Guidebooks are full of ideas for what to buy in Athens. And a quick stroll down Adrianou Street in the historic center will confirm the guidebooks suggestions:
- Worry beads (koboloi), beautiful, but will you really carry them around after your trip? (See my suggestion below for a special set of worry beads you might choose instead).
- Ceramic reproductions
- Original artwork (perhaps?)
- Sandals from the now famous poet-sandalmaker (who really isn’t anymore)
- Acropolis Pencil Sharpeners
- Ouzo and other liquor in oddly shaped souvenir bottles
- Jewelry (sometime in the past gold was “the” thing to buy in Greece – I don’t know that it prices out better here than anywhere else)
- Food items sold at special souvenir shops – there’s even a special “Greek salad mix”
Of course in today’s world most of what you can buy in the Plaka you can buy in your neighborhood supermarket or order online, and with luggage allowances getting smaller and smaller, souvenir shopping may be starting to lose some of its appeal. I remember about a number of years ago we did a road trip around Greece, during our travels we stopped in Edessa, a town in Northern Greece known for a particular type of rugs. We found some we liked, drank with the shopkeeper until the coffee we were treated to turned into tspipouro and mezedes, the haggled a bit until we reached a price that felt fair to us, and loaded our finds into the back of the van to later be packed into our suitcases for their trip to our Chicago home (the heavy wool rugs landed us an even heavier overweight baggage charge, but that was the price for our lasting mementos). Once home and unpacked, we headed out to our neighborhood Home Depot for something, only to notice a huge RUG EVENT under the big tent in the parking lot. Thinking we’d be glad to go inside and see what a deal we’d snagged on our authentic Greek rugs, we detoured into the tent only to find piled in two stacks that came to my waist the exact rugs we’d just lugged home from Greece…. for 30% less than our hard earned bargaining price.
The moral of that story? Though I wish I’d never gone into that tent, I still think the experience itself was part of the price we paid, and for that memory I will always be grateful (with a little humor at the end for the Home Depot moment!)
So as you plan your trip to Greece, think about what you might be able to bring home that you really won’t find when you return. I’ve been working on a collection of posts for this site, randomly titled though always with “souvenir” in the header. At some point if I collect enough suggestions I’ll add a tab to make it a bit easier, since “shopping in Athens” is a popular topic, along with “gifts to buy in Greece”. Until I get that organized, here’s a few suggestions I think make really unique souvenirs:
I don’t mean those you buy in the tourist shops (though I do like the old cigarette ads and confess to having a few framed and mounted in my house in Chicago), I mean the ones that are wheat pasted all over Athens promoting concerts, art exhibits, theater productions … I’ve got a nice collection of them from the National Opera, along with a number from various Athenian productions of some of the best of Ancient Greek theater (I’ve got a twin posters in the same size in my Chicago office, Medea performed here in Athens and a Medea production in Chicago running almost the same dates!) This year I will work on the Carmen poster from the National Opera and the Carmen poster from Chicago’s Lyric Opera. Anyway, you get the point. Posters are terrific, unique mementos, lightweight and easy to rollup and carry home (I recommend stopping by FedX or UPS pre-trip and packing a flat pack cardboard box that folds into a triangular tube. Otherwise you can splurge and purchase these adjustable sized poster tubes.
Basil and I have several and we find them really handy for our trips back and forth between Greece and the US, and we almost always pack one when traveling elsewhere – just in case.
Herbal & Botanical products of Greek orgin
Guests in our Acropolis View Penthouses and Greek Vacation Rentals self-catering homes know that I love Korres Natural Products, not just because the company was born in my adopted neighborhood of Pangrati, but also because I find the Green Tea Shower gel to die for! If you are lucky (or saavy enough) to be one of our guests (yes, shameless self promotion, I think we have the finest accommodations in downtown Athens, and our reviews seem to agree) you’ll get your own sample of Korres, along with instructions on how to bring home more of their terrific products, as well as where you can just order it from online when you return home.
I’ve also been smitten with the irresistable smells coming from the Freshline store near my place in Pangrati. There’s several around downtown – stop in and check out their bath balls, I think these make fun gifts for girlfriends and these odd giant “alka selzer” like fizzy balls in different fragrances and with different purposes make for a unique gift in North America as well as down under, since they haven’t yet expanded into either of these markets. (Which also means if you get addicted to any of their products you have to return to Greece to restock! And we like that!
Apivita, another all natural body care line born in Greece, offers its own line of products based on Hippocrates’ holistic approach to wellness. You can find their shop in Athens in the Kolonaki neighborhood, but you’ll also find their products at most pharmacies. I was turned on to their products by my own mother, who enjoyed them at our favorite escape from Athens, the charming Papanikolau Guesthouse in my husband’s family village of Piana, about 90 minutes from Athens. In a rare request for anything but her daughter to be brought back from Greece, she asked if I could “find some more of that terrific Apivita shower gel she got someplace we stayed in Greece”.
Record albums, yes VINYL
In the new world of music, everything has gone digital. But Athens has always been a place where the past lives quite comfortably with the present (and slowly, slowly, with the future). I love wandering the “spurs” off the main “flea market” in Monastiraki, seeking out the little stoas with there racks of records. If you know vinyl, I would think Athens would be heaven for you. To get started here’s a map I found of vinyl shops in the city of Athens. A special thanks to Takis, the map’s creator.