At first glance, Ambelokipi might seem like a fairly drab business district, full of offices, embassies, hospitals, and government departments. But behind the tall buildings and noisy highways, the area has a strong neighbourhood vibe and plenty of character. Everything you need is in walking distance: theatres and cinemas, bars, restaurants and cheap eats, Asian supermarkets and inner-city parks.
Saturday Farmers Market
One of the largest farmers’ markets in Athens takes place in Ambelokipi every Saturday. Head to Louizis Riankour Street between 7 am and 4 pm for seasonal produce, seafood, olives, and beans at amazingly affordable prices. Some vendors specialise in Asian ingredients to cater to the local Sri Lankan and Indian communities.
Housed in a mansion from 1897 set by a gorgeous garden, Balthazar is one of the most famous restaurants in Athens—and it’s somehow stayed in vogue since it opened in 1973. Christophoros Peskias, the head chef, is among the most established in Greece. His seasonal fusion menus always offer up something surprising and as beautifully presented as the pretty surroundings. There’s a separate sushi menu, too.
This old-school dairy and patisserie is a neighbourhood landmark. Everything is freshly made, including the yoghurt, vanilla custard and rice pudding, the latter served with a sprinkling of cinnamon. The secret lies in the milk which comes straight from a small farm in Thiva, north of Athens. Apart from the super fresh dairy treats, Balis is also prized for its Greek classics, including kids' favourite, the so-called "little mouse" or "pontikaki", a chocolate cake shaped as a mouse.
Around the corner from Ambelokipi metro station, this fragrant, flour-dusted bakery specialises in freshly baked peinirli (boat-shaped pizza dough topped with cheese and other ingredients—like eggs, salami, or spinach—and baked in a wood-fired oven). I love the one with feta and anthotyro cheese, aubergines, tomato and mushrooms. Their bread, pies and sandwiches are delicious, too. Don’t be put off by the queue, it moves fast.
Ambelokipi is also known as ‘Little Manila’ because there’s a strong Filipino community here that has grown since the 1980s. There’s a Filipino school, several churches and community centres. But the highlight is definitely the Asian food stores that stock a great variety of tropical fruit, vegetables and other ingredients. My go-to shop is Salamat, the main supplier for most Asian restaurants in Athens. In the summer, look out for halo-halo, a concoction of shaved ice, evaporated milk, coconut, beans, and fruit that’s a favourite among Filipinos.
Oinomageirio to Trifyli
This fantastically traditional taverna right beside Panathinaikos football stadium has been catering to local football fans since 1967. Although the walls are lined with football memorabilia, local foodies and bohemians are also crazy about this cult spot. There are only a handful of tried-and-trusted dishes to choose from: crispy meatballs, hand-cut chips, battered cod with skordalia (a fiery garlic sauce) and comforting lahanodolmades, cabbages leaves stuffed with minced meat, herbs and rice, drizzled with warm egg and lemon sauce.
48 Urban Garden
A secret garden, located inside the modern landmark that houses the Ileana Tounta art space, among the most influential contemporary art galleries in Athens. Parked in the walled courtyard is a silver Airstream that produces sophisticated street food—burgers, tacos and chicken wings. Try their Navajo Burger with organic bison, smoked bacon, crispy onions and chipotle sauce infused with mescal. Wooden decks and picnic benches on different levels are surrounded by vegetable and herb gardens. The cocktails are adventurous, the vibe is lively, and the weekend brunch is highly recommended (but it’s very popular, so do book in advance).
For decades, Mavili Square has been the after-hours meeting point for Athenian party-goers. Enjoy a thin crust pizza with top-notch toppings and home-made tomato sauce at Flower Pizza, followed by a Manhattan or a Dry Martini at Kyrios bar. Theatrically decorated with velvet drapes, leather stools, and shiny marble bar, it’s like something from a James Bond movie—here, the cocktails are stirred, not shaken. Open all day, it’s a lovely spot for a quiet coffee too. There’s live jazz on Monday nights. Next door, Briki is a classic neighbourhood bar. The narrow space is always packed with a crowd of all ages; there’s just enough space to tap your feet to the funk and soul tunes.