wine-with-acropolis-view-kanuman-depositphotos
wine-with-acropolis-view-kanuman-depositphotos

Athens is a fascinating big city with a plethora of places to visit. exploring it might seem like a daunting task, but that's why we're here for. Here is an overview of Athens neighborhoods and key points of interest apart from its archeological sites in order to make your stay in the city a breeze! 

Athens' neighborhoods 

Plaka

Plaka - credits: Anastasios71/Shutterstock.comPlaka, one of the best Athens' neighborhoods - credits: Anastasios71/Shutterstock.com

Wanna travel back in time right in the center of the bustling city of Athens? Then you have to visit the Plaka district, the oldest of Athens' neighborhoods, and explore its history unraveling 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, while it also very close to the Ancient Agora.

Wandering around its picturesque alleys, narrow streets, and neoclassical houses, the visitor has the chance to watch a long-gone era come to life and explore the rich heritage of the city to be found on every corner.

This neighborhood 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 great economic development and numerous churches were built, with some of them surviving even to this day.

During the Ottoman rule, the city expanded and Athens came to be an important trading center alongside the port of Piraeus. After the Greek War of Independence, however, large areas of Plaka were left in ruins.

For that reason, the appearance of the neighborhood today is a result of the reconstruction program that followed the destruction, issued by the newly born Greek State.  

How to get there

Plaka stretched over a large area in the center of Athens and it is quite easy to find it. The easiest way to do so is to find the exit of the Acropolis Metro Station at Makrygianni Street and enter the neighborhood of Plaka via Vyronos Street (it is a narrow street with tourist shops opposite the Acropolis Metro Station exit).

Most streets 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.

Byzantine churches 

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 is definitely worth your time is St. Eleftherios, made entirely out of ancient Greek marble. Votive and funeral offerings along with early-Christian art cover its exterior, making up a puzzle of history you are lucky to witness.

Last but not least, the massive Cathedral of Athens right next to it will dazzle you with its gilded walls and awe-inspiring frescoes.

Historic sites

Hidden in the densely built neighborhood of Plaka, are many major sights demonstrating the entire history of Athens throughout the years.

Some meters away from Monastiraki Square, you will find yourselves on 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 marble-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 in 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 standing proud in the old town.

There, you will be introduced to the history of Athens during Ottoman times. Stroll down Adrianou Str. and check from up close the Benizelos mansion, the oldest house in Athens dating back to the 16th century! 

Lastly, 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!

Anafiotika

Anafiotika, the best Athens' neighborhoods - credits: fullframe/Depositphotos.com

It's a warm sunny morning and you're taking a walk in the center of Athens in search of the best neighborhoods in the city. From the vivid and colorful market of Monastiraki Square, your steps lead you towards the hill of the Acropolis and the noise of the city starts giving way to the serenity of the charming Plaka neighborhood.

As you wander in its narrow streets, you start losing track of time and you suddenly find yourself going up against some paved steps which lead you to a magical place. Welcome to Anafiotika, a hidden piece of Greek islands right in the heart of Athens!

On the north-eastern side of the Acropolis hill, at the borders of the Plaka neighborhood, the tiny district of Anafiotikaenjoyes a great location and is arguably one of the best Athens' neighborhoods.

The area owes its architectural uniqueness to its founders, a small group of builders from the Cycladic island of Anafi, who arrived in the Greek capital during the 19th century to help with the reconstruction of the city, and built a place to stay in Athens.

Over the next few years, the workers from Anafi kept building more and more houses for them and their families, despite the law against it, and restored the area's two churches, the Church of Saint Simeon and the Church of Saint George of the Rocks, which, as its name implies, is made entirely out of rocks from the hill of the Acropolis!

During the construction of Anafiotika, the builders from Anafi tried to make the area look like the homes they left behind and did a remarkably good job at it!

If you've ever seen what a Greek island that belongs to the island group of the Cyclades looks like, focusing on its architecture, you'll be able to see the similarities with the neighborhood of Anafiotika right away!

