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A self-guided walking tour around the neighbourhoods of downtown Athens

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As long as it takes to drink a Greek coffee

Nothing reveals the true identity of a city more than walking its streets. So we’ve put together three self-guided walking tours into some of the coolest neighbourhoods of Athens, filled with hidden gems loved by locals and revealing the city’s modern face. We take you through the neighbourhood around Evripidou St (famous for the colours and aromas of its spice stores and as the location of Athens’ main market) and we introduce you Psirri, once the industrial centre of Athens but now a district with a whole new vibe. And we take you around what Athenians call the Commercial Triangle, looking for concept stores and trendy new eateries. Three Athens neighbourhoods that are quite different in character but that all have a great atmosphere and strong common theme, namely remaining true to their past whilst being revived, mostly through stylish new food and entertainment spots. And don’t forget to stay with us until the end, where there’s a bonus waiting for you.

➥ Evripidou St and surrounds
 Psirri neighbourhood
 The Commercial Triangle
🖈 Map

Walking at Protogenous street Psirri

Before we start our walking tour of Athens, allow us to introduce you to your guide, Stathis Kalyvas, a political scientist and internationally acclaimed academic. (Although host would be a better word than guide as he knows Athens like his home.) We hit the streets of Athens with Stathis, asking him to give an insight into the hidden places that inspire him the most, in order to give you the most personalised experience possible. And what we found was an unexpected harmony between the old and new in Athens … traditional and modern, extrovert and minimal. He took us beyond the facade of restaurants, shops and hotels and delved into the spirit of three cool neighbourhoods that will let you experience Athens like a local. 

"These neighbourhoods mirror the real Athens, a city that’s not ashamed of its imperfections, but embraces them and integrates them into something new, dynamic and original" – Stathis Kalyvas 

Evripidou St and surrounds, filled with tastes and aromas 

Evripidou St ➡ Varvakios Market ➡ Theatrou Square

Otherwise known as the Mecca of Athens’ spice and herb stores, as well as housing delicatessens selling cold cuts, cheeses and other delicious morsels, Evripidou St is the departure point for our first Athens walking tour. And for our guide, Evripidou and its surrounding streets are more than just another neighbourhood of Athens. It’s a family affair, as his grandfather owned a shop here. In the 1930s it was a coffee mill but after the war, it became a ‘modernisation shop’ (as it would have been called it at the time). We’d call it a shirt shop today.

Evripidou street tastes and aromas by Anastase Maragos

The story of Evripidou St goes way back, as Varvakios (Athens’ main public market, found at the bottom of the street) was operating here as long ago as 1886. There are dozens of stores at the market that will catch your eye – some old (like I Strouga tou Moria, with their exceptional cheeses, yogurt and butter). And right opposite, at the entrance to the meat market, you’ll find Volvi, a much more recent addition, serving unforgettable souvlaki and soutzoukakia (spicy meatballs) and continuing the tradition of the souvlaki shop that was here a long time ago.

Varvakios meat market

You’ll find that Varvakios is divided into three markets: meat, fish and fruit & vegetable. And if you’re wondering where it got its name, then you’ll be interested to learn that Varvakeio School, one of the most famous public schools in Athens, was located here before, sadly, being blown up during the Battle of Athens in December 1944. Now there’s something you weren’t expecting to learn in a meat market. And here’s another thing you won’t be expecting: Hasapika Asian Agora, an upmarket restaurant selling sushi, ceviche, tartare, fish soup and other seafood made by exceptional chefs. Fish meze and sushi in a meat market – pretty cool, right? Even cooler is that right next to the sushi restaurant is a traditional little Greek restaurant called Epirus (est.1898), with classic dishes like patsas (tripe soup), fricasse, beef soup and fasolada (bean soup) that attracts well-known Athenians and the odd renowned international chef (yes, Jamie Oliver has eaten here). So what’s one of the first things we’re learning on our neighbourhood walking tour in Athens? That’s it’s a city that (as well enjoying great food) embraces intense and original contrasts. 

