Plaka, Athens is one of the most touristic districts in the Greek capital. That said, Plaka is so charming that it is quickly forgiven. The narrow winding streets of Plaka, with their neoclassical buildings and their pastel-coloured facades, make this one of the most picturesque districts in Athens.
Plaka’s cobbled streets and passageways are entirely pedestrianized, save for the occasional rebellious motorcyclists that whizz among the crowds. In some ways, Plaka feels like an island retreat in the midst of a chaotic city.
A Little History of Plaka
Plaka is Athens’ oldest neighborhood. This area has been continuously inhabited for over 3,000 years. Strolling along the quaint streets of Plaka means that you are literally following in the footsteps of some of the world’s most notable historical figures – from Socrates and Pericles to Lord Byron and Alexander the Great.
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.
The various civilizations that have invaded and occupied Athens have certainly left their cultural footprint on Plaka. During the days of the Ottoman Empire, Plaka was the city’s “Turkish district”. Abandoned mosques and old Islamic structures such as the Pelopida street madrassah (Islamic school) and the Fethiye Mosque point to this heritage.
Plaka awaits on the slopes of the Acropolis hill. It is also home to some of the most important archaeological sites in Athens – including the ancient Roman Agora (marketplace), the Bathhouse of the Winds and Hadrian’s library.
Things to See and Do in Plaka
There are plenty of things to do in lovely Plaka. At the very least, you should dedicate half a day of your Athens itinerary to exploring the highlights of Plaka. Better yet, if you have enough time in Athens to explore the city at a more relaxed pace then you can spend an entire day getting lost in the backstreets of Plaka and drinking iced Freddo cappuccinos in its hidden coffee shops.
Indulge in a Traditional Hammam Experience
Once upon a time, the Greeks and Ottomans would indulge in a little R&R at the end of the day by venturing inside a traditional bathhouse (hammam). Whilst Plaka’s bathhouse of the winds was the hammam of choice in ancient times, a modern alternative has opened in recent years.
Al Hammam Athens offers a touch of the Middle East in the centre of the Greek capital. Visiting a hammam entails sitting in a marble steam room that is essentially an ancient version of the sauna. 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
If you venture high above the streets of Plaka, you will stumble upon one of Athens’ best-kept secrets: The village of Anafiotika. This tiny residential neighborhood has a distinctly different appearance that makes you feel more like you are wandering through an island in the Cyclades than exploring one of Greece’s most crowded cities.
Anafiotika was born in the 1800s after the Greeks gained their independence from the Ottoman empire. It was created by people from the island of Anafi who had moved to the mainland to assist King Otto I in rebuilding a modern Greek capital. The white-washed buildings and the blue-domed roofs represent the charming architectural style that people were used to in their beloved home of Anafi.
Besides the charming bijou village itself, one of the highlights of visiting Anafiotika is the incredible panoramic views over Athens that can be enjoyed from its highest point. Aim to get here 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/bouzoukia that is situated on Lisiou street in Plaka. Equally worthwhile is To Perivoli T’Ouranou – the oldest spot for music and dinner in Athens.
If you look around while inside these haunts, you will find more Greeks than tourists. The only thing to note that Plaka bouzoukias are slightly more expensive than those in neighborhoods such as Pangrati or Vyronas.
Follow in Caesar’s Footsteps at the Roman Agora
The Roman Agora contains what remains of a sprawling Roman marketplace that was built in the 1st Century BC. The market was actually 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 euros (or included with your Acropolis ticket) so the Agora is well worth a quick exploration.
Look out for the crumbling sun-bleached remnants of the tower of the winds – 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 and 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 and now houses a photography exhibition.
Shop for Unique and Eclectic Greek Souvenirs
Where there are tourists, there are street vendors selling souvenirs, and Plaka is no different in that regard. In the Plaka you can find every gift item imaginable – from the cheap and cheerful (fridge magnets, I heart Greece t-shirts, etc) to the more elegant.
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 more artisanal jewelry designer shops add their markup on account of the design efforts and branding.
Where to Buy Greek Products and Ingredients
Those searching for something more unique and quintessentially Greek should head to Brettos Liquor store or Angelo’s ouzo shop at 120 Adrianou street. Both spots are more special than the names may initially suggest.
Brettos is the oldest distillery in Athens. Brettos has stayed true to its traditional roots and almost feels like a journey back in time with its walls that are filled with old barrels and colourful bottles of liquor. Aside from tasting and buying bottles of liquor as gifts for family and friends back at home, 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 Greece. Packaged in quirky little bottles, they are a nice reminder of Greece to take 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, and 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 – 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
While you don’t travel all the way to Greece to go to the cinema, 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
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
The Benizelou Mansion is the oldest house in Athens that has been transformed into a living museum. The house once belonged to an Athenian noble family and exploring it provides an interesting insight into the lives of the Athenian Aristocrats in the 17th century.
The Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments
Greek folk music is still widely beloved by locals 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
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
Art aficionados should take the time to stop by the Frissiras Art Museum – 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 a look-in 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, as well as items more recently created in the 18th and 19th centuries. Expect everything from ancient Greek and Roman busts, to fine art pieces.
Take a History Lesson at Plaka’s Ancient Agora
While the Roman Agora was constructed under the direction of Julius Caesar and his Roman empire, 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 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. In particular, though, look out for the Temple of Hephaestus – built around 415BC (around the same time as the Parthenon) and one of the best-preserved ancient temples in Greece.
Admire the Works of Local Artists at Their Galleries
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. Ask the wait staff if they have a box that you can borrow if you are interested. 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 is served short, hot and bitter, and strongly resembles Turkish/Arabic coffee. Freddo is the way that younger generations get their caffeine fix – order an iced freddo espresso or an iced freddo cappuccino if you want to blend in with the locals.
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. Some of the best eateries in Plaka are outlined below.
Psaras Fishermen’s Tavern
The Psaras Fisherman’s Tavern is one of the oldest restaurants in Athens and is set inside an old neoclassical mansion. 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 is a popular local taverna that, despite its central location, 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 breads.
The menu changes with the seasons and focuses on delicacies from northern Greece. To Kafeneio is particularly cozy 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 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, especially during the summer months. Scholarchio is renowned 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, but so too is the certain je ne sais quoi that a lot of the hotels here have – often designed in unique and quirky styles that are a far cry from your typical “cookie-cutter” hotel rooms.
New Hotel Athens
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 and edgy designs are prominent throughout the hotel. After a long day exploring Plaka, the hotel’s swanky rooftop Art Lounge Bar is a nice place to relax with a cocktail or two.
AthensWas Hotel is one of the best luxury choices in Athens. Aside from 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, and the fine marble, walnut woods, and exquisite fabrics that make up the rooms 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
Plaka is one of Athens’ most central neighbourhoods. This area is well-signposted and easy to reach from the likes of Koukaki, Syntagma, and Monastiraki. If you are not sure where to stay in Athens, yet you want a central location, Plaka is a nice choice.
The Athens hotels found here place you within walking distance of the city’s main attractions. Plaka is also pedestrianised so 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. Yassou! Melissa xo
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