Whether it’s unusual souvenirs, local handicrafts or big international brands you’re after, in Athens you’ll find everything a metropolis can offer to help you part with your cash. There’s much more than ouzo, feta and olives in jars to fill your luggage these days, and the pursuit of bargains or local marvels is always a perfect excuse to explore the city’s neighbourhoods and back streets, away from the must-see tourist attractions.
The bustling Monastiraki flea market is an unmissable shopping experience in Athens © ilolab / Shutterstock
It might not be practical to take fresh fish or vegetables home with you, but a walk through the city’s central fruit and vegetable market and Varvakios Agora is a must on every visit to Athens. This Balkan cornucopia of fish, meat, fruit and greens is a feast for the eyes and ears. For an equally typical Athenian experience, stroll around one of the farmers markets popping up weekly in every neighbourhood. The most central and easily accessible are the ones on Kerameikos (Tuesdays), Xenokratous (Fridays) and Kalidromiou (Saturdays) streets.
Antiques of every grade, size and value, from old furniture, collectible items and rarities to worthless knick-knacks can be bought around Avyssinias square in Monastiraki. And if you’re really up for digging into piles of junk in search of treasures at negligible prices, just take the metro to Eleonas, where every Sunday morning a big flea market attracts crowds of urban prospectors.
Yoleni's in Kolonaki neighbourhood sells top-quality Greek specialities from small producers © Vangelis Koronakis / Lonely Planet
Food and drink
Take your pick from a large variety of local spirits (or enjoy them on the spot) in Brettos, a timeless tourist attraction and one of the oldest distilleries in Greece. For wine lovers, Cellier and Anthidis offer large selections of fine Greek and international labels and expert advice; local production has come a long way since the retsina days.
Top-quality Greek specialities like organic olive oil, homemade spreads, honey, cold cuts and fine local cheeses – most with Protected Designation of Origin and selected from the best small producers – are sold or served in Yoleni’s, a temple of Greek gastronomy in upmarket Kolonaki neighbourhood. An equally large and distinctive selection of more than 2000 traditional products, sourced mostly from family businesses around the country, can be found in Pantopoleion.
A bit further down the road, on Evripidou street, Arapian and Miran have been selling, for decades, their own exceptional pastirma (pressed beef) and sucuk (spicy sausage) as well as many varieties of cheese, cured meats and other delicacies. Athens’ top spices and herbs vendors are also located here; Hatzigeorgiou and Bahar are the most popular.
Finally, freshly ground Greek coffee can be purchased in the dozens of small specialised coffee shops with the distinctive old roasting machines at the front – just follow the pleasant coffee scent. Loumidi, off Omonoia square, has a history that goes back a century and is the most famous. Another one is Madras, purveyor of a fine selection of teas from around the world.
Athens' Melissinos Art store built its reputation crafting shoe designs for Hollywood stars © Vangelis Koronakis / Lonely Planet
Pedestrian Ermou street is the heart of mainstream Athenian shopping, where the flagship stores of all popular chains are lined up. For more upmarket (and pricey) fashion and accessories, follow the stylish crowds to Kolonaki, the posh Athenian quarter where politicians, celebrities and power brokers mingle, shop and dine. And if money is truly not an issue, you’ll feel at home on Voukourestiou street, the hub of top international designers’ boutiques. Exclusive Greek jewellers are also located here; Zolotas and Lalaounis are the most prominent and internationally acclaimed among them.
At the other end of the spectrum, for down-to-earth, bargain-oriented shopping, Agiou Markou, Aiolou and Athinas are the largest in a network of narrow commercial streets where shopkeepers and traders display their wares in stalls and Athenians come to buy cheap outfits, shoes, bags, haberdashery, textiles and hardware. Among the many speciality shops in the area, Karfil (hats), Pan-Pol (hats) and Erica (ties and cufflinks) are worth a visit for a touch of style.
If department stores are more up your street, Attica and Notos Galleries will certainly cater to your needs; if you don’t mind leaving the centre, The Mall Athens, Metro Mall and the posher Golden Hall are perfect for a shopping spree and can be reached by public transport.
Greece's Apivita cosmetics brand is well regarded for its range of natural beauty products © Vangelis Koronakis / Lonely Planet
Crafts and souvenirs
Plaka neighbourhood is home to dozens of run-of-the-mill folklore souvenir shops selling the typical Greek leather sandals, evil-eye charms and worry beads. But among them, Forget Me Not and Flâneur sell items of modern and tasteful design inspired, of course, by Greek tradition. Sun of a Beach, T-Greeks, Greece is for Lovers and Postfolk are only a few of a new generation of contemporary design brands striving to overturn the established souvenir stereotypes.
For board-game buffs, Ekavi on Voulis street sells beautifully crafted backgammon sets and chess pieces inspired by ancient Greek history and mythology. Korres and Apivita are two leading Greek brands of cosmetics made with natural ingredients that can be purchased in almost every pharmacy. Apivita has its own wellness ‘Experience Store’ in Kolonaki, where they offer short classes and spa services.
There are plenty of comics shops around Athens, including this one in Monastiraki neighbourhood © Vangelis Koronakis / Lonely Planet
Books and music
A number of small, specialised vinyl stores are scattered around the city. Mr Vinylios and Zacharias in Monastiraki are the biggest and best stocked. Underflow is a cultural hub housing a record store and a gallery, while smaller Syd in Psyrri and Plan 59 and Vinyl City in Exarhia cater to music connoisseurs browsing rare collections. Public department store has a large vinyl section with all the latest and older international and Greek releases; it also boasts the largest selection of English-language books in Athens.
Politeia is a bookworm’s paradise with a decent foreign-language department, while Aiora is a small bookshop and publishing house specialising in multilingual editions of modern Greek classics. Anavasi travel bookshop in Plaka has all the guidebooks and maps you’ll need. There are plenty of shops selling Greek indie comics around the city, particularly in Exarhia and Monastiraki neighbourhoods.