Travel: A Tale of Two Greek ‘Galaxies’

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The nighttime view of Athens from the Galaxy Bar at the Hilton Athens is mesmerizing.

Did you know that the word “galaxy” stems from a Greek term? It’s true: the ancient Greek name for the Milky Way, galaxias, comes from the antique Grecian term for milk (gala) and that’s certainly one etymological detour they haven’t forgotten in Greece. How do I know this? Well, in the first instance, one of the hottest hotel bars in the bustling capital of Athens is the aptly named Galaxy Bar, perched with aplomb atop the iconic Hilton Athens. 

And yes, iconic it is. The Hilton Athens opened in 1963 and was built in the modernist style (it was renovated in time for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens). The city’s first modern art gallery opened in the hotel, its outdoor swimming pool is famous and it’s the kind of monumental-chic spot that has played host to an intergalactic constellation of movers, shakers, singers and others–—we’re talking the likes of Aristotle Onassis, Frank Sinatra, Anthony Quinn, Nureyev and many others. Situated on Vasilissis Sofias Avenue and bordering the posh Kolonaki and Pagrati neighborhoods, the Athens Hilton is also within easy walking distance of the American Embassy, itself designed by legendary architect Walter Gropius. In fact, the only thing more iconic in Athens than the Hilton may be the Acropolis itself. 

Galaxy Restaurant and Bar

Happily then, there is a fabulous view of the “sacred rock,” crowned by the Parthenon, from the vast rooftop terrace of the hotel’s epic Galaxy Restaurant and Bar, which is consistently ranked as one of the best rooftop bars in the world. This is Athenian glamour at its best, where stylish cocktails and delicious finger foods, coupled with those beguiling views, make for a truly memorable night out in the Greek capital. At the restaurant, you can tuck into a range of premium cut meats, sushi and delightful seasonal salads. 

At the Galaxy Bar, where I found myself on a frosty night in February, I was most impressed with the selection of custom-crafted mocktails. My handmade rose lemonade was a delicious mélange of mastic syrup, lemon, basil, rose and even aloe, as bartender Dimitri (who designed the libation) kindly explained to me. As fine as it was on winter’s evening, I’ve no doubt this or similar non-alcoholic mocktails would be even more refreshing once the sunnier days arrive–and the Galaxy’s terrace is purpose-built to help you make the most of them. Visit hiltonathens.gr.

Another Galaxy not too far away that also deserves special mention is the Galaxy Hotel in Heraklion, Crete (galaxy-hotel.com/en), another luxury hotel that is in a five-star class of its own. Elsewhere I have written that  “after a few nights at the Galaxy, a hotel where the modern features and warm welcomes (and very delicious freshly cooked breakfasts with a memorable parrot-bright array of fresh-squeezed fruit juice “shots”) essentially make me fall in love with it,” I continued with my exploration of Crete’s bustling capital city, and yes, as spring approaches that means it’s time to think Crete once again. Heraklion is a walking city most famous for the ancient Minoan treasures on display at its fine archaeological museum (an easy walk from the hotel). The Mediterranean sun does get quite bright, so it’s nice to know that at the Galaxy you can take a refreshing dip in its sapphire blue outdoor swimming pool—Heraklion’s largest. 

Did you know my desk is shaped like an airplane? It’s true. And I keep the press releases that come my way in two piles, one where the first class section is and the others by the tail. And in the first category something from Anthony Grant in Greece caught my eye. Seems the gutsy Gen X travel guru and professional nomad has paired up with elusive graffiti artist Dreyk the Pirate and a Greek company called Beat Taxi to offer a limited number of curated visits to some of the more iconic hotspots in and around Athens. Will these timely, non-touristy trajectories include lovely mocktails at the Hilton’s brilliant Galaxy Bar? I certainly hope so! Athens does get warm as spring approaches. Find out more on the Instagram page Athenianation.