Exarchia, Athens: Cool Alternative District or Den of Anarchists?

Exarchia buildings
Many buildings in Exarchia are abandoned or dilapidated

Exarchia, Athens is the most alternative districts in the Greek capital. Love it or loathe it, it is a part of town like no other.

Exarchia, Athens

Tell a local Athenian that you plan on adventuring around Athens’ Exarchia neighbourhood and you may be met with frowns and concerned glances. Exarchia is Athens’ grittiest, punkiest neighbourhood.

This part of town has a less than desirable reputation. I would even go so far as to say that the idea of wandering around Exarchia instills fear into the hearts of some people.

The US Embassy in Athens released a statement warning Americans not to venture into Exarchia. Meanwhile, the Greek government warned of Exarchia becoming a lawless, dangerous territory, and the police will not even set foot there. With all that considered, is Exarchia really as bad as it is often implied?

The History of Exarchia Athens

Exarchia Athens political graffiti
Political graffiti covers every inch of Exarchia
Exarchia Athens street art
Exarchia Athens street art

Exarchia (sometimes spelled Exarcheia) has a long history of political protests, riots and violence. In November 1973, the Athens polytechnic uprising took place here.

Hundreds of students congregated to oppose the Dictatorship of President  Georgios Papadopoulos. The Protestors were met with tanks, and Exarchia began to emerge as a place synonymous with leftist politics and anarchy.

Flash forward several decades and Exarchia was also the location of the fatal 2008 shooting of Alexis Grigoropoulos. The teenage boy was shot and killed by an act of police brutality – an event that triggered riots across the country. 

Copycat events still take place on the anniversary of the teen’s death every December. For many Exarchia is a no-go zone associated with Molotov cocktails, far-left politics, and tear gas. 

It’s a shame that Exarchia’s reputation precedes it. There are still a plethora of wonderful independent stores, dive bars, and homely eateries scattered throughout the neighbourhood.

Exarchia wasn’t always like this, and some of the older residents that live there have expressed their concerns about how lawless the streets of Exarchia have become.

Just like with travelling anywhere, you should be mindful of your surroundings and watch your belongings in Exarchia. However, there is no reason to be deterred from visiting. Athens in general is a safe city.

Exarchia Today

Themistokleous street Exarchia

Themistokleous street

Exarchia is not for everyone, but it certainly has its charm. If you have just a few days to spend in Athens, your time may well be better spent exploring the more charming, idyllic parts of town such as Anafiotika Plaka, Koukaki, and Psiri.

All things considered, Exarchia is just as much a part of the rich tapestry and culture of Athens as upscale Kolonaki, touristy Plaka, or quirky Pagrati. If you enjoy venturing off the beaten path when you travel, and finding something a little different, Exarchia may well peak your interest.

Getting to Exarchia

Exarchia flyers and graffiti

The easiest way to get to Exarchia is to take the metro to Omonia station. From there, turn down Themistokleous Street and follow it down until you reach Exarchion square.

Themistokleous street starts off as a narrow alleyway that you might miss if you were not specifically looking for it. Within a few paces, it becomes evident that you are approaching Exarchia.

Here, every square inch of wall space is considered a canvas. Storefronts, apartment buildings, doors, and pillars are ‘tagged’ with vibrant colours and scenes delivering strong messages.

Posters advertising protests and political events are taped to virtually every store window, and the stores themselves sell more alternative products. Ramshackle shops selling old vinyl records, collectible figures, and second-hand books line Themistokleous as it leads up to Exarchia.

There are ample coffee stores and taverns that have a funky Bohemian vibe. Exarchia coffee shops are filled with young people sipping Freddo cappuccinos, reading, and debating the latest topics.

Things to do in Exarchia

Exarchia is definitely well-deserved of at least half a day’s exploration. There are plenty of interesting spots here to look out for. However a lot of the fun of exploring Exarchia, like any other Athenian neighbourhood, is found in meandering through the streets at a leisurely pace and allowing yourself to get lost.

Catch an Open-Air Movie

During the summer months, half a dozen or so open air cinemas sprout up around Athens. Vox (ΒΟΞ) cinema is an al fresco movie theatre situated on the rooftop of an Exarchia building. 

The theatre shows old-fashioned movies – mostly in English with Greek subtitles. Here you can sit on comfy deck chairs as you tuck into a box of buttery popcorn beneath the starlit Athenian sky.

