For many, Piraeus is the busy port from which you catch a ferry to a Greek island. But ask a local and you'll hear a different story. Our list of best things to do in Piraeus is just that... a local's perspective on what to see and do in this historic city. It was the naval centre of ancient Athens and, much later, evolved into the country’s commercial and industrial hub when Athens became the Greek capital after independence. It was also the entry point for Greek refugees from Asia Minor and around Greece, leading to influences you can still taste in the local cuisine. Since then it has developed into a vibrant, densely populated city in its own right, linked to Athens and the wider region by a metro extension (Line 3) and suburban and tram railways. But above all, Piraeus is a community, with locals known for their open personality, and with authentic tavernas, cafes and shops and a creative scene that draws inspiration from its industrial past.
A stroll and a bite in authentic Piraiki
Piraeus is essentially a combination of neighbourhoods and the first of those districts we’re introducing you to is called Piraiki. It lies just south of the port, starting at the Hellenic Naval Academy not far from the Cruise Terminal and stretches towards the marinas of Piraeus. It is a residential area (like most of Piraeus) but your focus here is Themistokleous Street, the long waterfront road named after Themistocles, the Athenian statesman who played a crucial role in the development of Piraeus as a fortified port city in the 5th century BC. It is a local favourite because of its very good, affordable tavernas serving fish and seafood meze. Despite having a long history and a loyal following from families, couples and friends, they have lost none of their authenticity for anyone wanting to enjoy a seafood meal with a sea breeze.
The waterfront of Marina Zeas (Pasalimani)
At the end Akti Themistokleous Street, you arrive at the first of Piraeus’ marinas. The Bay of Zea was the largest naval base of ancient Athens, where hundreds of triremes and other boats were built and launched. Today, Zea is Piraeus’ most cosmopolitan marina, especially by the entrance where cafes, restaurants and cocktail bars serving Italian, Mexican, Chinese and fancy seafood dishes line up opposite luxury yachts. Brunch, lunch or perhaps a cocktail with a yacht view. Not bad for starters.
Heading into the harbour (known locally as Pasalimani), you’ll find sailing boats and yachts moored to permanent and floating pontoons that fan out like the hour lines on a clock within the near circular natural bay. As you walk around the bay, the atmosphere changes, especially by Kanari Square (which you’ll recognise by the Clock of Piraeus, a central meeting point for locals at sunset). You’ll find cafes and restaurants, as well as street food and ice cream vendors, where you can grab something to eat and continue your walk. Eventually, you reach Alexandra Park Square and the Monument to the Pontic Greek Genocide, all the way around the bay.
A stroll around Kastella and Mikrolimano
On a hill above Pasalimani is Kastella, one of the most interesting neighbourhoods of Piraeus. It was known as the Ziller district (or the district of villas) because of the luxurious residences built here in the 19th century by the renowned German-born architect Ernst Ziller. And the theme continued when ship owners and industrialists chose to build their mansions here too. So look out for the neoclassical houses as you walk the streets and make sure to reach the park at the top of the hill, where you'll find the church of Profitis Ilias. The views are amazing. Also look out for the Veakeio Theatre, a summer theatre venue built in the shape of an ancient amphitheatre. From Kastella, you can head back down to the sea, this time towards Mikrolimano, another of Piraeus' marinas. In the bay, you will find some of the best high-end restaurants, fish tavernas and cafes in town as well as the Yacht Club of Greece.
The food scene of Piraeus
The beauty of Piraeus is that there are food choices throughout the city and they all have a story to tell. You’ve already been introduced to the cosmopolitan eateries and cocktail bars of Marina Zeas, the high-end restaurants of Mikrolimano and the family-run tavernas of Piraiki and elsewhere. But you’ll find places to eat in every neighbourhood, from ethnic and street food to modern restaurants and traditional tavernas hidden in the pedestrianised streets of the city centre.
There was a time when grocery stores (called bakalika) might serve meze and other dishes to customers while they waited. Some still exist, just as neighbourhood cafes might still serve meze. And you can still find traditional tavernas and ouzeries that play rebetiko (the folk music accompanied by a bouzouki or other stringed instrument). Wine or ouzo, meze and rebetiko (sometimes even live)… you can’t get more authentic than that! Just as you can’t get more authentic in Piraeus than the aromas and flavours of a traditional taverna serving fish and seafood sourced daily from the local fish market or dishes prepared from family recipes influenced by the populations from Asia Minor, Crete, Mani and the Aegean Islands who settled here in 19th and early 20th century.
The architectural gems of Piraeus
One of the joys of exploring Piraeus is spotting the architectural gems between the apartment blocks. Just picture the following walk from the bottom of Pasalimani up to the main port: You set out on Akti Moutsopoulou Street, with yachts on one side and apartments on the other. Just a couple of blocks in, you arrive at a two-storey gabled (almost castle-like) building in a small square. It’s the Tzivaniotis Residence, known as "the stone tower”, built at the end of the 19th century. You head into Bouboulinas Street and reach the corner of Praxitelous Street, where you can admire the building of the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation. Continuing up Praxitelous Street, you turn right into Sotirios Dios Street and (after crossing Kountouriotou Street, which also has numerous architecturally interesting buildings in it) you turn left into Grigoriou Lambraki Avenue and arrive at the three-storey Residence of Spyridon Metaxas, a rare standalone neoclassical house, also designed by Ziller.
