Plaka Athens: Your 2020 Guide to the Neighborhood of the Gods

The Winding Streets of Old Plaka, Athens
The Winding Streets of Old Plaka, Athens

Plaka, Athens is one of the most touristic districts in the Greek capital. However, this area is so charming that it is quickly forgiven.

Plaka is situated in the beating heart of Athens city centre where it sits beneath the shadow of the Acropolis. Its narrow winding streets, neoclassical buildings, quaint cafes, and pastel-coloured houses combine to make this one of the most picturesque districts in Athens. 

The cobbled streets and passageways here are entirely pedestrianised. In some ways, Plaka feels like an island retreat in the midst of a chaotic city. 

Falling in Love with Plaka, Athens 

Guide to Plaka, Athens
Guide to Plaka, Athens

Plaka, Athens is the oldest district in the Greek capital. This area has been continuously inhabited for over 3,000 years.

This part of town is brimming with history. Strolling through the quaint streets of Plaka means that you are literally following in the footsteps of some of the world’s most notable historical figures.

Everyone from Socrates and Pericles to Lord Byron and Alexander the Great has once wandered through old Plaka. It is probably no surprise that Plaka is one of the most popular Athenian districts among tourists.

However, the crowds do not detract from Plaka’s charm. Some places are popular for a reason.

A History of Plaka

During the days of the Ottoman Empire, Plaka was known as being Athens’ “Turkish district”. Many old Islamic buildings still remain from this period of history.

Various abandoned mosques and madrassahs (Islamic schools) are scattered throughout the area. Look out for the Fethiye Mosque and the Pelopida street madrassah as you navigate your way around town.

Some of these buildings have been converted into museums. Others have been left in abandon, creating a somewhat eerie, ethereal atmosphere when you pass them on a warm Athenian evening.

Various civilisations have invaded and occupied Athens over the years. Many of the buildings that await in Plaka today have been standing for several centuries. Despite being renovated into tavernas, art galleries, and restaurants, they have still retained their authentic charm. 

Things to See & Do in Plaka, Athens 

Admire the Views from Up Above Anafiotika
Admire the Views from Up Above Anafiotika

Plaka awaits on the slopes of the Acropolis hill. It is also home to some of the most important archaeological sites in Athens.

The ancient Roman Agora (marketplace), the Bathhouse of the Winds, and Hadrian’s library can all be found in Plaka. There are plenty of things to do in this part of town.

At the very least, you should dedicate half a day of your Athens itinerary to exploring old Plaka.

Indulge in a Traditional Hammam Experience

Stop by Al Hammam, Athens
Stop by Al Hammam, Athens

Once upon a time, hammams were a huge part of Athenian culture. These traditional Turkish bathhouses are essentially an ancient version of the sauna.

Hammam visitors would sit inside a marble steam room as a way to indulge in a little R&R at the end of the day. Plaka’s Bathhouse of the Winds was the go-to hammam in ancient times. Modern alternatives have opened up around the city in recent years.

Al Hammam, Athens

Al Hammam Athens is a luxurious Middle-Eastern themed hammam in the centre of Plaka. You can treat yourself to a simple hammam experience. Alternatively, it is also possible to indulge in other traditional relaxation packages such as exfoliating full-body scrubs and oil massages

When your treatment is over, relax on Al Hammam’s terrace with a spiced Turkish tea, and a serving of loukoumi. 

Explore the Hidden Village of Anafiotika 

Anafiotika is a Little Island Paradise in the Heart of Plaka and Central Athens
Anafiotika is a Little Island Paradise in the Heart of Plaka and Central Athens

The village of Anafiotika is one of Athens’ best-kept secrets. This tiny residential area sits perched on the slopes of Acropolis Hill.

Anafiotika has a distinctly different appearance to the rest of Athens. Wandering through the streets here is more reminiscent of visiting an island in the Cyclades, rather than exploring one of Greece’s most crowded cities

Anafiotika dates back to the 19th century. It was built by people from the island of Anafi after the Greeks gained their independence from the Ottoman empire.

The Construction of Anafiotika

Anafi residents moved to mainland Greece to assist King Otto I in rebuilding Athens. They crafted their charming bijou homes in the same architectural style that they were accustomed to seeing in their beloved home of Anafi.

One of the highlights of visiting Anafiotika is the incredible panoramic views that can be enjoyed from up here. Try to visit the area in the early evening for an impressive sunset in a spot that is often overlooked by most tourists. 

Watch an Evening Bouzouki Performance

You may associate Plaka with being “touristy” but that isn’t completely true. In fact, a lot of Greeks still come here to hang out too. After all, it is so bohemian and beautiful, it’d be a shame for them to boycott it completely, right? 

