Perched precariously on the slopes of Acropolis hill, Anafiotika is a tranquil oasis in the bustling heart of downtown Athens. Its narrow passageways, filled with quaint white-washed houses, blue rooftops and centuries-old Orthodox churches are more reminiscent of Santorini than central Athens. Anafiotika awaits at the top of an unsuspecting alleyway that leads upwards from Plaka, and rewards the curious adventurer with one of the Greek capital’s best secret sites.
Though Anafiotika sits beneath Athens’ most famous tourist attraction, it remains relatively undiscovered. You may find the occasional guidebook wielding tourist up here but for the most part, Anafiotika has retained its authentic island charm. Here, there are no shops telling tourist tat or over-priced restaurants. Locals greet you with a “Kalimera” as they tend the gardens of Anafiotika, water the fragrant flower beds and feed the many stray cats that roam the streets of Athens. Anafiotika is a strictly residential neighborhood.
History of Anafiotika
Following Greece’s new found independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1800s, King Otto I requested that skilled workers and tradesmen from around the country travelled to Athens to assist him in rebuilding a modern, metropolitan Greek capital. Many of those who moved were builders and carpenters from Anafi, a small island in the Cyclades. The settlers took up residence on the rocky ridges surrounding the acropolis and built their village in the quintessential Greek island style. The village’s name “Anafiotika” means “little Anafi” and is dedicated to the island shores the inhabitants missed and adored.
Some of the houses that occupy Anafiotika are somewhat ramshackle in appearance, reflecting the hasty way in which they were built. Despite Greece’s newfound independence in the 1800s, Athens was still under Ottoman law when the islanders arrived. One of the active laws stated that people could build houses wherever they liked, provided the structure was erected between sunset and sunrise.
It is most unfortunate that what remains of Anafiotika today is a small portion of the original neighborhood. Archaeological excavations around the Acropolis meant that many of the houses and streets here were destroyed. Approximately 45 houses remain in Anafiotika today, and many of those who reside within them are residents of the original settlers. Though the Acropolis, and the various Greco-Roman ruins that are scattered around the Greek capital are considered as being the historical highlights of Athens, Greek history is much more diverse and fascinating than initially meets the eye. Anafiotika is one such piece of that puzzle.
What to Do in Anafiotika
Anafiotika is certainly a worthy stopping point on any Athens itinerary. Take the time to really admire the island architecture, and squeeze through the narrow cobbled passageways that connect the houses and streets – often only wide enough for one person to squeeze through sideways.
Aside from the pleasant sights and peaceful ambience that come with simply wandering the neighbourhood, Anafiotika offers some of the best viewpoints in all of Athens. As you ascend up acropolis hill, the low walls that surround the village offer the perfect vantage point to gaze across the red roof tiles of downtown Athens and out to Mount Lycabettus. Visit Anafiotika as the sun begins to set for perfect photo opportunities sans tourists as the skies are illuminated in hues of red and orange.
There are two beautiful Byzantine churches in Anafiotika that you should take the time to stop at on your ascent. Dating back to the 17th century, both sites are still operational today, their vibrantly frescoed interiors still playing host to many religious services.
On the southeastern edge of Anafiotika, perched atop the rock face, the church of Ayio Georgios tou Vrachou is considered one of the most beautiful churches in all of Athens. A short walk from here, there is also a picturesque memorial garden dedicated to a Greek guard who died at the Acropolis during the second world war. When the Germans invaded Athens, he wrapped himself in the Greek flag and leapt from the crumbling walls that surround the parthenon. To the western edge, stop by the church of Ayio Symeon, a beautiful structure built as a replica of a site in Anafi. Inside, the church contains a statue of the Virgin Mary. This is a copy of the one located at Anafi that is rumoured to have performed miracles.
Once you reach the topmost point of Anafiotika, provided it is not too late after admiring the views below, you can pay a visit to the Kanellopoulou museum, a site housed within a stunning neoclassical mansion and containing over 6,000 archaeological finds from ancient Greece.
How to Get to Anafiotika from Athens
Anafiotika is easily missed. From the touristy Plaka district, you must follow an almost sketchy looking, alleyway upwards towards the acropolis. There are in fact a number of ways to get to Anafiotika from Athens, but perhaps the easiest method is to follow Vyronos Street. From here, take a left turn onto Thespidos street and walk until you arrive at Stratonos. Proceed straight until you are met with the church of Ayio Georgios tou Vrachou.
If you are like me, and you don’t know how you could possibly get to Anafiotika from Athens without Google Maps or similar, simply input the address for the Agios Georgios church into your GPS tracker and follow the little marker. To confirm, that address is: Agios Georgios, Stratonos, Athina, 105 55-58. You will know when you arrive, because you will be surrounded by beautiful island style white houses.
A visit to Anafiotika is best tied in with exploration of nearby Plaka. Browse the stores that line Kydathineon Street, visit the bath of the winds and Plaka’s other historical sites and then ascend to the village to watch the sunset. From there, head to one of the traditional tavernas and bars that line the steps of Mnisikleous, and enjoy a glass of tsipouro to the backing noise of zorbas dancing and plate smashing.
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Have you visited Anafiotika? Have any concerns about how to get to Anafiotika from Athens?
Feel free to drop me a message below. For help choosing a place to stay in Athens, check out this Where to Stay in Athens Guide written by a local. Safe travels in Greece!
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