Psiri Athens is one of the Greek capital’s quirkiest and most vibrant districts. Situated just a short walk away from Monastiraki, Syntagma, and the ancient Acropolis, it is also one of the most centrally located.
Most people at least pass through Psiri during their Athens itinerary. However, this little area is worthy of far more than just a fleeting visit.
The streets of Psiri are lined with eclectic themed bars, cosy coffee shops, artisanal stores, and some of the most thought-provoking street art in the city.
A Little History of Psiri Athens
Psiri has existed in Athens in some form or another, for thousands of years. Like Plaka, this is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city.
Indeed, the nearby Ancient Agora was once the main rendezvous point for Ancient Greeks. Even notable Greek Philosophers such as Socrates would meet here to discuss civil matters affecting the city.
The Psiri that you see today has existed for more than one hundred years. Its borders were identified just prior to the Greek war of independence against the Ottoman Turks in the 1820s.
Iroon Square, the beating heart of modern Psiri, was constructed in 1850. During this period, renowned British Poet Lord Byron was living at the foot of the Acropolis at 11 Agias Theklas St. (now a warehouse) in Psiri.
It was here where he wrote one of his most famous pieces entitled “The Maid of Athens” in 1810. Disturbingly, the subject of his admiration at the time was a local girl aged 12!
The poem, with its classic line “Maid of Athens, ere we part, give, oh give me back my heart!” has become one of the most famous quotes about Greece. During the Ottoman era, the borders of Psiri also included nearby Thissio and Monastiraki. However, today they are identified as separate areas.
Psiri During the 1800s
The area has a reputation of being very “anti-establishment”. During the 1800s, Psiri and nearby Metaxourgeio were synonymous with criminal gangs.
There were three notorious groups, in particular, that would hang out here. Namely, the koutsavakides, the mortides, and the trabouks. You would not want to encounter them on a Friday night and they were known to stir trouble with anyone who crossed their path.
These men were easily identifiable by their attire. Koutsavakides and co would always wear striped trousers, paired with a black suit jacket, a belt to conceal their weapons, and a hat designed to symbolize mourning for a lost friend, or preparation to kill their next victim!
Koutsavakides and co made Psiri Athens their playground for centuries. They were causing problems, sure.
But the Greek Politicians would seek them for aid in their own dirty work and so they were well integrated into society. It wasn’t until Greek Police chief Dimitrios Bayraktaris came on the scene in the late 19th century that they were driven out.
Psiri Athens Today
Psiri Athens was considered dangerous and sketchy as recently as the 1990s. Fortunately, in the lead-up to the 2004 Olympics, huge efforts were made in an attempt to clean up the area and encourage investment.
The old buildings paired with the modern hipster attitude of Psiri and its businesses combine to make an Athenian neighborhood like no other. Psiri caters to international tastes but it is not so gentrified that it loses its authentic charm.
It is worth noting that Psiri, like several other Athens districts, is often written in different ways. You may see it written as Psyrri, Psirri, Psyri, or Psiri.
Today, Psiri Athens is relatively safe. Like any European capital, you should be mindful when walking alone at night in Athens and always keep an eye on your possessions.
Psiri Athens Today
Five main streets comprise Psiri. Each of these has links to notable Greek figures.
Miaouli and Karaiskakis Street are situated on either side of the central “Heroes Square”. These streets are named after two of the most beloved heroes of the Greek Revolution.
Meanwhile, Aeschylus street takes its name from an ancient playwright, Ag. Anargyron takes its name from Christian Orthodox Saints and Aristophanes from an ancient Greek comedy playwright.
Athenians will often head to Psiri when they are going on a night out. Along with Gazi, this is one of the main nightlife districts in Athens.
You can find everything in Psiri from rock bars to rooftop lounges where you can sip cocktails with a view of the Acropolis. Due to Psiri’s “anti-establishment” persona, a lot of the music venues and nightlife spots here are alternative, grungy, and somewhat “underground”.
Things to do in Psiri
There are plenty of things to do in Psiri. If your schedule allows, try to dedicate at least an afternoon of your trip to exploring its narrow winding passageways and cobbled backstreets.
Psiri Athens Highlights
- Browse the local antique stores
- Watch the pastry chefs make bougatsa in Iroon Square
- Embark on a self-guided tour of the Psiri street art scene
- Tuck into a charcuterie board at Karamanlidika or Miran
- Admire the exhibits at Psiri’s independent art galleries
- Sample the Psiri nightlife scene
- Stop for coffee or drinks at Little Kook
- Take a walk to the Athens Central Market
- Treat yourself to a homely taverna lunch
Browse the Antique Stores of Psiri
Once upon a time, Psiri was renowned for its antique stores. Valuable old furnishings, trinkets, jewelry, paintings, and collector’s items were bought and sold in the area.
