The new Athens: how the city rose from the ashes of the Financial Crisis

The best hostels in Athens and a small guide to discover the young and dynamic Greek capital

The new quarters of Athens, like Renzo Piano's cultural hub, but also the oldest ones which survived the Financial Crisis of 2009. The cultural momentum that followed the dOCUMENTA 14 exhibition brought back many artists who then began to inhabit the most deserted areas of the city, turning them into fashion ateliers and creative centres. Even if the city is still paying the cost of its political and economic instability, its willpower may be strong enough to rise from the ashes, even stronger than before. Here's our journey to the discovery of the Greek capital after the austerity: the areas of Koukaki, Psirri and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre. A short guide for those looking for the young and dynamic side of Athens, including our advice on the best hostels in Athens.

"Athens is the only place I have been happy" - Lord Byron

The general idea of Athens is one of a typical Mediterranean city with an exotic influence and pretty degraded suburbs. That may be because it's indeed quite difficult to understand its complex nature: we can say Athens is as mysterious as the enigmatic Antikythera Mechanism, the oldest calculator ever created kept at the National Archaeological Museum. To discover the true nature of the Greek capital is to accept its many different sides and the eternal exchange between old and new.

Something has changed. A wave of innovation has taken hold of the city and little has to do with the chess game European politicians have been playing for years now. It is as if the Athenians have finally woken up and took control of their own destiny. The Athens of today is both new and old, it has learnt from past mistakes and it's now fueled by a brand new vigour and passion. If it true that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, then we're sure this new generation of Athenians will redeem the old one completely.

1. THE INHERITANCE OF CLASSICISM

Greeck Acropolis details

Athens's history cannot be overlooked as it symbolizes the cradle of Western civilization. Ancient Greece has been the ultimate model of civilization for all the cities on the Mediterranean Coast, laying the foundations for all modern nations. The first idea of democracy was born and developed in Athens and it was home to some of the greatest philosophers and thinkers of our time, Aristotle, Socrates and Plato, just to name a few. Over the centuries the city had many ups and downs, even undergoing foreign domination, but trough it all it has never lost its identity. Today it represents the heart of Greece and has reached the numbers of an international metropolis.

The new and old Athens

When thinking of the Hellenic city, the thought immediately runs to its classic beauty, to the top of the Acropolis with the famous Parthenon, the Ancient Temple of Athens, the Odeo, and the Theater of Dionysus. The old city overlooks the new one that, in the meantime, has flourished at its feet, messy and slobby. Around the borders new neighbourhoods have developed with a vibrant, dynamic and lively cultural atmosphere. There is a desire for revenge in the city, a desire for rebirth. New ideas are coming into the light and the enthusiasm is stronger than ever.

2. THE REBIRTH AFTER dOCUMENTA 14

The passage of the art exhibition dOCUMENTA 14 in 2017, the first time outside the borders of Kassel, gave an incredible creative boost to the city, drawing in artists and intellectuals from all over the world. After the great kermesse, however, the lights did not go out and some protagonists did not leave the stage. Athens is the perfect fertile ground for any new artistic performance, a clean slate for all those artists looking for new areas to experiment on which are not already worn out.

All these young new artists suddenly very active on Athens's artistic scene (the cheap lifestyle has surely played a big role here) had a huge impact on the city renascence and made it possible for many buildings to take on new, different roles. This is for sure the best way to overcome a situation of abandonment and degradation: the youngest generations have cleverly understood that it was better to take advantage of what was already there, improving it with new features, innovative thoughts. The whole city surprises through the unexpected; a new life was breathed into the suburb and an infinite number of artisan workshops and restaurants are now populating the streets.

dOCUMENTA 14 and the rebirth of the city

One of the masterpices of dOCUMENTA 14, which duplicates the shape of the Parthenon with piles of censured books - credits @fotismar

3. THE NEW NEIGHBORHOODS

We now turn our gaze to the rest of the city, not as neat and balanced as the beautiful Acropolis, but surely as full of charm. By "new neighbourhoods" we mean historic areas which have been completely renovated and requalified.

