Wanna travel back in time right in the centre of the bustling city of Athens? Then you absolutely have to visit Plaka district, the oldest part of Athens and explore its history unravelling just before your eyes!
Plaka lies on the northern slopes of the Acropolis and it is the oldest surviving part of the city with monuments both from the ancient and the modern world. Wandering around its picturesque alleys and narrow streets, the visitor has the chance to live a long-gone era and to explore the vast history of Athens, literally to be found in every corner. This neighbourhood occupies the area where the core part of the ancient city of Athens used to be. Gradually over the centuries, the city shrank after numerous invasions, wars and destructions.
During medieval times, the city was restricted to the northern slopes of the Acropolis protected by the hill. In the Byzantine era, the city of Athens faced economic development and numerous churches were built, some of them surviving even today. During the Ottoman rule, the city expanded and Athens came to be an important trading centre alongside with the port of Piraeus. After the Greek War of Independence, large areas of Plaka were left in ruins, therefore, the reconstruction programme that followed, issued by the newly born Greek State, gave to the neighbourhood the appearance it has today.
How to get there
Plaka covers a wide area in the centre of Athens and it is quite easy to find it. A nice way to do so is to find the exit of the Acropolis Metro Station at Makrygianni Street and enter the Plaka neighbourhood via Vyronos Street (it is the narrow street with tourist shops opposite to the Acropolis Metro Station exit). Most roads in Plaka do not allow for traffic however there are some that do so please keep that in mind as you are walking the streets.
A picturesque cafe in Plaka
Image owned by Greeking.me
Do not miss
If you decide to have a walk in Plaka, here are the things you should not miss while being there. Starting from Monastiraki Square, spend some time admiring the astonishing view of the Acropolis dominating the landscape. On the square pay a visit to the mosque of Tzistarakis, built during the 18th century and walk among the columns of the Library of Hadrian (2nd century CE). For those that want to explore the secrets of the city, the small church on the Square dedicated to Virgin Mary (this small monastery named the square!) has some spectacular frescoes covering its walls. Right next to it, check the ancient river Eridanus still flowing today!
There are many Byzantine churches scattered in Plaka, most of them dating back to the 11th century CE. Do not miss the beautiful church of St. Nikolaos Ragkavas located in the heart of the old town, the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ right next to the fence of the Acropolis or St. Catherine where you can actually walk in the ruins of a Roman bath house. The church though that definitely worths a visit is St. Eleftherios, made entirely out of ancient marble. Votive and funeral offerings along with early-Christian art cover its exterior making up a puzzle of history before your eyes. The massive Cathedral of Athens right next to it will dazzle you with its gilded walls and awe-inspiring frescoes.
Hidden in the densely built neighbourhood of Plaka are many historic sites covering the whole history of Athens. Some metres away from Monastiraki square, you will find yourselves at the grounds of the Roman Agora, built by Julius Ceasar and Emperor Augustus. Stand below the doric Gate of Athena Arhegetis and walk at the marbled paved square of the Roman Agora surrounded by colonnades. Do not miss to visit the Tower of the Winds, a marvel of engineering made out of Pentelic marble and step into the oldest mosque of Athens, the Fethiye Mosque, originally built by Mehmet II the Conqueror. Just a few streets away, find the Baths of Aerides, an Ottoman mosque still existing in the old town. There, you will be introduced into the history of Athens during the Ottoman times. Follow down Adrianou Str. and check from up close the Benizelos mansion, the oldest house of Athens from the 16th century! Finally, find yourselves at the monument of Lysicrates dated in the 4th century BCE and get to know how important the dramatic games were for ancient Athenians!
Plaka neighbourhood - Image owned by Greeking.me
Anafiotika, a Cycladic island downtown
On the slopes of the Acropolis lies a beautiful, hidden neighbourhood of Anafiotika. During King Otto’s reign carpenters and stonemasons from the Cycladic island of Anafi were brought to Athens to help with the refurbishment of the King’s palace. They were housed here and in answer to their homesickness they build a charming neighbourhood in the style of their beloved island. Later, during the 1930s, Greek refugees from Asia Minor also established themselves in this area and added their own traditions to Anafiotika’s charm. Walking through this neighbourhood is an absolute must of an afternoon and by night, with the lights of traditional cafes and restaurants perched on the winding steps, the romantic atmosphere is truly captivating.
- Try to be as discreet as possible, especially early in the morning or at night, otherwise, the residents might be disturbed.
- Get to the highest point of Anafiotika, tight beneath the walls of the Acropolis and enjoy a majestic panorama of the city of Athens!
Anafiotika- Image owned by Greeking.me
Things to do
Plaka may be a popular tourist spot but this doesn't mean that the neighbourhood has lost its authentic character. On the contrary, walking through the narrow streets of Plaka will give you a taste of a very different Athens. With charming architecture, picturesque cafes and tavernas and magenta bougainvillaea adorning many a balcony, Plaka is a haven away from the more concrete dominant neighbourhoods of Athens. There are also a large number of boutique shops selling traditional products such as feta, honey, olive oils, ouzo and tsipouro. If you are looking for unique jewellery, organic cosmetics, brightly coloured pashminas, leather sandals or perhaps an oil painting of the Acropolis, Plaka is the place to go.
From ancient ruins, imperial quarters and Byzantine churches to Ottoman mosques and neoclassical Athenian architecture, Plaka has it all! Do not hesitate to explore the neighbourhood as much as possible, plan your own visit to Plaka or check one of our Greece tours.