In 2016 international flights into Athens were considerably cheaper than for other European cities, we therefore used the capital city as the base for our spring trip, flying in and out of Amman, Jordan and then on to Dubrovnik, Croatia after a driving tour around the Peloponnese.
Consequently, our time in Athens was broken up into two parts, the first near the beginning of May with a second visit at the end of the month. By the time of the second visit the summer crowds and temperatures had noticeably ticked up. For us the big trade-off is whether you prefer cooler daytime temperatures for sightseeing or soft warm evenings for dining al fresco.
Hera Hotel – Conveniently located a block and half from the Acropolis Metro station this pleasant hotel has well equipped rooms. Although a bit crowded, barely a foot between the bed and the desk, they are comfortable, have a hot water boiler with instant coffee and tea and a shower with good water pressure. Wifi is free but slow.
Breakfast is served from 7 -11 and included a wide selection of cold and hot items. Good coffee, nice bread but not much fresh fruit.
360 Hotel – Located right on Monastiraki Square, 360 boasts a super convenient location with a direct line from the airport and easy walking distance to just about everything you want to see, except for the National Archeological Museum.
Rooms are kind of funky, decorated with 50-70s stuff, i.e., old type writers, record players and so forth. Otherwise they have a clean and contemporary feel. Staff is friendly and efficient – you actually get ice when you ask for it.
For being directly on the square rooms are very quiet. Even in a room with a view overlooking the square, when the windows are closed you can’t hear a thing.
We had the more expensive deluxe room as the regular rooms were sold out. Amenities included – safe, robes, hair dryer and a kitchenette with a Keurig type machine, fridge, stove top and a big sink but no pans, utensils or anything to cook with. Good wifi connection.
The breakfast buffet includes the usual European breakfast items along with a nice selection of cut fresh fruit and Greek pastry and pie items. Eggs are cooked to order and fresh squeezed orange juice is offered, though this may be seasonal.
The roof top features a happening bar and restaurant. We stopped by one evening before dinner and found the place packed – just enough space for us to get a drink at the bar. Both the bar and breakfast room have great views of the Acropolis.
Mani Mani – Conveniently located a short walk from the Acropolis metro station and nearly across the street from the Hera Hotel. Inside the hip urban décor might lead you to believe you are in London rather than Athens. The food, too, is a twist on the typical Grecian fare. A combination that has landed the restaurant a recommendation from the New York Times as well as in Rick Steves.
We found the ambiance pleasant and the food reasonably good.
We started with the bruschetta topped with smoked pork, smoked eggplant cream, goat cheese and fig jam. Garnished with a lettuce salad it was one of the highlights of the evening. For mains we ordered the rooster, a pasta version of Coq au Vin, that was cooked in a red wine sauce and seasoned with cinnamon and pimento; and the orzo with mussels, shrimp and squid in a shellfish sauce. Neither dish was terribly exciting or innovative, but they didn’t detract from the pleasant ambiance. Adding to the ambiance was a bottle of Palivou Estate KTHMA PAAYBOY NEMEA wine, a light red that went great with the food.
We ended the evening with the walnut pie, a delightfully moist and nutty sweat cake served with ice cream.
Located in the Plaka on Kapnikareas Street just north of Adrianou. This atmospheric charmer has a bright and cheery ambiance with checkered table cloths and live music. The food is the typical Greek fare but well prepared. They really know how to cook a whole fish to perfection.
We started with the taramasalata – a smooth creamy mixture of salty fish and potato. This homemade preparation of the Greek standard was delightful if you are a fan of this sort of thing.
For mains we tried the whole fish – a beautiful dorade –
and the veal in a light tomato based sauce laced with cinnamon and accompanied by overcooked but tasty summer vegetables – eggplant, zucchini, onion, etc. We also ordered another bottle of wine from the Agiorghitiko grape, our new local favorite. We ended the evening with a spicy, nutty and very sweet baklava. Typical Greek fun dining experience.