The beauty and traditional aesthetic of the area, its relaxed vibes, and its proximity to the city center have made Anafiotika the perfect escape destination, both for travelers and the local Athenians alike!

Apart from tourists and locals, over the years, the area has also been frequented by dozens of photographers and journalists who have been visiting the place in order to document the events associated with it.

In fact, there has been a lot of hustle around Anafiotika almost ever since the 1950s! In the midst of the 20th century, due to archaeological excavations that took place on the hill, a big part of the district was, unfortunately, demolished and its inhabitants were forced to seek homes elsewhere.

Many of the buildings were also expropriated by the Ministry of Culture, leaving Anafiotika with only 45 houses, listed for preservation, still inhabited to this day. The remaining families have formed a tightly-bound community that is determined to preserve its heritage. That means, that unfortunately the neighborhood of Anafiotika is out of the question when looking for places to stay in Athens and boasts no boutique hotel or any other type of tourist accomodation.

There are a number of ways to access Anafiotika, but the easiest one is through the neighborhood of Plaka. Follow Stratonos street and you'll reach the Church of Saint George of the Rocks, next to which you'll find a set of steps leading up to what seems to be a dead-end,  but what is actually the path to Anafiotika!

If you get tired as you walk up the steps, take a moment to stop and admire the unique view of Lycabettus hill, situated right across from the Acropolis. Gather up some strength and keep going, as the place that awaits you at the top is truly one of a kind!

No wonder this unique, traditional neighborhood is one of the most beautiful and picturesque places you can find in Athens, making it a mandatory stop during most of our Athens tours.

The small white houses, some of which are carved directly out of the hill, with their bright blue windows, the paved alleys, and stairways, and the smell of trees and flowers truly make you forget you're still in the middle of the bustling capital of Greece

An old lady watering her plants, the smell of homemade food coming from an open window, or a cat lying down under the sun are only a few of the moments you can experience while exploring Anafiotika, that will surely remind you nothing of a big hectic city, but more of a tiny little Greek village, somewhere far away in the Greek countryside.

Petralona

Petralona neighborhood - credits: <a href=Petralona neighborhood - credits: http://www.kefaloniapress.gr

Petralona is one of the most aesthetically pleasing and hip of central Athens' neighborhoods, located north of Tavros and Kallithea districts and extending from Piraeus Street to Philopappou Hill and from Hamosternas Street to Poulopoulos bridge.

With its apparent urban vibe, it has arguably been established as a local’s favorite, either for drinking, eating or leisure wandering. That is the reason why it is also popular among visitors of Greece during their stay in Athens.

The district took its name in the olden days from the fields (alonia) filled with stones (petres) that were created when the rough terrain was normalized. The pieces of stone were thrown and thus stone alloys were created, which give their name to the area.

Before the name ‘Petralona’ it was called "The Katsikidika" ( The Goats’ Place) because shepherds wandered around the area with their goats, selling their milk.  Since 1920 this has been banned for -obvious- public health reasons.

But enough with the history lesson, let’s talk about the real question: is Petralona worth the hype? And if so what is it that makes it differ from every other of Athens' neighborhoods?

To start off, we should focus on the practical aspect of accommodation. For those dedicated devotees of Airbnb, Petralona is an excellent choice for a number of reasons.

It has all the pros of a central area without having any of the cons. In the middle of Athens, the rest of the city, such as Syntagma Square, is easily accessible without the overcrowding that you may feel in the historic center. 

Additionally, many of the apartments available for rent in Petralona are of a very high standard, combining the urban reality with tradition.

Last but not least, you can find some fantastic places to eat and/or drink, safe in the knowledge that should you have a glass of wine or two you will be within walking distance from your place!

As said before, Petralona is in the middle of everywhere, so getting to your desired destination shouldn’t be too hard. Here we can show you the quickest way to get to the key sights that every traveler will likely want to visit.

If you want to go to the Acropolis, as you should, you will need to take the underground from Kato Petralona Station and take the Metro line 1 in the direction of Kifisia. After just two stops, you will arrive at Monastiraki Station from where you will have to walk for around ten minutes, and voilà! You’re there!

