Where is Kolonaki Located?
Kolonaki is just north of the very heart of Athens – Syntagma Square. It is wedged between the beautiful National Gardens and Lycabettus Hill, one of the loveliest natural areas of the city, and Athens’ highest point. Kolonaki, too, is a mainly hillside neighborhood, and – although so central – the climate benefits from fresh breezes in the summer. Kolonaki is within walking distance of many interesting areas of the city, and several museums are located in or very close by Kolonaki.
The History of Kolonaki
Kolonaki – like much of Athens – has a fascinatingly layered history. The upper part of the neighborhood has a well-known cinema and cafe called “Dexameni.” This means “reservoir,” because it was. In the 2nd century AD, the Roman Emperor Hadrian had a reservoir built to meet the city’s growing water needs. The ruins of it are still here.
During the Ottoman occupation, Athens was a relatively quiet place, and what is today Kolonaki was largely hilly fields, with sheep and goats and a few residents who tended them. The neighborhood changed when the palace was built – today’s Syntagma (Parliament Building). The proximity to the new palace attracted many aristocrats, and mansions went up in these former grazing lands. As the neighborhood developed, Embassies and other important buildings were erected.
How is Kolonaki Today?
Kolonaki has followed the path it started out on in the 19th century as an aristocratic neighborhood. Once the neighborhood of courtiers, its proximity to the Parliament building makes this prime real estate for politicians and business people. Prime restaurants and chic cafes and bars line the streets. Of course, fine shopping followed soon after. The fine boutiques of Kolonaki are where the well-heeled outfit themselves. The neighborhood now is urban, refined, peaceful. It is also very much a place to see and be seen.
Things to Do in Kolonaki
This central neighborhood of Athens is filled with excellent things to do. From culture to cafe-culture, from chic shopping to rugged hiking, and terrific dining options, Kolonaki offers the visitor a lot.
The Museums of Kolonaki
Kolonaki’s magnificent mansions make the ideal setting for some spectacular museum experiences.
The Benaki Museum of Greek Culture
The Benaki is actually a consortium of several fascinating museums, but the main museum – the Museum of Greek Culture – is in the glorious Benaki family mansion on the corner of Vasilissis Sophias avenue at 1 Koumbari street, directly across from the National Gardens. The family collection has objects and art representing Greek culture from prehistory to the 20th century. There are also special exhibitions – for more information please see here.
Insider Tip: Enjoy it after dark: the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture is open until Midnight on Thursdays. Not only is the museum free from 6 pm until midnight on Thursdays, it is also a really fun time to visit.
The Museum of Cycladic Art
Another spectacular mansion houses this impressive collection of Cycladic Art. The benefactors Nicholas and Dolly Goulandris amassed these beautiful works, and they have since been added to by acquisitions and donations.
Come here to learn about the ancient cultures of the Aegean, and also for their special exhibitions. Recent exhibitions have included works by Ai Wei Wei – with some inspired directly by the Cycladic collection, photographs of Robert McCabe, and Picasso and Antiquity. See here for current exhibitions.
The Numismatic Museum
Technically just outside the border of Kolonaki, but very much in keeping with the neighborhood’s aristocratic vibe – is this historic mansion-museum. Dedicated to coins, the impressive collection is nonetheless almost overshadowed by the setting. The neo-Renaissance Iliou Melathron was designed by Ernst Ziller for none other than Heinrich Schliemann, excavator of ancient Troy. The terrific garden cafe is a lovely place to cool off.
The B and M Theocharakis Foundation for Fine Arts and Music
This magnificent foundation does in-depth, beautifully curated shows that really dive into aspects of Greek culture. Recent exhibitions include the turbulent and inspiring life of Maria Callas and the human form in Greek painting in the 20th century. There are also concerts. For more information, please see here.
Byzantine and Christian Museum
Apart from the rich collections, the Byzantine and Christian Museum is worth visiting for its lovely historic building, the Villa Ilyssia, originally built as the winter palace of the Duchess of Plaisance. After visiting the collections indoors, enjoy the themed gardens and outdoor cafe.
Visit the museums’ site for more information.
Megaro Mousikis – Athens Concert Hall
The best cultural events of the year are often held at the Megaro Mousikis, a state of the art concert hall in the eastern corner of Kolonaki.
Ancient Culture – the Archaeological Site of the Lyceum of Aristotle
A relatively recent discovery, the foundations of the Lyceum of Aristotle were found when digging for the construction of a new Museum of Modern Art. The palestra – a training area for athletes – and some ruins of the school are visible today. This is where Aristotle founded his Lyceum, in 335 BC, and shared his philosophy for over a decade.
The Church of Dionysus Aeropagitou
On the crest of Skoufa street, this supremely elegant church is dedicated to Dionysus Aeropagitus, the patron Saint of Athens and the first official to convert to Christianity. This opulent neo-Baroque church – built on a cross-in-square plan – was constructed from 1925 to 1931. This is one of the more prestigious churches of Athens. The shady square beside the church is a wonderful place to rest for a moment.
St. George Church Lycabettus Hill
Worth the considerable climb, this small chapel tops Athens’ highest hill. The whitewashed church was built in 1870, on the site of a previous temple to Zeus. Try to come at sunset, for some memorable photographs of the city.
There are two restaurants one flight down from the church – one is casual, and the one more elegant, with – of course – stunning views.
If you are not up for the climb to the summit, you can reach Lycabettus hill via the teleferique at Aristippou 1. There will be two flights of stairs to reach the chapel from the teleferique.