Peacock Room at the Hotel Hera – This roof top enclosed terrace with white table cloths and wicker chairs has great views of the Acropolis. Food is generally good and not more expensive than that served in the Plaka. We started with the grilled octopus served with mashed fava beans – a well prepared and generous portion that could be easily shared.
For mains we ordered the anchovy spaghetti – not much anchovy flavor and a too sweet tomato sauce for my tastes –
and the rabbit special of the day cooked in a Greek tomato sauce – the same sauce that was served with the rooster the first night and with the veal on the second night. However, with the addition of mushrooms and pearl onions this was the best of the three. Unfortunately it was served barely warm and I asked to have it reheated. The plate returned 10 minutes later tolerably warm but not hot. I’m guessing they don’t have a microwave in the kitchen. Otherwise, the rabbit was tender and the vegetables sumptuous.
Xenios Zeus – attracted by the pretty staired street of restaurants, the Mnisikleous steps, we tried the Rick Steves pick at the top of the street. We knew that this probably was not the best choice when we arrived and the only other patrons were part of a large tour group. We should have cut our losses but we stayed to find out how the food was.
Overall it was not terrible but not great either. On the negative side, we were served the saddest looking Greek salad of the entire trip. Usually you can’t go wrong with Greek salads during prime cucumber and tomato season but this preparation made with lettuce had been sitting around much too long.
On the plus side the grilled garlic bread is served fresh hot and a cut above others we’ve tasted.
We also enjoyed the cold anchovy appetizer.
The fried salt cod was fresh hot and cooked to order, but this battered version was not nearly as good as the one we tasted in Olympia.
Generally you come to the Mnisikleous steps for the atmosphere, but as Xenios Zeus is located at the top of the street away from the cute stepped street you have little of the ambiance. To make matters worse a tarp covered abandoned building blocks the city and sunset views.
This was a big miss for a Rick Steves recommendation. After passing back down the pretty staired-street on our way home I decided to check out other dinner options. I found that most restaurants on this street do not rate very highly at all. The area seems to be much more of a tourist trap than a good place to dine. Better to enjoy the ambiance over drinks and appetizers than for dinner.
Oineas – Entering the Psirri neighborhood, one of the up and coming transitional areas, from Ermou Street off of Monastiraki Square feels like you have plunged into a grittier side of Athens – graffiti covered walls, rows of lamp shades decorate an otherwise dingy street, funky bars mixed in with bleak looking store fronts. On Esopou street you also find three of Athens top rated Tripadvisor restaurants.
We took a spin through the street after lunch to decide where we wanted to have dinner that night. We ran across Christina the owner of Oineas setting up the restaurant for the dinner service.
As the night was perfect for dining al fresco, we were delighted to discover that the front of her restaurant opens completely up to the street. We asked to book a table outdoors and returned at 9PM.
Oineas is a casual place with a fairly traditional Greek menu. Patrons are a mix of international tourists and locals but the ambiance is that of a neighborhood favorite rather than just another tourist place. Service is very friendly and efficient and speaks great English. Christina is a delight and runs the place with great heart.
She ordered us a fabulous mille feuille with white chocolate cream and fresh strawberries and gave us hug upon leaving. Maybe for a favorable Tripadvisor review, but what does it matter? It’s a pleasure to see someone put so much effort into their food, restaurant and patrons.
What the menu lacks in variety and innovation it makes up for in quality.
We started with the grilled vegetables, a lovely stack of tasty summer vegies. For mains Don ordered the seafood pasta, well done, but nothing extra ordinary.
I ordered the oven baked lamb. Bingo! It was one of the best dishes of the trip, right up there with the sea bream in Nafplio. The super flavorful lamb was fall off the bone tender – much lambier than what we generally get in the States. Cooked with potatoes, onions and artichoke it was heaven on a plate. Christina takes great pride in the dish and it shows.