Athens is a city that has been built, conquered, built and conquered throughout history. The conquering culture would build the city up in its own image only to have part of it torn down when the city fell once again. This ebb and flow of building and ruining have left a unique multicultural tapestry behind. It’s truly a city to behold.
A new young culture is now conquering Athens peacefully. You’ll find graffiti-lined streets selling anti-capitalist literature in the shadow of towering ancient buildings. This new culture is making bits of Athens in its own image, but the ancient sites and history of the city are left untouched.
Athens’s top neighborhoods
1. Plaka · 2. Monastiraki & Psiri · 3. Kolonaki · 4. Syntagma · 5. Koukaki · 6. Exarchia · 7. Glyfada (south of map) · 8. Piraeus (southwest of map)
Celebrate the long history of Greece by day and then party deep into the night. Take seaside strolls ogling at yachts and then check out some hard rock in the anarchist district. Athens is a city of extremes with everything in between and it is all reflected in its neighborhoods. Choose the right district for you when you visit The City Of The Violet Crown.
The Plaka is the oldest neighborhood in Athens. You’ll find it underneath the Acropolis and the neighborhood spans all the way to Syntagma. Two main pedestrian thoroughfares make up the Plaka — Kydathineon and Adrianou — and the intersection of the two is generally thought of as the center of the district.
The entire neighborhood is paved with cobblestone and most of the ancient neighborhood’s roads are off limits to cars. Although, you’ll still have to watch out for the occasional scooter or delivery truck. The beautiful streets are lined with restaurants, cafes and shops.
The Plaka is well known as a tourist destination so many of the restaurants and shops cater to the expected clientele. You’ll have to dig a little deeper on the menu to find something authentic and you’ll have to be careful to avoid mass-produced trinkets in the shops. But if you look in the right places, you’ll find genuine food, handmade jewelry and some incredibly inventive souvenirs.
Recommended Hotel: Plaka Hotel
The Monastiraki and Psiri neighborhoods are right next to each other in the heart of Athens. These districts offer you first-hand experiences with some of Greece’s most prized sites as well as stunning views of the Acropolis.
You’ll find the Stoa of Attalos, the Ancient Agora and the ruins of the Hadrian’s Library in Monastiraki. The bustling neighborhood attracts visitors from all over the world so the streets are lined with cafes, restaurants and shops. But you’ll find the most authentic souvenirs at the famous Monastiraki Flea Market.
Psiri, just to the north of Monastiraki, is a well-known hub for nightlife. Head to the vibrant Iroon Square to visit one of the neighborhood’s many tavernas, live music venues and clubs. You’ll find off-beat souvenirs in shops covered with graffiti as you navigate the maze of bars. This small piece of Athens is known to stay up late.
Recommended Hotel: Attalos Hotel
A six-foot column stood in the center of a barren square before a single house was built in this neighborhood. The column’s name was Kolonaki and that’s where this district got its name. This expensive neighborhood has now built itself beautifully into the southern slopes of the Lycabettus hill.
Take a stroll through this upscale neighborhood and you’re likely to see signs of wealth. Whether it’s a Rolex on the wrist of a man sitting at a cafe or the Louis Vuitton logo sewed into the side of a walking woman’s purse, Kolonaki will not let you forget its opulence. Needless to say, Kolonaki is where you’ll go for high-end shopping.
Besides the opulent shops and incredible people watching, you’ll find a nice collection of museums in Kolonaki. The Benaki Museum is an incredibly preserved neoclassical manor house that boasts a fine collection of art which is just a short walk from another fine collection at the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art.
Recommended Hotel: Hotel Lozenge
A popular uprising rocked Greece back in 1843. The people, with the military at their backs, demanded that the first King of Greece sign a constitution. Syntagma Square, also known as Constitution Square, is named after the historic document. The square is a major part of Greece’s political history and you may even witness a protest or march during your visit.
