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Travel

Athens Riviera, the Hidden Paradise of the City

May 17, 2020
by Stamatina Mylonas

Travelers the world over come to Athens to explore and admire one of the most ancient cities on Earth.  The most frequented spots being the grand and beautiful Parthenon, and the bustling shops of Monastiraki.  But when I hear stories and plans of friend’s trips to Athens, rarely do they mention the coast.  Athens has no shortage of crystal blue water beaches and sunset lookout spots.  The coast, fittingly called the Athens Riviera, is a lesser known but must-see part of the city.

It’s where the locals go for a swim or an evening walk by the water.  The countless cafes, restaurants, and outdoor spaces create a vibe that makes you feel like you’re living in an endless summer.  Since the completion of The Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel in Vouliagmeni, the Athens Riviera has continued to be a main focus point for plans to revamp and modernize areas of the city.  This five-star water front hotel has set the tone for the level of luxury that can be achieved in Athens for tourists and locals alike.

The most southern neighborhoods of Athens are Glyfada, Voula, Vouliagmeni, and Varkiza.  This is where Athenians go for a summer swim, when they aren’t yet able to go to their favorite islands.  It’s also the place to be at night, with an epic beach party happening practically every week of the summer.

Allow me to paint a perfect day for you along the Athens Riviera.  For your morning coffee and breakfast, take a stroll around the shops in Glyfada.  There are plenty of cafes and brunch spots, but a must try is the trendy Oh Mama.  Located on Kiprou street in Glyfada’s downtown, it offers outdoor seating and a menu full of famous brunch dishes like chicken and waffles, and pancakes and bacon.  Plus, healthier options like acai bowls, and cool drinks and cocktails as any good brunch spot should!

From there, your trip to the beach won’t be far.  Choose from the organized larger beaches like Akti Vouliagmenis or Yabanaki.  Astir Beach is a bit pricier of an entrance fee, which varies with each season.  But it may be worth it due to the immaculateness of the water and sand, huge cushioned beach chairs, and swanky beach restaurant and bar.  Or if you’re not keen on paying an entrance fee, Kavouri Beach in Vouliagmeni is open to the public for free.  There is also a lovely walkway along this beach that stretches for about a mile along the water, and is dotted with various tavernas and cafes.

During the peak summer season in July and August these beaches tend to fill up quick, so make sure to arrive early to be able to find beach chairs or a spot in the sand.  Although you won’t get much of a suntan, I highly recommend visiting these beaches in the evening hours or any time after five o’clock.  There are less people and crowding and you can catch the sunset while relaxing by the waves.  It’s the perfect way the end a summer day and sets the tone for a great night.

Glyfada is once again the hot spot for all the worthwhile night life and bars.  A town favorite is Opus Inner Pleasure located in the heart of Glyfada’s downtown and shopping district.  If you’re not shy to spend a little more, take a short drive down the road to Varkiza and get a table at Island Club Athens Riviera.  A melting pot of local and tourist party goers, looking for a chic and upscale club hanging over the crystal water of the sea.  Celebs and moguls often frequent this club as well as hit DJs and artists.

If you’re looking for a more low-key night consisting of dinner and a relaxing glass of ouzo or tsipouro then Vouliagmeni is right for you.  Check out the restaurant by the name Zaxos.  It’s a traditional taverna with some of the best gyro in Athens.  Tennis star Stefanos Tsitsipas has been known to dine here.  And for good reason, because the food is fresh and homey and brings the quintessential Greek dining experience.  Order a gyro, a bunch of appetizers, or both; you will not be disappointed!  For dessert walk along Agiou Panteleimonos street and choose from the cafes, a favorite being Bufala Gelato.  The sea is just across the street, and what better way to eat your ice cream, than watching the waves?

Various sites along the Athens Riviera worth seeing include Vouliagmenis Lake.  The lake is filled through underground thermal springs, and was actually once a large cave, before collapsing in on itself due to the high temperatures.  There you can find a restaurant-bar and lounge chairs to relax next to this unique geological phenomenon.  Get there before five o’clock in the evening, as the ticket booth closes shortly thereafter.  More inland, I suggest driving by the old Elliniko airport for an urban desert vibe.  Find yourself on Karamanli street to get a glimpse of the retired Olympic Airlines fleet of airplanes.  A sight of times past but never forgotten. 

It’s an area of Athens largely underrated but surely worth the time to explore.  The Athens Riviera gifts visitors the characteristic Mediterranean vibes, along with its unique Greek culture, both old and new.  There is no shortage of fine dining, quick late-night bites, beach parties, and family friendly trails and activities.  Whether you’re interested in spending the day shopping at the boutiques in Glyfada or booking a sailing tour from various vendors at Agios Kosmas Marina, there is truly something for everyone to enjoy.  It’s possible to build an itinerary for every budget along the paradise that makes up the Athens Riviera, and savor your time along the Aegean Sea like a local Athenian.

The area continues to evolve as plans to develop the abandoned Elliniko Airport and surrounding coastal areas are being set in motion.  It is a development almost twenty years in the making, and when complete will undoubtedly no longer be overlooked.  Chances are it will become one of the most frequented areas of Athens, rivaling only the incomparable Parthenon and city center. 

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