For the Athens-bound, the well-known mix of Greek sun, sea and classical antiquity may feel like an obvious draw, but do not be distracted by the clichés; there are riches aplenty far beyond these in the Greek capital’s cultural scene. Following almost a decade of financial troubles, topped by the challenges brought by the pandemic, Athens is now, again, on the up. Parts of the city are being rethought through art, including an unexpected corner of Piraeus, and the Pedion Areos park; some of the capital’s most iconic 20th-century heritage is being given a new lease of life – there’s the ongoing renovation of the former Hilton hotel, one of Athens’ most iconic modernist buildings, into a new city destination, as well as the Fix brewery and Piraeus Tower; and a wealth of stylish hotels and eateries are opening all over town. And all that is on top of the Greek capital’s existing charms and cultural haunts. Here, we pick some of the finest Athens architecture, design and art currently on offer, and flag up some of the exciting projects coming up in the Mediterranean metropolis. All you need to do is hop on an Aegean flight. 

Athens architecture and more

Piraeus art district

 India Mahdavi renders her most iconic piece in all-white for Athens’ Carwan Gallery
Currently showing at Carwan Athens is India Mahdavi. Photography: Giorgos Sfakianakis

The ancient port of Piraeus has proven to be the capital’s newest art hub, with a trio of international galleries flocking to the neighbourhood of Agios Dionysios (also known as Papastratos, from the namesake tobacco brand that had its factory there in the last century). Rodeo, Carwan and The Intermission have each recently launched an outpost there, bringing contemporary art and design to the industrial landscape of this part of the city. The area has more coming up, with modern workspace and some residential projects courtesy of local design-led developer Dimand, as well as the Piraeus Tower at its doorstep (more below). 

Mona 

 mona hotel in athens

The little sister of the established Shila hotel in Kolonaki, Mona is the freshest addition to central Athens’ hospitality scene. The brainchild of creative director Eftihia Stefanidi and entrepreneur Shai Antebi, Mona is not just a hotel. Located in an eight-storey industrial factory from the 1950s in the edgy Monastiraki district, it features 20 rooms, a concept café, lounge and bar, and a speakeasy basement venue, as well as a members’ club rooftop terrace. The space has been styled with immaculate attention to detail, merging contemporary art and design objects from independent local designers as well as the owner’s own design studio (Shila Maison d’Objets). Every beautiful piece found in the rooms can be purchased, and happenings make this stay as fun as it could possibly be. 

The Ellinikon Experience Centre 

 The Ellinikon Experience Centre 
Photography: George Fakaros

When the new Eleftherios Venizelos airport opened in Athens in time for the 2004 Athens Olympics, its predecessor, Ellinikon airport, was left neglected and without purpose. After a few years spent working out how best to use its prime real-estate draws (located beside the beach and across a surface larger than the whole city-state of Monaco) and architectural heritage (it includes a main building, often referred to as the East Terminal, by midcentury modernist Eero Saarinen and created in 1959-63), it is now being redesigned by Lamda Development in stages as a mixed-use complex along with an extensive park. The Ellinikon Experience Centre, a reimagined airplane hangar, acts as a visitor centre for the area’s redevelopment, telling the story of what was and what’s to come. The projects included feature local and international architecture studios, such as Kengo Kuma, Foster + Partners (see below) and Doxiadis+. 

‘Plásmata: Bodies, Dreams, and Data’ at Pedion Areos 

 Cloud Quilt, Saya Woolfalk ©PINELOPI_GERASIMOU_HIGH-6
Cloud Quilt, Saya Woolfalk. Photography: Pinelopi Gerasimou 

Digital art illuminates the central Athens park Pedion Areos, with the exhibition ‘Plásmata: Bodies, Dreams, and Data’, running until 10 July 2022. Masterminded by key local cultural player Onassis Stegi alongside the UK-based cultural agency FutureEverything, the show is an immersive open-air contemporary art exhibition in one of Athens’ largest urban parks. ‘The initial idea was simple,’ its creators explain, ‘to help restore a civic green space where residents could exercise during lockdown and where culture would be accessible to all of the diverse local communities, free of charge.’ On show are some 25 new large-scale works by local and international artists, co-curated by director of culture at the Onassis Foundation, Afroditi Panagiotakou, head of digital development at Onassis Stegi, Prodromos Tsiavos, and director of FutureEverything, Irini Papadimitriou. 