The same route you will need to take if you want to go to Monastiraki Square, minus all the walking, and if your destination is the square of Syntagma, in which case you will also have to walk for around ten minutes.

Of course, there are other ways to get there, some without walking at all, but they will take double or triple the time and it really isn’t worth it. See it this way: whilst visiting a magnificent country you will also achieve that beach body you’ve always lusted after!

Petralona, a lively center with plenty of tavernas, bars, and cafes has managed to preserve its traditional, vintage style while also incorporating a contemporary aesthetic. 

Perhaps not as well frequented by the many visitors who come to Athens each year, Petralona is a neighborhood worthy of your time and exploration.

Koukaki

Koukaki Neighborhood - credits: lifo.grKoukaki Neighborhood - credits: lifo.gr

The neighborhood of Koukaki borders Athens' picturesque old town and lies in between the Acropolis and Syngrou Fix metro stations. It may not be as quaint as Plaka, but Koukaki offers an alternative vibe that makes it utterly charming, while it has immediate access to the Acropolis

Koukaki is one of those Athenian neighborhoods that you may be tempted to skip as a visitor, just because you're running short of time and the reputation of other neighborhoods overshadow it.

However, if you are looking for the real deal and the best of what Athens has to offer, we highly advise you to try to fit a morning, afternoon, or night in Koukaki.

A stroll through its narrow streets, and discovering its many art galleries and eccentric shops is only a small fraction of what Koukaki really has to offer. That's right, there are plenty of things to see and experience in Koukaki during all times of the day!

With a wide variety of eateries and bars, the quirky and artistic neighborhood of Athens remains an underrated gem, and exploring it rightfully earns a spot on the list of the best things to do while in Athens

You can be sure that each part of Koukaki has something original and interesting that you will want to experience! Join our nightlife tour with cocktails and souvlaki and experience Koukaki like a local!

Kolonaki

Kolonaki - credits: Yasemin Olgunoz Berber/Shutterstock.comKolonaki - credits: Yasemin Olgunoz Berber/Shutterstock.com

Kolonaki is one of the most historic and best Athens' neighborhoods. It’s a district that covers a huge area, from Syntagma Square and Vasilissis Sofias Avenue to the edges of Lycabettus hill, which means it is within walking distance from all of Athens' key points of interest.

Kolonaki, which translates to 'little column' in Greek, has taken its name from a little column that can be found in the center of its square. In modern Greek history, Kolonaki is regarded to be the most aristocratic district of Athens, with neoclassical mansions, sidewalk cafes, and classy contemporary art galleries.

This is due to its strategic location, which is within walking distance from the building of the Greek parliament. The region is additionally known for hosting the most important Greek businessmen for a business meeting or a cup of coffee after work.

Nevertheless, that's not all there is to Kolonaki. This luxurious neighborhood offers one of the greatest shopping markets in the city, with its streets being decorated with hundreds of unique high-end shops hosting famous Greek fashion designers.

However, be careful, if you wish to shop in Kolonaki, you might have to break the bank, as the prices tend to be pretty steep. Apart from its shopping scene, in Kolonaki, you can also find many bistros, bars, and restaurants, and even some that boast a rooftop terrace for incredible city views. Depending on your budget and preference, you can make online research for a luxury or a more affordable restaurant in the region.

Our advice for visiting Kolonaki would be to make sure to visit Charitos street. Charitos street is a narrow picturesque street, where you can find all sorts of restaurants and bars for delicious food and drinks.

The bars there are housed on the ground floor of apartment buildings and due to them being close to one another, the atmosphere reminds us of a Greek island! 

Good music and affordable prices make this narrow street a local-favorite hidden treasure. It's one of our favorite Kolonaki's streets and we find it to be a really special and authentic place! 

Kolonaki is one of the most luxurious and stylish neighborhoods of central Athens, far away from the tourist traps, and a place that is definitely worth your visit regardless of your budget. Browse its streets, sip your drink in one of its cozy bars, and have the time of your life like a true local! You can always use our Athens travel guide.

