a dreamy maze around the Acropolis
The region of Plaka is said to be the most touristy region in Athens and this is actually the case. Could that be though because it really is the most impressive part of the city as well? It goes without saying that Plaka is the most scenic, the most popular, the most beautiful neighborhood of Athens – a maze-like Utopia that leads up to the Acropolis. It is much loved by residents and visitors alike and it’s not hard to see why. Visiting Plaka means walking by open-air ancient sites, feeling the nostalgic atmosphere of the old embracing the new, experiencing a variety of ethnic cuisines and looking out for another ‘hidden’ alley to walk through.
While in Plaka it feels as if you’re in the most beautiful city in Europe; pick your route by walking: a) At the surroundings of an Ethnic Metropolis, for incredible restaurants around the Cathedral, b) In the charming alleys of the touristy ‘neighborhood of the gods’, c) From the Cycladic district Anafiotika up to Areopagus, d) At the Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds.
Athens, an Ethnic Metropolis
Here you can find the most ethnic restaurants with overall good to excellent food on the intersection of Apollonos street and Nikis street: Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Spanish, Vegetarian, Vietnamese, Indian, all with outdoor seating on the sidewalk. Ipitou pedestrian street has become the talk of the town for those who love cocktails, design, and cool atmosphere from early in the afternoon until late at night. On Metropolis square is the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Annunciation (basilica with dome in neoclassical architecture of 1862, it took 3 architects and 20 years to be built) and the small medieval church of Saint Eleftherios. Metropoleos street leads to Syntagma, the heart of modern Athens, and to Monastiraki with the numerous souvlaki restaurants and souvenir shops.
A stroll in the alleys
If you choose to wander through the narrow streets of the area just follow your instinct and Plaka or else the ‘neighborhood of the gods’ won’t disappoint you. Here, one can see most of the neoclassical buildings of the capital city, the small flower gardens at the entrance of some houses give a welcoming note, and you may often notice something unique: many houses have their yards laid not with tiles but with glass – for the impressive reason that underneath the glass are displayed remnants of ancient Athens! Even if you end up stepping out of Plaka, whether it is towards Makrygianni street and the trendy area of Koukaki, towards the multi-cultural Monastiraki square and the Flea Market, towards Thiseio with its pedestrian routes and magnificent views, or towards Syntagma and the commercial Ermou street, it is certain that you’ll be more than fine!
If you choose to give your stroll a purpose, then: a) Walk on and around Kydathineon street where you’ll find traditional taverns and cafes, folklore shops, and impressive neoclassical buildings on its side streets. For those of you who enjoy going to the movies, there is a beautiful open-air movie theatre, Cine Paris, on Filomousou Eterias square. The Museum of Greek Folk Art is also of interest as it displays many artifacts of the Greek cultural heritage. Further down, you will see Brettos one of the oldest and most atmospheric distilleries and bars in Europe. At this end of Kydathineon street, on Moni Asteriou street, you’ll find Frissiras Museum of Contemporary Greek and European painting, housed in two renovated neoclassical buildings of the 19th century, and on a side street you’ll find the Museum of Children’s Art. b) Stroll and shop along Andrianou street that stretches from the Temple of Olympian Zeus all the way to Thiseio, walking first through the bustling Monastiraki square. Andrianou street has a plethora of cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops that you can enjoy while passing by archaeological sites. c) Walk on Tripodon street, the most ancient street in Europe, that has maintained the same name for 3.000 years. Here, you’ll discover a secret architectural gem, the School Life and Education Museum decorated with exceptionally well-preserved ceiling paintings of the 19th century. Heading down, you’ll come across creperies and taverns, as well as hammam places for your relaxation.
Anafiotika and the Acropolis
The church of Agiou Nikolaou Ragava is an ideal spot to begin your walk in a district that will enchant you. Behind the church begins a maze of cobbled streets, narrow, wiggly lanes and alleys in the neighborhood of Anafiotika. A small village (or maybe a small island) nestled in the city. Passing by white washed houses with blue shutters, balconies with bougainvilleas, and flat roofs you will be wondering how this place in the centre of the city came to be. In fact, the story behind this neighborhood with the charming planning is very interesting. In the mid-1800s, when king Otto decided to revamp the new capital and refurbish his palace workers from all over Greece and in particular from the island of Anafi were invited. The islanders settled just below the northern slope of the Acropolis, where they built their own ‘temporary’ houses. In their homes they brought the essence of the Cycladic architecture, and built a neighborhood which is preserved, and has today less than 70 residents. Wind your way through its narrow laneways heading up to the highest spot where the view of the city is breathtaking.
Walk from there on Theorias street to pass by the First Athens University of the independent Greek state (1831-1841), the Church of the Tranfiguration, and Paul & Alexandra Kanellopoulos Museum, which is home to a large private collection of Ancient & Byzantine Greek art. If you go straight ahead on Theorias street you will get to Aeropagus (Areios Pagos), the place where trials were heard in ancient Greece, a holy place of religious worship and also the place from which St Paul first preached Christianity to the Athenians. You will come across locals hanging out there at nights, having their beer and enjoying an impeccable view of the Acropolis, which is so close you won’t believe your eyes!
If you choose to head back towards Plaka, follow any side street off Theorias street; on your way you’ll have an array of great choices for something to eat or drink on Mnisikleous street, Lysiou street, Thrasyvolou street, and Dioskuron street. On Dioskouroi street, just by Ancient Agora is the famous café-mezedopolio Dioskouroi. On Vryssakiou street, you can have a drink on the charming roof terrace of Vrysaki, a contemporary art & performance place. Take a break to recharge before continuing your walk at the archaeological sites!
Roman Agora and The Tower of the Winds (Aerides)
Built under the Roman rule on the 1st century AD Roman Agora was an expansion of Ancient Agora, the center of administrative, commercial, political and social activity in ancient Athens. Roman Agora, the city’s market area full of shops and storing houses, was bordered on all four sides by colonnades of Ionic columns. Only half of it remains and visitors can admire parts of the propyla and the buildings in it. The Gate of Athena Archegetis, formed by four Doric columns, was the entrance gate to the market. On the east side of the site you can see the Tower of the Winds, an octagonal Pentelic marble tower that functioned as a clock (the ‘Horologion of Andronikos Kyrrhestes’, built in 1st century AD) and it is also considered to be the oldest meteorological station in the world. You will be impressed with the eight wind dieties figures portrayed on the frieze of the tower, each one representing a compass point. Here you are in Athens, one of the world’s oldest cities.