A Guide to Athens' Best Neighbourhoods
The Historic Triangle
For travellers who are visiting the capital of Greece for the first time, the historical centre or historic triangle (as it’s often referred to by locals) is the main attraction. It’s formed by three main squares: Syntagma, Omonia and Monastiraki.
In this triangle, every road is connected and leads to another part of the city. Here, you’ll discover the oldest – and most scenic – neighbourhoods like Plaka, Anafiotika, Thissio and Psirri. Another must-visit is Filopappou Hill.
There’s plenty of shops and restaurants to explore, like Dosirak, the oldest Korean restaurant in Athens, and loads more street food stands packed into the tiny streets. As for drinking, check out Clumsies, the queer-friendly Hollywood Bar or natural wine bar Heteroclito. If you want somewhere more classic, try Booze Cooperativa on Kolokotroni Street where the eccentric owner will join you for a game of chess over a beer. The iconic Galaxy Bar is another institution, having served drinks to the intellectual crowd for over 50 years.
Varvakeios Agora, the city's central meat and fish market dating back to the 19th Century, can also be found in the area. Go for lunch or early dinner at Oinomageireio Epirus, the last original tripe soup shop inside the market (they don't serve only tripe soup). It’s not exactly certain where patsas (the Greek name for tripe soup) came from. Some food historians trace it back to ancient Persia and others to South Greece and Macedonia. One thing is for sure, it was the Asia Minor refugees that popularised the dish when they relocated to Greece in the 1920s. Patsas is arguably the best cure after a night of heavy drinking.
The lively Monastiraki operates as a flea market, known for its antique shops selling everything from furniture to old video games. If you’re feeling romantic, visit Lycabettus under a full moon summer night or maybe even the Acropolis. On the border of Omonoia and Psirri stands the former print factory of the infamous Romantso Magazine, which now functions as a creative hub, with a rich cultural programme showcasing local and international talent. Another important cultural hotspot is #six d.o.g.s near Monastiraki station with its much-loved garden. On the border of Psirri and Thission, hidden among abandoned buildings, is one of the best bars in town, Cantina Social.
During the last two decades Koukaki has grown to become one of the hippest areas. But before it became chic and expensive, it was overpopulated. Before the arrival of the Athens metro and the opening of the Acropolis Museum 12 years ago, it was pretty easy to rent a house there. Due to its close proximity to the Historical Centre it gained popularity as the first Airbnb hotspot of Athens. An important addition to the area was EMST (National Museum of Contemporary Art) which was housed in the former Fix brewery. Glimpses of the past can be found at Koukles Club, which still hosts the oldest drag show in Athens, and Takis, a legendary bakery straight out of the 60s who claim to have introduced Kolouri – the sesame ring snack – to the city. Koukaki is full of concept stores and modern cafes like the popular Bel-Ray, or brunch spot Monsieur Barbu. After a week of Greek food, you might want to try Tuk Tuk, the best Thai restaurant in town. Generally avoid eating lunch or dinner near the Acropolis Museum, the quality may be good but the prices are over-the-top. For tsipouro and meze, try To Potami and To Pagkaki, two co-operative kafeneia on the outskirts of Koukaki.
The multicultural Kypseli – beehive in English – was once home to upper and middle-class elites. During the 1970s, its rich inhabitants moved away from the centre to the northern suburbs, and the neighbourhood gradually fell into decline, dubbed a dangerous place to live by the late 90s, early '00s. Soon, a new Kypseli was born, with cheap housing attracting immigrants from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Albania and the former Soviet Union. The rapid gentrification also brought a new breed of residents, mostly students looking for more affordable apartments.
Its former glory is evident in its unconventional architecture ranging from Neoclassic to Art Deco, Bauhaus to Modernist. Don’t miss the historic Au-revoir Bar at Patission Street, owned by the same family for over 60 years, and of course Kypseli's Municipal Market, which houses a record shop and second hand store as well as weekly markets. A couple of new-wave coffee shops have recently opened up too, like Kick and Williwaw.
Hidden behind Rebound – the legendary goth club lost to the pandemic – stands family-run Kurdish eatery Mikra Asia, where you’ll eat the best kebab in Athens. The African diaspora have also played a big part in creating the culture of Kypseli. Go to Lalibela for traditional Ethiopian food, before heading for drinks at Axum, a post-midnight club playing hip hop, afrobeats and reggae. On another note: don’t be alarmed by strange bars with closed unwelcoming doors and bright front lights, they’re mostly gambling clubs (probably illegal).
