For many, it is impossible to think of Athens without imagining the Acropolis, the great classical citadel that overshadows it, and assuming the city is all about the past. Ancient Athens may be; antiquated it is not.
In recent years there has been an explosion of exciting developments, from a buzzing urban street-art scene to ultra-stylish design hotels and unique bars and restaurants.
Take The Art Foundation, for example. Housed inside a nondescript building in Monastiraki, it is an impressive space promoting Greek contemporary art with a great little courtyard bar to hang out in and discuss the works.
If you want to explore the explosion in street art, Big Olive City Walks will show you how the political and economic turmoil of recent years has inspired a new generation of artists on the Urban Tribes of Athens route.
Alternatively, the city’s modernist architecture, influenced by Le Corbusier, makes for another fascinating walking tour.
For traditionalists who want to dip into the modern-art scene, the Pireos Street annexe of the Benaki museum is a contemporary offshoot of the grand neo-classical gallery better known for its vast classical and ancient art collection.
Currently building an international reputation, The Breeder Gallery, housed in a former ice-cream factory in Metaxourgio, promotes both home-grown and international art, alongside its pop-up restaurant, The Breeder Feeder, with its alternating roster of chefs.
It’s a move typical of the city’s new gastronomy scene which offers a vibrant alternative to the more traditional tavernas.
At its peak is a small core of Michelin-starred establishments including Funky Gourmet, which is located in a smart neoclassical house with an art deco lounge and a minimalist first-floor dining room.
In downtown Kerameikos, there is Hytra, a stylish, modern bar and fine restaurant on the sixth floor of the Onassis Cultural Centre, where the best tables look across Singrou towards the Acropolis.
You don’t have to have deep pockets to enjoy modern food in Athens, though. Taking its name from the former gasworks, Gazi is the city’s current hot spot, full of hipster bars and burger joints.
Sardelles is a highly rated seafood restaurant there, The Butcher Shop is a tasty psistaria, or grill house, while Athiri has built a solid reputation for serving gourmet food on a budget.
If you’re in Gazi, K44, an allnight warehouse bar, is currently the place for a drink. Other hip Athens drinking establishments include Kitty Cat, a former Chinese restaurant on Syntagma Square that has had a Tarantinoesque makeover, Couleur Locale, with great views of the Parthenon, and Brettos in Plaka, the oldest distillery in the city, below the Acropolis.
Alternatively, venture to trendy Heretoklito wine bar, or bar-art space six d.o.g.s, near Monastiraki Flea Market.
Of course you will need a cool place to rest your weary head afterwards. Fortunately they are springing up all over the place.
The Pallas Athena Grecotel picks up on the street-art boom with 55 individually graffitied rooms, transformed by local artists. Its restaurant is highly rated too.
Slotted quietly into a cobbled street in Plaka, a short distance from the Acropolis, AthensWas is an intimate 21-room designer hotel that features glass walls and funky furniture as well as a rooftop restaurant and bar.
Located in leafy, affluent Kifissia, Semiramis is a groovy YES! hotel with a retina-scorching acid pink, lime and lemon exterior and provocative art collection. Its kidney-shaped pool area wouldn’t be out of place in Miami.
An added attraction to an Athens city break is the chance to bolt on a little beach time. The Athenian Riviera is on the city’s doorstep about 10 miles south of the centre of the capital, on the Saronic Gulf.
Here a cluster of resorts runs from the suburbs to the southernmost point of Attica, Cape Sounio, where the Temple of Poseidon looms above the Aegean.
Faliro has a smart marina, while Glyfáda is the unofficial capital, standing out for its sandy, palmfringed beaches and open-air cinemas. A little further down, Voúla has two of the Riviera’s biggest beach clubs and the family resort of Várkiza is popular with windsurfers.
Stay at the Margi hotel in the cool pine forest of Vouliagmeni, which has an excellent restaurant using organic food from its farm, or in one of the bungalows at the nearby Astir Palace, a Sixties complex recently reworked by top Greek architects Zege.