Since 1969, restaurant, hotel, travel & other witty reviews by a handpicked, worldwide team of discerning professionals—and your views, too.

Hotel Grande Bretagne, Athens, Greece
Constitution Square
Athens, Greece

Grande Dame

View of the Acropolis from the rooftop terrace

Bustling, urban and often lacking in architectural ambition, Athens can make a visitor wonder... how is this possibly the city that gave us the Acropolis? Those seeking proof that an aesthetic legacy did indeed filter down through the centuries should check into the Hotel Grande Bretagne.

This monumental building—on Syntagma Square, overlooking Parliament in one direction and the Acropolis in the other—is the city’s most legendary lodging. It dates back to the mid-19th century, and its history is as rich as that of the country it inhabits, beginning with its original function: to accommodate guests visiting the palace of King Otto and Queen Amalia. During WWII it housed both Allied and Axis officers (not at the same time, of course), and over the years it has been a favorite of visiting celebrities and dignitaries. Eventually, though, the Hotel Grande Bretagne began to show her age. But a $70 million, year and a half long facelift has put the grand back into this Grande Old Dame.

Beaux Arts lobby
Opulence in its truest sense

From the Beaux Arts lobby to the 300+ bedrooms and suites, the restoration was thorough. The suites are opulent in the truest sense of the word, and the guestrooms, although smaller (but still spacious) are dramatic. The least of the accommodations is done in a sumptuous residential style, decorated with oil paintings, swags of drapery, enormous beds and chandeliers. Intricate plasterwork, molded ceilings and French doors in the rooms that have balconies are among the many notable design features.

Peaceful pool

Among the collection of suites are two that stand out. The Presidential Suite is entered through a private foyer and features columns, arches and molded paneling. The woodwork in this space is gorgeous, and among the amenities is a dining table that seats twelve. As for the Royal Suite, it is fit for a king, with its original artwork, cigar humidor, private wine cellar with 300 labels, dining room table for up to sixteen and fully-equipped gym with sauna and steam shower. Among its fifth-floor views is the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Luxurious atrium

Also benefiting from the restoration was GB Corner, an Athens mainstay, serving Mediterranean cuisine. The hotel is also home to the seasonal GB Roof Garden, where guests can watch the sun setting over the Acropolis, and the conservatory-style Winter Garden. The Cellar, with its 17th century furnishings, original art and 3,000 bottles of wine, is available for private dining. An 18th century tapestry of Alexander the Great provides the focal point in Alexander’s Bar, offering a selection of cigars, cognacs and brandies.

Added to the hotel in the process of the renovation was a full spa and wellness center. This facility is a departure, design-wise, from the rest of the property. The indoor pool area, with its infusion of Aegean hues, feels Fellini-esque; it is contemporary and yet at the same time brings to mind the baths of ancient Rome. In many ways, this addition encapsulates what is best about the Hotel Grande Bretagne—while it is loyal to tradition, it understands the benefit of looking, at times, to the future. As a result, it is an excellent choice for 21st century travelers.

Going to Greece? Check our guide.

(Updated: 06/24/08 HC)

Sip your way through wine country with GAYOT's list of charming inns and resorts, featuring vineyards from Napa Valley to Long Island, New York.
Go off the beaten path and explore GAYOT's Top 10 Extreme Hotels, which feature one-of-a-kind accommodations for a truly unforgettable experience.