Search for Politically-Motivated Street Art

Borondo street art in Exarchia Athens
A Borondo piece in Exarchia

The street art and graffiti in Exarchia is far more than just random scrawls and splashes of paint. The vast majority of the images here deliver strong, important messages. They are not just the creations of spray-can wielding teens, but the works of acclaimed international street artists like Borondo and INO.

From Exarchion square, head down Tzavella street. It is around this area where some of the most intense and controversial graffiti in Exarchia can be found.

Exarchia’s street art poses interesting questions relating to poverty, immigration, ethics, and politics. It is possible to book an Exarchia street art tour with a local guide.

Opting to do a tour provides you with the opportunity to learn the history and context behind various Exarchia art pieces and buildings. Having a local guide in tow will enable you to discover places that you may have otherwise bypassed.

A small shrine to Alexander Grigoropoulou sits on the corner of Tzavella and Mesologiou. There are always piles of notes and flowers here. Locals often stop by to place gifts and candles in his memory.

Visit Exarchia Square

Graffiti and flyers, downtown Athens

Exarchia square is the only place in the area where I felt a little uncomfortable. It seems like a lot of people walking in this area try to pass through as quickly as possible.

Since Exarchia has no police presence, it attracts all types of people. When I walked by, a large group of people were setting random objects and pieces of wood on fire in the main square and openly smoking marijuana. Drug dealers and users are openly conducting transactions. Anything goes here.

I didn’t want to spend much time in Exarchia square or draw too much attention to myself, especially since I was wandering around with a camera that may not have been welcomed. Most of the most interesting sites in the neighbourhood can be found in the various little streets and alleyways that veer off from the main square.

A lot of the beauty of exploring Athens Exarchia district and its graffiti is found in simply allowing yourself the time to wander and get lost among the various pedestrian streets and alleyways. Other notable locations worth making a point to stop by at are the Polytechnic, and the “autonomous park” which is situated on the corner of Zoodochou Pigis and Navarinou streets.  The latter was a park that the government intended to transform into a parking lot, yet the locals made a stand and refused to vacate.

The walls of Exarchia’s autonomous park are covered in graffiti, and you can often find locals cooking and selling coffee on a gas burner in the centre. Street vendors often set up shop here to sell warm chestnuts and corn on the cob. Meanwhile, students sit cross-legged on the floor singing folk tunes with an acoustic guitar.

Admire the Views from Lofos Strefi

If you continue walking down Themistokleous street from Exarchia square, the quirky storefronts are quickly replaced with apartment blocks. This is the leafy, residential area of Exarchia.

Before long you will arrive at the steps of Lofos Strefi. Ascend the steps and you will be met with a small grassy hill.

From up here, you can enjoy the incredible panoramas of Athens. The Acropolis and Lycabettus hill are both visible from here – shimmering in the distance. in the distance.

Lofos Strefi is only small. However, few tourists know about it. This is a nice, alternative place to watch the sunset or admire the city views.

Consider grabbing a spanakopita from one of the nearby bakeries and enjoying a picnic at the top of Lofos Strefi. After you’ve made your way back down the uneven stairs, take some time to explore Kallidromiou street. This is a beautiful promenade filled with neoclassical mansions and quaint coffee shops.

The Exarchia Art Scene

Exarchia, Athens
Exarchia, Athens

Athens is sometimes referred to as the “new Berlin” on account of its emerging art scene. Exarchia and neighbouring Metaxourgio are at the forefront of this creative movement.

Exarchia’s unique cultural and edgy atmosphere makes it a perfect spot for artists and creatives. Pair that with the low rental costs and it’s no wonder that many galleries have opened up here in recent years.

Be sure to check out “Cheap Art” on Themistokleous street, Pro-Art on Kallidromiou, and Polixoros Metaixmio on Ippokratous. The galleries depict the works of up-and-coming Greek and international Artists.

Even if art isn’t really your thing, it’s worth ducking into some of these galleries to understand and appreciate the vibes of Exarchia.

Shopping in Exarchia

There are many interesting and eclectic stores in Exarchia. Some of the most interesting places for window-shopping are the stores that line Themistokleous as it leads up to the square. The stores here sell everything from rare vinyl records, to comic book collectibles, and heavy metal music.

Akadimias and Ippokratous streets greet you with a vast array of weird and wonderful book stores. Some sell academic books, while others sell books on obscure topics – for instance, one shop is dedicated to books on the occult.

“Yesterday’s Bread” and “Reset Thrift Shop” are perfect if you are looking for one-of-a-kind vintage clothing pieces. Vinyl collectors will love Plan 59, Eat Metal Records, and Zulu Records – these stores specialise in selling vinyl records in a variety of different genres.

