Not as sprawling as other major capital cities, let us be your guide to discovering the best neighborhoods in Athens.
For a city that’s over 3,000 years old, Athens offers more than its ancient past. A compact metropolis, walkable tourist areas, and a navigable metro and tram system.
From the ancient cobbled lanes of Plaka and Monasteraki, the hidden gems of Psyrri, to the upscale boutiques and coffee shop lifestyle of Kolonaki, come with us on a curated exploration of Athens’ best neighborhoods for your first trip to Greece’s capital.
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Plaka and Monastiraki
The oldest neighborhoods in the city are located at the base of the Acropolis Hill: Plaka and Monastiraki. Loaded with 19th-century neoclassical buildings, it’s untouched by modern development–plus it has a multitude of ancient Greek monuments such as the Acropolis and Parthenon, the Roman Agora, and a Byzantine house called the Benizelos Mansion, which is the oldest in Athens.
Don’t forget to wander through Anafiotika, the “island village” below the Acropolis rock with its whitewashed, bougainvillea-clad, sugar-cubed houses reminiscent of a Greek Cycladic island, and pop into some alternative museums such as the Greek Folk Art Museum and Museum of Greek Popular Musical Instruments. Six Dogs–a café/bar and cultural center hosting art exhibitions and DJ sets in the evenings, is tucked away behind the main artery of Athinas Street; it’s a great place to grab a bite amongst other tourists and the Athenian student population.
INSIDER TIPPlaka and Monastiraki get crowded. The best time to visit is early morning, especially if climbing the Acropolis rock, to avoid the hustle and bustle and the heat of the day.
Another old neighborhood with a history dating back to the first years of the Greek War of Independence–from 1821 onwards–Psyrri was originally a working-class area with settlers arriving from the countryside. It once had a somewhat dubious past in the 19th century with a high crime rate. Its gentrification began in the 20th century, when bars, coffee shops, restaurants, and cozy tavernas began springing up.
Street art proliferates here, so a unique way to experience a different side of the city is through a street art tour. Stop for lunch or dinner at Nikitas, a family-run taverna serving the ubiquitous moussaka and Greek salad and jugs of wine with outdoor seating in Psyrri Square; then head for dessert to the famous Nancy’s Sweet Home, her cakes and traditional sweets popular with locals and tourists alike.
INSIDER TIPOne of the best wine bar experiences in Athens is in Psyrri. Cinque wine bar/deli lets you sample a variety of wines before you choose your glass/bottle. Be sure to pair it with their cheese and charcuterie board, and ask to see their soil collection from many of the vines.
Adjacent to Plaka, Thissio’s neoclassical buildings have been converted to cafés that line the pedestrian walkway. You’ll also find the occasional hotel, such as the Hotel Thissio, with its uninterrupted views of the Acropolis. Thissio is where you’ll find the pine and olive tree-clad Filopappou Hill–originally Mousion Hill named after the Greek poet Musaeus who lived, taught, and was buried here.
Philopappos–an ancient Roman prince–settled in Athens and became very active in its political, religious, and civic duties. Much loved by the Athenians, when he died in 116 C.E., he was buried, along with his sister, in a tomb here. On the Hill’s eastern slope is the prison of Socrates, a cave hidden behind iron gates. Thissio and Filopappou are where you’ll find many Athenians taking a Sunday stroll and enjoying the Acropolis views. After your exploration, visit Little Trees Café and Bookstore for a well-earned Greek coffee and browse their international book selection.
INSIDER TIPThissio is also where you’ll find one of Athens’s most popular outdoor cinemas. Cine Thisio shows movie classics and modern flicks during the summer months and is the perfect spot to sit with a glass of wine and popcorn with those Acropolis views.
The well-heeled neighborhood of Kolonaki, originally a reservoir supplying the city with water in the 2nd century C.E., is where the rich come to dine and drink coffee–it’s a shopaholic’s dream destination. Home to well-known fashion houses as well as Greek ateliers, enjoy browsing the more affordable natural beauty products from the Greek Apivita store and the Attica Department Store, with top brands all under one roof.
As an international tourist, be sure to bring your passport for tax-free shopping. All this in the shadow of Lycabettus Hill, the highest point of central Athens with the Chapel of St George atop, where baptisms still take place. The famous Orizontes Restaurant is here too, with sweeping views across the city to the Aegean Sea, making it a romantic spot for dinner. Be sure to reserve ahead.
INSIDER TIPVivliothiki café, meaning ‘Library’, is THE place to be seen in Kolonaki Square, where politicians conduct their business and actors rub shoulders with poets on pavement or indoor seating. Prices can be a little steep, but the service is impeccable.
Gazi and Technopolis
Gazi–‘gas’ in Greek–is the original gas works neighborhood of Athens with the factory–Technopolis–commencing in 1862 and producing gas for the city until 1984. The area is famous for being reminiscent of an old Athenian neighborhood, albeit with some decaying neoclassical buildings giving way to street art and murals, and it’s very popular with students and young Athenians to socialize in its many bars and cafes.
Treat yourself to the Dinner in the Sky experience. Rated as one of the most novel restaurants in Athens, chefs will prepare a six-course meal for a maximum of 22 guests as your table is hoisted 40 meters into the air, giving you a bird’s eye view of Athens and its surroundings. Don’t worry, you’re strapped in. Remember, this experience is only available in the spring and summer.
INSIDER TIPTechnopolis, the former gas factory that stands in the middle of Gazi and is now a cultural center, hosts many concerts and special events throughout the year. The Industrial Gas Museum is also here, showcasing over 130 years’ worth of gas production in Athens. When its chimneys are lit at night, it’s an Instragrammable spot.
