Greek Out Over Athens’ Food Scene: How to Eat & Drink Like a Local
If you’re like us, then you can’t really say you’ve been somewhere unless you’ve sampled all of the local delicacies—and not at the tourist traps but the spots that the real residents hit. That’s especially true when it comes to finding the best, most authentic Greek food (and drink) in Athens. So we tapped Athens resident, foodie, friend and EF Ultimate Break Tour Director Kyriakos for his restaurant recs. He's dishing out the goods on Athens’ top tavernas, best cocktail bars, primo rooftop patios, coziest cafes, and more.
by Reid Flynn
November 17, 2020
TL;DR: Don't fill up on pita
Greece isn’t all pristine beaches and ancient ruins. It’s also a top-notch spot to nosh. If you’re going to the Cradle of Western Civilization, there are so many amazing Mediterranean foods you simply must try.
From the best tavernas that only the locals know to the iconic rooftop bars you can’t miss—we’ve got you covered on what to eat in Athens. Why are we sharing our fave spots, you may ask? Well, simply put, we think travel is better when the experiences are shared together. So while a spread of Greek mezedes will never not hit the spot—it’s so much better split with pals, even if you just met. EF Ultimate Break is about bringing travelers together, not just so you can eat the best Greek food in Athens, but also jump off of a boat into the Aegean Sea and party at beachside nightclubs in Mykonos, all in one epic Greece trip. Oh, and did we mention we let you pay over time, interest-free? That means extra cash in your pocket each month to spend on gyros—or whatever you please.
While we’re the experts in stress-free trip planning, we decided to call in the big guns for a true local’s perspective on what to eat and drink in Athens. Our Greek friend, foodie, and Tour Director Kyriakos lives in Athens. And he’s got the low down on the must-hit tavernas, cafes, and bars to really take your Greek adventure to the next level. TL;DR: Don’t fill up on pita. From wine and cocktails to grilled octopus and ekmek aktaifi (a Greek specialty dessert)—here’s your guide for experiencing the best of Athens’ food scene.
Ergon House Athens, an upscale taverna and food market. Photo: Kyriakos Anthymosogl/EF Ultimate Break Tour Director
Start with a classic: the Greek taverna
A trip to Athens begins the way all trips should: with shopping. One of Athens’ best shopping districts is Monastiraki. And you’re sure to work up an appetite while browsing and bargaining through the flea markets here. The solution? That classically Greek institution: no, not democracy, a taverna. Tavernas are little restaurants, often family-owned, always delicious, serving up classic Greek dishes.
Where: Kyriakos’ favorite in the Monastiraki area is called Ergon Athens. Located on the ground floor of a fancy, shmancy hotel, surrounded by a deli, a fishmonger, and a butcher. Kyriakos describes Ergon Athens taverna as “inspired by the Mediterranean cuisine. There’s a great choice of starters to share (what we call ‘mezedes’ in Greek) or meat and fish dishes to enjoy by yourself.” Be sure to swing by the deli on your way out for local foods to take home as a souvenir, such as honey or olive oil.
What: As for what to order, Kyriakos is quick to point out that Greek cuisine is influenced by the entire Mediterranean region, with plenty that will please all types of eaters from meat lovers to vegans. But you can never go wrong with seafood in Greece—it’s surrounded by the sea! Kyriakos recommends simple pleasures like fried calamari or grilled octopus served with just a wedge of lemon.
Top: Grilled octopus, anyone? (Deyan Georgiev/Shutterstock). | Bottom: A classic Greek dish, gemista. (Konstantin Kopachinsky/Shutterstock).
Get off the beaten path
Maybe you had a real soul-searching moment while touring the Parthenon today and you’re so in love with Greek culture you need to throw on a toga and surround yourself with something authentically Greek.
Where: For a true, off-the-beaten-path experience of eating where the locals eat, Kyriakos suggests Nikitas. It’s where he loves to eat, after all. “One of my favorite places to go for lunch. Check the day’s specials and order some to share, Greek-style. The service is super quick and friendly, the food is amazing, and the prices are more than reasonable.”
What: Some dishes you may not know (but absolutely ought to) are pastitsio, which is basically Greek lasagna, or gemista (Kyriakos’ favorite!), which is tomato, pepper, or zucchini stuffed with rice and herbs and served with yogurt sauce for dipping.