Today, antique stores still comprise a lot of the retail shops in the area. However “antiques” is a term to be used loosely here.
In Psiri, you will see the true meaning of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Some Psiri stores sell ornate furnishings and Greek art pieces.
Others sell old records, second-handbooks, and other knick-knacks. Some stores sell old tools, screws, and broken appliances that you are surprised anyone would purchase. Regardless, Psiri is one of the most interesting places for shopping in Athens.
Watch the Pastry Chefs Make Bougatsa at Iroon Square
Bougatsa is a sweet breakfast pastry that is often enjoyed in the mornings alongside a strong cup of Greek coffee. The treat originated in Thessaloniki. However, you can also find some very good bougatsas in Athens and other Greek cities.
Bougatsa consists of sweet semolina custard wrapped within layers of hand-prepared Phyllo pastry. A generous sprinkling of icing sugar and cinnamon is then added on top of the pastry.
The sweet bougatsa is the most common. However, there are also savory versions available that are prepared with minced beef or ricotta cheese in place of semolina.
One of the best places to try bougatsa is Bougatsadiko Thessaloniki. This is the little pastry shop that sits on the corner of Iroon Square.
This place is bustling with tourists and locals alike at whatever time of day you happen to pass by. Not only are the pastries here delicious, but an additional highlight of this place is also the open kitchen.
As soon as you step through the door, you will see the bakers and chefs preparing the day’s treats. If you happen to pass by in the mornings, you may be lucky enough to see the bougatsa being made.
The process is particularly interesting to watch. It entails rolling out large squares of dough that the bakers then spin around their heads!
Embark on a Self-Guided Tour of the Psiri Street Art Scene
Psiri is one of the best places in Athens to check out street art. This is one of the city’s creative hubs after all.
As such, the bars, coffee shops, and apartment rentals here are occupied by Writers, Painters, Musicians, and the like. Some of the pieces here are thought-provoking.
However, most are simply beautiful murals that are nice to look at. Louka Nika and Sarri streets are two of the main spots that you should start at.
Many of the little alleys that veer off from here are also laden with street art. For more controversial, political pieces, head to Exarchia and Metaxourgio.
Tuck into a Charcuterie Board at Karamanlidika or Miran
Sampling local products should be high on your list of things to do during your Greece itinerary. There is no better place to do this in Athens than at Karamanlidika (Sokratous 1) or Miran (Evripidou 45).
Both spots are interesting local delicatessens that serve a wide range of cold cuts and cheeses sourced from across Greece. Miran serves produce that mostly originates in the Kerkini and Serres region of Northern Greece.
Meanwhile, Karamanlidika predominately sells deli products from the charming village of Drama in Thessaly. If you only have time to visit one of these spots, head to Karamanlidika.
Karamanlidika is the more taverna-style of the two. You can choose a charcuterie board and wine pairing from the extensive menu, or have a bespoke one crafted based on your personal preferences.
Admire the Exhibits at Psiri’s Independent Art Galleries
Several museums and art galleries can be found throughout Psiri. A. Antonopoulou Art, the Project Gallery, Alpha Delta Gallery, and the Alibi Gallery are all worth adding to your radar.
The majority of the galleries here focus on contemporary art. They showcase the works of local and international artists – both renowned and emerging.
Sample the Psiri Nightlife Scene
Psiri was once the definitive place to go on a Friday night in Athens. In recent years, clubs and bars have popped up in Gazi, and beachfront hangouts have emerged in Alimos and Glyfada, competing for people’s attention.
While Psiri may not be what it once was, it is still one of the best places to experience the Athenian nightlife. The Clumsies, Transistor, and Seven Jokers are particular favourites among locals.
These bars are managed by some of the best Mixologists in town. They are the perfect place to indulge in some Saturday night negronis and margaritas.
Six d.o.g.s is a charming, unpretentious spot that boasts a scenic courtyard where you can sip craft beers beneath twinkling fairy lights and the canopy of trees. DJs, live music performers, and events are often hosted here.
Stop for Coffee or Drinks at Little Kook
Little Kook (Karaiskaki 17) is arguably the most original bar and coffee shop in Athens. This eccentric establishment was somewhere that locals would visit to take photos before being “Instagrammable” was even a thing.
The bar is revamped throughout the year and always follows a particular theme – be it Mary Poppins or Alice in Wonderland. Larger-than-life decorations transport Little Kook guests into what feels like a fairytale.