The Historic Center
The Historic Center triangulates from Monastiraki, Omonia Square, and Syntagma (Parliament) Square and is the city’s financial, commercial, and political district. Busy Athinas Street leads away from Monastiraki towards Omonia, where you’ll find Varvakeios Market, with locals and restaurateurs coming to buy their fresh meat, fish, and spices. Warning: it’s not for the faint-hearted, especially if you’re a vegetarian or vegan.
Take a stroll up the mainly pedestrianized Ermou Street, the longest shopping street in Greece at 1.5km (0.9 miles), connecting Monastiraki and Syntagma; it has a plethora of international brands such as Zara, Sephora, Marks and Spencer, and a huge H&M clothing store housed in a beautiful neoclassical building dating back to 1909.
Pop into the 11th-century Byzantine Church of Panagia Kapnikarea, right in the pedestrianized center.
Syntagma Square is the political beating heart of Athens with the Greek Parliament building, formerly King Otto’s royal palace. Here you can see the Greek Evzones–Greek soldiers dressed in the traditional uniform of Ottoman times–standing guard over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watch their ceremonial routine as they change guard at regular intervals.
INSIDER TIPEvery Sunday at 11 a.m., watch the parade of Evzones together with a military band as they march from their military barracks to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where a ceremonial changing of the guard takes place. Crowds line the and it’s a source of national pride for the Greeks.
An inner-city neighborhood and not particularly touristy, Kypseli should still be on your list of neighborhoods to visit. Located near the National Archaeological Museum, the various architectural designs of the buildings–Neoclassical, Art Deco, Bauhaus, and mid-century Modernist–make up for the lack of ancient ruins.
Kypseli has been undergoing regeneration since its slow decline in the ’80s and could be considered a smaller-scale Athenian version of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It’s a great local area–look around the many sidewalk cafés to see Athenian daily life unfold. Kick is a trendy example of a combined café, concept store, and art gallery.
Head to Kypseli Municipal Market on the pedestrianized Fokinos Negri Square and leave room in your luggage for unique goodies from the social start-up stalls: locally sourced honey, ceramics, and merchandise from the country’s only festival dedicated to Illusion–Illustradays.
Vouliagmeni and Glyfada
Athens is a city blessed by being close to the sea. About 45 minutes southeast by public transport or taxi from the city center brings you to the glitzy neighborhood of Glyfada. Politicians and the rich and famous have their homes here; you’ll also find upscale shops and boutiques, clean, organized beaches with comfortable sunbeds, and a variety of popular fish restaurants like award-winning Nikolas Schinoussas. Be sure to try a selection of their warm appetizers, such as sautéed scallops with orange sauce and creamy taramasalata dip.
Think of Glyfada as Kolonaki by the sea. Nighttime is when the beach clubs open their doors, so expect a vivid party scene well into the morning. Further along the coast yet still within easy reach of central Athens, Vouliagmeni has old money appeal with families who’ve lived here for generations in their hillside houses and beaches galore. You’ll catch views of the bay with its luxury yachts, private members marine clubs, and the gulf to the nearby Saronic islands.
Astir Beach Club has beach beds or cabanas, massage therapists, paddle boarding, and yoga classes. The hefty entrance fee is worth it to have a beach experience where you’re treated like royalty. Astir’s grounds also have a 6th century B.C.E. archaeological site, The Temple of Apollo Zoster, discovered in 1924 when a group of children from a local orphanage came to play and dig in the sand, unearthing more than they bargained for.
INSIDER TIPLooking for a unique swimming experience beyond the beach? Swim in Lake Vouliagmeni, the “spa lake” of the Athenian Riviera. With a year-round water temperature not dipping below 77 Fahrenheit, the fresh seawater formed many years ago when a cave eroded and collapsed due to the high temperatures of the running water. Today the unique therapeutic spa experience has sunbeds to relax on after a swim amongst the skin-nibbling garra rufu fish in the lake.
Kastella and Mikrolimano
Kastella, meaning “little fort,” is a pretty, upscale neighborhood near Piraeus port, perched on a hill with the neoclassical mansions and balconies overlooking the small marina of Mikrolimano down below. It’s a cozy neighborhood with a quaint bowling green and open-air amphitheater with views out to sea, a seating capacity for 2,000, and performances, concerts, and plays in the summer. Mikrolimano is the small marina that Kastella looks down upon. Fishing nets, bobbing fishing boats, and upscale yachts, plus a promenade lined with cafés and tavernas, await you. It’s a beautiful neighborhood to spend a couple of days in before boarding your cruise or ferry to the islands.
Fish aficionados will relish the opportunity to reserve a table and experience Varoulko Seaside, a Michelin-starred restaurant along the Mikrolimano waterfront. Originally a grubby restaurant in a Piraeus backstreet, it’s come a long way since the 1980s and offers divine twists on conventional dishes such as poached egg on potato mousse with smoked eel and truffle oil.
INSIDER TIPReservations are needed for Varoulko Seaside.
Piraeus–a mere 15 minutes from Kastella and Mikrolimano–is the busiest port of Athens and at first glance, due to its hustle and bustle with people boarding ferries and cruise ships, can leave you feeling a little daunted. But there are shops, cafés, bars, and restaurants aplenty, not to mention the Archaeological Museum of Piraeus. The museum showcases sculptures discovered in the area from the Bronze Age through to Roman times. Be sure to check out the Municipal Art Gallery–housed in the old post office building with over 800 works of art both at Marina Zeas–originally the biggest military port in Greece. Enjoy your coffee along the waterfront at any of the cafés, gazing at the yachts.