The Ultimate Shopping Guide To Athens
If you love perusing local stores while you travel, Athens is a great place to do some quality shopping. It can be hard to know where to go and what to look for, though, so we’ve weeded out the ordinary and predictable shopping options to save you time and help you focus on the unique and eminent that Athens has to offer. The city is flush with unbeatable boutiques, malls, and street markets. Here’s a primer on what unique Athenian gifts to look for and where you need to shop in Athens to catch the best shopping vibes the city has to offer.
Souvenir ideas from Athens
Few cities are as steeped in history as Athens, and souvenir shopping is a prudent way to capture some of it. Whether it is a fashion item, Greek produce, or an ornament, there is a perfect gift for everyone. If you are a coffee lover, you have probably already tried the strong brew Greek coffee with the grounds in the bottom of the cup and the silky foam on the top. Buy a set of porcelain mini cups and a briki (the pot used for preparing Greek coffee) and impress your guests at home with a distinctive hot drink.
You may have come across komboloi during your stay in Greece. It is the amber or wood beads hung on a loop that men swing and flip rhythmically (and often loudly) against their palms to relieve stress or quit smoking. Even though komboloi has evolved from prayer beads and ropes, currently it has no religious connotations, and it is mostly used as a home decoration.
You don’t have to be over-invested in board games to appreciate tavli, Greece’s beloved board game. Tavli originates from Mesopotamia, and it’s similar to backgammon. It is made from the wood of cherry, oak, ebony, or olive trees. Speaking of olive trees, olive oil is renowned for its health benefits, and apart from its culinary uses, Greeks have established other ways to extract the goodness of this elixir. You can find olive oil beauty products such as soaps, creams, body lotions, and shampoos in Greece’s three biggest natural beauty stores: Apivita Experience Store in Kolonaki, Korres, and Mastiha Shop, or in selected pharmacies.
It is safe to say that much of your Athens holiday memories will be linked to food. So why not take some of the flavors with you and prolong your trip — at least mentally? Baklava is the most characteristic Greek dessert, made of layered filo pastry drenched in syrup and decorated with walnuts. If you feel that with the honey syrup you are putting your clothes at risk, you can opt for more solid choices such as mandolato (nougat), pasteli (honey and sesame seeds bar), elies (almonds covered with chocolate), loukoumi (Turkish delight), and halva (crumbly dessert made of tahini).
Last but not least, Greece produces several distilled spirits that are unique to the country. A bottle of ouzo (anise-flavored aperitif), Metaxa (brandy), mastiha (liquor), raki (aperitif made from fermented grapes), or Mavrodaphne (sweet wine) has the power to capture the spirit of the place and evoke memories of your trip. So maybe finish your souvenir shopping with some bottle-hunting? Cellier liquor store in Syntagma is a good beginning to the end.
Downtown shopping areas
Now that you know what to shop for, here are the downtown areas you’ll find the biggest concentration of stores. This list includes not only places like Plaka and Monastiraki, where you can find great gifts to take back home, but also the shopping areas for clothing and other items that Athenians like to frequent.
Ermou street — This pedestrian-only lane running from the Syntagma metro station all the way down to the Monastiraki metro station is Athens’ most popular shopping strip. On both sides of the wide road, you’ll spot the same international mid-range brands you see in other big cities, among them Zara, H&M, and American Eagle. Look instead for some Greek retail like Staff Jeans and Toi & Moi. When hunger hits, grab a traditional snack on the go from the scattered stands. Athenians’ all-time favorite is fresh-from-the-oven koulouri, a round bread sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Monastiraki — Every Sunday, this neighborhood hosts the biggest flea market in Athens where, if persistent and with an eye for detail, you can find treasured collectors’ items such as books, vinyl, antiques, and silverware. For the most part, the area of Monastiraki is pedestrian-only, and the shops are dedicated to souvenirs, footwear, leather bags and sandals, and beads for artisans who make jewelry.
Plaka — Athens’ quaint old town is the eye of souvenir shopping. Adrianou street is Plaka’s prime alley, loaded with boho-chic shops, bijouteries, and Greek memorabilia. Travelers flow up and down the narrow passages of Plaka all year round, and shopkeepers are always keen on starting conversations. They even tolerate moderate haggling. However, keep in mind that prices within Plaka are premium due to the touristy nature of the area. Forget-me-NΩt, which resembles a museum gift shop, and the Anamnesia concept store are hipper, updated versions of the typical souvenir shops.
Kolonaki — This posh neighborhood is a gilt-edged shopping haven for well-heeled Athenians and visitors. On P. Anagnostopoulou and Tsakalof streets, discerning travelers will find the high-end boutiques to their liking. In spite of the area’s opulence, gawkers are also welcomed, and no one expects you to look a specific way to let you in. Pedestrian-only Voukourestiou street is Kolonaki’s premier spot with every major brand from Gucci and Prada to Bulgari and Dior operating a swank store. Greece is renowned for handmade silver and gold jewelry, and besides legendary brands such as Cartier, local signature stores such as Lalaounis and Kessaris offer plenty of elegant baubles to admire.
Store hours — Chain stores are open Monday-Friday from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM and Saturday from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Most tourist shops in Monastiraki and Plaka are open every day until 9:00 PM or 10:00 PM during the summer months. Independent shops and boutiques close at 3:00 PM on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, and on Tuesday and Friday, shopkeepers take a siesta break between 3:00 PM and 5:00 PM. With a few exceptions, shops in Greece generally remain closed on Sundays.
The malls of Athens
For many years, Athens was scrambling to catch up with the storm of the malls trend. It caught up, since malls have now radically changed Athenians’ shopping behavior. The biggest malls — such as The Mall Athens, Golden Hall, and Avenue Mall — are in the suburban area of Marousi, and access is easy via Line 1 of the Athens Metro network. If you are in Athens only for a one-day stopover and looking to kill some time around the airport area, visit the Athens Designer Outlet in Spata where you can find big brands at up to 70 percent off.
Attica department store on Panepistimiou street is one of Athens’ landmarks. The 1930s, eight-floor building has received a big-money makeover to become the one-stop shop for downtown shopping. Attica’s shelves are well-stocked with women, men, kids, beauty, and homeware brands. Also, the department store offers alteration services, has a nail bar, a rooftop restaurant, and a relaxation room. If you want to take your shopping experience to the next level, ask for the VIP shopping assistance.
Athénée café, on the corner of Voukourestiou and Panepistimiou street, adjoins Attica, and together they make for the best-combined shopping and eating encounter in Athens. Athénée opened its doors in the late 1930s under the name Zonar’s — from its owner, a Greek chocolatier based in the US. Ever since then, prominent names such as Sofia Loren and Anthony Quinn have dined at it. Until today, Athénée remains loyal to its old glory and personality with an Art Deco style and an exquisite menu.
Mall hours — The malls are open Monday-Friday from 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM, on Saturday from 9:00 AM or 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM, and closed on Sunday.