Exarchia Nightlife

Though the Hellenic police will not set foot in Exarchia, it’s not uncommon to see lines of them armed with riot shields standing around the edges of Exarchia at weekends. This isn’t to stop people venturing into Exarchia to hit the bars and rock clubs, but to stop groups of drunken, angry anarchists from getting out and causing trouble in downtown Athens.

If alternative vibes, live bands and rock music are just your cup of tea, you may well enjoy checking out Exarchia’s nightlife scene. As long as you are someone who can keep out of trouble, and provided that you don’t go wandering around Exarchia’s back alleys alone at 2am, you should not have any problems.

For a spot where you can sink down into old vintage furniture with a whiskey in hand, as Blues music is blasted over the speakers and quotes from Kerouac, Vonnegut, and Bukowski are plastered over the walls, head to the eccentric Beatniks Roadbar. For heavy rock music, Off the Chain club, and Rezin cafe-bar are the places to be.

Exarchia Coffee Culture

Going for coffee is essentially the national sport of Greece. Cute coffee places occupy practically every corner of Athens and Exarchia is no exception to that rule. Coffee shops in Exarchia often have an alternative, Bohemian theme and attract a young, intelligent crowd of writers, students, and intellectuals.

Alexandrino

Where: Emmanouil Benaki 69a, Athina 106 81

Alexandrino is a beloved local hangout. Here, tea and coffee are served in charming porcelain cups and the decor is incredibly lavish and opulent. The first-class service by waiters in Tuxedos make patrons feel as though they have stepped back in time.

Warehouse Exarchia

Where: Valtetsiou 21, Athina 106 80

For all-day brunch and coffee in a stylish setting, head to Warehouse Exarchia. The self-professed “coffee experts” that run this place serve a diverse range of coffee blends sourced from across the world. When night falls, Warehouse doubles as a wine bar.

Where to Eat in Exarchia

The main piazza of Exarchia square is simply filled with Greek fast-food restaurants and souvlaki joints. However, If you turn towards Valtetsiou street, you will find an area teeming with life.

Here, locals sit outside colorful, cosy tavernas sipping ouzo and eating meze dishes.

Vergina

Where: Valtetsiou 62, Athina 106 81

Vergina is a popular local tavern that is located on Valtetsiou street. This place is famous for its Lahanodolmades (stuffed cabbage rolls). 

However, the menu here is extensive. A variety of sumptuous, marinated meats are cooked here on an open grill. The smell of delicious kebabs, keftedes, and BBQ meat wafts down the street and into the nearby square. Check the board upon entry to see what the latest dish of the day is. 

Ouzeri Lesvos 

Where: Emmanouil Benaki 38, Athina 106 78, Greece

Ouzeri Lesvos is undoubtedly one of the best restaurants in Athens for seafood aficionados. The restaurant, as the name suggests, specialises in serving up dishes from the island of Lesvos. 

The compact little place is often filled with people from Lesvos visiting their friends and family in Athens. Being an ouzeria, the taverna boasts an extensive menu of ouzos and other Greek alcohols. This beverage is best served neat, over ice. 

Gigantes 

Where: Valtetsiou 44, Athina 106 81, Greece

Gigantes is a beloved Exarchia taverna that uses only the finest organic ingredients in its dishes. Many of the menu options are a modern, contemporary spin on generations-old Greek classic foods. 

Ama Lachei

Where: Kallidromiou 69, Athina 106 83, Greece

Ama Lachei is a quaint mezedopleio place in the heart of Exarchia. Being a mezedopleio, the restaurant specialises in small plates and fingee foods. Mezes are essentially the Greek answer to Spanish tapas. 

Rozalia 

Where: Valtetsiou 59, Athina 106 81, Greece

If you are looking for simple and hearty Greek food just like yiayia used to make, Rozalia taverna is the place to go. This family-owned place serves up home-style cooking in hearty portions. Venture here for your moussaka fix. 

Hotels and Accommodation in Exarchia

Exarchia is a great place for young travellers in Athens, especially students and intellectuals. It poses the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people. If you are interested to stay in Exarchia during your Athens trip, there are a few options available for you to do so.

Orion and Dryades Hotel

Where: Kallidromiou str και Δρυάδων 4, Athina 114 73

The unusually named Orion and Dryades hotel offers affordable luxury at the foot of Strefi hill. Rooms here start from just $40 per night – excellent value for money considering the plush rooms and the central location.