Traditionally known as the alternative hood of Athens, Exarcheia is considered an anarchist quarter, a place where far-left and anti-fascist groups gather. Its long, radical history starts from the student uprising of the Athens Polytechnics School that overthrew the junta regime in 1973. Much later in 2008, the murder of a 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos at the hands of police prompted wild riots and violent street fights with the authorities. The burning of dumpsters and the smell of tear gas near tourist spots filled became a sort of “exotic” sightseeing. Slowly and silently, Airbnb began to change the demographic of Exarcheia. Τhe crowds of foreign travellers strolling down Kallidromiou Market is a sight to behold; many abandoned stores have now reopened in order to house a variety of hipster shops. For decades, it was a rare phenomenon for expensive cars to enter the area and leave unscathed; now you’ll see the latest model of Mercedes or BMW parked outside anarchist bars or on dark streets, like in any other area of Athens. Honestly, it feels quite bizarre. Many of the squats that housed refugees closed down, becoming defunct. The recent construction of the Metro’s Line 4 in the infamous central square – which for years was plagued by drug dealers and organised gangs – has raised more fears around the complete destruction of the bohemian and radical nature of the district. Despite frequent clashes between locals and authorities, Exarcheia remains a youthful, vibrant district that is worth a visit.
One of the most important museums in the world, the National Archaeological Museum is located there with more than 11,000 exhibits from a variety of ancient locations around Greece. For vinyl collectors, Exarcheia is the place to be, with numerous record shops spread around the neighbourhood. Exarcheia is also the capital of graffiti with the majority of its walls painted or tagged.
Every Saturday, Athenians from all over the city head to Kallidromiou Street for the best fruit and veg market (laiki), on the same street you’ll find a row of cafés for a morning cappuccino or late-night drink – Viola, Bourbon and Paraskinio are great options – as well as neo-tavern Ama Lachei. After lunch, head to Strefi Hill, the smaller, unruly cousin of Lycabettus. Exarcheia is packed with restaurants, bars and cafes, but some of my favourites include Kafeino Mouria which dates back to 1915, Selas, an anarchist cafe hidden among the trees, Santarosa (the gem of Asklipiou Street) for cocktails and eclectic DJ sets, after-hours rembetika joint Angelos, and the tiny Bar 37. Two of the most beautiful open air cinemas are situated near Exarcheia Square too: Vox (BOΞ) and Riviera. If someone mentions the word Neapoli, it still means Exarcheia but it’s used to describe the upper side of the district at the outer limits of Lycabettus hill.
Kerameikos, Gazi and Metaxourgeio
Located northwest of the Acropolis, this triptych of neighbourhoods has huge historical value. It’s difficult to distinguish where one hood ends and where the other begins. At the end of Ermou Street, you’ll come across the ruins of the ancient necropolis, on the other end, stands the industrial complex of Technopolis in Gazi. Technopolis (the former gasworks) dates back to the 19th century, and once attracted many Muslim families who were looking for jobs and a place to settle down in the 60s. On the west side of Kerameikos, Metaxourgeio (meaning silk mill) was a working-class stronghold of craftsmen, tradesmen, and small-business owners. After the 70s, the area started to decline. There were renovation attempts, especially in Gazi, during the 2004 Olympic Games which led to the relocation of most Muslim and Roma populations. Gentrification came in the form of art studios and galleries that hit Kerameikos and Metaxourgeio around the same time, but without any success. Many buildings now operate as brothels and the area has become home to people struggling with heroin addiction; the situation is ugly, watch your step.
On another note, Gazi, Kerameikos and Metaxourgeio are considered a haven for foodies looking for Michelin star dining and modern tavernas. Athens' Chinatown is also situated here with numerous Asian markets and clothing outlets. Kerameikos is also home to contemporary art powerhouse The Breeder. When the weather gets warmer, Technopolis hosts open air concerts from jazz to hip hop, and music festivals such as Plissken Festival. Iera Odos is a popular street that includes the biggest live stages for Greek music and mainstream nightclubs. Abandoned warehouses in the area are often used for underground raves, and all the best LGBTQ+ clubs and bars can be found there like Shamone, Sodade, BEqueer, Beaver, and Communitism. Over the past 20 years, Bios at Peiraios 84 has built its reputation as the most innovative cultural space of Athens with the best roof view of the Parthenon. A couple of streets behind is Latraac, a skatebowl-cum-café/bar that pulls an international crowd, with up-and-coming DJs, producers and musicians from all around the world behind the decks.