Plaka boasts several excellent bozoukias. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a bouzoukia, these are taverna-style establishments that serve food and drinks (particularly mezes and mixed grill platters) as live traditional folk music is performed on stage. These places are very popular on the Athens nightlife scene

Stamatopoulos Tavern is one particularly homely taverna/bouzouki that is situated on Lisiou street in Plaka. Equally worthwhile is To Perivoli T’Ouranou. This is the oldest spot for music and dinner in Athens.

These places usually attract more Greeks than tourists. The only thing to note is that Plaka bouzoukis are slightly more expensive than those in neighborhoods such as Pangrati or Vyronas. 

Follow in Caesar’s Footsteps at the Roman Agora 

Roman Agora, Athens
Roman Agora, Athens

The Roman Agora contains what remains of a sprawling 1st Century BC marketplace. The construction was funded by notorious Roman Emperors Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus – the two of whom once strolled along these cobbled promenades. 

You can glance out across the Roman Agora from the main streets of Plaka and the area is relatively compact. That said, admission is only €2 (or free with your Acropolis ticket) so the Agora is well worth a quick exploration. 

The Tower of the Winds

Look out for the crumbling sun-bleached remnants of the tower of the winds. This is the most important and unique building within the grounds of the Roman Agora.

The eight-sided tower was constructed by Andronicus of Cyrrhus, a Macedonian astronomer. It serves several functions – as a sundial, a water clock, and a weathervane. Constructed in the 1st century BC, the tower was considered an advanced technological development for its time. 

Discover a Forgotten Ottoman Mosque 

Plaka’s Fethiye Mosque still stands as a symbol of Plaka’s Ottoman past. The mosque was built over the ruins of an old Byzantine church.

This was originally referred to as the “wheat market mosque” owing to its location near the Ottoman grain cellars. Although the minaret was destroyed, the mosque itself was recently renovated. A photography exhibition is now housed inside. 

Shop for Unique and Eclectic Greek Souvenirs 

Plaka, Athens
Plaka, Athens

Street vendors line the cobbled passageways of Plaka. You can find every gift item imaginable here – from the cheap and cheerful to more ornate, artisanal handicrafts.  

Adrianou Street is the main strip that boasts these “typical” souvenir stores. You will also find a lot of jewelry stops.

Owing to the lower labor rates, gold in Greece is much more affordable than in nearby European countries. However, it should be noted that some of the independent jewelry stores here add their markup on account of their design efforts and branding. 

Where to Buy Greek Products and Ingredients

Brettos Distillery, Athens
Brettos Distillery, Athens

If you are searching for a more unique and quintessentially Greek reminder of your time in Athens, head to Brettos Liquor store or Angelo’s ouzo shop at 120 Adrianou street.

The Best Ouzo in Plaka

These are two of Athens’ most famous Greek alcohol stores. Both are more special than their names may imply.

Brettos is the oldest distillery in Athens. The store has stayed true to its traditional roots and almost feels like a journey back in time.

The walls here are lined with old barrels and colourful bottles of liquor. Aside from tasting and buying the various liquors, this is a nice spot to hang out among other travellers and locals. 

120 Adrianou street is home to a quaint little ouzo store that stocks more variations of ouzo than any other shop in Athens. Its owner Angelo should be your go-to if you want to learn all about Greece’s national tipple.

Ouzos here have been produced with a variety of different distillation processes and come from all over the country. Packaged in quirky little bottles, they are a nice reminder of Greece to take home. 

Olive Oil and Greek Agro Products

Extra virgin olive oil, stuffed olives from Halkidiki, and herbal-infused honeys make wonderful souvenirs to bring back from your trip to Greece. Evonon (Adrianou 124) and Elaias Gi (Adrianou 122) are two fantastic gourmet food stores in old Plaka.

You can sample many of the products here before you buy them. Consider compiling a bespoke hamper as a gift for friends and family back at home.

Admire the Frescoes of Ancient Orthodox Churches 

In Greece, Orthodox Churches are a more common sight on street corners than coffee shops! In Plaka too, there are several quaint little chapels that are worth having on your radar.

The 11th-century churches of Ayios Nikolaos Ragavas and Ayios Ioannis Theologos are particularly beautiful. Their interiors are decorated with vibrant Byzantine frescoes that depict various scenes from the bible. 

Make a note to stop by the church of Agioi Anargyroi. This is a former convent with close links to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This church is the first place that the Holy Light arrives each year from Israel. 

