of ancient and new. It’s crowded, it’s loud, it’s a bit messy – and I love it. Greek culture values its past; and looks to the future with contemporary art and groundbreaking architecture. Plus, it’s surprisingly affordable and the food is amazing!
Athens has ancient monuments like nowhere else and its museums are packed with incredible objects. But it also has a thriving modern art scene and ground-breaking architecture. I enjoy the contrast of trekking to various ruins and cooling off indoors with modern art and design. There’s so much to do in Athens, a few days stay is never enough for me.
Exploring The Streets Of Athens
The history of Greece is the history of architecture and design – so if you go, don’t skip the classical sites! Begin at the Acropolis with the iconic Parthenon, the Propylaea (gateway to the Acropolis) and temple to Athena Nike. The Erectheion is famous for its column sculptures of maidens. It once held the olive tree given to the people of Athens by the goddess Athena.
I like to learn about ancient ruins before I visit, so I’ll know what I’m looking at! The Acropolis Museum is a great place to start. Under its glass floor are the ruins of an ancient neighborhood, and the collection displays sculptures, and artifacts found on the site. The museum’s restaurant also has one of the best views of the Parthenon in the city. Visit the museum first, enjoy the view over lunch, and explore the Acropolis in the late afternoon when it’s less crowded.
Below the Acropolis is the Greek Agora (city center and market), the Theater of Dionysious, Temple of Hephaistos, and the theater of Herod Atticus. Built by the Romans in 161 AD, it’s still used today for classical concerts – what an amazing venue!
For a deep dive into ancient Greek culture, visit the National Archaeological Museum. It has the world’s finest collection of Greek antiquities. I spent a full day there admiring sculptures, pottery, jewelry, frescoes and artifacts.
Most of Athens doesn’t have the familiar whitewashed look of the Greek islands. But on the northern side of the Acropolis hill is Anafiotika – crisp white, with blue-shuttered windows and narrow stone alleyways. It’s the ideal spot for a break from the urban hustle.
Athens should be seen from above, and the view from the top of Mount Lycabettus is worth the hike. Legend has it that the mountain was formed when a piece of limestone fell out of the goddess Athena’s hand. Luckily I could reward myself at the top with a sunset cocktail, and ride the funicular back down.
Discovering Greek Design Style
Traditional Greek style has a spare, efficient aesthetic that feels perfect for today. The natural stone, weathered wood, and white paint are truly timeless. The iconic bright blue color is a popular trim for exteriors. Inside, colorful pottery and textiles give Greek spaces their intriguing style.
To bring a bit of Greece home I shop for handwoven striped fabrics, Greek key patterned rugs, or embroidered textiles for pillows. Greek worry beads, or komboloi, are fascinating – you’ll find them in wood and semi-precious stones like amber. A single terracotta figure can add an artsy touch to a modern interior. I think offbeat pieces like these give a space character.
Design Inspiration In Athens
When I’ve had enough of climbing on ruins, I take a break indoors for contemporary art and ancient design inspiration. Here are some of my favorite places:
- Onassis Cultural Centre: The Onassis STEGI building has theatrical and musical productions, film screenings, art and digital shows.
- FokiaNou Art Space is an artist-run project space in the center of Athens.
- Kanellopoulos Museum: This museum inspires with classical and Byzantine art and jewelry, along with ancient terracotta and bronze sculpture.
- Stavros Niarchos Cultural Centre: This stunning Renzo Piano building, is a cutting-edge space for the Greek National Opera and National Library, set in a beautiful park.
- National Archaeological Museum: The world’s finest collection of Greek antiquities, not to be missed!
- The Benaki Museum: Pattern inspiration from one of the world’s foremost collections of Islamic art, with rugs, textiles, jewelry and ceramics.
- National Museum of Contemporary Art (ΕΜΣΤ): This renovated brewery is a mid-century landmark with three levels of modern art to ponder.
Gallery hopping is another favorite pastime when I travel. Athens is full of unique art galleries, with everything from graffiti to antiques. To find the best ones, I used the list I found here.
Athens’ Unique Hotel Interiors
This world class city features the work of architects and interior designers from all over the globe.
Evripides Hotel: Athens design studio Fluo redesigned the top floor in blush, gold and marble with an Art Deco flair. Terrazzo floors and velvet cushions add a swanky touch.
The New Hotel: Filled with contemporary art and creative furnishings by a Brazilian design team, the 1940’s building retains its original black marble staircase. Rooms feature contemporary art around traditional Greek themes.
The Foundry Suites: Once an old foundry, this building has been renovated with a mid-century industrial vibe. While the book-lined lobby isn’t designed for hanging out, the 12 spacious apartments are ideal for work trips – I love the idea of a long stay here! Nearby you’ll find a bakery, bistro, and all-night ouzeris for a late drink. The roof terrace has views of the Parthenon.
Ergon House: The decor of this hotel (and foodie mecca) is a modern interpretation of traditional Greek design. The whitewashed rooms have built-in sofas, basins of reclaimed marble, weathered walnut, and terrazzo.
Coffee, Wine and Dining in Athens
To jump start the day with a strong Greek coffee and a view, I love the roof garden at Ziller’s. For Greek coffee made the traditional way (using hot sand) I go to Mokka near the market or Cherchez La Femme. Meliartos is a wonderful bakery for breakfast too, with both sweet and savory treats.
The restaurant at Ergon House offers farm-to-table authentic Greek food, in an atrium with a 200-year-old olive tree. It even has a vertical orchard! It’s my favorite place to pick up Greek wine and olive oil.
The Greek people have been making wine for 6,500 years; but it’s rare to find it outside of Greece. No trip to Athens is complete without tasting a range of local wines. Heteroclito is a cozy bar that serves only Greek wines.
Yoleni’s is a seven-story gourmet paradise, with a basement wine bar serving 400 Greek wines. Ladokolla is an old-school Greek grill – everything is served on waxed paper instead of plates, and shared family-style.
Athens is one of those cities that I want to visit over and over again – I never tire of the food, the views are amazing, and there’s an endless supply of art and interior design to inspire. When it’s time to travel again, Athens tops my list!