As the cradle of European civilization, Athens has plenty of unique mementos and quality gifts to choose from when shopping for souvenirs so avoid the mass-produced tacky items and take home something that’s truly Greek and that will last you for years and years.
18 Best Souvenirs to Buy from Athens, Greece
1. Worry Beads (Komboloi)
Often seen hanging from a taxi’s rearview mirror or in the hands of Grandpa’s sitting outside a kafenion, worry beads, or Komboloi as they’re known in Greek, originated from prayer beads though they hold no religious value now. Traditionally used by men, the string of wooden or colorful plastic beads are used purely for relaxation, the same way the modern fidget spinner can keep your fingers busy for hours.
2. Tavli (Greek Backgammon)
Another sight that you’ll see around Athens in the kafenion and the park is men, usually the older generation, enjoying a game of Tavli, Greece’s national board game. It’s the board rather than the game which is called Tavli as 3 games are played on it, one after the other. Portes is the game most similar to backgammon though the rules differ from the Western version with Plakoto and Fevga being the other 2 games played on the board.
If you’re a family who loves playing board games, this is a lovely item to take back home with you to remind you of Greece on your game nights, just learn the rules online or from a friendly local!
3. Evil Eye (Mati)
The blue eye can be seen on many items from magnets to keychains, glass ornaments, and necklaces, the latter being the most traditional way to protect yourself against the curse of the evil eye with many Greek men and women wearing a chain with a blue eye pendant to protect themselves against bad luck and the ‘evil eye‘ being aimed at them.
4. Greek Coffee
Similar to Turkish Coffee, this thick treacle-like coffee, made from finely ground Arabica coffee beans is certainly a refined taste but it’s said to increase life expectancy so if you’re a coffee connoisseur who can’t get enough of Elliniko’s coffee, where better to purchase a supply than Athens! Be sure to buy the accompanying items including a small demitasse cup and saucer and a briki (long-handled metal pourer used to boil and pour the coffee) so that you can recreate the traditional taste of Greece at home.
5. Greek Herbs
If you love cooking and your kitchen is full of spice jars you can’t leave Athens without stocking up on packets of herbs and spices – they taste so much better than the packaged stuff back home! Oregano, rosemary, and thyme are all key ingredients in Greek cuisine and will help you to recreate some Greek dishes at home whilst the gourmet chef will want to check out Krokos Kozani (Saffron) which comes from the city of Kozani and is the best in the world.
6. Greek Cheese
Obviously it will depend where you’re from whether you can take food products back home with but, but if you can, consider stashing some Greek cheeses such as graviera, myzithra (note, fresh and dried myzithra have completely different tastes), or feta etc in your suitcase to share the taste of Greece with loved ones once home.
Your eye is bound to be captivated by the array of bright handmade pottery souvenirs in the shops, items included mugs, candle holders, and decorative ornaments to brighten your home and your garden. Try to support the local potters by asking where the products are made, even better if you can shop where the products are actually made out the back!
8. Olive Wood Products
From chopping boards to salad bowls, coasters, kitchen utensils, and ornaments, there are many items handmade from olive wood that make for a memorable souvenier from Greece that will last you a lifetime. As with the ceramics, ask where the items are made and try to shop where the products are created such as at the family run store The Olive Tree which also supports local artists.
9. Mastiha Products
If you’re a foodie with a passion for superfoods or you have someone like this who needs a thankyou gift bringing home, check out the Mastiha range of products that use Mastiha (mastic) from the Chia tree which only grows on the island of Chios. Items include Mastiha chewing gum, Mastiha essential oils, Mastiha taffy, Mastiha liquor along with other tasty items such as loukoum aka Turkish Delight and lemon jam.
10. Cosmetics & Toiletries
You probably don’t think of toiletries and cosmetics as souvenirs but with Greece having a couple of homegrown high-end natural brands including Korres and Apivita, any girl or guy who likes to take care of their beauty using the cleanest products needs to check them out. Shop for lip balm, shampoo, shower gel, olive oil soap, lipstick, and even toothpaste made using natural ingredients that you won’t easily find back home at these prices.
11. Gold Jewellery
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to gold (and silver) jewellery in Athens with a wide choice of classic Greek designs and modern one-off pieces from Athenian designers. From the Greek Key design to replica’s of the Minoan bee pendant and the blue eye pendant’s mentioned above, there’s something for every budget and every taste with the price of precious metals often cheaper in Greece than at home.
12. Musical Instruments
If you’re musical or know someone who is, a traditional stringed instrument such as a bouzouki, or laouto can make a wonderfully unique gift, especially when you’ve been inside the workshop and seen the instruments being made as they would have been hundreds of years ago.
13. Leather Goods
From handbags and wallets to leather coats and leather sandals, the smell of leather will hit your nostrils with the range of bright colors dazzling you when you step inside one of Athens’ ‘real’ leather stores in Monastiraki, just make sure you’re shopping for the real deal and not a cheap import. For sandals, you can’t go wrong with the store’s Poet or Ancient Greek Sandals, the latter beloved by Angelina Jolie and Obama.
14. Alcoholic Beverages
Take a tipple home with you (most specialist stores can ship bottles to you if you’re afraid they’ll smash in your suitcase!) so that you can recreate a balmy evening sitting under the stars enjoying an Ouzo, Metaxa, raki, or retsina wine back at home.
15. Greek Olive Oil and Olives
Sure, Greek olive oil and olives can be purchased in supermarkets just about everywhere now but it’s not quite the same as enjoying fresh, locally produced olives is it?! Shop at the farmers market and you’ll find olive oil sold in plastic water bottles – Can’t get any more ‘homegrown’ than that!
16. Greek Honey
Again, you can easily pick honey up back at home but it won’t have the taste of the Greek honey you were drizzling over your thick creamy Greek yogurt for breakfast as this staple ingredient of any Greek kitchen comes raw, unheated and unfiltered. As with the olive oil, the less packaging, and labels, the more organic and locally produced it is.
17. Karagiozis Figurine
The perfect gift from Athens for the little ones, Karogiozis figurines are traditional wooden shadow puppets that kids can have hours of fun with making a welcome break from the electronics! Popular in the 19th century, Karagiozis folklore has gone onto influence generations of Greeks with some of the figures now collectibles.
18. Art Copies
Shop in the museum gift shops or at the Lioulias Museum Replicas store and you can take home your own Ancient Greek or Roman relic in the form of a replica marble statue, or some Ancient Greek pottery… the copies are of the highest quality and a great addition to a living room.
So, when you’re shopping for gifts and souveniers from Athens, avoid the mass-produced items shipped in from China and opt for a unique Greek gift that will last you or the recipient a lifetime… unless it’s a food or drink item that you can’t resist gobbling down!