After Evripidou St, we head along the streets around Theatrou Square. It’s a spot that became rundown for a while, but that’s come back strongly in recent years, with modern hotels establishing themselves here. You’ll also find some of Athens’ most historic eateries around the square. An example? The underground Diporto taverna, at the junction of Sokratous and Theatrou streets, which has been serving chickpeas, fasolada, meat with red sauce and spaghetti, and other classic dishes for more than a century. Another example is Tis Theatrou to Steki, ideal for a glass of tsipouro (local firewater) with your friends. Just as in all Athens neighbourhoods, you’ll find young and old here, with regulars mixing with visitors from all over the world. What brings them here? An atmosphere balancing the past with the present. The most recent addition has been digital nomads, who have chosen to work remotely from Athens and have found their ‘workplace’ in modern settings like the Selina hotel. Carrying on down Theatrou St, our stroll brings us to Theatrou Square and the photogenic Diplarios Technical College. Right next door is Klimataria, a taverna operating since 1927. Many Greek rebetiko (folk) singers have performed here and its specialities are both the delicious local dishes and the unique atmosphere: Greek music, a leafy internal courtyard and wooden barrels and tables and chairs. Can you imagine enjoying all that with your friends, with wine and meze?

Returning to Evripidou St, you’ll pass by shops selling twine, baskets and other everyday items. You head uphill until you reach Karamanlidika tou Fani, with choice cold cuts from Drama (in northeastern Greece) and specialised cheeses. It’s a shop that functions as both a delicatessen and an eatery and its cuisine instantly transports you to the East. A few steps further on is Miran (from 1922), where you’ll also find cured meats, soutzoukia (spicy sausages), buffalo products from Lake Kerkini and other items from small producers all over Greece. 

 

You’ll have understood by now what we meant by the diverse and varied elements of Athens combining harmoniously. Just look at the Athens Market Portrait, a modern boutique hotel in a handsome refurbished neoclassical building and the koutouki (a traditional taverna), and then the Kostaki family’s microscopic shop selling heavenly dairy products like graviera cheese with tsimeni (the buckwheat that goes into pastourma cured meat) … all next door to each other. And if you want to become a specialist in Greek herbs and spices, you’re in the right place. Just a breath away is Bahar, with a dizzying aromas of spices … the ideal way to close your first Athens neighbourhood stroll.

Psirri, the urban-cool district of Athens with a colourful past  

Psirri neighbourhood

Psirri is one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Athens, tucked in between Evripidou St, Athinas St, Ermou St and Sarri St. Its epicenter is Iroon Square (the square of heroes), from where a labyrinth of narrow little streets filled with energy, shops, Athenians, tourists and street art spread all around you. It’s a neighbourhood of Athens that has endured many crises and is today going through a complete rebirth. Psirri is hands down one of the coolest neighbourhoods in Athens, filled with hidden places and perfect for exploring. And because you’ll definitely work up an appetite, in Psirri (apart from shops selling small household and industrial goods, antiques and alternative clothes) you’ll find countless meze restaurants and small tavernas, cool little bars, restaurants and shops with divine sweets. 

 

So our guide started us from Athinas Street. If you’re already hungry, at number 39 you’ll find Psomi me Prozimi, a bakery where you can buy succulent buns and pastries – or maybe a halva, made with sesame seeds and honey, giving you the energy you’ll need to explore the neighbourhood. Going down Kalamida St, you enter the heart of Psirri, before turning on to Agiou Dimitriou St and getting to one of Athens’ real hidden gems, known only to locals. Passing into a narrow entrance around halfway down, you find yourself in a courtyard which is a former collection of houses that are, literally, out of 19th-century Athens, with whitewashed walls and blue doors and window frames (yes, it really is a scene from a Greek island!). Families used to live here, but it was also a complex of cobblers and grocery stores. And today, it makes the perfect setting to enjoy a meze at Avli, an ouzerie that will make you feel like you’re starring in a black-and-white film. Right next door, also on Agiou Dimitriou St, you’ll find an old restaurant that has been converted into an elegant hotel, the Philia Boutique Hotel Athens

The next stop in Psyrri is on Melanthiou St, at The Handlebar, a little bar frequented by cycling enthusiasts (and everyone else who comes for the atmosphere). The decor is inspired by the owners’ hobby and right next door is (you guessed it) a bicycle shop. Nearby are The Artist hotel, which has a fantastic mural, and an assortment of different stores (clothes, basket, garden equipment etc). Oh and you’ll find a restaurant that’s one of the most interesting new arrivals on the city’s food scene, Linou Soumbasis & Sia, which describes itself as “A simple restaurant, office and candles”. Surreal? Elsewhere, yes…for Psirri, no. As with the other Athens neighbourhoods we’re taking you to, in Psirri the strangest and most diverse sights happily exist in the same melting pot. 

