Breakfast on the roof terrace of the Grande Bretagne Hotel is dominated by this view of the Acropolis, the ancient monument that dominates the skyline of Athens.
Athens is such a charming city, a mix of modern buildings among the ancient monuments like the Acropolis that defines this city. The new metro stations are like mini museums where you can see excavated ruins in the ticket office and layers of strate and skeletons that they found while building the stations. You can not help but be reminded of how much history there is around this city.
I have stayed at the Grande Bretagne numerous times due to it’s central location on Syntagma square. It is part of the Starwood group of hotels, a Luxury Collection Hotel and is one of the grandest hotels in Athens.One drawback of being in Syntagma square is that it will get closed to traffic if there are any strikes or protests as they tend to congregate in the square in front of the hotel.
I have also stayed at the Hilton Athens slightly further up the road too but it is a completely different style, more modern and contemporary but has the largest outdoor hotel pool in all of Athens.
My room at the Grande Bretagne was a junior suite on the Butler floor. This floor has its own check in desk and you don’t have to queue with others on the front desk. As you are shown to your room by your personal butler, you can place your order for a welcome drink. A few minutes later, a knock at the door signalled the arrival of my butler with a lovely pot of green tea.
On this occasion, this suite had 3 rooms, a sitting area with a desk, the bedroom and an enormous marble clad bathroom with double sinks. There were 3 TVs in the suite, one in the sitting area, one in the bedroom and one over the bath. I did try to watch this tv while in the bath but it was impossible if you are lying in the bath as the angle of the screen was not movable. Nice idea but not great in practice.
The beds are very comfortable with high thread count sheets and a choice of pillows (essential in my book). Being a 5 star hotel, they had all the usual amenities like a fluffy bath robe, slippers, a range Gilchrist and Soames toiletries, bottles of water and in room kettle.
The rooms at Grande Bretagne are very quiet even though the hotel is on a busy square. Unfortunately there was no view from the window as the Grande Bretagne is surrounded by other buildings. This was made up for at the roof terrace where the buffet breakfast is served. The roof also houses their swimming pool which is lovely for sunbathing but not very big so not for doing laps.
The very extensive buffet breakfast offers the usual cereal, muesli and cooked breakfast, greek style. You can order eggs cooked in the style you want and in the hot trays are selections of sausages, bacon and other savoury items. Freshly squeezed juices, vast baskets of fresh fruits and of course Greek Yoghurt with local honey is laid on too. I always try to get here early to get a seat facing the Acropolis. There is something quite romantic about having your breakfast while feasting your eyes on one of the great historical monuments. It turns the mundane into something extraordinary.
Within walking distance to the hotel is the old town Plaka where you will find hoards of tourists and touristy tavernas.Plaka has been modernised but you still get the feel or ancient Greece here. Walk down past Plaka and you will see quite a few ancient monuments squashed in between the souvenir shops.
On Syntagma square itself is the Parliament which used to be the King’s Palace. Guards dressed in traditional costume guard the this and the tomb of the unknown soldier. You have to catch them changing guards as they do the most unique march with their tasselled shoes.
I did not have a chance to eat at the restaurants in the hotel but I did have room service. Food from room service in any hotel is usually nothing to shout about and this is the same at the Grande Bretagne. My usual order is grilled fish which the Greek do so well and served with such style by the staff.
The food at the tavernas around the area here range from really nasty to Michelin starred standard. A couple to try out include Daphne’s, not so much a taverna but now an upscale restaurant. The menu is similar to other Greek places but they have made it all a bit chichi. Quite expensive and you can eat better in Athens. A much better bet is To Steki tou Ilia, past the Plaka, which specialises in Greek lamb chops. Order by the kilo, and use your hands. It’s the best.
Things to order at a Greek taverna
- Horta – wild greens drenched in olive oil and lemon juice
- Kolokithakia fried zuchinni
- Paidakia – grilled lamb chops
- Tsatziki – a very garlicky yoghurt dip
- Grilled fish with Skordalia if you can find it. Very garlicky mashed potatoes.
Try to avoid the moussaka and greek salad trap as these are usually not the best things on the menu.
You might find better places to eat if you wander up towards the yuppy Kolonaki area. Lots of bars and cafes and more upmarket eateries. This is where the high end boutiques are and the beautiful people of Athens congregate.
Lots of shopping to be had around the Syntagma square area. Just walk down the Ermou Street and you will find the recognisable European brand names like Zara and the likes.
Athens is a great place to visit in the Spring and Autumn as it gets unbearably hot in the summer. An escape to the Islands in the summer is perfect as the blue skies goes on forever and the azure seas are irresistable. From the end of October, the city transforms when all the alfresco cafes close up outdoors and take their business indoors. The tourist traffic is greatly reduced and the pace of the city seems to revert back to an ancient rythm.
The food at the tavernas here range from really nasty to Michelin starred standard. A couple to try out include Daphne’s, not so much a taverna but now an upscale restaurant. The menu is similar to other Greek places but they have made the food all a bit fussy. Quite expensive and you can eat better in Athens. A much better bet is To Steki tou Ilia which specialises in Greek lamb chops. Order by the kilo, and use your hands. It’s the best.
Hotel Grande Bretagne