Visible from all over the city, the brilliantly white, 18th-century church of (1) Saint George crowns 886-foot (270-meter) (2) Mount Lycabettus. “If the Acropolis is the sacred mountain of Hellenic classical heritage, Lycabettus symbolizes the strength of the Orthodox Church and its Byzantine traditions; the twin peaks of Greek identity.”—Sofka Zinovieff, author, Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens.
The views from the summit are breathtaking at sunrise or sunset. By starlight, the likes of Cesaria Evoria and Macy Gray perform at the outdoor (3) Lycabettus amphitheater (www.greekfestival.gr).
Ride the funicular downhill. Turn right onto Aristippou Street until you reach pretty (4) Dexameni Square, with a playground, outdoor cinema, and laid-back ouzeri. Food is so-so, but the tree-shaded tables are great for watching bottle blondes totter up and downhill in their high heels.
You’re now in the heart of cosmopolitan Kolonaki. All big hair and big spenders, Kolonaki is where locals come for two things: shopping and coffee. Below Dexameni Square, turn left on Fokylidou Street and left again at Xanthou, where jewelry designer (5) Elena Votsi (Xanthou 7; www.elenavotsi.com) has her showroom. “Votsi designed the medals for the Athens Olympics. Her pieces are very modern, yet classical.”—Theodora Mantzaris, design director, 2004 Athens Summer Olympic Games.
Turn right onto Anagnostopoulou Street, where dandies get their fashion fix at (6) Bespoke Athens (15-17 Anagnostopoulou; www.bespoke.gr). “Owner Vassilis Bourtsalas has rounded up the best remaining Greek tailors, sweet old guys who will measure you up on appointment.”—Kimon Frangakis, editor, Status magazine.
Two streets below is Skoufa, where trendy cafés outnumber designer boutiques. “Artists, actors, and all the Greek ‘rive gauche’ gather at (7) Filion (Skoufa 34), the most famous, oldest café on the strip.”—Fotis Georgeles, editor, Athens Voice.
A few doors down, the younger fashion brigade nibble tartines and crème brulée at fancy Gallo-Greek deli (8) Bakaliko de Toute Facon (Skoufa 48).
Walk back down Skoufa until you reach (9) Kolonaki Square, whose official name, Filikis Etairias, is a tribute to the clandestine organization behind the struggle for Greek Independence in the 1820s. Today, it’s a place to see and be seen. Movers and shakers fight for a sidewalk table at (10) DaCapo (Tsakalof 1, Kolonaki Square) where ministers, prime ministers, journalists, and shoppers trawling Kolonaki’s boutiques rub shoulders.
Local grande dames prefer to gossip in the secluded courtyard café of the (11) Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art, at Neophytou Douka 4 (www.cycladic-m.gr). The excellent museum is home to row upon row of smooth marble figurines, whose enigmatic expression continues to intrigue archaeologists and artists.
Turn right and cross busy Vassilisis Avenue to Irodou Attikou to watch the (12) evzones, or presidential guards,parading in tutus outside the Presidential Palace. “Their mini skirts require hundreds of meters of cloth; it’s like haute couture––there’s only one atelier that designs them.”—Konstantinos Tzoumas, actor and radio show host.
Henry Miller called the (13) National Gardens “the quintessence of park.” Built as a pleasure ground for Queen Amalia in the 1840s, this rare expanse of greenery in central Athens is a welcome respite from the concrete jungle.
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