The historic pastry shops of Athens really hit the sweet spot. Especially when it comes to family-run patisseries whose owners pass their secret recipes down from generation to generation. Discover the personal stories behind each shop window, and you’ll appreciate their irresistible baklava and Turkish delights even more.
Chara means 'joy' in Greek, and this nostalgically-styled gem has no shortage of it. Open since 1969 on Patission Street—a prime location at the time—it specialises in syrup-soaked pastries and voluptuous ice-creams. Once the beloved haunt of politicians and celebrities, Chara has featured in several Greek films. The story begins with Aristea, a Greek from Istanbul, who worked in a pastry shop there. She fled to Athens in the early 1920s, along with many other refugees, with no possessions apart from her treasured recipes, hidden in her shoes. It never crossed Aristea’s mind to turn her pastry-making talent into a business, until her son, Nikos Papoutsis, did so himself. Now run by Aristea’s grandson, Stavros, the decor and desserts have barely changed over the decades. Find a table on the pavement and order an extra-large ice-cream sundae, or one of the six varieties of ekmek (a deeply decadent bread pudding layered with custard, clotted buffalo cream and ground nuts).
This Belle Epoque time warp opened in 1930 and has remained in the same family for three generations. Their workshop is upstairs and everything is made in-house. The moment you step inside, you are instantly enchanted by the familiar aroma of sugar and butter—strong enough to evoke childhood memories of baking with family. Among the huge variety of classic Greek pastries, Mitropolitikon is much-loved for the almond baklava, vrahakia (whole almonds covered in chocolate), amygdalota (Greek-style marzipan) scented with rose water or mandarin rind, and their quince jelly made with fresh fruit and honey, which is probably the best I’ve ever tasted.
Since 1928, Aristokratikon chocolates and truffles have won devoted fans, including Maria Callas, Jackie Onassis, and Grace Kelly. The recipes are a closely guarded secret, but are based on top-quality ingredients from all over Greece: pistachios from Aegina, prunes from Skopelos, chestnuts from Pelion, sour cherries from Tripoli. Aristokratikon is also known for excellent loukoumia (Turkish delight) sugar-glazed chestnuts, and voutimata (dainty little cookies for dunking in coffee).
This family-owned pastry shop has been operating at the same location since 1915. Originally a dairy selling fresh milk, butter, yoghurt, custard cream and rice pudding, the four Asimakopoulos brothers took over the business in 1930. Over the years, they added ice cream and pastries to their rich repertoire. Their kourabiedes, the almond cookies traditionally eaten at Christmas, are among the best in town. Sisters Jane and Christina Asimakopoulou are the fourth generation dedicated to keeping sweet-toothed Athenians smiling.
“Their kourabiedes, the almond cookies traditionally eaten at Christmas, are among the best in town.”
Stani (which means ‘barnyard’) is the last surviving milk bar in Athens—a city once full of places where you could buy fresh milk, thick yoghurt, and dairy-based desserts. Nikolas and Zoe Karagiorgos originally opened their dairy in Piraeus in 1931. Forced to close when the port was bombed during World War II, they relocated to the current premises near Omonia Square in 1949. Now run by their grandson, Thanasis Karagiorgos, and his uncle, this old-school dairy is always full of office workers and old timers, who get through over 300 yoghurts a day. Made with fresh sheep’s milk, delivered daily from a family-owned farm, the yoghurt is topped with walnuts and a generous drizzle of honey from the Peloponnese. Other delights include anthogalo (fior di latte), excellent kaimaki (sheep’s milk ice-cream flavoured with mastiha, a resinous spice from Chios, and mahlepi (an aromatic spice made from the ground kernels of wild cherries), and rizogalo (rice pudding). The loukoumades, baby doughnuts drenched in honey, are legendary too.
For Athenians, Kosmikon is synonymous with what many consider to be our national dessert: galaktoboureko—custard cream enclosed in filo pastry and soaked in syrup. Before opening this pastry shop in 1961, Dimitris Telonis would sell his homemade indulgences from a tiny snack bar near Omonia Square. Popular demand persuaded him to open a proper patisserie, opposite the train station of Agios Eleftherios. Gradually, the Telonis family opened five more branches across Athens. Besides their famous galaktoboureko, their best sellers are profiteroles, kataifi (honeyed nuts topped with shredded filo) and tsoureki, a braided brioche scented with mastiha (a resinous spice from Chios island) and mahlepi (an aromatic spice made from the ground kernels of wild cherries).
"For Athenians, Kosmikon is synonymous with what many consider to be our national dessert: galaktoboureko."
Vassilios Varsos was just 16 years old, and a recent migrant from a village in central Greece, when he opened a dairy in downtown Athens in 1892. By 1922, this canny entrepreneur had moved the business to Kifissia, a leafy suburb that was once a summer destination for the upper-classes. There, the Varsos dynasty’s cake emporium-cum-dairy-cum-café thrives to this day. The place still oozes old-world charm, with its marble-top tables, high ceilings and mosaic floors. Do try the velvety whipped cream, feather-light meringues, and “stuffed croissants”, chewy brioches filled with chocolate and walnuts. Best enjoyed with an ice-cold glass of their home-made vyssinada (sour cherry cordial).
When Paulina Lemontzoglou and her husband moved from Istanbul to Athens in 1960, they brought with them their passion for politika glyka (sweets from the Poli, or ‘the City’, as Istanbul is known among Greeks). In 1971, they opened their first pastry shop downtown. The tiny shop was such a hit that they moved to bigger premises in Palio Faliro, a seaside suburb with a high concentration of Polites (Greeks from Istanbul). Not surprisingly, the Lemontzoglou family’s patisserie—now run by their sons, Kostas and Christos—specialises in the sweets they grew up eating: kazandibi (caramelised milk pudding), tavuk göğsü (a Turkish pudding made with chicken breast), atsmades (miniature brioche, sprinkled with nigella seeds), and a mind-bending array of baklava.