Rachel Howard

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About me

When I was five, my parents packed up their belongings, packed my sister and I into their battered Renault van, and set off from London to spend a year in Greece. Over thirty five years later, my parents are still there and Greece is in my DNA. I've travelled all over the country writing about my experiences and encounters for magazines, guide books, websites, audio guides and documentaries.

Currently living between Athens, London - and occasionally Istanbul - I balance big city life with trips into the Greek countryside in search of the best local taverna or the latest luxury resort. Recently, I wrote the best-selling Secret London - An Unusual Guide, an insider's guide for intrepid tourists and jaded locals alike. But I have never tired of the anarchic allure of Athens, an ancient capital with a restless capacity for reinventing itself.

My Athens

The most breathtaking view:  The Parthenon by moonlight from pine-forested Philoppapou Hill, with only stray dogs for company.

My secret cafe:  The rooftop cafe at the Islamic Museum overlooks Keramikos, the ancient cemetery of Athens. Both sites are surprisingly under the radar.

My dream date:  A black and white classic at any of the city's outdoor cinemas. Ice cold beer, wafts of jasmine and cigarette smoke, and Alfred Hitchcock under a canopy of stars.

My favourite place to get lost: Wandering the whitewashed alleys of Anafiotika, a miniature Cycladic island marooned in the shadow of the Acropolis.

Where I always grab a coffee: Da Capo on Kolonaki Square is a little slice of Italy (divine coffee, theatrical barristas, a marble counter with picture windows for people-watching) with a very Greek sensibility (chain-smoking patrons, a disorderly self-service queue, loud crowds who sit gossipping for hours rather than knocking back their coffee). An Athenian classic. 

Where to be seen: Gazi is a good entry point into the city's riotous nightlife, but the edgier bars in Keramikos (try Nixon or Bios) are for those in the know. The most alluring example of the latest trend for bars that double as event spaces is Six Dogs bar in Monastiraki, with a lovely secret garden.

Where to find a moment of calm: Athens isn't a byword for tranquility. But wander up to the summit of pine-forested Lycabettus Hill for bird's eye views of the clamouring city below and you'll suddenly feel at peace. 

Fiction for Inspiration: Although a few years old, Dinner with Persephone by Patricia Storace really gets under the skin of contemporary Athens in all its surreal, chaotic glory. Sofka Zinovieff's Eurydice Street is a more recent chronicle of a foreigner getting to grips with the modern-day city, enriched with plenty of fascinating historical context. 

City soundtrack: The band of the moment is Burger Project, who like to perform in fancy dress. Their live shows - consisting of mangled cover versions of everyone from Prince to Johnny Cash - are never less than brilliant.

Don't leave without: natural cosmetics from Greek ingredients by Korres or the less familiar Apivita brand. A tin of olive oil (the best is from Crete or the Peloponnese). Leather sandals from Monastiraki (Olgianna Melissinos has the finest workmanship).

My expert information

Athens (Attica, Greece, Europe,

A city of contradictions

Athens’ illustrious history still very much defines its modern identity. But don’t imagine a city of barefoot philosophers, roaming among the ruins rubbing their beards. The reality – a noisy, crowded, chaotic city – is inevitably a jolt to the senses. But it’s also a life-affirming metropolis, whose appeal lies in its refusal to conform to expectations or conventions.