Athens' squares

Find out the best squares in central Athens - credits: trabantos/Shutterstock.com

Athens neighborhoods are brimful with gorgeous squares that gather both the locals and visitors of the capital on a daily basis.

The most important squares in Athens city centre include Syntagma, Monastiraki, and Omonia commonly referred to as the 'Commercial center or triangle of Athens' due to their positioning on the map which forms a triangle. Klafthmonos, Iroon, Agias Irinis, Kotzia, and Avissinias, are smaller in size but equally interesting to the keen traveler.

We love all these squares for different reasons and you will see why in more detail below. What's more, it is possible to discover all of them on foot in a single day, since the walk between them takes no more than fifteen minutes. 

The order of presentation below is meant to be a walking route starting from Syntagma amid the city centre and ending up in Avissinias, and has nothing to do with size or importance. Take your camera, your coffee, and your comfy shoes, and off we go! 

Syntagma Square

Syntagma Parliament - credits: lornet/Shutterstock.comSyntagma Parliament - credits: lornet/Shutterstock.com

First time in Athens and you need to know where to start your city exploration from? Syntagma Square is the obvious answer to your question!

The emblematic square lies in the very heart of the city of Athens stretching before the symbol of the Greek State, the Hellenic Parliament. It is the second larger square of Greece (after Spianada Sq. in Corfu island) and slightly larger than St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

It is named Syntagma Square which can be translated in English as 'Constitution Square' and it is surrounded by monuments reflecting the vast and turbulent history of Greece in general and Athens in particular.

Follow us on this trip and get to know how much history can be found in one spot at the most central point in the bustling city of Athens!

A Brief History of the square

Despite today’s fantastic location, during antiquity, this area was at the fringes of the city of Athens. If we could time-travel back in time, we would probably see the ancient river Eridanus flowing towards the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos and the walls of the city standing in front of us.

The ruins of the latest walls can be found right next to the Parliament’s building, dating back probably to the reign of Emperor Valerian. Most of the things we know about the ancient history of Syntagma Square come from the excavations that happened for the construction of the Athenian Metro system.

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The whole area was excavated and a plethora of artifacts, such as funerary goods, shrines, silos, pottery workshops, graves, roads, and part of the ancient Athenian aqueduct, and public buildings were carefully documented and enriched our perception of ancient Athens.

A small ancient inscription at one corner of the square, dedicated to the Muses, stands as a reminder of the ancient past.

During the late Ottoman times, Syntagma Sq. was still outside of the city. The area though was quite popular due to the presence of a spring that supplied the city with freshwater, known as Boubounistra, and was constructed of marble blocks collected probably from a public building of Roman times.

After the War of Independence and the establishment of the new Greek State, the newly appointed King of Greece Otto decided to declare Athens as the new capital of the Kingdom of Greece.

Then, the area of Syntagma, then known as Perivolakia (roughly meaning 'gardens'), was chosen as the construction site of the Royal Palace (today’s Parliament).  

Originally, the square belonged to the premises of the palace along with the Royal Gardens - are National Gardens as they are referred to today. For its decoration, the Lord of Bute offered to King Otto and Queen Amalia, five bronze statues depicting gods, athletes, and animals.

The original ones were found during the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum and the copies were cast in Vienna. Only one statue on Syntagma Sq. belongs to a Greek sculptor, the young man eating grapes, a work of Demetrius Philippotes.

The reign of King Otto was not as progressive as the Greeks wanted it to be. The young King, following the advice of his counselors, chose to follow a strict rule accumulating the political power of the country on him.

Eventually, the people of Athens supported by heroic figures of the Greek War of Independence questioned the authority of the royal couple and with the help of the civil guard.

It was September the 3rd of 1843  when the people of Athens occupied the Square and demanded from the King to form a Constitution for the country. After those events, Otto was forced to give in to the people’s demands and from then on the Square of the Palaces became Constitution Square. 