The Parliament Building sits near the square which is lined with cafes. The area bustles with energy every day. It’s a great place to people watch with a coffee at an outdoor cafe when the weather is nice. But the neighborhood is more than just a historic landmark.
Two historical museums, the Numismatic Museum and the National Historic Museum, are worth a visit for ancient relics. The Valaoritou pedestrian street takes you right to the square and is lined with chic cafes and authentic restaurants. And the fashionable Karytsi square is the hub of nightlife in the area.
Recommended Hotel: Hotel Grande Bretagne
If you can peel your eyes off the nearby Acropolis and can stay away from the touristy Plaka, you can enter the kaleidoscope of the Koukaki neighborhood. You’ll get an undeniably local experience in this often overlooked piece of Athens.
Koukaki is a sleepy place in contrast to the nearby Plaka neighborhood, but the district has a welcoming urban village feel. The restaurants and cafes are less populated but serve up more traditional Greek dishes. Make sure to visit the Trii Ark Hub after a quiet coffee to support the work of local artists.
Stroll down the uneven sidewalks of the pedestrian Georgaki Olympiou Street running from Koukaki Square. You’ll be under the shade of bitter orange trees as you peruse local shops, cafes and restaurants. Then head over to the magnificent National Museum of Contemporary Art and the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum to round out your laidback day in Koukaki.
Recommended Hotel: Hotel Tony
Exarchia is the edgy part of Athens. You’ll stroll down streets covered in politically charged graffiti while the shops hawk anarchist books, rare vinyl records and wicked guitars. It’s the neighborhood you’ll enter when you want to hear some alternative live music while sipping on a heavy alcoholic beverage.
But the image of this anarchistic neighborhood belies the food culture. You’ll find plenty of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Athen’s most rock-and-roll district. The crowd in Exarchia is decidedly younger, and their youthful energy sometimes boils over with local authorities. You just might find yourself in the middle of an anti-capitalist march in Exarchia.
The US State Department has issued a warning for travel to Exarchia in the past, but that was for one very specific politically charged incident. You should feel safe in the neighborhood and it’s worth visiting for the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, Vox, the city’s oldest theater, and Strefi Hill.
Recommended Hotel: Best Western Hotel Museum
Glyfada is a southwestern suburb of Athens that stretches from Hymettus Mountain to the Saronic Gulf. It’s a fairly affluent place that has earned the nickname Hellenic Hamptons. The coastal border of the neighborhood is right in the heart of the Athens Riviera.
The Asteras Glyfadas beach is the crown jewel of Glyfada. Enjoy clear waters, soft sand and plenty of amenities at this iconic beach. The Sea Turtle Protection Society Archelon should not be missed. You can marvel at the experienced staff as they nurse injured and sick sea turtles back to health before releasing them back into the wild.
Head to the city’s digital planetarium in Glyfada after a day at the beach. You can catch jaw-dropping images of the universe, or you can choose to ogle at some modern art at The Blender Gallery. And, of course, this neighborhood is full of authentic restaurants where you can enjoy fresh seafood.
Recommended Hotel: Bomo Palace Hotel
Piraeus is south of Athens on the gulf and serves as the city’s port. Many travelers find themselves entering Athens through Piraeus as they disembark their cruise ships. You’ll also have to port through Piraeus if you wish to take a boat to one of the many Greek Isles. And the port city is just a short metro ride to the heart of Athens.
But Piraeus is a destination unto itself. Grab a coffee at an outdoor seaside cafe to check out the fancy yachts at the port of Zea, otherwise known as Pasalimani. The hilltop Castella neighborhood is worth a stroll for the beautiful neoclassical houses, the Prophet Elias church and the outdoor Veakeion theatre.
You can also catch plenty of culture in Piraeus. Catch a show at the historic Municipal Theater, visit the Hellenic Maritime Museum or drink in the beauty of one of many Greek Orthodox Churches in the city. Depending on your needs, Piraeus puts you right in between the Greek Isles and Athens, and it’s a beautiful place to visit on its own.
Recommended Hotel: Piraeus Port Hotel