Monastiraki

The first one must be Monastiraki, Athens's most famous district thanks to its proximity to the Acropolis, to the many restaurants and places where typical Greek dishes are served and where you can enjoy a cold beer on sunny days. Monastiraki is a very lively and dynamic district and its charming square is known as the crossroads from which an infinite number of narrow streets branch off. It is best known for its monuments such as the Stoa of Attalus, now a museum, the ancient Roman Agora, the mosque with the huge dome and the Ruins of Hadrian's Library. Here you can also find one of the most well-known Greek Flea Market, where every kind of thing is sold, from home fragrances to handicrafts. Only a stone's throw from the Monastiraki Square is located one of the most beautiful hostels in the city, the AthenStyle. The interiors are decorated by young local artists and in the evening you can watch movies in the hostel's private cinema, or relax and spend a nice evening on the panoramic terrace overlooking the Acropolis, which in summer becomes a restaurant.

The panoramic terrace of AthenStyle Hostel

Athens Style, panoramic terrace - credits @misha_ft

Koukaki

Koukaki is also located at the feet of the Acropolis but unlike Monastiraki, which pretty much remained the same, it has undergone a huge urban after-crisis renewal. Incorporating the smaller areas of Makriyianni, Gargaretta and Filopappou, the neighbourhood has been increasingly taken into consideration by tourists and Atheniens alike, mainly thanks to its pretty urban desing and young lifestyle. Designers, artists, journalists, foreign correspondents, Koukaki is a lively and cosmopolitan neighborhood and perhaps the most alluring of the entire capital. It's not a surprise then that this is where most of the old industrial buildings were converted and many cultural associations were born. Residents mingle with tourists and the streets are always crowed and alive, lined by rows of fragrant orange and olive trees. Luxury looking terraced houses fill the area right outside the Acropolis whereas more modest apartments are still being built at the opposite side of the neighbourhood. Little Tree is a nice coffee bookshop where you can easily meet new writers at work along with everyday people reading over a cup of coffee. An absolute must-see for all music lovers is the Underflow record store, which in addition to being a reference point for every music collector also hosts the works of the most eccentric artists in the city.

Underflow record store in Athens

Underflow Record Store & Art Gallery - credits @jasminsusann

Psirri

Psirri has earned the nickname "Soho of Athens" but is also known by Psyrri or Psyri. Its main core is definitely Piazza Iroon and today it looks like a neighbourhood well cared for, with elegant buildings and beautiful apartments. However, this atmosphere of peacefulness and security clashes with a very dark past, when it was known as the most degraded and dangerous neighbourhood of the city. The wide facade of the buildings, once grey and anonymous, have been adorned with large, colourful murals. Athens has happily embraced the street art trend so it's easy to come across these spectacular designs throughout the city. During the day people sit in the many outdoor tables drinking coffee and fresh drinks. At night, however, the neighbourhood lights up and becomes the playfield of the youngest generations. The streets come alive with the sound of the rebetiko, a sort of Greek blues, taverns and restaurants offer the best traditional dishes, such as Greek salad and homemade meatballs, while the party in the little bars scattered around town goes on all night long, with DJ sets and live music. Many are the small craft shops and small shops of independent designers.

Street art in Athens, Psirri

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center

Located in the Bay of Faliro, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center is an architectural complex surrounded by a park of fifty-two acres, with large gardens adorned with olive trees, playgrounds and picnic areas. The cultural centre, which includes the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera, was completed in 2016 and was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, great protagonist of the modern architecture scene; thanks to him, Athens can now reclaim its own role as international symbol of contemporary art. Near the fundation you can experience lots of outdoor activities like watching movies, practising yoga classes, and strolling along the four hundred meter canal that runs through the park. From the roof of the building, powered by solar energy, you can enjoy a spectacular view of the entire city, with the sea on one side.