Next, turn left into Vasileos Georgiou A Avenue and pass the Municipal Theatre of Piraeus, a magnificent 19th-century neoclassical building and cultural reference point. (The plush red seats and Baroque décor are half the experience.) Look for the Maritime Retirement Fund (NAT) building and the neighbouring Piraeus Tower (88m and 22 storeys tall and part of an ambitious, fully sustainable refurbishment project) before turning left into Akti Miaouli Street (the main coastal road of the port). Pass the Vatti Brothers Mansion on the corner of Bouboulinas Street and walk to the Church of Agios Nikolaos (dedicated to the patron saint of sailors). You’ve covered many of Piraeus’ architectural highlights in just 3km (40 minutes). Add to that other landmark buildings, such as the churches of Agios Triadas, Dionysios and Spyridon (the patron saint of Piraeus), the Naval Cadets Academy (founded in 1845 and including a museum space) and the Old Railway Station by the port and you’ll see Piraeus in a whole new light.
The museums of Piraeus
The first museum on your list of things to do in Piraeus is the Archaeological Museum of Piraeus (by the Ancient Theatre of Zea), which offers visitors a complete picture of the city’s history, including its time as an ancient commercial centre and naval base with Long Walls connecting it to Athens. The permanent collection includes clay and bronze vases, figurines, jewellery, musical instruments, bronze and marble statues, votive offerings and funerary reliefs from excavations in Piraeus and across Attica and the Saronic Gulf, as well as private collections. Another cultural highlight is the Hellenic Maritime Museum by the entrance to Marina Zeas, with more than 2,500 items from Greece’s proud seafaring past, including models of vessels from Archaic and Classical times up to the 1821 War of Independence and beyond. The anchors outside are from the Battle of Navarino in 1827.
Elsewhere, the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation has a wonderful library at the corner of 2as Merarhias & Aktis Moutsopoulou streets, hosting events and exhibitions that include a fascinating collection of books, paintings, personal items, dispatches, signed letters and more of the legendary British naval commander Admiral Lord Nelson. And the Electric Railways Museum (in the Post Office of the Piraeus Railway Station) and the Hellas Liberty Floating Museum (in the port) are gems for anyone interested in the social and commercial history of Piraeus and Greece generally. But the most unexpected cultural highlight comes in the Municipal Theatre Metro Station which has exhibits of the “unseen waterways” (including pipes, wells and tanks) unearthed during digging works for the metro station and elsewhere in Attica. Some are displayed literally underfoot as you walk through the metro station.
The art spaces with an industrial past
A visit to the Municipal Art Gallery is something you can easily slip into your things to do in Piraeus. It contains a collection of more than 800 works including some of the biggest names in modern Greek painting (Lytras, Maleas, Romanidis, Christofis etc) but you’ll also find sculptures, photographs and artwork from lesser-known and young artists. But nothing captures the spirit of creativity and the industrial past of Piraeus like the art spaces opening up in one-time industrial buildings. Take a stroll down Polidevkous Street (two roads back from the main port) and you’ll see what we mean.
The Rodeo Gallery is an annex of a gallery in Istanbul that hosts temporary exhibitions of contemporary artists in a cavernous former warehouse. Close by, the Carwan Gallery originated in Beirut and showcases cross-cultural collaborations between architects, artists and designers and hosts temporary exhibitions of Greek and foreign artists. And The Intermission is a community-based art exhibition space that focuses on creative collaborations rather than promoting individual artists. Finally, Π District is a nearby multi-space project in a 19th-century industrial building that includes the Π Gallery, featuring architectural and design objects. And a short walk away is the Enia Gallery, a new exhibition space aimed at promoting the international contemporary art scene of established and emerging artists from Greece and abroad.
Nightlife everywhere you turn
Piraeus is one of the places where you don’t have to invest a lot of time in planning your night out. There are plenty of places for a drink or to dance till late (or early). You’ve already been introduced to the cocktail bars of Marina Zeas and cafes of Kanari Square and you are spoiled for choice for drinking spots in and around Korai Square and the Municipal Theatre. The coolest places are reserved for the industrial spaces that have been turned into wine bars and restaurants (especially near the port) and there are new editions constantly being added to the Piraeus nightlife map, such as Troumba, a once infamous district of Piraeus that’s showing a new side to its character.
The shopping streets of Piraeus
As well as being a port, Piraeus is home to a large residential population and is considered the shopping hub for the wider area. It is the place to go to find all kinds of shops (clothes, shoes, accessories, gifts, household items etc) and there are streets that have been pedestrianised for this purpose.
Heading away from the Municipal Theatre, Vasileos Georgiou A Avenue is full of shops (some in neoclassical buildings), with everything from boutiques to retail chains. As you walk towards Pasalimani, you can continue down Grigoriou Lambraki Avenue (which also has a wide range of shops). Or from the Municipal Theatre, you could take Iroon Polytechniou Avenue which also has everything from small shops to department stores. And a final tip is the pedestrianised Sotirios Dios Street, which is popular with locals.
Events and festivals in Piraeus
The last of your things to do in Piraeus isn't just one thing. It's the festivals and events that take place in Piraeus in the summer and other times of year. A recent initiative that has already become a favourite is the Piraeus Taste Festival, which is hosted across various venues, including Mikrolimano, Alexandras Square, Pasalimani and Piraeus Port. It highlights the many influences on Piraeus’ cuisine, including the populations that arrived in the port from around Greece and Asia Minor back in the day. Likewise, seafood products celebrate the city’s relationship with the sea (particularly fishing communities) and diverse spices, cheese, sausages and herbs represent Piraeus’ status as a gateway for goods from all over the country.
Likewise, the annual Sea Days festival celebrates the city’s maritime culture, with exhibitions, concerts and workshops as well as food and drink fairs and guided tours of the port and its historic landmarks. An annual Sea Days highlight is the Piraeus Book Fair, which takes place at Pasalimani and features books for all ages and genres.
10 best things to do in Piraeus
So much for being just a ferry port! Piraeus never fails to surprise its visitors, especially when you ask a local. What are you filling your itinerary with from our list of best things to do in Piraeus?
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