Piraeus Tower 

 Piraeus tower render aerial

This tower is not only the tallest in Piraeus but also the second tallest in the whole of Greece. Now, local design-savvy developer Dimand, alongside emerging Athens architecture studio Pila (founded by Ilias Papageorgiou, who relocated from New York, leaving a partner position at SO-IL in 2019 to set up on his own), the 1970s building is being reimagined for the 21st century, bringing together modern workspace, generous retail and food and beverage elements, and public green spaces. Combining sustainable principles with sleek design, as well as urban gestures in the form of a raised, green public pathway that connects the tower to the port, creating a welcome promenade, the refreshed tower is set to be completed in late 2023. 

Albert Oehlen at Gagosian Athens 

 Albert Oehlen at Gagosian Athens 
‘Works on Paper and a Sculpture’, installation view, 2022. Photography: Paris Tavitian, courtesy Gagosian

Albert Oehlen’s first exhibition in Greece will be running at the Gagosian Athens 9 June – 20 August 2022. Comprising drawing, collages and sculpture, the German artist’s show is titled ‘Works on Paper and a Sculpture’. For the exhibition’s solitary sculptural piece, Oehlen draws inspiration from the character of Dr Robert Neville in the dystopian sci-fi action movie, The Omega Man, from 1971. The result is a powerful, cast-aluminium, abstractly genderless humanoid form, placed among smaller works on paper in ink, pencil, and watercolour. Everything is seen within a majestic building masterfully redesigned by Kois Associated Architects.

Milos hotel and restaurant 

 estiatorio milos
The restaurant’s interior. Photography: Dimitris Poupalos

The Milos restaurant (Estiatorio Milos) is well known in culinary circles for serving the finest fish in town and now its brand-new venue by London- and Athens-based studio Divercity Architects means it has some fine design to boast too. Sleek, seamless design featuring swathes of white marble, including a sculptural staircase, and minimalist decor mirror the beauty in simplicity found in the restaurant’s dishes. Additionally, its new location, just a stone’s throw from the heart of Athens and Syntagma Square, also comprises a chic hotel offering, Xenodocheio Milos, created by the same practice and featuring warm wood and elegant, contemporary interiors. 

Marina Tower by Foster + Partners 

 Tower by Foster and Partners

Foster + Partners is behind one of the first residential schemes to be revealed at the redeveloped Ellinikon airport – while also masterplanning the whole estate. The Marina Tower is located right on the Athens Riviera, hailing its contemporary residential vision for this newly formed corner of the city. Surrounded by green expanses and blue waters, the project aims to be Greece’s first eco-conscious skyscraper, created following principles of sustainable architecture, as well as offering open-air planted terraces for residents. The tower is set to complete by 2026. 

National Museum of Contemporary Art Αthens (EMST) 

 EMST in athens, exterior detail
Photography: Spiros Rekounas

The former Fix brewery in central Athens has been a city landmark since its creation in 1963 by Greek modernist Takis Zenetos – for its elegant lines, but also its sheer scale, dubbed by locals the ‘horizontal skyscraper’. Following a lengthy redesign process, the building was recently reopened as the National Museum of Contemporary Art Αthens (EMST), reimagined by 3SK Stylianidis Architects, in collaboration with Kalliope Kontozoglou, I Mouzakis & Associates-Architects Ltd, and Tim Ronalds Architects, ready to lend its vast expanses to art displays. Unfortunately, the museum launched just as the pandemic started, so had to remain closed to visitors for a while, but it is now reopening with a bang and a wealth of cultural programming, including temporary exhibitions, special projects and dedicated foyer commissions by local and international artists.

Athens Design Forum 2022 

 fassianos house in kea
Image from the Fassianos archive

The Athens Design Forum, a festival dedicated to promoting Greek design, art and architecture, is back, following a successful first year featuring buildings such as the Kypseli house of Greek modernist Aristomenis Provelengios. Now, the late Athens artist Alekos Fassianos takes centre stage and the forum opens his island home in Kea, an Aegean retreat that is just a one-hour ferry journey from Athens. In collaboration with The Alekos Fassianos Estate, this will be the inaugural opening of the Fassianos residence and atelier, where visitors can enjoy his art as well as the home’s typical regional island architecture of humble, white, low forms. The public launch takes place on 10 July 2022. 

‘Brice Marden and Greek Antiquity’ at Museum of Cycladic Art 

brice marden work shown in athens
Brice Marden’s work in Athens. Photography: Paris Tavitian © Museum of Cycladic Art

Part of the ‘Divine Dialogues’ series at the Museum of Cycladic Art, this show, on display through 29 August, takes visitors on a journey across Greek landscapes through the eyes of New York artist Brice Marden. Playing with the metaphysics of ancient Greek heritage, the artist shows a selection of paintings, drawings, and notebooks, which sit juxtaposed – and in dialogue with – pieces from the Museum of Cycladic Art’s permanent collection. Marden, who has drawn inspiration from Greek nature and antiquity for 50 years, is powerful and layered. 

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