How to Spend a Day in Plaka Neighborhood, Athens
Plaka is without a doubt one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in Athens, with its narrow streets, lovely neoclassical buildings, small cafes, traditional tavernas, souvenir shops and ancient ruins in almost every corner. Plaka is in the heart of the center of Athens, just under the Acropolis hill, yet has a totally different air than the rest of the city center, creating a feeling of nostalgia of the old Athens. Even though it is very commercial and popular with tourists, it is the ideal place to enjoy a nice walk, as there are plenty of things to do and see, while strolling around its small pedestrian streets. In this post, you will find suggestions on how to spend a day and what to do and see in Plaka neighborhood in Athens!
Location and Brief History
Plaka is considered the area that developed around the ancient Agora of Athens and is the oldest district in Athens, as it has been continuously inhabited for around three thousand years. Thus, Plaka has a long history and has played an important part in Athenian life, with many famous people having walked along its streets, from Pericles and Alexander the Great to Lord Elgin and Lord Byron, while many well-known Greek writers, actors and artists have lived here, like Giorgos Seferis, Kostis Palamas and Melina Merkouri to name a few. When Athens was under the Ottoman rule, Plaka was the known as the "Turkish quarter of Athens" with many historical buildings dating back to this period like the Fethiye Mosque and the Madrasa Islamic school on Pelopida street. During 1884 a large part of Plaka burned down due to a fire, giving the opportunity for extensive archaeological work in the Roman Agora and Hadrian’s library, while excavations in the area have been conducted ever since.
How to Get to Plaka
Getting to Plaka is relatively easy, as Athens has a good metro system, however if you have a chance to book a hotel in this area, do so, as it is the nicest neighborhood in Athens by far. The limits of Plaka can be roughly defined with Makrigianni area to the south, the Temple of Olympic Zeus and Hadrian’s Arc to the east, Syntagma and Ermou area to the north and Monastiraki to the West. It has two main streets, Kydathinaion and Andrianou, and many little labyrinth-like pedestrian streets around these two. If you are taking the metro, go to Syntagma Metro station and walk Voulis street straight ahead and you will reach Kydathinaion or stop at Monastiraki Station, where Adrianou street starts from the flea market. Alternative, you can go to Acropolis station and cross Dionisiou Aeropagitou entering Vyronos Street. Most streets in Plaka are pedestrian, hence without many cars, so it is quite easy to wonder around.
You can also run on Plaka's pedestrian streets and keep fit during your vacations on our special Running through History tour!
Between the 60's and 80's, Plaka was very different than what you will witness today. Instead of being a touristic destination, it was the heart of nightlife in Athens. During the 70's, many discos and bars were operating in the area, making it very lively, with Greek people filling the streets. Nowadays, Athenian nightlife has moved to other areas of the capital, like Psyrri and Gkazi, making Plaka more of a daytime neighborhood. What I personally appreciate about Plaka is how it combines neoclassical architecture with modern graffities and street art, as well as archaeology and traditional Greek of the 70's with touristy clichés, creating nonetheless a very picturesque scenery.
What to See in Plaka: Museums and Archaeological Sites
In Plaka you will find many museums, which are worth visiting. The Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments has been operating since 1991 and is constituted by the collection of musicologist Foivos Anogiannakis. Another good option is the Frissiras Museum, opened in 2000, with contemporary European art. A few more interesting alternatives are the Jewish Museum, with an interesting collection of rare books, textiles, domestic and religious artifacts, the Athens University Museum, with many transcripts and old photos, the Museum of Pavlos and Alexandra Kanellopoulou, with archaeological finds and artworks from the prehistoric period up until nowadays, and the Benizelos Mansion, the oldest house in Athens which now operates as a museum. If you have children accompanying you on your trip, then maybe consider paying a visit to the Children’s Museum, with art created by children, and available activities like dress up, which kids will love.
Of course, another major part of your visit to Plaka will be archaeology, which will be visible to you as you stroll around. The Roman Agora, built between 19-11 BC as an expansion of the ancient Agora to the East, from donations of Julius Caesar and Augustus, cannot go unnoticeable. There are many interesting structures and buildings in the archaeological site, like the Fethiye Mosque, the Agoranomion and the Tower of the Winds, a 12-meter-tall clocktower designed by the astronomer Andronikos of Cyrrhos, considered the first ever meteorological station, and worked as a sundial, telling the time of the day by the position of the Sun in the sky, a waterclock (with water coming down from the Acropolis) and a wind vane (in antiquity a Triton-shaped weathervane topped the structure). Furthermore, opposite the church of Ayia Aikaterini in Plaka, you can stop by the Choragic Monument of Lysikrates, accessible and free to everyone. Lysikrates was a wealthy patron of theatrical plays performed in the theater of Dionysus. He built this monument to commemorate the first prize he won in 335/334 BC. In 1658 a French Capuchin monastery was built on this site, where Lord Byron also stayed during his second visit to Greece. In 1818 the first tomatoes ever in Greece were planted in the monastery’s garden!