Attractions near square

The location of Syntagma Square in the most central part of Athens means that it is within walking distance from some of the most significant and popular attractions and ancient sites of the capital city. 

Right next to the central building of the Greek parliament, and close to the ‘Syntagma’ metro station, you will find the luscious National Gardens. There, you will breathe in the fresh air the impressive selection of trees and plants from all around the world offer. 

Next to the National Gardens, lies the Panathenaic stadium, also known as Kallimarmaro, the UNESCO World Heritage Site that hosted the first Olympic Games of the modern Greek state. 

Continuing in the same direction, you will come upon the impressive Temple of Olympian Zeus. It was built with the aim of being the largest temple in ancient Greece and succeeded in its goal.

500m from The Temple of Olympian Zeus, lies the famous Acropolis rock, and across from it is the modern Acropolis Museum. What's more, the famous Ancient Agora is northwest of the Acropolis, and therefore, also within a short walk from Syntagma.

Climb the imposing rock and marvel at the thousand-year-old monuments, such as the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Propylaia, the Parthenon, and the Erechtheion. In order to explore the Acropolis and the Acropolis museum to their full potential, you can enjoy a Private Mythology Tour of the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum

A few blocks from the central square with the tree-lined streets but in the opposite direction from the Acropolis, you will also come across the famous and fascinating Benaki museum. Benaki Museum is one of the most popular and favored museums in Athens with many different branches, such as the Museum of Cycladic Art, spread across the city all the way to the southern suburbs. If you're into culture, local tradition, and heritage, a visit to the Benaki museum is a must!

Agias Irinis Square

Agias Irinis Square - credits: athensguide.com

Agias Irinis Square is one of the most beautiful in our city and is an ideal destination in the morning for coffee, and brunch, but also for a nice dinner in trendy restaurants that will be followed by refreshing cocktails and drinks. it is a lively area you won't resist falling in love with.

On Aiolou Street, just a breath away from Monastiraki but also from Kolokotroni and Ermou Street, this square shows an alternative face of Athens that the youth of the city wholeheartedly supports.

In addition to stylish cafes and bars, alternative and casual, you can find places that organize theatrical events, restaurants with innovative tasty proposals, and quality street food. 

Klafthmonos Square

The Monument of National Reconciliation at Klathmonossquare - credits: www.gtp.gr

Coming down from Panepistimiou str. (also known as Eleutheriou Venizelou str.), you will pass by the beautiful Athens trilogy of neoclassical mansions, designed by the Hansen Brothers in the late 19th century, and on your left-hand side, you will see Klafthmonos square

The name of this square, so difficult even for Greeks to pronounce, translates to 'Cry'. It stuck after Estia magazine used it for the first time back in the late 19th century to describe the protests of the civil servants in front of the ministry of economy, who were let go every time the political party in power changed to give their place to the voters of the winner.

Efforts have been made to change the name to something less dramatic, like National Reconciliation Square, after the Monument of the same name in the center of the square, by Greek sculptor V. Doropoulos, but to no avail.

The reason we love this crying square is the lovely Museum of the City of Athens, where you can learn all about the history of the city since 1834 when it first became the capital of Greece. A visit to the lovely Black Duck bistro, in the garden of the museum is also highly recommended. 

The area behind Klafthmonos square is very busy with bars and cafés, including The Clumsies, which like our square, is not true to its name, and in which you will try some of the best brunches in Athens or late-night cocktails the city has to offer. 

Omonoia Square

Omonia Square is one of the oldest squares in the city of Athens - credits: Wikipedia

Omonia square is a busy intersection between Panepistimiou, Stadiou (both these will take you to Syntagma), Athinas (that will take you to Monastiraki), Peiraios (will take you to the port), Agiou Konstantinou (will take you to the national highway towards Peloponnese) and 3rd Septemvriou streets.

Its name, Omonia, translates to 'concord' and was given back in 1862, after the agreement of two opposing political parties to stop hostilities with one another and in favor of peace.

