From the best green cuisine and eco-friendly lodgings to up-cycled souvenirs and car-free explorations, here’s how to up your sustainable traveler score on your next Athens visit.
Up until recently, first-time visitors to Athens could have been forgiven for assuming that Athenians existed solely on souvlaki, freddo iced coffees (in single-use cups) and exhaust fumes. True, Athens still has some catching up to do with its more environmentally-conscious European cousins. But as entrepreneurs, activists and local government join forces to develop big and small ways of becoming more sustainable, the Greek capital is making great strides towards its goal of evolving into a green and global metropolis. From where to enjoy the best vegan souvlaki in town to eco-friendly hotels and up-cycled shopping, here’s our guide to making your stay in Athens as green as can be.
Where to go for green bites
In short, everywhere. Greeks will always love their meat, but sticking to a plant-based diet in Athens is surprisingly simple. Most tavernas serve hearty vegetarian staples such as pites (pies with fillings like spinach, horta wild greens or mushroom) and ladera (veggies cooked in fresh tomato sauce and olive oil). Go for delicious classics like fasolakia (green beans and potatoes) or yemista (stuffed tomatoes and green peppers) and throw in a horiatiki (Greek salad), along with zucchini fritters (kolokithokeftedes), and some traditional dips. Melitzanosalata (eggplant); tirokafteri (spicy whipped feta); and tzatziki (cucumber, garlic and yoghurt) are popular picks.
Want a break from tavernas?
Menus are greening up all over Athens with an ever-increasing number of terrific vegan and vegetarian options, for all budgets (click on the links to read our drilled-down guides). Worth an extra shout out for their excellent mushroom souvlaki wraps and sustainable ethos (i.e. ecological suppliers and biodegradable/recyclable packaging) is Cookoomela Grill in Gizi, Athens’ first vegan steakhouse. For a light and healthy feed, Peas Vegan cafe in Koukaki has a tasty range of pretty vegan dishes, accompanied by locally-sourced ingredients and a zero-waste policy. Are you a vegan sweet tooth? Run (don’t walk) to Cats & Monsters in Exarchia for next-level homemade vegan ice cream with soy, oat or rice milk.
Where to food shop sustainably
Great news for the self-catering crowd. Most Athenian supermarkets now stock plant-based milks, vegan cheeses and meat substitutes like tofu. Shopping for more than just the basics? Stock up at Bamboo Vegan in Exarchia, a pioneering mini-market and café with a wide range of locally-sourced and imported vegan produce. There’s everything from meat substitutes such as tofu, seitan and tempeh to organic cereals, pulses and other health foods, as well as vegan cosmetics, detergents and cleaners (and a handy café to get your fair trade brew).
Nearby, Bioway is another mini-market catering primarily to vegans and other health-conscious shoppers, with many ingredients that are tricky to find elsewhere, such as pomegranate molasses or the more obscure plant-based milks (such as pea milk).
Play the stock market
To source ingredients for a plant-based meal with zero compromise on flavour, the impressive Varvakios Agora (Athens Central Market) in the historic centre is your one-stop shop for the freshest of seasonal produce. Fruit and veggies sorted? Now walk around the corner to the aromatic spice markets of Evripidou Street, and choose from some of Greece’s finest herbs and spices to ramp up your cooking.
Unlike many European cities, where overpriced farmer’s markets attempt to roll back the dominance of supermarkets, Greeks have never lost their connection with where their food comes from. The laiki agora (people’s market) remains the best place to pick up fruits, vegetables and herbs, usually sourced from farms around Athens or across Greece, at incredibly reasonable prices (though you’ll need to push back against the tendency of stall owners to put everything into plastic bags). Every Athenian neighbourhood has a weekly laiki, so just ask a local when and where. For a buzzy atmosphere with street musicians, venture to the Kallidromiou Street laiki (every Saturday morning in Exarchia).
At the Kypseli Municipal Market, a social enterprise hub in the multicultural Kypseli neighbourhood, you can interact every Wednesday with a new model of community-supported agriculture. Eco-minded Bostani sells weekly fruit and vegetable baskets to help small independent farmers reduce wastage and plan their crops more effectively, while also educating consumers on seasonal produce and how to use lesser-known local vegetables. You can order boxes online and pick them up from the market each week. Or buy direct from the producers themselves, who turn up at Kypseli Municipal Markets to sell their wares every Wednesday, 4-8pm.
Get around without the guilt
There’s no excuse to lean on taxis or rental cars to get around town. Athens’ public transport system is affordable, reliable and covers most of the city and suburbs—while the metro (underground) ranks among the best in the world and is pretty simple to work out.
To get to grips with Athens’ buses and trolley buses, you can download the handy OASA Telematics app. There’s an English option and you’ll also find useful maps, route planning, ticket info and live vehicle location.
This was written by Alex King for This is Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau.