Make no mistake that Athens, the Greek capital, has a vibrant and fighting spirit.
Despite everything the country has been through since 2008, there are new restaurants, stores, cultural institutions and a strong artistic presence. One big coup: Documenta, the longstanding European contemporary art fair, held its first expansion of the exhibit outside of Germany in Athens from April to July.
On many fronts, Greece is mining — and reviving — its long, rich history to build on traditions of innovation, creativity, and culinary ingenuity. This is to say that Athens isn’t a place to just pass through on your way to the islands.
What to see
Even if you can’t afford the famed jewelry designers’ weighty gold pieces, visit the Ilia Lalaounis Jewelry Museum near the Acropolis.
This not-be-missed museum showcases 3,000 jewelry items from 50 collections done between 1940 and 2002. It’s equal part feast for the eyes and history museum, not to mention the only jewelry museum in Greece.There’s also a great gift shop that sells beautiful, well-priced scarves. Also, don’t miss the tranquil outdoor cafe that’s the perfect place to gather your strength to climb up to the Acropolis.
Last year, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center was unveiled, heralding one of the city’s most ambitious projects in the past decade. The $867 million Renzo Piano-designed structure that has vistas of Athens and the Aegean Sea is one of the most sustainable buildings of its size. This fall, the center will become the official home of the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera.
The complex boats a 40-acre landscaped park, a much-needed addition to Athens, which has the lowest green space per capita of any city in Europe. The park includes playgrounds, water fountains, an esplanade for running, biking and walking and a glass-walled lighthouse at the park summit.
The Acropolis Museum, opened in 2009, is a must-visit before heading to the actual site.This airy space frames the antiquity exhibitions and puts the Acropolis in historical context.
In fact, the museum tracks the entire history of Athens. Another highlight is the antiquities themselves, which are very attractively presented, from statues, caryatids and columns to friezes, marble busts and gold coins.
A bonus: a superb cafe on the ground floor.
Ilia Lalounis Jewelry Museum, Kallisperi 12, Athens 117 42, Greece, +30 21 0922 1044
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, Leof. Andrea Siggrou 364, Kallithea 176 74, Greece, +30 21 6809 1000
The Acropolis Museum, Dionysiou Areopagitou 15, Athens 117 42, Greece, +30 21 0900 0900