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.
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. You could 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.
The Greek police will not even set foot here. All things considered, is Exarchia really as bad as it is often implied?
The History of Exarchia Athens
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.
This was an event that triggered riots across the country. Thus triggering a longstanding, widespread lack of trust in the Greek police.
Copycat events still take place on the anniversary of the teen’s death every December. For many Exarchia, is a no-go zone. It is 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. 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 is not for everyone. But it certainly has its charm.
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
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 Greek coffee, reading, and debating global issues.
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. You don’t have to worry about your safety. Exarchia Athens is always fairly crowded in the day.
Catch an Open-Air Movie
Half a dozen or so open-air cinemas sprout up around Athens during the summer months. Vox (ΒΟΞ) cinema is an al fresco movie theatre situated on the rooftop of an Exarchia building.
The theatre shows old-fashioned movies. They are mostly shown 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
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. They are 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 like this one 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
Exarchia square is the only place in the area where you may feel 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. Students from the local law school meet here to chat and have coffee. So too do large groups of young people making bonfires and smoking pot.
Drug dealers and users are openly conducting transactions. Anything goes here. Be mindful if you are taking photos here as doing so isn’t always welcomed.
Most of the most art pieces and stores in Exarchia 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
Exarchia Athens Autonomous Park
Other notable locations worth making a point to stop by at are the Polytechnic, and the “autonomous park”. The latter is situated on the corner of Zoodochou Pigis and Navarinou streets.
This was a park that the government intended to transform into a parking lot. However, 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.
You can buy and enjoy a plethora of Greek street food eats. You will typically find everything from grilled meats to warm chestnuts and corn on the cob.
Meanwhile, students sit cross-legged on the floor singing folk tunes with an acoustic guitar. Much of the park maintenance is carried out by Exarchia locals themselves.
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
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. They help you to understand and appreciate the story 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.
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 at night.
If alternative vibes, live bands, and rock music are just your cup of tea, you may well enjoy checking out Exarchia’s nightlife scene. You should not have any problems. Just keep out of trouble,and don’t go wandering around Exarchia’s back alleys alone at 2am.
Beatniks Roadbar is a popular local haunt with an eccentric atmosphere. Blues music is blasted over the speakers and quotes from Kerouac, Vonnegut, and Bukowski are plastered over the walls.
Here you can sink down into old vintage furniture with a whiskey in hand. This is one of the areas most unique bars. If you like heavy rock and metal music, Off the Chain club and Rezin cafe-bar are two of the best spots in the city.
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. Several Athens university campuses are located nearby and so, Exarchias coffee shops attract a young, intelligent crowd of writers, students, and intellectuals.
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 waiters are dressed in Tuxedos.
In some ways, stepping into Alexandrino feels like stepping back in time. The establishment resembles a French bistro, bringing a slice of Parisian life to the Greek capital. Classic Jazz and old French music plays over loud speakers.
Where: Valtetsiou 21, Athina 106 80
Warehouse Exarchia is a great spot if you want to enjoy all-day brunch and coffee in a stylish setting. The owners are self-professed “coffee experts”.
They 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 filled with Greek fast-food restaurants and souvlaki joints. However, If you turn towards Valtetsiou street, you will find an area teeming with life and plentiful Athenian restaurant choices. Here, locals sit outside colorful, cosy tavernas sipping ouzo and eating meze dishes.
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.
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.
Where: Valtetsiou 44, Athina 106 81, Greece
Yiantes is a locally-adorned Exarchia taverna that is perpetually busy, whatever day of the week you happen to stop by. The chefs use only the finest organic ingredients in their dishes.
Many of the menu options are a modern, contemporary spin on generations-old Greek classic foods. For instance, the knuckle of lamb with celery root.
A fresh seafood selection is offered daily. Ask your server to recommend you the best local organic wine to pair with your food.
Where: Kallidromiou 69, Athina 106 83, Greece
Ama Lachei is a quaint mezedopleio place in the heart of Exarchia. A meze restaurant is an establishment that specialises in small plates.
So, you order a selection of small dishes for the table and share them among your dinner companions. Meze restaurants are essentially the Greek answer to Spanish tapas.
Ama Lachei is a family-owned restaurant that has been passed down through the generations of a local family for four decades. It is housed within a grand, neoclassical mansion and its stunning exterior courtyard.
Where: Valtetsiou 59, Athina 106 81, Greece
If you are looking for simple and hearty Greek food just like a Greek yiayia (grandmother) would make, Rozalia taverna is the place to go. This family-owned place serves up home-style cooking in hearty portions.
Venture here for your fix of moussaka, pastitsio, and other Greek favourite dishes. When you are finished, enjoy a complimentary bowl of Greek yoghurt with spoon sweets, or another selection of Greek desserts.
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. Exarchia Athens boasts accommodation options to suit every budget and travdel style.
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.
This is 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. You can browse here to check the latest room rates and availability.
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. Browse here to check their availability.
Is Exarchia Safe?
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. Follow the same common sense as you would when travelling to any other large city.
You should also 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.
Annual riots take place on these dates and things often turn violent. These dates reflect the anniversaries of the polytechnic uprising and the Alexander Grigoropoulou murder.
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. Most shops are likely to be closed and shuttered.
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