Ice cream is to Athens what hot chocolate is to Brussels. Get the scoop on where to find the coolest sorbets and cornettos.
Par Kimon Frangakis
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In a city where summer feels like it lasts for six months, ice cream is both a luxury and a necessity. Not surprisingly, Athens has dozens of top spots where Italian gelato traditions are blended with Greek ingredients to create a whole new flavour thesaurus. From classic ice cream sundaes to new tastes like Greek fig and mascarpone, these ice cream shops will help you keep your cool, no matter how hot it gets.
The most famous ice cream parlour in town—and deservedly so. Tastefully decorated, stylishly staffed and strategically situated a few metres from Syntagma Square. Although the name means “The Greeks” in Italian , the look, texture and taste of the ice cream here is convincingly Milanese. Indeed the elegant owner, Evi Papadopoulou, trained as a pastry chef and gelato pro in Brescia, near Milan. Signature flavours include the classic fior di latte, a reassuringly pale green pistachio ice cream made with real Sicilian pistachios, and (our favourite), the mascarpone with figs and ricotta with Aperol. What could be more Italian? Chocolate lovers should opt for dark chocolate sorbet, a dense and gratifying concoction that puts watery sorbets to shame. Fancy something a little outside the box? Lean on the bar and order some affogato: a hot, potent espresso served straight over silky vanilla ice cream.
Tucked on a side street not far from bustling Monastiraki Square, Kokkion is one of the most special spots for ice cream in Athens. Vassilis Papamattheou, owner of Paraxenes Yles (a store supplying specialist ingredients for pastry-making), opened Kokkion as an atelier for developing exquisite recipes and perfecting his confectionary techniques. If you’re a fan of frozen yoghurt, you must try the tangy yoghurt ice cream made from sheep’s milk. Recently, we indulged in an apricot, peach and rosemary sorbet which made us dream of sleeping beauties in Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s whimsical paintings. All the chocolate options are foolproof (they use Weiss artisanal French chocolate). Go for the spicy milk chocolate with pepper and orange—a jazzy tour de force. Finally, the salted caramel is a must. Top it off with a homemade butter cookie (best enjoyed with your eyes closed). Want a lighter scoop mate? Pair your gelato of choice with a freshly baked madeleine.
Zillion’s introduces a sweet note to leafy Kifissia, a northern suburb of Athens. A happy place for kids and adults alike, Zillion’s sells dozens of flavours of ice cream from a store that’s more like a wooden hut. There are tables inside and out, in a relaxed yard next to a plant nursery, where locals wolf down scoops of creamy bliss. The frozen counter brims with a zillion (sorry) colourful choices, but don’t expect sophisticated marriages of herbs and cheese. What Zillion’s does best is fresh, smooth and luscious dollops of kid-friendly flavours such as banoffee, ferrero, oreo, nutella, and the (slightly) more grown-up cheesecake, rum and raisin, and pavlova. The part we like best? The ice creams are served in convenient ceramic bowls, with long spoons, for endless scooping. Want to fully indulge? Pop your choice on a hot waffle.
Tooth-achingly sweet and with a cult, off-Broadway vibe, Tillas is an Athens institution. Founded by a Greek family from Constantinople over 50 years ago in the refugee suburb of Nea Philadelphia, what Tillas excels at is oriental delights. Their calling card is the ekmek (syrupy bread pudding) with kaimaki ice cream (vanilla scented with mastic). If you add glyko vyssino (sour cherry preserve) and toasted almond flakes, you will be indulging in one of the most decadent desserts of the eastern Mediterranean. Tillas is a master of retro ice cream flavours, too. The lemon pie tastes just like old-fashioned lemon meringue pie. The vanilla parfait has an insanely velvety texture and is laced with banana liqueur (your grandmother would love it). This is also one of the last Athenian patisseries to display small toys that children may nag their parents to buy them. Insider tip: Take your ice cream and slip around to the garden at the back. It’s less noisy than the seating on the square in front and it’s shady under the mulberry and plane trees.
Small and homely, but none the lesser for it, Cremino is an authentic little place where the home-made ice cream flavours change daily. Athanasia Kataliakou, the owner, uses sheep, cow and buffalo milk from small dairy farms. She hasn’t splurged on decorating and we mean that in a good way. The shop looks like a small living room with a kitchenette in the corner. Flavours are scribbled in the window daily. You’ll find classics like vanilla and chocolate alongside more elaborate confections, such as peach melba made with real peaches, rose made with rose petals from Athanasia’s garden, and the epic Chicago chocolate ice cream sundae, with chocolate syrup, chantilly and almonds. Half the pleasure here comes from the feeling that you have discovered a hidden gem, especially if you talk to Athanasia, who is always enthusiastic about her recipes. If you give her a good idea she might even invite you back the next day to try it!
Maraboo is the newest addition to Athens’ artisanal ice cream scene. Located on trendy Archelaou Street, in the friendly Pangrati neighbourhood, you can chase drinks at the nearby bars with a scoop of quality ice cream. (It’s open until 11.30 pm midweek and 12.30 am on Fridays and Saturdays.) You’ll come across the most unexpected (yet by no means farcical) flavours here: think stout beer, avocado or jasmine. Our favourites include vanilla and saffron, lavender and honey, and the inimitable coconut with bay leaves. Fancy something a little more straightforward and palate cleansing? Go for the truly fruity mango sorbet. The chocolate sorbet is also eminently satisfying, with 81% organic cocoa. Flavours rotate so you probably won’t find more than ten different ones on display. Vicky and Igor, the owners, will guide you through the intriguing choices—don’t hesitate to ask for a small taste of this or that before ordering. One last thing we like about Maraboo: it only sells ice cream. And bottled water.