In our A Total Trip series, our travel writers document what they spent on a recent getaway. In this edition, Austin Bush takes us on a mouthwatering five-day trip to Athens, delving into the Greek capital’s culinary scene.
I’m a freelance writer and photographer based in Lisbon. I was invited to a conference in Athens, and since my flights were covered and I’d never previously been there, I decided to arrive a few days in advance. My main goals were to explore Athens’s food and drink, and in the process walk all it off as much as possible – a food and foot theme, if you will – all while taking advantage of the city’s free sights.
Accommodation: I booked four nights in a small, simple Airbnb in central Athens’s Exarcheia area (€156), located within walking distance of most of the markets, bars and restaurants I wanted to visit.
On the ground
Airport transfer: I arrived in Athens at around 6pm, but Greek dining hours meant that I was in no rush to get into town, so I took the airport train (€9), a trip of about 45 minutes.
Dinner: After dropping my bags at my room, I walked across town to my dinner destination, Ilia’s Haunt, one of Athens’s more legendary “chop shops,” restaurants that specialize in grilled meat, especially lamb chops, which are sold by the kilogram. I ordered 500g of thin, smoky chops, bread, ho-hum tzatziki and eggplant dips and a half liter of house wine (€24.90). From there, I walked to Galaxy, a bar opened in 1972 and that doesn’t appear to have changed a bit since day one, where I capped off the night with a negroni (€10).
Breakfast: I started the day at Stani, located a short walk from my room, with what is now my favorite breakfast in the world: rich, thick Greek-style sheep’s milk yogurt drizzled with honey and walnuts, and an espresso (€6.40).
Activity: After breakfast, I walked to the weekly Kallidromiou Farmers’ Market and its piles of greens, tables loaded with varieties of olives, stalls selling fresh pomegranate juice and much more (free). I stopped in for a gritty, unfiltered Greek coffee (€2.50) at Mouria, a century-old kafeneio or Greek-style coffee house. From there, I walked across town, struggling to make sense of Athens’s blend of modern and ancient architecture, exemplified by landmarks such as Monastiraki Square (free). Struggling with jet lag, I downed two more Greek-style coffees (€6) while gazing at the Acropolis from Oraia Hellas, yet another classic Greek coffee shop.
Lunch: My lunch destination was located just west of the city center, where I headed on foot, which took me past the Monument to the Unknown Soldier and its pom-pom-shod guards. Ordering at Fatsio is done from a glass counter of cooked dishes, but not understanding the system I managed to order two mains: thick slices of eggplant baked with minced veal, tomato sauce and an almost cheese-like bechamel sauce, and a filet of swordfish served with boiled vegetables and drizzled with olive oil. All that walking meant that I had no problem in downing both of them in quick succession – in addition to a fragrant, crisp glass of house white and kataïfi, a Greek dessert of shredded phyllo pastry topped with crushed pistachios and drizzled with honey syrup (€24.50).
Dinner: After a nap, I crossed the center of town on foot, passing through Kotzia Square (free) and kicked off the evening at Heteroclito, a wine bar that has one of the most helpful wine bar menus I’ve encountered. Of the two glasses (€11.50), the Greek white with notes of “roasted almonds” and “hazelnuts,” and allegedly “an ideal companion to the cold winter nights,” reminded me of a sherry, and was hauntingly delicious. Afterwards, I walked back in the direction of my room for a very Cretan dinner of finger-length red mullet served whole, snails boiled with oregano and served with olive oil and vinegar, boiled bitter greens served with a wedge of lemon, and a slightly sweet, oxidized red wine at I Kriti (€35.20).
Breakfast: Wanting to explore more of the menu, I returned to Stani where this time I started the day with a slab of sheep’s milk butter swimming in honey, bread and a “double” Greek coffee – now my second favorite breakfast in the world (€5.40).
Activities: As opposed to my first two days, the sun was out, so I decided to do some outdoor exploration. I wove through the almost Greek-island-feeling neighborhood of Anafiotika, located at the foot of the Acropolis (free), and after stopping for sweeping views across the city from Areopagus Hill (free), I ascended to the Acropolis (€10). Continuing to take advantage of the nice weather, I bought a five-day transport pass (€8.20) and headed outside of town. I took the metro and buses west to the 12th-century mosaics at the UNESCO-recognized Holy Monastery of Daphni (free).
Lunch: I was already west of town, so it was a winding bus ride to lauded hole-in-the wall O Leloudas for a lunch of white beans, a slab of feta drizzled with olive oil and studded with olives, a hunk of bread and a half liter of house wine (€13). I took the bus back to my room and had another nap.
Dinner: That evening, I walked to Louis Cafe, where friendly staff showed me a unique and refreshing way to drink ouzo: poured over ice and mixed with a splash of fresh-squeezed lemon juice (€9). This was followed by a late-night souvlaki eaten streetside at O Elvis (€5.60).
Activity: I’d already had a taste of Athens, so I decided to explore the neighboring port city of Piraeus. I took the train and, arriving in the city center, kicked my day off with an unusually expensive breakfast of double Greek coffee and yogurt drizzled with honey and walnuts at Stani (€11.30). Fueled, I spent the next four hours walking around almost the entire peninsula that forms Piraeus, stopping in at scenic bays with azure water that have an almost island feel, as well as for a couple cups of coffee (€4.40).
Lunch: At cozy Yperokeanio, in Piraeus, I had a feast of whole fried sardines, a salad of chickpeas with herbs and cheese, the ubiquitous but delicious boiled greens and a tiny, unlabeled bottle of tsipouro, Greek brandy (€30.50). After lunch, I walked back to Piraeus’s city center and took the train back to Athens.
Drinks: I was still stuffed from lunch, so rather than another meal I opted for a short walk and glass of Greek Pét-Nat (Pétillant Naturel; naturally sparkling) at the hipster wine bar Tannin My Love (€9.40).
Breakfast: I started the day decadently with loukoumades, crispy donuts drenched in honey, and yet another Greek coffee at Krinos (€5.70).
Activity: This was my last free morning in Athens, which I dedicated to exploring the city’s central market (free). After weaving through fishmongers, butchers and vendors selling dried goods, I stopped in for a double Greek coffee at Mokka (€3.23). It was now time for a food-themed mini shopping spree. From the food and kitchen-themed stores that ring the market, I picked up a bunch of dried oregano, a couple bars of olive-oil soap and some dried beans (€12.20), just part a fun morning that also included a stop for a feta-stuffed savory pie at Ariston (€1.60).
Lunch: Shopping spree wrapped up, I headed to lunch at Diporto. Dating back to 1887, this basement-level restaurant has no sign or menu, and solo diners like myself must sit with others. I fell into conversation with a local couple who had been eating there since the late 1960s, and who kindly paid for my simple but delicious lunch: a dip of split peas drizzled with olive oil, a crunchy, fragrant salad, a hunk of bread and yet another one of those tiny aluminum pitchers of house wine (free).
The final tally
Overall spend: on the ground (€259.53) + accommodation for four nights (€156) = €415.53 (US$448.23)