Moving on to Pallados St, we get to the popular Juan Rodriguez Bar, with its exotic-colonial decor and incredibly well-stocked bar, with a great choice of rums and other spirits. It will definitely whet your appetite for a drink (maybe you should end your walk here … just saying!). But moving further onto Pallados St for now, you’ll pass many shoe-makers. As our neighbourhood guide explained, Psirri was famous in Athens for its cobblers – and that tradition remains alive. In fact, you can get custom-made footwear of exceptional quality. If this is what luxury sounds like to you, then just know that there are quite a few options in Psirri and they are very much affordable. There you go again: pre-modern moving seamlessly into the post-modern era. 

And now that you’ve got a taste for bars and shoe shops, before we delve even deeper into the soul of Psirri, let’s make a detour to Protogenous St, for a few more options for your evening drink. You’ll find bars like Barrett, a popular hangout with alternative international music, and a little further along another cool nightlife spot, Tranzistor (there was a time when it was the only bar on the street!). And it goes without saying that if you get hungry, you won’t go disappointed. Just decide whether you want savoury or sweet! Crust has a tradition of scrumptious New York pizzas on the go, while Kokkion, at the end of the road, has fantastic ice creams – one of the must-visit ice cream shops in Athens

And while we’re on the subjects of ice cream… a stroll around Athens without enjoying something sweet isn’t possible. In Iroon Square (back to our square of heroes), there are popular sweet shops, like Ta Serbetia stou Psirri on Aischylou St (it’s been sweetening the neighbourhood with the scent of cinnamon and mastiha since 1997). Also on Iroon Square is Serbetospito tis Nansy (more modern in style but with great traditional recipes). You won’t know where to start. You leave the square by Karaiskaki St, where you encounter possibly the most Instagrammable spot in Psirri, the fairytale-like coffee-sweet shop Little Kook. With theme-based decoration that changes by the season, it gives the neighbourhood an enchanting aura. And you know what’s even more magical? Right next to the exuberantly decorated store, you’ll find minimal clothes shops and retro antique stores.

Our exploration of Psirri continues along Navarhou Apostoli St and Ivis St, where you discover the ‘Caribbean Gastronomic Bar’ (as it bills itself) Dos Gardenias. Just for a moment, you’ll think you’re in a corner of Panama or Cuba. And yet, you’re on the pavement of Ivis St, in the centre of Athens. And, yes, you’re about to enjoy classic margaritas, pincho, paella and many other unbeatable, exotic tastes. 

Carrying on down Ivis St you reach Sarri St, with a couple more of Athens’ hidden gems. The first is Minu, a cafe with an internal courtyard, healthy snacks, coffee (obviously) and many other items on the menu that can’t be consumed. What? Well, all the plants that you see in this trendy and plant-filled space can be bought, just as you can buy furniture and other small items around you. And if that’s not enough, so you can understand the ingenuity of this neighbourhood of Athens, a little further along, on a side street off Sarri, is Lokali, with a large courtyard full of trees and beautiful tables. Can you think of a better setting for meatballs in red sauce (kokkinista keftedakia) and a gin and tonic? 

Athens walking tour

And we close our walk through Psirri in Asomaton Square. You’ll find Asomaton Hotel there today, on the site of a former factory. The hotel has kept the old warehouse door (with a label telling you as much). Yet another example of Psirri constantly evolving whilst effortlessly incorporating its colourful past. 

Strolling around Psirri district

The Commercial Triangle, authentic and metropolitan

Agia Irini Squ ➡ Vissis St ➡ Aiolou St ➡ Praxitelous St ➡Karitsi Squ ➡Kolokotroni Squ ➡Lekka St ➡Perikleous St ➡Petraki St

The scenery changes with the last of our self-guided walking tours in Athens as we take you around the neighbourhood known as the Commercial Triangle. What does it have in common with Psirri and Evripidou St? Well, here you’ll also find original little commercial projects that have breathed new life into the area. What was once the centre of Athens’ trade scene (it’s in the name), you’ll now find historic buildings that have been turned into design stores and cafes-bars and restaurants with striking personalities that draw people into the city centre. 

