Walking into the Hotel Grand Bretagne is like walking into Buckingham Palace, or maybe, a Ferrero Rocher chocolate box. Everything is gilded in royalty. And gold. In other words, if you don’t actually backpack in heels, but in fact, God forbid sneakers, this is the place you feel a tad underdressed.

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“The hotel is a landmark, even if you cannot stay here, you know it,” said one staff member, who was decked out in gold jewellery, silk scarves and a designer pantsuit. The Grand Bretagne, which opened in 1874 in the former, lavish Dimitriou Mansion is the best five star hotel in the city. In fact, its where all VIPs descend upon, including Amal Clooney, Roger Moore and Lady Gaga – the royal suites go for as much as €14,000 a night (or as low as €285).

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Despite the Greek financial crisis, tourism is up almost 30% in 2015, and it certainly shows at this bustling hotel. Renovated before the Olympic Games, which Athens hosted in 2004, the Grand Bretagne has a rooftop pool, a spa, a new roof garden, a cigar lounge and antiques in each and every room, giving the place an age-old auction house vibe – like something out of Goodfellas. It makes sense because much of the art that fills the halls and bedroom walls of the Grand Bretagne – from ancient maps to Greek lithographs – were auctioned from Christie’s Auction House.

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First Impressions

The door man outfitted in green gives the place an old school vibe. The nearby gift shop, which has perfume, gives a waft of sweet smells throughout the friendly vibe in the front lobby. What’s stunning is the view of the Acropolis from the breakfast patio on the top floor! They even have a “Check Out For Children” Unicef donation, where a $1 USD donation to kids in Africa and the Middle East is billed to your account upon check out (at your choice).

The Neighborhood

Set in the heart of Syntagma Square, the hotel is just steps away from the Greek parliament and the National Garden, which is home to the sightseeing-worthy Olympic Stadium. I also walked to the nearby Gagosian Gallery and the B&M Theocharakis Foundation for the Arts. The hike up to the Acropolis is just a 30 minute walk under the sun (thank God for those sneakers), but if you’re feeling ambitious and want to take a ferry to the Greek islands (the closest one is Aegina), the concierge will print out the day’s boat times and offer a hotel towel for swimming on the island. They can also offer helpful tips (like pre-buy your return ticket, as the last boats back to the city are often packed).

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Entering a room at the Grand Bretagne is like having Christmas come early. Among the gifts guests receive upon arrival, include a bottle of the traditional Greek schnapps, Ouzo, in a chandelier-looking, glass bottle, as well as snacks each night including black olives and bread sticks. They also thoughtfully print your name out on a suede travel label for your suitcase, which was impressive.

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Food and drink

There are several places to dine and soak up the views in the Grand Bretagne, including the 7th floor GB Rooftop Garden which offers a stunning view of the nearby Mount Lycabettus. The savoury menu is by Michelin starred chef Asterios Koustoudis (personally, I couldn’t resist the veggie pizza with feta, something I’ll never tire of). Bring your bathing suit! There are enough lounge chairs to chill by the poolside for day-long swimming and cocktail dipping, endlessly.

food at grand bretagne hotel athens The central, first-floor Winter Garden serves afternoon tea daily from 12 until 8 p.m. the lobby has free Wifi, so this is a great place to stop for a cup of Darjeeling while planning your next day trip (don’t miss out on the sandwiches and sweets). Also check out Alexander’s Bar, where you can try a glass of high end brandy while gazing at the intricate, 18th century tapestry of Alexander the Great behind the bar. Downstairs, the Cellar is a 17th century themed wine cellar with over 3,000 wines, which is used for intimate dinner parties.


There are some serious perks with the spa and pool, which makes staying here a heavenly dream. The relaxation pool soothes with downtempo tunes as you soak in the calming saunas before a dip. They have foot massage water pools, a workout gym and a relaxation room with a five-star chill factor. Even if you’ve got to dash for a flight, they have a bathing suit express dryer (10 seconds!), so you can take a quick dip before rushing off to the airport.

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It’s safe to say hotels can make or break your trip to a city you visit. Thankfully, this one was a good choice.


111114-05-167-onlineThis is a guest post by Nadja Sayej, a Berlin-based arts and travel reporter and photographer who hails from Toronto, writing for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Economist and other publications. Check out her work at nadjasayej.com and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @nadjasayej.