Featured Trip: The Greek Islands
11 days. 4 cities. White, turquoise & tzatziki sauce all over.
Pros: Beaches: black. Houses: white. The Aegean Sea, Greek sky, and iconic domes of Santorini: So. Very. Blue.
Cons: Still working on a single pair of shoes for dancing in the clubs of Mykonos, hiking ancient ruins in Athens, and wearing down to the beach in Paros.
Good beers, better views. A rooftop taverna in Athens gazing at The Acropolis. Photo: Irina Miladinov/Shutterstock
Reach your peak on a rooftop
Could you imagine coming to an incredible, ancient city like Athens and not getting a panoramic view while sipping a cocktail? Yeah, me either. Thank Zeus, there are plenty of options here that come Kyriakos-approved.
What: Get your night started with a view and a drink (or a coffee!) before you head out to the clubs.
Photo: EF Ultimate Break
Treat yourself to an all-time great cocktail
Where: Athens is home to one of the most widely recognized best bars in the world. The Clumsies will make you a drink that will knock you off your feta (who cares what that means, just trust us). Wander in, have the expert bartenders make you the best drink you’ve ever had, and find a room in the bar that meets your level of chill.
Kyriakos says: “If you like a good cocktail, make sure you go to The Clumsies. It’s in downtown Athens but away from the touristy area. This is an all-day bar and restaurant that has made it to the 50 best bars in the world for the last five years.”
What: Did you hear us? 50 best bars in the world five years running. You don’t tell them what you want, they tell you! (Seriously though, you can’t go wrong with any cocktail here).
Café culture goes hard in Athens. Photo: EF Ultimate Break
Take it easy at a Greek café
Where: Athens is of course the original home of philosophers. And if you’re looking to chill out like Socrates or contemplate the cosmos in peace, you can’t go wrong with a café. Six d.o.g.s has a fantastic garden and patio where you can sip a coffee and enjoy the outdoor space after a day of unparalleled Athens sightseeing.
What: Kyriakos recommends checking out their calendar for art exhibitions, musicians coming through to perform, or DJ sets to soundtrack your coffee sipping. Or, get your Greek wine game started on the mainland before your Santorini island wine tasting with a glass of the good grape stuff.
Top: You've gotta say "galaktoboureko" six times before you can eat it (Photo: Sokor Space/Shutterstock). | Left & Right: EF Ultimate Break Tour Director Kyriakos enjoying dessert at Nancy's Sweet Home (Photos: Kyriakos Anthymosogl).
Sweeten the deal
Where: If your knowledge of Greek desserts begins and ends with baklava, you’ve got a world of treats coming your way. Maybe you’re back in Athens on the last day of your trip and you’re looking for a sweet way to end things, look no further than Nancy’s Sweet Home.
What: Kyriakos’ faves here include the galaktoboureko, which is a custard-filled pastry, and the ekmek aktaifi, which is sweet shredded wheat soaked in honey, filled with almonds and walnuts, and topped with light vanilla cream. And for the truly daring, try the bomba bueno. Are you drooling yet?
The quaint, colorful, and absurdly charming village of Anafiotika. Top: Andrii Marushchynets/Shutterstock. Bottom: Milan Gonda/Shutterstock
Take it to go, for a great view
Where: Maybe the single best place you can go to eat in Athens is not a restaurant at all. It’s a beautiful scenic overlook of the whole city, called Anafiotika.
What: Grab a ubiquitous gyro from anywhere (you can’t go wrong, really), stock up with a bottle of wine or some beer, and hike up to this quaint little neighborhood at the foot of the Acropolis for epic views.
But don’t just stop your Greek feast with Athens. Snack, sip, and slurp your way through the wineries and tavernas of Santorini, the beachside amenities of Mykonos, or the gyro shops of Paros. Come with us, and we’ll show you how to do that, too.
by Reid Flynn
Reid is a copywriter at EF Ultimate Break. He loves cheese, playing guitar, and speaking loudly about indie rock to anyone who will listen. His favorite place in the world is Amsterdam.
A sneak peek of your life once you go Greek…
About EF Ultimate Break
We can take you...well, everywhere