You could make this walk a continuation of the first by climbing Ermou St from Monastiraki and starting from there. Alternatively, we suggest you start from Snob Athens on Agia Irini St, which is housed in a neoclassical building dating from 1850 – one of the first printing houses in Greece. It was restored to create this Espresso Gastro Bar (as it styles itself), an elegant bar with little tables in a handsome garden. It even has accommodation. Ducking into a side street off Agias Irini St (you might not think much of it at first sight, but just trust us) you’ll find one of the best known, hidden courtyards of Athens, Six D.o.g.s. It’s an open space, with little wooden tables, trees and fine gravel making a super cool setting to enjoy coffee or a cocktail and to learn (once again) that, among the multi-storey apartments and urban sprawl of the city, you can find hidden oases of relaxation and tranquility.

In the same neighbourhood, towards Karamanou Square, there’s Dope, on Vissis St. You’ll find a 180-year-old buildings here, with a garden tended by the cafe owners whose minimal aesthetics and awesome canelé sweets attract a fanatical clientele. Next, you take a slight detour from Vissis St into what is one the oldest arcades of Athens, the Stoa Kairi. There’s an all-day bar in the arcade with vintage decor, built on the foundations of an old coffee shop and which (as you’ll understand as soon as you see it) has kept the flavour and atmosphere of old Athens alive. On the other side of Vissis St, is Feyrouz, one of the best places for Lebanese street food in Athens, which is adjacent to the Stournaras fabric store (perhaps you’re looking for a quality cashmere number?). Falafel next to a fabric shop … yup, you got it! Totally different worlds coming together in the centre of Athens. And going up the pavement of Aiolou St, there are other outlets everywhere you look: material shops, little bars, more street food and modern hotels like Blend Hotel Athens, all doing their thing.

The next stop is Praxitelous St, with its sought-after clothing stores and street food, and some of the best-loved bars in Athens. First up, The Makers Athens, a project that offers coffee and fantastic brunch (check out the modern, minimal staff uniforms). And then comes the hugely popular (thanks to its successive local and international awards) The Clumsies bar, with multiple surprises on the cocktail menu.

Yet another nightlife hotspot (but don’t rule it out for the day, either) is Karitsi Square. There’s a heavenly courtyard that’s part of a neoclassical building housing the Βlack Duck Garden, complete with marble fountain. It’s an ideal spot for coffee, but it comes into its own for food or evening cocktails. You’ll find plenty of other great evening hangouts on Karitsi Square, such as Draxmi Bar, behind the Old Parliament. Indeed, the whole area is one of the most popular nightlife spots in Athens, so take your time. You’re bound to find somewhere that calls out to you. 

Continuing our stroll, we reach Kolokotroni Square, site of the Old Parliament which today houses the National Historical Museum. From here, you descend Kolokotroni St, which brings together many quality choices for a night out. But hang on a minute, it would be wrong to just focus on the bars. There are all sorts of hidden treasures here, such as the Naxos Apothecary, a store that will introduce you to the herbs of the island after which it is named. You’ll love the old-style medicinal containers and you can buy herbal cosmetics by the likes of Korres or – best of all – that are tailor-made for you!

By now it’s probably time for something to eat. Your first choice might well be the high-end Milos Restaurant, with the freshest seafood from all over Greece. It’s in a wonderful building that was recently refurbished giving an elegant, modern air to the Stoa Bolani. Passing through the arcade, there’s another new entry to the Athens food scene, Te Kila, with tastes from Mexico … and just opposite that, the ever-popular 42 Barstronomy Athens cocktail bar. If you’re looking for a great cafe, on the other hand, there’s Κaya, and if you’re a chocoholic, leave the arcade right now and make for Voulis St, where there’s a treat in store at Aristokratikon, sweetening the palates of Athenians since 1928 and renowned for its fantastic chocolates. And, no, we haven’t forgotten those with a savoury tooth. There’s something special for you at Ariston, just opposite – you’ve never had a cheese pie like it!

For a healthy snack, we can recommend the microscopic Marketta on Lekkas St, while a little further down, in a small arcade, you’ll find another new entry … a modern hotel (which with just small alterations to the building, changed the look of the arcade) next to a lively all-day cafe-bar, Peek a Bloom. Contrasts everywhere!