Today, Omonia is very busy, hosting some of the most important Athens landmark buildings, such as the Mpageion Hotel, and with the Central Meat and Fish Market in close proximity, as well as the popular spice street Evripidou, which should be on every visitor's itinerary.

Omonia is also the place you’ll walk by on your way to the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, admittedly the biggest and most important museum in Greece.

If you are young at heart, and a little bit restless, then a visit to the Exarchia neighborhood is in order. In a neighborhood with a reputation for rebellion and non-conformity, these traits are not resigned only to epochs of political unrest but also to unique cafes and bars of the area. 

We suggest a visit to Fabrica de Vino, for the wine lovers, and to Taf café, for those who appreciate a well-made flat white (complete with latte art and a smiling barista) above all else. Both are situated in Emmanouil Mpenaki str. 

Kotzia Square

Kotzia square - credits: Wikipedia

With a somewhat simpler backstory, this main square's name comes from a former mayor of the city of Athens, Konstantinos Kotzias. It's one of the most beautiful on our list, with the impressive neoclassical architecture of Athens apparent all around. Right in the front of the square, you will see the Townhall of Athens, complete with the statues of Pericles and Solon on each side.

This square has an archaeological interest as well since it used to be part of the Acharnian Way, which was going all the way to Acharnai, one of the 10 municipalities of ancient Athens. Today, some of the ruins have been excavated and are visible from street level. 

While in the area, take a chance to visit the famous Krinos café, dating back to 1923, and try its traditional loukoumades -hot, honey-soaked donuts served with cinnamon. Their taste and aroma are sure to ruin plain, chocolate-glazed donuts forever, but we swear it's worth it! 

Iroon Square

Iroon Square, Psyri - credits: Milan Gonda/Shutterstock.com

The smallest and at the same time friendly and picturesque district is located in the heart of the capital with the most beautiful picturesque buildings, but also small shops, which are waiting to welcome each visitor. It is the district of Psiri, located in the historic center of the capital. 

It spreads around ‘Psiri Square’, also known as ‘Iroon Square’, which translates to ‘Heroes Square’. Many famous people have lived in the area throughout the years, from Lord Byron and the fighters of '21 to Greek writer Alexandros Papadiamantis. 

Nowadays, Iroon Square is a picturesque and historic square full of shops, restaurants, taverns, and bars. Every year it is filled with thousands of visitors from Greece and the world with the ultimate goal to admire its unsurpassed beauty and to go back to those beautiful years of simplicity and carefreeness the old-time charm of Iroon Square offers. 

Monastiraki Square

In the heart of the Athens center, Monastiraki Square - credits: anshar/Depositphotos.com

If there’s one place where almost the whole history of Greece -and of Athens- throughout the years is hauntingly present, this is Monastiraki Square. A can’t-miss spot of the city of Athens, Monastiraki Square was -and still is- a boiling cauldron of people, ideas, civilizations, and religions.

Perhaps the oldest surviving square of the city, it has faced numerous changes and has surely witnessed the evolution of the city since ancient times. 

The pivotal importance of Monastiraki Square in the urban development of the city is apparent when looking at the magnificent buildings that flank it on every side, dramatically blending the present with the past.

Recently renovated, Monastiraki Square is paved with mosaic blocks of marble, carved stone, and cast iron, symbolizing the "flows" and the variegation of Mediterranean people. Follow us on this trip to one of the most central squares of Athens, and get to know Greece's heritage from a single spot!

Right after the declaration of Athens as the capital of the newly-born state of Greece in 1834, the progressive politicians of the time started a discussion within the Parliament for the construction of an urban railway system that would follow European standards.

The immediate need they argued, was the connection of the port of Athens, Piraeus, with the city center. After years of debate and political unrest, the construction of the first urban railway in Greece became a reality in 1867, connecting Piraeus to Thisseion.

Soon after, the project expanded to the city center, and the Station of Monastiraki was inaugurated in 1895. Stefanos Psychas, a wealthy banker of the time, provided the money for the construction of the station, taking the responsibility for the project from the government.

