Jewellery designer Francesca Amfitheatrof experiences awesome Athens at its best

A blend of modernity and the ancient world in Greece’s lively capital city.

Harper's Bazaar India

A city where old meets new and vibrant meets elegant, Athens seems to have some kind of magic in its air. To begin with, the place, that's labelled as the birthplace of democracy, is a gold mine for history buffs with ancient temples, buildings, monuments, libraries, etc. that will take you back in time within seconds. Furthermore, the marketplaces offer the real and authentic Greek experience that you're looking for as you learn about the local culture and its origins. On the other hand, if you're looking to vibe, the many pubs and bars or the night clubs that are famous for their parties are just the places you need to hit. The fun certainly doesn't end when the sun goes down. 

Celebrated jewellery designer, Francesca Amfitheatrof got a taste of what Greece’s capital city has to offer and tells us what she loved the most. 

I’ve been going to the Greek islands since my teenage years, and on each occasion I’d stop in Athens en route. It’s always been a crazy, chaotic city, but it has become such a vibrant and happening place, full of brilliant things and people. I like to go there with my favourite travelling companions: my children, Niko and Stella.

I usually stay at the Mona, in the Psiri neighbourhood, which has the feel of a design hotel. You have to go down a little alleyway to get there, and the rooms have big windows on one side as if you’re in an artist’s studio. Alternatively, I’ll go to the Four Seasons on the seafront or the Hotel Grande Bretagne for classic luxury.

I recently launched Louis Vuitton’s high-jewellery range in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. It’s a Roman amphitheatre on the slopes of the Acropolis, and we used it to stage a performance by Dimitris Papaïoánnou, who choreographed the 2004 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in Athens. He chose to invert the roles of performers and spectators by putting the audience onstage, and there was dancing, singing, a solo violinist... It was phenomenal.

Athens’ National Archaeological Museum is one of the most important in the world. David Chipperfield recently won an international competition to design an extension—it’s going to be extraordinary. I also love the Museum of Cycladic Art, which has a fabulous gift shop, and the Benaki Museum for its jewellery collection.

Athens is an all-night place—it just never stops. In the evenings, I’ll head to the Orphéas Bar for live jazz, sample the wine list at Heteroclito or have a cocktail at a bar called the Clumsies.

The city has an incredible contemporary-art scene. There’s Neon, an organisation that puts on exhibitions in different public and private spaces—recently, in an old tobacco factory—and my friend Rebecca Camhi’s gallery, which hosts amazing rooftop shows in the evenings, as the sun sets.

Athens is full of artisans keeping traditional crafts alive. I’d recommend Maru Meleniou’s studio for ceramics and artefacts, Melina Xenaki for handmade vessels and Mare Studio, which was established to champion Greek design.

For a memorable meal, I’ll go to Ta Kanaria near the marina, which has excellent fish. Then there’s Diporto, a great taverna in a cellar by the market—I especially like its spanakopita.

If I ever need a break from the bustle, I’ll take a boat to a tiny island called Aegina, known for its pistachios. If time allows, it’s worth making the three-hour drive to the Amanzoe resort, which has an Italianate feel and spectacular hilltop views.

When I’m travelling to Greece, I’ll pack light and wear lots of breezy white cotton. I bring my Nike trainers and the Birkenstocks that I’ve had for 15 years, along with a Louis Vuitton swimsuit, a straw hat, and kaftans from Zeus + Dione, a Greek label that makes its own textiles. I wear a lot of silver in the summer, so I’ll take jewellery from my brand Pauer’s Codebreaker collection.

My beauty essentials are Sisley’s suncream and haircare spray. For nails, I like Dior’s apricot balm or I use olive oil: it’s great on burns. I even make an olive-oil and salt scrub—what else could you need? 

This piece originally appeared in the October 2023 print edition of Harper's Bazaar UK.