Athens is not short of iconic neighborhoods and landmarks that are recognized across the world. However, like any great city, Athens is constantly evolving and areas that were once written off as unfashionable are now emerging as interesting and hip. It would be a disservice to attempt to include every neighborhood that you should try to visit; so for now, let us introduce you to three up-and-coming Athenian stars: Metaxourghio, Petralona, and Koukaki. It’s time to leave the tourist trail and discover Athens like a local!
Bar in Kato Petralona - credits: www.visitgreece.gr
Ask any young Athenian where they like to hang out and chances are the answer will be Petralona. With an atmosphere that is conducive to artists, writers, musicians, and enterprising young business owners, this is a neighborhood that exudes creativity and hope. At first glance, Petralona seems like any other residential area of the city, but for any visitor hoping to escape the international franchises and chains, it is a must-visit destination. Hidden in side streets and flanking the squares are unique, quirky and creative little bars and cafes, all serving their own versions of traditional Greek appetizers and refreshments. Many of the bars are simply furnished but with pieces that have very obviously been carefully picked and creatively designed. Menus often display inspired fusions of Greek and international recipes and every detail down to the music is thought out. No blaring radios playing the top 50 international bops here.
Community spirit permeates every part of this neighborhood, something which is perhaps best displayed at Xatripy, a café made by the people for the people. This cooperative enterprise is welcoming beyond description; open all day, it’s the perfect stop for coffee, drinks, homemade cakes and meze. With a reputation for holding live gigs for just about any genre of music, here is the place to go no matter what your taste is, from rembetika to indie rock or even African groove!
Are you visiting Athens on a budget? Do it as the locals do; buy a couple of beers, some hot dishes to go and sit on the main square of Upper Petralona with your friends, watching the night unfold before your eyes. With its many tsipouradika (small tavernas selling tsipouro and meze) this district has an old-times vibe that s irresistible! If you want to discover where Athenians go to satisfy their cravings, join us on our Athens for Foodies Tour! Alternatively, if you’re more of a night owl, don’t settle for supper at any restaurant; let our local, foodie expert guide take you on an Athens by Night Food and Wine Tasting Tour that will introduce you to the tastes of our city as the sun goes down!
Tsipouro and mezedes - credits: dinosmichail/Shutterstock.com
Street art in Metaxourghio - credits: Flickr/Meta Lands
A street artists’ mecca, this neighborhood is the underdog that has upped its game. Metaxourgio, although neglected by the average guide book, is rich in history and innovation. While it is often (and unfairly!) marked as a place of no importance, it is in fact home to treasures such as the Municipal Gallery of Athens; a former silk mill in an elegantly designed 19th-century building. Incidentally, many of the buildings in this area jar with its modern reputation as being a down and out district. King Otto, the first King of modern Greece, before settling on Syntagma, had marked out Omonia as his chosen site for the royal palace. In anticipation of this, many of Athens' aristocrats built large residences in Metaxourgio. The King, of course, changed his mind but the mansions remain, giving the neighborhood a feeling -and look- of forgotten grandeur.
Today, it is no longer the haunt of aristocrats but rather of young and talented street artists. As you wander the streets, you will notice anonymous artistic inscriptions across the walls of the buildings. Quotations such as “Τεχνη τεχνης χαριν” or “Art for Arts’ sake” and slogans such as “we exist to help each other” give you a good insight into what this neighborhood is all about.
Great cultural figures such as celebrated painter Alekos Fassianos, talented writer Anthony Samarakis and one of the greatest bouzouki artists of Greece, Giorgos Zampetas, forged their talent in this neighborhood. It is, therefore, perfectly fitting that it is now the very heart of Athens' street art scene. By joining us for a Street Art Tour of Athens you will discover how important street art is in reflecting the social and political narratives of Greek society. Not only is the talent pool increasing in Metaxourgio, but the aesthetics of the neighborhood have greatly improved thanks to “guerrilla gardening”. If you happen to visit the district on a Monday, head over to Kerameikos street and mingle with the locals at the open-air produce market.
For the intrepid, culture-seeking traveler, an evening in Metaxourgio is mandatory. Spend a casual evening at one of the many understated bars with wooden chairs placed the pavement; enjoy some of the best Athens street food or share rounds of meze in the lively Avdi Square with your friends over a fiery glass of raki. Alternatively, if you want a complete change of scenery, Metaxourgio is also home to Athens’ only Thai restaurant with an authentic Thai chef, as well as the city’s only Scandinavian restaurant & wine bar! Afterward, if you’re looking for some evening entertainment, the neighborhood hosts many independent theatres and music venues. Tickets to events are seldom expensive and there is always an eclectic and impressive array of upcoming talent.
Kerameikos Street 'Laiki Agora'- open air 'peoples market' - credits: Greece Is
Philopappos monument - credits: vivooo/Shutterstock.com
Verdant, peaceful and redolent of old Athens, Koukaki is a neighborhood perfect for simply strolling around and taking in its urban aesthetic. although being a mainly residential area, it has many independent, boutique shops that are artisanal in character. From Parisian inspired bakeries to creative jewelers and organic food stores, this neighborhood is rapidly attracting more and more environmentally conscious customers. Recently, there has also been a growing number of ‘boho chic’, upmarket restaurants and cocktail bars, signaling Koukaki’s metamorphosis into a trendy area in its own right.
Architecturally, Koukaki is an eclectic mix of 1920s-1950s style buildings wedged in amongst taller 1970s apartment blocks. A particularly interesting street to visit is Tsami Karatasou Street. Mostly lined with neo-classical style buildings, there is a particular house (no 62) which may catch your eye. The colorful mosaics of tiles and pottery, portray the artistic expression of Maria Theodorakis, a talented artist and the daughter of the world-famous composer Mikis Theodorakis, best-known for his composition for 'Zorba the Greek'.
If you’re longing for an escape from the bustle of the city, Koukaki has its very own remedy for you; a walk up Philopappos Hill. Lush and quiet it is a favorite destination for joggers and dog-walkers alike, and the perfect spot for a picnic. Home to the site of Socrates’ prison and the ancient street of Kili, with so much history hidden amongst the undergrowth, our Athenian Hills & Anafiotika tour is the perfect way to learn about the tales and treasures of this humble peak.
So, there you have it; three neighborhoods of Athens that deserve more of your time. Whether you love food (let’s be honest who doesn’t?) art, music, architecture, history, shopping or even just exploring new cultures- Metaxourgio, Petralona, and Koukaki await you!