Every major city has a neighborhood both tourists and locals adore, and in Athens that neighborhood is Plaka. We met several locals who spoke reverently about it, and when we got there we immediately understood why. It’s impossible not to be captivated by the cobblestone streets and the brightly colored buildings juxtaposed against the vibrant bougainvillea plants. Plaka is Athens’ oldest neighborhood, and its classic beauty draws quite a crowd. There are innumerable restaurants and shops vying for your attention (and your dollar!), and it’s easy to miss the true gems. But fear not: here’s a walking tour to highlight the best this delightful neighborhood has to offer.
Start your day at Yiasemi, a charming little eatery on the renowned Plaka Stairs. If the weather is pleasant, getting a spot on the steps itself might be as difficult as winning the lottery. But don’t be discouraged, its interior is just as welcoming–from the mismatched furniture to the abundant greenery, the space feels more like a friend’s home. And their delicious pies feel decidedly homemade too, so be sure to get a slice with your morning coffee. Vacation calories don’t count, after all!
Daily 8:00 am – 3:00 am
After you’ve sufficiently fueled up, head up the stairs and find your way to a little village within Plaka called Anafiotika. Nestled at the foot of the Acropolis, Anafiotika makes you wonder if you’ve magically teleported from Athens to a Greek Island. And the reason is simple: in some ways you have! The village was constructed in the 19th century by skilled laborers from the island of Anafi. Some of the best in their field at the time, the artisans had come to Athens to help build King Otto’s palace. Because they knew they would be away from home for a while, they built Anafiotika in the image of their island home. So wander up the hill and discover the little island village in the heart of Athens and take in the picturesque views. Take your time strolling around the neighborhood, but please be respectful–those homes are occupied!
Pro Tip: If you follow Stratanos Street you will reach a point that offers amazing views of the city. But be forewarned, the steep and stony path can be a little slick and slippery. So wear appropriate footwear!
Once you’ve wandered around the charming little foothill village and filled your camera roll, it’s probably a good time to break for lunch. Keep in mind that Greeks usually enjoy a later lunch, so if you happen to break for lunch before 2:00 pm, you’ll likely be dining at an off-peak hour. Greeks also view their meals as social occasions, so don’t expect the speedy service many Americans have grown accustomed to.
The Old Tavern of Psaras
Make your way down Erechtheos Street to the Old Tavern of Psaras. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the Church of St. John the Theologian to your right. The tavern occupies two spaces caddy-cornered across Erotokritou Street. Psaras is billed as the oldest restaurant in Athens, and while we couldn’t possible verify that fact, we can certainly vouch for its old-world charm.
In the summer it offers idyllic al fresco dining–you can sit at round tables covered in checkered tablecloths and take in views overlooking the city while ambient chimes from the church across the way fill the air. The restaurant has been frequented by both politicians and celebrities, with famous clientele including the likes of Vivian Leigh, Brigitte Bardot and Liz Taylor. In the interest of full disclosure, we didn’t find the food here mind-blowing so if you’re looking for a true culinary experience, this is not where you’ll find it. But if you’re simply looking for an enjoyable meal, then it’s a wonderful spot.
Pro Tip: Psaras is great if you’re traveling in a group or meeting friends for a meal. They can accommodate large parties and the traditional Greek fare is likely to appease most palates. Reservations are recommended.
Daily 12:00 pm – 1:00 am
After you’ve enjoyed a leisurely lunch, it’s time to do some shopping! Whether you’re shopping for yourself or for friends and family, you’ll find innumerable options in Plaka. You might come across several nondescript outlets peddling cheap trinkets and throw in the towel after you’ve picked up some magnets for your co-workers and olive oil for Aunt Edna. But that would be a mistake: there are unique finds hidden amongst them, so keep your eyes open and you’ll be rewarded. Here are a few worthy stops:
Roka is the definition of a hidden gem: the store is no bigger than a closet and its front bears no flashy signs. But it’s been around for over 40 years and is owned and operated by an older woman who you’re likely to encounter when you step into the space. She sells tapestries and paintings she handmade herself, and the unique pieces have earned her a loyal following. She doesn’t have a website and doesn’t allow photographs, so you’ll have to pop in to admire (and acquire) her work. Find this treasure next to Erato Restaurant on Adrianou Street.
It won’t take long for you to notice that Klio Creation’s goods stand out from that of its neighbors. Even though there any many outlets selling similar wares, Klio sells items that are designed by Greek artisans and produced in Greece. You’ll find beautiful scarves, special jewelry and myriad other accessories that would make wonderful gifts and souvenirs.
Daily 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
Greece’s national drink is ouzo and a great place to find it is at Athens’ oldest distillery and bar, Brettos. Though ownership has changed hands a few times over its storied history, Brettos is still a Plaka institution, serving locals and tourists alike since its inception in 1909. Brettos offers perfectly transportable (read: small) bottles of all their homemade spirits. So here you’ll find the perfect exotic gift for that impossible-to-shop-for colleague, boss, friend, or family member.
Pro-Tip: While you’re here, make sure you get a picture of the Insta-famous walls lined in a skittles array of colored bottles and ancient oak barrels!
Daily 10:00 am – 3:00 am
People say shopping is a form of cardio (and we believe them!), so it’s a good time to replenish all those calories. It shouldn’t surprise you that the Greeks love their dairy, and in recent years many artisanal small-batch ice cream and gelato makers have popped up and cultivated quite a following in Athens.
How on earth did we find out about this absolute-must-have gelato while we were in Greece, you ask? Well, word gets around. We happened to hear about it from a gelato-obsessed family member (don’t worry, your identity is safe!) who heard about it from a local tour guide. Now, a local recommending something is always a good sign, but you never quite know. Turns out, Le Greche is relatively new to the Athens gelato scene, but from reading reviews after the fact, no one seems to argue that it’s at the top of the Italian gelato heap.
Le Greche makes artisan gelato from scratch–a significant distinction–in a large number of flavors using local, raw ingredients whenever possible, and imported Italian ones otherwise. We can personally attest to the quality, as we tried not one but two portions each (for research, of course!). From exotic Greek flavors to those tried-and-true favorites, you’ll find the answer to whatever you are craving here.
Mon-Thu 8:30 am – 1:00 am
Fri 8:30 am – 2:00 am
Sat 10:00 am – 2:00 am
Sun 10:00 am – 1:00 am
With your wallet light and your tummy full, we recommend ending the day at a Greek Orthodox Church. Greek Orthodoxy–under the larger umbrella of the Eastern Orthodox Communion–is Greece’s state religion and is practiced by a whopping 90% of the population. Greek Orthodox Churches still feature a heavy Byzantine influence, so they are treasure troves of luxe mosaics and frescoes.
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens
When the capital of Greece moved from Napflio to Athens, King Otto commissioned two buildings: the palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral. The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Annunciation is the cathedral church of the Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece. Construction of the Cathedral began on Christmas Day, 1842, when King Otto and Queen Amalia laid the cornerstone themselves. It’s rumored that as many as 72 run down churches in Athens were demolished in order to supply construction materials for the cathedral.
From here you can continue to wander along more of Plaka or move onwards to Monastiraki or Syntagma Square. For more ideas of things to do in Athens, check out these other posts:
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