Central Athens can be reached within just a 15-minute walk from here. The views from the rooftop terrace are second to none.

Hotel Exarchion 

Where: Themistokleous 55, Athina 106 83

Hotel Exarchion is situated in the very heart of Exarchia Square. Rooms are comfortable and affordable, with rates starting from just $30 per night.

Is Exarchia Safe?

Exarchia graffiti

Athens is generally a safe city. However, there is a lot of poverty and homelessness in the city centre.

Don’t have expensive belongings on display and avoid walking alone at night.

Be mindful of the dates which your trip coincides with. Try to avoid visiting Exarchia on the 17th of November or in the first week of December. This is due to the annual riots that take place on the anniversaries of the polytechnic uprising and the Alexander Grigoropoulou murder.

Much of central Athens (including Syntagma and Monastiraki) closes down during these riots. Sometimes clashes between anarchist groups and the Hellenic police can occur at a moment’s notice. If you are in Exarchia and start to see a crowd gathering or something strange going down, leave, or head into a local coffee shop.

Parting Words

Do you have any further questions about Athens’ Exarchia district or planning a trip to Greece in general? I live in Athens and would be happy to answer any queries you may have! Feel free to reach out to me via email or through the comments below. Safe travels! Geia Sou! Melissa xo

Disclaimer: This Exarchia Travel Guide may contain affiliate links. In other words, I receive a small % of commission if you make a purchase through some of the links on this page, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for understanding.


Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer and Blogger based in Athens, Greece. She writes for numerous high profile travel publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, Matador Network, The Times of Israel and The Huffington Post.

14 thoughts on “Exarchia, Athens: Cool Alternative District or Den of Anarchists?”

  1. I really like how you have explored a different side of Exarchia. The Greek authorities have suggested staying away, but I appreciate you providing some areas and times to explore the area. Very unique! The pictures of the street art are amazing!

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  2. I had never heard of the Exarchia neighborhood in Athens before and found your post so interesting and informative! I love city neighborhoods with street art, so I think it would be fun to check out next time I make it back to Athens.

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  3. I absolutely enjoyed reading this article, it’s unique and reeled me in. I like visiting the “grittier” parts of places, and having gone to Athens last summer, I really wish I spent some time here. I feel that you make a valid point that places like Excharia are as much a part of the cultural tapestry of Athens as anywhere else in the city. I admire that you view travel not as a bucket list of sites to visit, but as an opportunity to learn more about places like Excharia and find the positive amidst the chaos. The coffee culture and nightlife scenes really hooked me in! A late night out in such a neighborhood seems exciting as long as like you said, you take caution. Following this blog for sure, great job!

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  4. I think as travellers, it is important to see all sides of a place, even if it is not the picture perfect places that we see in travel magazines. People live in the cities that we travel to. They have lives and they have connections to things beyond what we can possibly know as visitors. It’s great to showcase this in your post.

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  5. I’m curious about the annual rioting. How bad is it? Not that I’m planning to book a trip during those time periods (great tip not to), just generally curious how safe it is for a resident of the city. Super cool street art, and a great insiders perspective!

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  6. Wow. You are quite brave for going into this neighborhood on your own. I can see the draw to it though. The street art is great and I bet that coffee was also!

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  7. I’ve been to Athens quite a few times, but totally missed this neighborhood. The street art looks super interesting, just like the food scene! I’m taking notes of Giantes and Ouzeri Lesvos for when I’m in town next 😉

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  8. So interesting as Exarchia doesn’t fall into the typical “Athens” that is promoted and pictured. I know the history is very serious but I almost love the edgy appearance to the area. I’m not sure it’ll every be a “popular” place for visitors but thank you for sharing a piece of your city. I’d be interested in checking out Exarchia if I had time.

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  9. What an interesting area of Athens.i love how the community have taken their message to the walls of the buildings. It’s certainly gives the area an edgy feel to it

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  10. Happy to have found this post as I love street art and plan to go to Athens next June.
    It looks like it is going to be gentrified someday, as was Bricklane in London.

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  11. I have booked a pension in Exarchia for me and my daughter in octobre , we will arrive in the middle of the night , should I be worried ?

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  12. What an interesting well written reportage. I shall indeed take a closer look. Thank you
    Stuart in Psirri, Athens

    Reply
  13. Thanks for this objective and mindful article.You describe things as they are. I missed only some infos about the partly beautiful architecture and amazing old buildings.
    Respectful
    Antje R.

    Reply

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