You might also find of interest the 11/12th century church of Ayios Ioannis Theologos, the interior decorated by 13th century Byzantine wall paintings, as well as the beautiful 11th century church of Ayios Nikolaos Ragavas. Moreover, on Erechtheos 18 is located the church of Agioi Anargyroi - Holy Metohi Panagiou Tafou, constructed in 17th century as a convent and from the 18th century it functioned as an embassy church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Where and What to Shop in Plaka
As far as shopping is concerned, Plaka is your souvenir shop paradise. Especially on Adrianou street you will find all kinds of souvenir shops, with Greek local products, jewellery stores, t-shirt shops, you name it. Even though there are also the typical tacky touristic items, you can also find some good quality Greek products and souvenirs, mentioned in our list. In Elaias Gi (Adrianou 122) and Evonon (Adrianou 124) you can find a big selection of good quality Greek olive oil. There is no better tasting extra virgin olive oil than the one produced in Greece, and I am not prejudiced because I am Greek. In these shops you will also find olive tree-based products, like soaps, kitchenware and other nice items. If you want to purchase ouzo, then on Adrianou 120 you will find the shop of Mr. Agelos, who has a huge variety of different brands of ouzo, some of them being difficult to find elsewhere. You will also find many jewellery shops, some of them being artist-owned with stunning handmade pieces, like Byzantino, where they make their own gold jewellery.
Where to Eat in Plaka
Once you get a little bit tired and thirsty, you should head to the Filomouson Etairias Square, or just Platia. Here you will find many cafes, where you can enjoy coffee or a drink with a nice view. Around the square, you will also come across many restaurants, where the waiters will try to lure you in by introducing you to their menu. These are all touristy restaurants and the food is not too bad actually. They all serve traditional Greek cuisine, which is anyway yummy. For good quality food however I suggest you Saita Taverna (Kydathinaion 21), Vyzantino Restaurant (Kydathinaion 18), I Palia Taverna tou Psarra - The Old Tavern of Psaras (Erotokritou & Erechtheos 16), To Kafeneio (Epicharmou 1), which is really lovely also during the winter with a fireplace inside, or Scholarhio Ouzeri (Tripodon 14), also known to locals as Kouklis after its owner.
If you want to learn more about Greek cuisine and visit the best food spots in Athens, join us on our Get a Taste of Athens food tour!
For your afternoon coffee, I strongly recommend Yiasemi (Mnisikleous 23), in my opinion one of the loveliest bistro-cafes in Athens, with tables placed outside on the stairsteps and a charming view of Plaka. You may also like Café Melina (Lysiou 22), dedicated to the legendary Greek actress and politician Melina Merkouri. For a little taste of homemade liquor, check out Brettos Bar (Kydathinaion 41), which used to be the oldest distillery in Athens. Nowadays, it also has a bar area to enjoy your liquor. The bottles containing liquors in different vivid colors are being displayed on the interior of the store, filling the walls up to the ceiling.
Plaka at Night
Nightlife in Plaka is not really a thing anymore, so if you want to go bar hopping or clubbing you will need to head to Psyrri, Monastiraki or Gkazi. They are all nearby. However, what you can do in Plaka is head to Cine Paris, a lovely outdoors cinema, and see what movie is on. Outdoor cinemas are a Greek summer must-do and one of the most fun things to do in Athens. In Cine Paris the screen is on the roof with a stunning view to the Acropolis. There is also a bar available to purchase your drinks and snack supplies, so even if you are not necessarily up for a movie night, you might be pleasantly surprised by the whole experience.
Another interesting aspect of nightlife in Plaka used to be the traditional boîtes, meaning small live music venues, like cabarets. These started becoming popular in Plaka during the 60’s where many new wave artists of the period made their first appearances, inspired by the French nouvelle vague cinema movement. Even though most of them are now closed, like the legendary boîte Esperides, you can still find a few that try to stay true to the concept, like Apanemia and Vatraxoi. For traditional Greek live music, you can also visit the Perivoli tou Ouranou, one of the oldest venues for laika in Athens.
Anafiotika, the Greek Island Village of Athens
A special mention needs to be made here to Anafiotika, the most unique neighborhood in Athens. To be completely honest, you may forget for a bit that you are in Athens and you might think that you either time traveled or teleported to a small village on a Cycladic island. The original settlers of the area where indeed from the Cyclades, from an island called Anafi, where the name Anafiotika derives from. The settlement was established in the 19th century by builders who were working in Athens for the construction of the palace of King Otto and the reconstruction of the capital. The story has it, that the settlers became so homesick of their island that they chose to build their houses under the Acropolis following the Cycladic architectural style in order to feel more at home. You can reach Anafiotika by going up the stairs next to the church of St. Nicholas Ragavas.
To conclude, Plaka is a must-see neighborhood during your visit to Athens and there is a reason why it has stayed popular throughout the years both to locals and tourists. No matter how you decide to spend your day, whether it is museums and archaeological sites, shopping, eating and drinking, just strolling and looking around or all of the above, Plaka is the perfect place to do so. Try not to only visit the touristy shops and restaurants as Plaka is much more than that, with a long history and a lot to offer. Away from the chaotic central Athens, Plaka offers an opportunity to genuinely enjoy your day outside.
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Words: Saima Androutsopoulou