The Stavos Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center

Inside Renzo Piano's Museum - credits @u_r_k_u

The long Athinas Street

Koukaki, Psirri and the Renzo Piano's masterpiece delineate the new face of Athens, the neighbourhoods where change is easier to spot. They all follow their own artistic and cultural path but share the same Greek identity. The common denominator of the city is to be found in its main urban artery, the long Athinas Street. It's from here that you reach the Central Market and the large Omonia Square, two of the most representative places in the whole city you absolutely need to visit before leaving!

4. SOME TIPS ON DRINKS AND GREEK FOOD

Athens is packed with little bistros and cheap restaurants where you can enjoy a proper traditional Greeck lunch or dinner, but we have narrowed it down to two amazing places that are really worthy of every penny!

  • Kosta

Kostas is a small street shop and serves the best kebab in town. It is a small place facing the street but you will always find it very crowded. Everyone, from students to workers on lunch break, stops there to eat along the way and there are days where the queue is quite long. Is it worth waiting for a kebab or grilled meat skewers? Absolutely yes!

  • Ta Karamanlidika

You can't claim to have tasted true Greek cuisine without having a bite at Ta Karamanlidika. At first glance it may look like a funny butcher shop, with its many salami hanging over the counter, but in reality it is a small restaurant where you can find every kind of Greek delicacy: cold cuts, cheeses, excellent wines and Greek yoghurt.

Where to eat in Athens

Inside view of Ta Karamanlidika - credits @natalia_argyraki

Greek wines have gained some serious appreciation in recent years and wine bars have sprung up throughout the city. But there are other surprises waiting for you besides traditional wineries.

  • Warehouse

Warehouse is a former typography turned into a wine bar. The restaurant maintains its industrial features and is located in the Exarchia district. It offers over sixty wines by the glass combined with tasting menus. Surely you will find the perfect match!

  • Baba au Rum

It is in places like this that Athens's new international soul shines brightly. Baba au Rum has one of the most complete and impressive rum lists in the world. Let yourself be advised by the bartender and enjoy your cocktail!

5. WHERE TO STAY

We have already mentioned AthensStyle as one one the best hostel in Athens, but the list doesn't end here!

The Athens Backpackers hostel is located in one of the most beautiful and central areas of Athens, a stone's throw away from the Acropolis metro, which means that the most important attractions of Athens, such as the Acropolis Museum, the Temple of Zeus or the Church of Agia Ekaterini, will be at your fingertips!

Aperitif with a view from one of the best hostel in Athens

Aperitif with panoramic view at the rooftop bar of Athens Backpackers Hostel

San Remo Hostel is a small independent hostel that will surely win you over with its excellence quality-price ratio. It provides you with a wide range of private rooms, from single to sextuple, and dormitories always very clean and spacious.

Close to the ancient market ("Agorà") to the University, the Sparta Team Hotel is a great value for money accommodation and will make you feel like you're at home.

6. THE FUTURE THAT AWAITS

The new Athens after the Financial Crisis

The Dromeas glass statue by sculptor Costas Varotsos - credits @fotismar

To build a new, successful future we need to remember the past and have the strenght to change the present. Along the Vassilissis Sofias Street stands the magnificent statue Dromeas, the thirty-foot-tall Athens runner, created by the Greek artist Costas Varotsos in 1994. The imposing statue is a tribute to the marathon but it is also a physical metaphor for movement. It was made using a metal core and covered with overlapping glass plates, leaving the viewer simply speechless. And so this is Athens's way of changing, with new ideas, always on the move, always facing the future... and who knows, maybe in a few years it will go back to being the ultimate model of civilization.

If after reading our article you are now thinking of an alternative destination to the usual European cities, Athens can surely be the perfect match. Plan your trip by booking in one of the hostels we have quoted above or choose freely through our booking form below.