Agios Isidoros Church
Harder to find and located on the western slope of Mt. Lycabettus, this fascinating church is built into a natural cave in the mountain, an inspiring and beautiful site. It dates from the 15th or 16th century.
Go Shopping in Kolonaki
Kolonaki has hands-down the absolute best shopping in Athens. You’ll find all the major international big brands here, as well as boutiques of the world’s most exclusive luxury fashion houses.
Attica Shopping Center
Cool off in the beautifully-stocked Attica, Greece’s most exclusive mall/department store hybrid. Based on the shop-in-shop concept, it is the ideal combination of boutique shopping with the convenience and variety of the department store experience.
You may need deeper pockets to go shopping on the ultra-exclusive Voukourestiou Street, but you certainly won’t need them to window shop. International fashion powerhouses like Dior, Hermès, Prada, Cartier, and Louis Vuitton join elite Greek names in fine jewelry like LaLaounis, Vildiridis, and Imanoglou along this narrow yet glamorous street.
More Luxury Shopping
Some other luxury brands make their home nearby. For instance, at Skoufa 17, you’ll find Balenciaga, and Gucci is at Tsakalof 27. And international fashionistas will definitely want to visit the famous Greek fashion house Parthenis, at Dimokritou 20. For Athenian haute couture, Vasillis Zoulias channels true old-school Athenian glamour at Academias 4.
Those worry beads you hear clicking as a pastime in the thick heat of summer are called “Komboloi.” They are a symbol of classic Greece culture as well as a sweet memento of simpler times. These beautiful objects are a truly unique Greek item, and they make a wonderful souvenir or gift. This specialty shop has an astounding array, some in luxury materials.
Amerikis Street 9, Kolonaki
Yoleni’s Greek Gastronomy Center
At Yoleni’s, you can experience tastes from every corner of Greece. Come here for an excellent range of specialty cheeses, unique charcuterie, wines, olive oils, homemade pastas, and other authentic gourmet Greek delights. You can also try some right on the spot at the restaurant and cafe.
See Contemporary Art at the Art Galleries of Kolonaki
This is one of the most interesting neighborhoods to explore what’s going on in the contemporary Greek Art world. Kalfayan focuses on artists from Greece, the Balkans, the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. Argo Gallery is one of the oldest contemporary galleries of Athens. It started in Cyprus in 1970, during the Greek dictatorship, and moved to Athens in 1975. Very famous Greek artists have exhibited here. At Ekfrasi (“Expression”), you can see works of Greek and international artists and they also hold cultural events. Skoufa Gallery has both contemporary art as well as historically significant Greek artists.
Kalfayan: Charitos 11
Argo: Neophytou Douka 5
Ekfrasi: Valaoritou 9a
Skoufa Gallery: Skoufa 4
Take in the Local Scene at the Squares
Kolonaki has two “Plateias” (squares) – the most well known is of course Kolonaki Square. This is great for people watching, but it’s mainly an older crowd you’ll find here, drinking coffee or eating lunch at some classic standbys on the square. The locals love the more casual Dexameni square which is uphill. There is a charming and casual outdoor meze-cafe-all day bar, and an outdoor cinema – both called Dexameni. The outdoor cinema is closed for the season and should reopen in 2021
Drink Coffee Like a True Athenian
At some point in the course of a Kolonaki day, pretty much everyone stops in at Da Capo, right on the square. The outdoor tables have a Parisian mood. Chez Michel, on Irodotou, is slightly off center and has an elegant neighborhood feel.
Dine Out in Kolonaki
With the great slogan “Quality Fish for All,” barbounaki really delivers. Chef Giorgos Papaioannou and his team have built around this concept, sering the authentic tastes of Greece and her seas in a pleasing space.
39b Charitos Street
This is one of those gems you search for and find all too rarely. Filippou is truly a taste of old Athens, with classic homestyle dishes and a long tradition, beginning in 1923 as a barrel winery. The Fillipou family has been serving the finest in true Greek tastes for nearly a century, from generation to generation. The prices and quality are excellent.
Xenokratous Street 19
“Oikos” means home, and the name of this restaurant captures the warmth and familiarity of the mood, seen also in the very cosy decor. Enjoy meats, pastas, and Greece’s famous “ladera” – the freshest of seasonal vegetables cooked lovingly in rich olive oil (“ladi”) and tomato. The Guide Michelin awards it a Bib Gourmand for good quality and good value.
A visit to Greece is not complete without a simple and delicious meal of perfectly seasoned skewers of meat from the grill, served with crisp fries, warm pita bread, and all of the classic accompaniments. Kalamaki Kolonaki is just the right spot to get your carnivore fix.
Elegant Nikkei serves up exotic tastes from well beyond the Mediterranean. This Peruvian restaurant – Athens’ first – has a menu of ceviche, inventive Asian-inspired salads, and a fine selection of impeccable sushi. The setting is lovely – a gorgeous outdoor space by the Dexameni Plateia.
Where to Stay in Kolonaki
Central, chic, and quiet, Kolonaki makes a terrific home base from which to explore Athens. Do be aware that this is a hilly neighborhood though. Here are my top two picks:
St. George Lycabettus
What splendid sweeping views of the city – all of Athens spreads out before you from most of the rooms, from the glamorous rooftop terrace, and from the breakfast room. This five-star hotel features a rooftop swimming pool, chic contemporary decor, and great service. – Click here for more information and to check the latest prices.
The elegant and minimalist Periscope features airy decor, soundproofed rooms with wooden floors, a pillow menu, and luxury toiletries. In the true spirit of Greek hospitality, you can enjoy fruit, snacks, and drinks all day in the lounge, free of charge. – Click here for more information and to check the latest prices.