Enjoy an Open Air Movie Experience 

Admittedly you don’t travel all the way to Greece to go to the cinema. However a nice evening experience after a long day’s sightseeing is to stop and watch a movie at one of the open-air cinemas in the city centre.

Thision open-air cinema is one spot that sits just outside of Plaka. Here you can watch the latest releases in the centre of a leafy garden, as the Acropolis shimmers in the background. Most movies are played in their original English format with Greek subtitles. 

Browse the Exhibits at Local Museums 

Lovely Anafiotika
Lovely Anafiotika

Various museums are scattered throughout historical Plaka, each of which provides an interesting insight into Greek history and culture. While these may not be as well known as the city’s Acropolis museum or the archaeological museum, some of their exhibits may pique your interest. 

The Benizelou Mansion

Where: Adrianou 96, Athina 105 56, Greece

The Benizelou Mansion is the oldest house in Athens. It once belonged to an Athenian noble family and has since been transformed into a living museum. The museum provides an interesting insight into the lives of the 17th-century Athenian Aristocracy.

The Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments 

Where: Diogenous 1, Athina 105 56, Greece

Greek folk music is still widely beloved across the country today. It has a long history that stems back centuries.

The Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments is free to enter and discusses how Greek music has evolved over the last 5,000 years. There are over 1,200 instruments on display here, including a number of obscure items that are no longer in use today. 

The Jewish Museum 

Where: Nikis 39, Athina 105 57, Greece

The Jewish Museum of Athens is not well-marked and sits inside an old house that is easy to walk by. Inside you will find a very moving exhibition that tells the story of the Greek Jews and what happened to them during the Holocaust. 

The Frissiras Art Museum

Where: Monis Asteriou 3 & 7, Athina 105 58, Greece

Art aficionados should take the time to stop by the Frissiras Art Museum. This is a contemporary art gallery with ever-changing exhibits from local and European artists.  

The Athens University Museum 

The Athens University Museum tells the story of how academia has developed in Greece. Its exhibits consist of ancient manuscripts, astrology maps, obscure scientific items, and other objects from the university’s first few decades. From the museum terrace, you have lovely views over your surroundings in Plaka. 

The Museum of Pavlos and Alexandra Kanellopoulou 

The Museum of Pavlos and Alexandra Kanellopoulou is very much worth visiting if you are interested in Greek history. Established in the 1970s, the museum contains a private collection of artifacts that date all the way back to 3000 BC. Expect everything from ancient Greek and Roman busts, to fine art pieces. 

Take a History Lesson at the Ancient Agora 

The Ancient Agora of Athens
The Ancient Agora of Athens

The Roman Agora was constructed under the direction of Julius Caesar and his Roman empire. However, the much larger Ancient Agora predates it.

Surrounded by trees and greenery, the Agora is almost hidden from view. This historical region once doubled as a marketplace and a popular rendezvous-point among locals. 

Notable figures such as Sophocles, Socrates, and Protagoras once walked and gave speeches in these plazas. Various temples and shrines can be found throughout the Agora complex.

Look out for the Temple of Hephaestus. This site was built around 415BC (around the same time as the Parthenon) and is one of the best-preserved ancient temples in Greece. 

Admire the Works of Local Artists at Their Galleries 

Ioannidou Art Gallery, Plaka
Ioannidou Art Gallery, Plaka

Notable museums aside, Plaka is also home to a number of small scale art galleries and independent collections. The Sofokli Art Gallery, the Orlik Gallery, the Ioannidou Art Gallery, and the Pandora Art Gallery are all worth a look-in. 

Drink Freddo Cappuccino and Play Backgammon in Plaka’s Coffee Shops 

Most of the coffee shops and cafes in Plaka are undeniably touristy. However, they do provide a wonderful opportunity for people-watching amid a charming bohemian ambiance. After all, relaxing in coffee shops with a newspaper is the unofficial national sport of Greece. 

Backgammon is a popular game for Greeks both old and young to play as they sip their coffees. Most establishments have games available for you to borrow. For quirky coffee shops teeming with character head to the Kimolia Art Cafe, Cafe Melina, or Yiasemi. 

Older Greeks enjoy their coffee the old-fashioned way. Traditional Greek coffee (Ellinikos Kafes) is served short and hot. It is essentially the same as Turkish/Arabic coffee.

Most younger Greeks enjoy their coffee iced or “freddo”. Be sure to order an iced freddo espresso or an iced freddo cappuccino while in town.