Our walk continues onto Petraki St, another road that went through a period of decline but – thanks to the draw of Mitropoleos St and its restaurants (such as the delicious Ergon) – is once again an Athens favourite. There’s Taqueria Maya here, serving Mexican street food, and Hanoi Athens, one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in town. And while you’re be thinking that this is foodie central, consider that there was a time when there was just one bakery here, Pnyka, specialising in gluten-free before it was a trend. Right next door is the boutique hotel Villa Brown Ermou and if you’ve got the urge for a sweet something continue to Bon Bon Fait Maison. A second-hand shop once stood here but today, it’s a must-stop confectionary store with scrumptious takes on classic French desserts. For something totally different and original, at Akira Mushi you’ll find clothes with a minimal, Japanese aesthetic. Alternatively, if it’s wine o’clock, Heteroclito is where to go, a well-known wine bar and one of the first places to open in the area. 

Before we end our Athens neighbourhoods walks, duck into Perikleous St, where the Feedel Urban Gastronomy specialises in comfort food at affordable prices, and Not Just Falafel is housed in a fantastic building designed by renowned German-born architect Ernst Ziller (responsible for many of Athens’ most architecturally striking buildings). Our walk through the Commercial Centre closes back at Agia Irini Square, with its countless eating and drinking choices and a last culinary cameo. Save some space for Lukumades and their delicious, puffy, cinnamon-and-nut covered honey balls. Unforgettable!

🖈 Map of Downtown Athens walking tour

 

*Bonus - Omonia, Athens’ next neighbourhood hotspot

A neighbourhood that has begun to rise from the ashes is Omonia Square, the oldest square in Athens, and its surrounding streets. From here, the main arteries of Athens spread out like the arms of a starfish. It has changed look more times than any other part of Athens. In fact, during the 1980s and 90s, Omonia Square went through its most glorious period, becoming the commercial and social centre of the city. It was full of people and life and it was a neighbourhood that literally never slept. But during the years that followed, it fell into decline, suffering from many complicated problems … up to today, where it is gradually being upgraded and has begun to take on a different look. 

As in our other Athens neighbourhoods, many elements of the past remain untouched by time in Omonia, such as the Kristakis sweet shop on Sokratous St, with its delicious loukoumades (honey balls), and historic neoclassical buildings, such as the Papaleonadrou apartment block at the junction Patision Ave and Skaramanga St, where legendary Greek opera singer Maria Kallas lived. At the same time, together with the renovation of the square, buildings that had been abandoned for decades (such as the old La Mirage hotel) are now being revived, giving a fresh aura to the area. We’re just going to say it and it’s up to you to remember: Omonia is going to be the next Athens hotspot!

Psirri, the urban-cool district of Athens with a colourful past  

A final note from your guide

Evripidou St, Psyrri and the Commercial Triangle … you were just introduced to three Athens neighbourhoods that highlight the mysterious, atmospheric, modern, traditional, underground and retro aspects of the Greek capital in the best possible way. It’s an insight into Athens that you won’t necessarily find in a guide book. There are more glittering sides to the city, but everything you’ll experience here is charming and definitely very, very authentic. 

These neighbourhoods mirror the real Athens, a city that’s not ashamed of its imperfections, but embraces them and integrates them into something new, dynamic and original. An absolutely authentic and vibrant city, with neighbourhoods that have retained – each in their own way – their identity and character. You’ll feel all this just by walking the streets. Because Athens is a city that you’ll fall unexpectedly in love with. So off you go … it’s time to find out for yourself.
 

11 things to do in Athens to live like a local 

Stathis Kalyvas
Stathis Kalyvas
Gladstone Professor of Government (University of Oxford) & local Athenian

Stathis Kalyvas, an international Greek and Gladstone Professor of Government and fellow of All Souls College at Oxford, has never hidden his love for the neighbourhoods of downtown Athens where he grew up. His academic career led him to America, where he lived for many years, but in 2007 he chose to return to Athens and once again live in the city centre, surrounded by everything he loves there: the constant traffic on the streets, the vibrancy, the smells, the sounds, the habits, the feeling of the community and the activities of the city's commercial zone.

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