The menu at Little Kook changes regularly to reflect the theme. This place is especially magical during Christmas time in Athens.
Treat Yourself to a Homely Taverna Lunch
Psiri may be one of Athens’ most centralised districts. However, that certainly does not mean that all restaurants here are tourist traps.
Indeed, many excellent family-owned tavernas can be found in Psiri. For classic Greek dishes with a modern twist, head to Zampano – arguably one of the best restaurants in Athens.
Zampano (Sarri 18) is open for brunch, lunch, and dinner. Treat yourself to slow-cooked eggs prepared with fresh tomatoes, feta, and spinach to pair with your morning coffee. Alternatively, stop by in the evenings to enjoy reasonably priced high-end dining options paired with exquisite local and international wines.
For dessert, it’s ice cream at Kokkion. This artisanal ice cream parlour can be found at the end of trendy Protogenous street.
Kokkion is far more than “just another” ice cream shop. The flavors here range from the classics, to obscure taste pairings that somehow just work. Vegan options are available.
Walk to Athens Central Market
The Athens Central Market (Varvakios Agora) and nearby Evripidou street are among the most fascinating places to go window shopping in Athens. The former is both the largest, and oldest, traditional market in the city.
Here you will find halls filled with meat, fresh vegetables, fresh seafood, spices, and virtually every food item that you can think of. Even if you don’t plan on buying anything, you ought to visit for the people-watching opportunities alone.
Watch on as restaurant owners haggle over the prices of meat, and sweet yiayias potter around to find the ingredients for their upcoming Sunday dinner. If you happen to do an Athens cooking class or food tour, you will likely stop by here to pick up your ingredients.
Once you have finished browsing, cross Athinas road to the open-air fruit and vegetable market. You can purchase a kilo or a half kilo of fresh fruit from the vendors here for very good prices.
Consider purchasing some strawberries, some rosy red cherries, or some incomparably sweet Greek oranges. If you happen to be in Athens during July and August, that is watermelon, and ice-cold, juicy Greek watermelon slices are not something that you want to miss.
Some wonderful delicatessens can be found by ducking down the alleyways that veer of from Athinas road. There are some excellent fromageries here that provide a wonderful introduction to Greek cheese beyond feta.
You will find that the street vendors at Athenian markets are very accommodating and willing to let you sample whatever catches your fancy before you buy. You will find a vast array of cheese here from all over Greece.
Try a slither of creamy manouri from Thessaloniki, and a slither of smoked metsovone from Metsovo – a little Vlach village high in the Pindus mountains.
Walk the Length of Evripidou Street
Nearby Evripidou street feels more like an Arabian souk than something you expect to find in Greece. The stalls and shops of Evripidou are owned by vendors from all over Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East.
You will find spice shops selling every herb and spice imaginable, stacked high in colourful jars.
Where to Stay in Psiri
There are a plethora of accommodation options to choose from in Psiri. You can opt to stay at one of the area’s intimate boutique hotels and guesthouses, or base yourself in an apartment or rental within a converted neoclassical mansion.
There is something in Psiri to suit every budget and travel style. A selection of reputable accommodation options are discussed below.
The Artist Athens
Where: Kalamida 7, Athina 105 54
The Artist Athens is a beautiful contemporary boutique hotel in the heart of Psiri, Athens. The spacious rooms have been equipped with plush furnishings and decorated in a tasteful, monochrome style.
This is a great choice if you are looking for a luxury stay that doesn’t break the bank. When the sun goes down, enjoy dinner and drinks at the Artist’s rooftop bar and restaurant.
Browse the latest room rates and availability at The Artist Athens here.
18 Micon Street
Where: Esopou 14, Athina 105 54
18 Micon street is the perfect embodiment of Psiri’s personality and creative flair. The hotel is set inside a renovated, abandoned warehouse and the owners have made the most of the space around them.
Rooms boast exposed brick walls, handmade furnishings, and floor-to-ceiling windows that offer unparalleled views of the Parthenon. This is one of the newest faces on the Athens hotel scene.
Everything is brand new and recently renovated. Guests can choose from an array of rooms and suites – including those with their own private terraces and jacuzzis.
Browse the latest room rates and availability at 18 Micon Street here.
Getting to Psiri
It is easy to walk to Psiri from Monastiraki, Syntagma, Thissio, or Omonia. This unconventional district is less than a ten-minute walk away from each of these neighbourhoods.
Psiri itself does not have a metro station. The closest stop is Monastiraki station which is less than 5 minutes away.
I am happy to answer any questions that you may have. Please don’t hesitate to drop me a comment below.
Safe travels! Geia sou! Melissa xo