Where to Eat in Plaka 

Although Plaka is popular among tourists, there are still many excellent restaurants and tavernas here. Their prices may be slightly more expensive than at tavernas in “off the beaten path” Greek residential neighbourhoods but the food is very good quality and you are certainly not falling into a terrible tourist trap.

Psaras Fishermen’s Tavern  

Where: Erotokritou & Erechtheos 16, Athens 105 56

Psaras Fisherman’s Tavern is one of the oldest restaurants in Athens. Set inside an old neoclassical mansion, its interiors are so cosy, you feel as though you are dining inside someone’s living room. Although recently sold on to new owners, Psaras still retains a lot of its charm. 

Psaras translates to “seafood” and the menu places a heavy focus on dishes prepared using fresh catches from the nearby Aegean sea. In recent years, the new owners have expanded upon the original menu to offer vegetarian and meat dishes that cater to a wider array of palates. 

To Kafeneio

Where: Epicharmou 1, Athina 105 58, Greece

To Kafeneio is a popular local taverna. Despite its central location, To Kafeneio has somehow escaped the eyes of most tourists that come to Plaka.

The restaurant specializes in serving up mezedes – small meze platters intended for sharing that contain a selection of different marinated meats, salads, and bread. The menu changes with the seasons and focuses on delicacies from Northern Greece.

To Kafeneio is particularly pleasant in the winter months when patrons can sink down into one of the old leather armchairs with a warm glass of oinomelo (honey wine) next to the open fireplace. 

Scholarchio/Kouklis 

Where: Tripodon 14, Athina 105 56, Greece

Scholarchio is a bustling Plaka taverna that sits hidden away down one of the alleyways that veer off from Plaka’s main streets. The restaurant and the piazza outside it are perpetually crowded with locals.

Scholarchio is known for its specialty trout and flaming sausages. However, a diverse range of traditional taverna classics can be found on the menu.  

Accommodation Options In and Around Plaka 

Plaka is a lovely place to base yourself during your time in Athens. Proximity to the local sites is one major factor.

However, so too is the certain je ne sais quoi that a lot of the hotels here have. A lot are designed in unique and quirky styles – a far cry from your typical “cookie-cutter” hotel rooms. 

New Hotel Athens 

Where: Filellinon 16, Athina 105 57, Greece

Overlooking the National Gardens of Athens and the leafy promenades that surround it, the New Hotel is an elegant accommodation choice that sits just outside the centre of Plaka. New Hotel is a five-star hotel with a twist. The majority of its furnishings, walls, and interiors have been created using recycled or repurposed materials.

Edgy designs are prominent throughout the hotel. After a long day exploring Plaka, the hotel’s swanky rooftop Art Lounge Bar is one of the best rooftop bars in Athens, and a nice place to relax with a cocktail or two. 

Check the latest room rates and availability at this Plaka hotel here. 

AthensWas Hotel 

Where: Dionysiou Areopagitou 5, Athina 117 42, Greece

AthensWas Hotel is one of the best luxury choices in Athens. Oozing elegance at every turn, the hotel is deeply inspired by the city that surrounds it.

Art pieces in the rooms and communal areas display Athens street photography. Fine marble, walnut woods, and exquisite fabrics make up the rooms and have been sourced and designed in different parts of Greece.

Staying at AthensWas guarantees that you have a plush, spacious room to come back to at the end of each day in Athens. Check the latest room rates and availability at this Plaka hotel here.

How to Get to Plaka 

Athens Greece
Plaka, Athens

Plaka is one of Athens’ most central neighbourhoods. It is just a short distance away from Koukaki, Syntagma, and Monastiraki.

The Athens hotels found here place you within walking distance of the city’s main attractions. Plaka is also pedestrianised. Opting to stay here frees you from having to contend with Athens’ chaotic traffic problems. 

Getting to Plaka from the Airport 

From Athens Airport, the best way to get to Plaka is to take the metro all the way to Syntagma Square. This is a direct line, and Syntagma Square is Athens’ main central station, so the journey is easy enough.

After exiting the station, cross the road and walk past the McDonalds onto Voulis street which lies right ahead of you. Keep walking until you reach Kydathineon street. 

You can also reach Plaka by going to the Acropolis metro station, though this is on a different line to Syntagma and requires a change. Acropolis metro station is the closest one to Plaka. Once you exit the station, cross Dionisiou Aeropagitou and walk onwards to Vyronos Street which marks the entrance of Plaka. 

Have any further questions about visiting Plaka Athens or travelling to Greece in general? I’ve lived here for the last two and a half years and would be happy to answer any queries that you may have. Feel free to reach out to me via the comments below. Geia sou! Melissa xo 

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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.

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