Did you know that less than 30 minutes from the Acropolis there’s a coastal playground of blue-flag beaches, barefoot fish tavernas, and unspoiled coves? It’s called the Athens Riviera. Add five-star resorts and spas, glamorous seaside clubs, great shopping—plus summers that stretch for six months—and it’s little wonder that this 50km coastline is now a destination in itself. Follow our Athens Riviera itinerary and you’ll be left asking: “Can this really be Athens?”
Cinema under the stars
Begin your Athens Riviera immersion with a quintessentially Greek summer tradition: outdoor cinema. Cine Ria, a cheery picture house with a retro vibe in the seaside suburb of Varkiza, screens new Hollywood releases in English with Greek subtitles. Cine Akti is an equally picturesque open air cinema in Vouliagmeni. The acoustics may not always triumph. But the heady scent of jasmine and orange blossom mingling with the aroma of the fresh popcorn you couldn’t resist will more than make up for it.
Your post-movie dinner date is ten minutes’ away in Vouliagmeni at the Margi Hotel’s classy Malabar restaurant. Distinctive green and white striped awnings lend this elegant bolthole the air of the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel. But Malabar is pure Mediterranean Paradiso. Olive trees float on platforms over the pool near bright wisps of bougainvillea, while softly-lit lanterns hang above your table. On your plate: unfussy contemporary Greek cuisine (such as lamb with aubergine, coriander and yoghurt), prepared with seasonal ingredients sourced from the hotel’s own Margi Farm. The Margi bar is also an enduring classic for a glam pre-dinner cocktail or nightcap.
Shopping and lunching in Glyfada
Shiny happy. Materialistic. The Riviera’s retail and social hub, Glyfada—home turf to Greek pop stars and affluent foreigners—is an essential part of the coastal scene. It’s a great place to spend your morning shopping and lunching à la mode. Avoid the main Metaxa drag, with its fast food chains and high-street staples (except for Zayiana, which has a fine line of gifts inspired by the mati, or 'evil eye'). You’ll find the real Glyfada in the leafy side streets and up-and-coming pockets, such as Kiprou, Laodikis and Espiridon Square.
Kiprou is colonised by boutiques championing Greek designers alongside international labels (Pinko, Zilly, Soho-Soho, Zadig & Voltaire), as well as Greek contemporary jewellers like Zerteo. Over on Laodikis, you’ll find vibey street bars and cafes like Holy Spirit and Soleto. Make a detour to Giorgia P for foxy essentials and floaty maxi-dresses at more affordable prices. Lunch is served at Sea Spice, Glyfada’s current 'it' restaurant. This fashionable spot ignites in the evening, with live DJ sets and Georgina who sings on the bar. During the day, Sea Spice is still an excellent spot to enjoy top-notch sharing plates out on the pavement, while indulging in that favourite Glyfada pastime: people watching.
Dive off the rocks at Limanakia
Time to discover a true Riviera treasure. Many drive straight past this stretch of paraliaki (coastal road), none the wiser that just below it—a short scramble down an unsigned path—is one of Athens’ most alluring coves. For locals, leaping off the boulders into the deep, crystalline waters of Limanakia Vouliagmenis is a rite of passage. A wooden sundeck, spartan snack shack and Ibiza-style tunes add to the joyful languor. There’s a bus stop right outside.
Party like you’re on a Greek island
No other Athens Riviera venue has the 'wow factor' of Island Club Restaurant, your Saturday night rendezvous. Push past the white fronds to enter a Cycladic island fantasy, atop a knockout stretch of secluded coastline in Varkiza. Your best bet is to book one of the waterfront tables for the 10 pm 'early' sitting, so that you’ll have a stronghold when the party crowd arrive around midnight.
Iced coffee by the beach
With its palm-lined boulevards and private marinas, Vouliagmeni is to Athens what Cannes is to the Cote d’Azur. Kick off your perfect Athenian Sunday with a frappe coffee at Moorings in Marina Vouliagmenis, as you admire the azure sweep of Vouliagmeni bay with its cargo of luxury yachts. (If you’re staying in the city centre, do set out early to avoid the Sunday convoy heading to the Riviera on summer weekends.)
Take a dip in the sea
Depending on your budget, hit Astir Beach—the fairest (and priciest) Athens beach of them all. (Top tip: it’s cheaper midweek.) Once the summer hideout of Jackie Onassis, Astir offers manicured sands, waiter service to your lounger, upscale boutiques and hairdryers in the bathrooms. There are even ancient ruins unearthed by children at play in 1924. Or simply plant your towel five minutes down the road and dive for free off the rocky pier outside lively En Plo café. The swimming is just as lovely.
Front row dining
For a long Sunday lunch by the sea, head to Blue Fish (underneath En Plo), which specialises in finessed Mediterranean-Japanese seafood. Top tastes are the sea bream carpaccio and scorpion fish linguine. Or settle in at local’s favourite Garbi on the Kavouri seafront promenade. The fish croquettes and shrimp saganaki are consistent crowd-pleasers. Between courses, take a dip in the enticing shallow waters out front.
Walk off lunch with a gentle hike on the mountain trail above Vouliagmeni's café strip. You’ll be rewarded with hypnotic views of Athens and the Saronic islands, only an hour or two by ferry. Or refresh yourself in the mineral waters of Lake Vouliagmeni, a sunken cavern fed by underground currents that are a constant 24° C. Brace yourself for the small black fish, kalogries, that nudge your toes when you climb in.
A glorious sunset over the ruins
Lord Byron’s cherished Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion beckons: a photogenic, one-hour drive down the coastal road from Glyfada. Erected during the Golden Age of Pericles (around 440 BC) and perched nearly 60 metres above sea, Sounion combines the drama of the Acropolis with one of the most rousing seascapes imaginable.