Where to buy what
The city centre is compact and the main shopping districts are easily explored on foot. Specialty shops tend to be clustered together – food shops on and around Athinas Street, fashion boutiques in upmarket Kolonaki, souvenirs in Plaka, and crafts in Psyrri. The most unusual little shops are buried in the backstreets between Syntagma Square and Monastiraki, an area known as the ‘Historic Triangle’. These niche outfits usually only sell one thing, which might be thermal vests or door handles. However, the area is changing fast as more and more old-fashioned, family-run shops are replaced with modern cafés and bars.
Pedestrian Ermou is the capital’s main high street, lined with chain stores and dozens of shoe shops. If you’re into department stores and designer labels, head to Attica (between Panepistimiou, Stadiou and Amerikis Streets; www.atticadps.gr). The smartest shopping quarter is Kolonaki. Martin Margiela, Gucci, and Burberry have all set up shop in the tangle of steep streets (with equally steep prices). Skoufa Street has several high-end (but more avant-garde) fashion stores worth checking out: Antonios Markos at No. 35 (www.antoniosmarkos.gr) and De Toute Facon at No. 48. The affluent suburbs of Kifissia (to the north) and Glyfada (to the south) are also awash with posh boutiques.
For kitschy touristy trinkets, Plaka is the business. Adrianou Street (and its off-shoots) is jammed with shops selling leather sandals, flokati rugs, backgammon boards, worry beads, evil eye amulets, and priapic satyrs. Monastiraki is good for hand-made leather bags and sandals. I always buy mine from Olgianna Melissinos (7 Normanou; www.melissinos-sandals.gr). Scour Abyssinia Square in Monastiraki for antiques (though don’t expect any bargains). You’ll find cheaper vintage bric-a-brac on Sundays, when the flea market takes over the surrounding area.
Best for jewellery
The most expensive jewellers are lined up along Voukourestiou Street. It’s like London's New Bond Street in miniature, except with stray dogs asleep outside the shop-fronts. Both Lalaounis (6 Panepistimiou, Syntagma; www.lalaounis.com) and Zolotas (10, Panepistimiou; www.zolotas.gr) designs are inspired by ancient Greek jewellery, from Minoan to Byzantine patterns. Elena Votsi (Xanthou 7, Kolonaki; www.elenavotsi.com) has designed jewellery collections for Gucci and Ralph Lauren. Bold and distinctive designs include spiky rings pierced with arrows and chunky cufflinks of uncut lapis. Fanourakis (23 Patriarchou Ioakeim, Kolonaki; www.fanourakis.gr) creates delicate, whimsical gems such as earrings made of gold flies.
Best for handmade gifts
My favourite place for totally original gifts is Greece is for Lovers (13a Karyatidon, Makriyianni; www.greeceisforlovers.com). A trio of young designers create witty products with ironic references to Greeks’ obsession with their ancient heritage. The range includes ‘No Sleep til Hades’ mugs and bronze dumbbells shaped like Ionian columns. The Benaki Museum on Pireos Avenue (www.benaki.gr) has an outstanding gift shop, with an ever-changing collection of arts and crafts by local designers. Look out for jewellery by Joanna Cave. For more traditional crafts, Oikotexnia (Filellinon 14, Plaka; www.oikotexnia-ikpa.gr)
has lovely embroidered cushions, bedspreads and hand-woven carpets. The Centre of Hellenic Tradition (36 Pandrossou, Monastiraki; +30 210 321 3023) has an even bigger selection of handicrafts from all over Greece. For colourful kaftans, bangles, and beach bags guaranteed to put a smile on any girlfriend’s face, I go to Efharis (Fokylidou 7b, Kolonaki; +30 210 362 5211). Worry beads are an essential accessory among a certain type of (elderly, moustachioed) Athenian (and anyone who’s just given up smoking). To Komobologadiko (Koumbari 6, Kolonaki, +30 210 3624267) has a vast (and expensive) selection. In the quaint backstreets of Thission neighbourhood is Thission Revisited 2 (www.thissionr2.com), an all-white emporium of quirky hand-crafted objets d'art and accessories, from python-skin clutches to carrara marble lamps. Open at weekends only, it's perfect for discovering unusual gifts and mingling with local creatives.
Best for books
For foreign language books, Kaufmann (Stadiou 28, Syntagma; +30 210 322 2160) is a joy to browse. Founded in 1919, the wood-panelled shop is spread across two floors. It’s exactly how bookshops are supposed to be: staffed by intelligent, passionate readers, and stocked with an eclectic selection of art books, travel guides and novels. Exarhia is traditionally a neighbourhood of intellectuals and radicals. Most of them congregate at Floral (Themistokleous 80; www.floralcafe.gr), a bookshop and café on Exarhia Square. On the ground floor of the landmark 1930s ‘Blue Building’, it hosts offbeat literary events and live bands. Koan (Skoufa 64, Kolonaki; +30 210 362 8265) is a brilliant art and design bookstore. It stocks Taschen and loads of inspirational style guides.
Best for food
I always take visiting foodies to the Kentriki Agora (Central Market; 5am–5pm daily) on Athinas Street to get a taste of real Greek food. The produce is hit and miss, but the whole colourful, cacophonous experience is delicious. Pungent whiffs of feta cheese, caged canary and pickled garlic hit you in quick succession. Psychogios has a mind-boggling selection of olives (try the shrivelled throubes from Thassos or giant Amfissa varieties). The covered fish and meat markets are not for the squeamish (although the 24-hour restaurants in each are an essential Athenian rite of passage).
Neighbouring Evripidou Street has several fragrant spice shops including Bahar (No. 31) and Elixirio (No. 41). Nearby is Lesvos Shop (33 Athinas; +30 210 321 7395), which stocks the island’s most famous product: ouzo (plus very good olive oil and canned sardines). The best selection of regional produce from all over Greece is at Pandopolio tis Mesogiakis Diatrofis (Sophokleous 1; +30 210 323 4612). Capers, thyme honey, and saffron make great gourmet gifts. For unusual edible treats, you can’t beat Mastiha Shop (6 Panepistimiou, Syntagma; www.mastihashop.com). Everything from cookies to liqueur is flavoured with mastic, a resinous sap grown exclusively on the island of Chios. You either love or hate the taste, but the packaging is great either way.
For really fresh, seasonal produce, check out your local laiki agora (literally, ‘popular market’). Every Athenian neighbourhood has a weekly farmers market. Battle it out with sharp-elbowed, elegantly coiffed ladies for fresh rocket and coriander on Xenokratous Street (Fridays 6am-3pm; Kolonaki). Or haggle for fragrant figs and sweet tomatoes with the crusty locals on Kallidromiou Street (Saturdays 6am–3pm; Exarhia).
If you have a sweet tooth, check out Sweet Alchemy (www.parliaros.gr), patissier Stelios Parliaros' chic cake shop in Kolonaki. From exquisite biscuits to sweet chili jam, it stocks an irresistible array of simply packaged treats.
Best for beauty
Korres (8 Ivvikou & Eratosthenous, Pangrati; www.korres.com) The global cosmetics company started out from this tiny homeopathic pharmacy in 1996. (Korres products are available at most chemists now.) Fig shower gel and quince body butter smell good enough to eat. Rival brand Apivita (Solonos 26, Kolonaki; www.apivita.com) is all-natural too; they have a great range of royal jelly anti-ageing products and energising body scrubs.
Greek shops have rather complicated business hours. As a general rule, shops open from 10am-3pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, 10am-8pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Only shops in touristy areas are open on Sundays.