Gone are the days when Athens was simply a stopover on the way to the Greek isles of Santorini, Mykonos, Hydra. Today, Greece’s capital city, with its stunning sea and sky, ancient ruins and Acropolis, is taking on a new persona — that of a modern wellness retreat. From swanky hotel spas and buzzy juice bars to a newfound appreciation for its age-old healing mineral waters and traditional Mediterranean diet, health and wellness is now the heartbeat of the city. Here are a few of our favorite places to rest, relax, reset, and rejuvenate in Athens.
Spa and Wellness-Minded Hotels
Start your wellness journey at NEW Hotel, a modern-art hotel by design duo Fernando and Humberto Campana. The award-winning designers have transformed the hotel into a living, breathing art space come wellness retreat. At the spa you can indulge in restorative marine-inspired body and face treatments using ingredients like marine mud, seaweed, kawa-kawa, and nutmeg to trigger lymphatic circulation, and massages with hot seashells. We also love the hotel’s healthy restaurant options. Mornings start with fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juices paired with organic egg-white omelets; for lunch there are smoothies, acai bowls (almond milk, blueberries, tonka beans, and homemade granola), and toasted vegan sandwiches (avocado, grilled oyster mushrooms, and tomatoes).
Hotel Grande Bretagne
Located in the heart of the city with views of the Acropolis and Syntagma Square, Hotel Grande Bretagne is a grand dame of Athens where wellness is front and center. The rooms are sumptuous and filled with original artwork and museum-quality antiques and the hotel’s signature GB Spa is equally impressive. Check in for treatments by the legendary ESPA, making sure to arrive early for the heady, Roman-esque water circuit — featuring herbal steam bath, sauna, lanconium, ice fountain, mud chamber, and amethyst grotto with eucalyptus. There’s also a heavenly pool and fitness studio.
Four Seasons Astir Palace
Set on the “Athenian Riviera” outside the city center, Four Seasons Astir Palace offers an iconic watery escape. It was here, in the 1960s, that guests like Brigitte Bardot, the Beatles, and Jackie Onassis discreetly hid from the paparazzi. Today the hotel’s stylish white-and-marble spa draws on the ancient Greeks’ devotion to beauty and bathing. Be sure to try the Greek Giosi foot ritual, a combination of warm, fragrant foot compresses, refreshing peppermint mask, and massage techniques. Also spend time in the Fountain House, an adults-only hydrotherapy circuit featuring aroma steam grotto, ice showers, sauna, and hammam.
Facials by Dimitra Goula
Crete-born beauty guru has garnered a cult following for her natural skincare brand and her treatment center, Dimitra Goula Boutique Institute. The organic, plant-based ingredients used in her namesake line are hand-harvested (and then blessed) by orthodox monks from Mount Athos in northern Greece. Do yourself a favor and book one of her signature facials, customized to every clients’ skin type and condition, or any of her specialized body therapies (thalassotherapy for slimming; lipotherapy to reduce cellulite).
Apivita Experience Store
A four-story mansion turned wellness apothecary and spa, the Apita Experience Store, like its name suggests is a complete experience. It’s all about plants and bees here. Shop for natural skincare products (plant, mineral, and bee-based) and sip organic juices and herbal teas in the store before heading to the top floor for a signature spa treatment at the Beehive Spa. Don’t miss the honey body scrub and massage — it’s heaven.
It’s not just the Turkish who are masters of the hammam. When in Athens head to the Hammam Baths, to try a modern take on the traditional steam bath. The setting is minimalist with a domed ceiling and rounded marble benches. The experience includes a steam, exfoliation with olive oil and natural loofah and traditional Greek massage, using powder, brush, suction cups, and essential oils. Relax afterwards over Moroccan tea.
Healing Mineral Waters
An easy 30-minute drive from Athens will transport you to the stunning natural Lake Vouliagmeni. The bubbly mineral-rich waters of the turquoise-hued lake are said to heal ailments including arthritis, sciatica, and stress. You can also immerse yourself in the healing, therapeutic powers of the hot-springs in the Corinth Gulf town of Loutraki (about an hour from Athens), considered the cradle of Greek thermalism, and the oldest spa town in the country.
We’re not exactly sure if the athletic ancient Greeks practiced yoga, but sun salutations and pigeon poses are definitely a thing in modern-day Athens. Yoga classes (including goat yoga) are popping up all over the city — though the Athens Yoga Center, located by the Panormou Metro station is considered one of the best studios. Founder Maja Zilih teaches a series of yoga styles including hatha, anusara, restorative, and vinyasa, and on occasion leads ‘Yoga in Nature’ classes in the rugged landscape surrounding the city. Al fresco yoga classes are also held in the gardens of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre on a first-come, first-served basis. Just show up, mat in hand, and breathe.
Given Athen’s spectacular setting, it’s also no surprise that outdoor gyms are having a moment. An especially pretty one can be found in Kaisariani, in the eastern part of Athens. Known mostly for its monastery and forest, the area’s outdoor gym is outfitted with a Swedish wall, wall bars, abs benches, push-up bars, and vertical ladders. You’ll also find another cute outdoor gym behind Panathenaic Stadium (aka ‘marble stadium’) with pull-up and parallel bars, rings, an ab bench, and a rope.
Greece is known for its healthy Mediterranean diet, but tasty vegetarian and vegan fare is also taking off. Avocado, near Syntagma and Plaka is the place to go for fresh juices, smoothies, and seasonal specialties like Puttanesca pasta with Kalamata olives, mani seaweed, capers, oven roasted garlic and tomato sauce. The owners also run the well-known NYSY Studios for yoga and pilates.
In the upscale neighborhood of Kolonaki, Nice n Easy evokes old Hollywood glam with oversized images of film stars Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando, and Marilyn Monroe gracing the walls and healthy menu entries named in their honor. The owner spent time in California, and the influence shines through in the high-quality organic ingredients used in the dishes. Try the signature Nice n Easy salad (arugula, mixed greens, freekeh seeds, balsamic and aged gruyere) followed by The Ava Gardner (oven-baked sea bass, wild greens cretan style, herbs, and fennel seed).
Even Athen’s fine-dining scene comes with a wellness focus these days. We love Papadakis in Kolonaki, for its authentic, healthy, elevated Mediterranean cuisine by Greek chef Argio Barbarigou. Her seafood dishes are insanely delish (not to mention fresh-caught) while her Paros Island chickpeas are slow-cooked for 15 hours. At Orizontes Lycabettus, the view alone is worth the trek (by funicular or cliff railway). Set on the highest hill in Athens (Lycabettus), the panoramic view extends from the Acropolis to the port of Piraeus. The menu — which is heavy on Mediterranean ingredients — will also delight. Start with feta cheese served in dough and drizzled with thyme-infused honey.