The outline of the building and its architectural details were carefully selected to satisfy the aesthetics of the time and to follow the technological standards already available in Europe. Today, the station stands as an example of Neoclassicism, equipped with high-standing arches that allow the sunlight to illuminate the interior of the station’s hall.

The Tzistarakis Mosque

Located on the right of Monastiraki station, the mosque of Tzistarakis Aga stands as a symbol of Ottoman rule over the city of Athens. Tzistarakis was the appointed voivode (Ottoman ruler) of Athens who decided to erect a mosque in 1759 on the square of the Bazaar, as this square was formerly known.

There is a story though, that accompanies the mosque through the years. Legend has it, that Tzistarakis ordered the demolition of an ancient column from the Temple of Zeus (most likely from the Library of Hadrian) to make plaster to whitewash the walls of his brand new mosque.

Unfortunately for him and the rest of the city, a terrible plague the coming year decimated the population of Athens and everyone accused Tzistarakis of that incident. The folk tradition claimed that every piece of ancient material is imbued with spirits and ghosts never to be disturbed.

The action of Tzistarakis evoked the anger of the spirits who took revenge by sending the plague to the city. Eventually, Tzistarakis was captured by the order of the Sultan and was sentenced to death by decapitation. 

Following the establishment of the New Greek State, the Mosque was converted into an armory, a prison, and even a storage room. After its restoration, today, the Mosque houses part of the Greek Museum of Folk Arts with really interesting collections vividly painting a picture of an era long gone.

The Library of Hadrian

Located right next to the mosque of Tzistarakis, the Library of Hadrian is the most impressive ancient building to be found on the square.

Part of the ambitious construction program of Emperor Hadrian, it was built in 132 CE next to the already existing Roman Agora of Julius Ceasar and Emperor Augustus.

When finished, it was one of the most lavishly decorated buildings of ancient Athens and the largest library in Athens. Pausanias, the famous traveler, visited the Library and wrote about it:

“... Hadrian constructed other buildings also for the Athenians: {...} the most famous of all, a hundred pillars of Phrygian marble. The walls too are constructed of the same material as the cloisters. And there are rooms there adorned with a gilded roof and with alabaster stone, as well as with statues and paintings. In them are kept books.” Pausanias I, 18.9

The most impressive part of the building that survives today is its western facade. The variety of the materials used there shows the great expense of the project. The wall was made out of Pentelic marble, while the columns of the propylon (entrance) were made out of Phrygian marble, imported from the imperial quarries.

The rest of the columns were also provided by the imperial quarries of Karystos and, most likely, they were used to support statues of Nike. The back wall of the library was the location where the precious scrolls and books used to be kept.

The whole complex included auditoriums, reading rooms, as well as a long pool in the center, creating a tranquil environment, appropriate for the building’s function. Unfortunately, in 267 CE the invasion of the Herulians destroyed the building and the Athenians never succeeded in restoring it to its former glory.

After the domination of Christianity, a church was built where the pool of the Library used to stand.

The Monastery of Pantanassa

On the corner of Monastiraki Square, lies a small church dedicated to Virgin Mary Pantanassa. Scholars debate on the date of the construction of this church, but prevailing theory suggests that it was erected in the 10th century CE.

This ancient church used to be the church of a nunnery that took up the whole square, thus the reasoning behind the square's name! During the Ottoman years, the little church used to belong to the powerful monastery of Kaisariani and in the 17th century, an extensive restoration program changed the Byzantine church drastically.

In the recent past, the Church of Pantanassa was restored as closely as possible to its original form and it still operates as one of the most historic, ancient churches in the city of Athens.

If you take a look at the open space located almost at the center of the square, you can actually see one of the ancient rivers of Athens still flowing! Eridanus used to pass through the city of Athens, up until the Roman times, when it was decided to be covered with a tunnel.

During the excavations for the Athens Metro, the ancient river was discovered alongside a plethora of priceless artifacts from the vast history of the city!

From ancient rivers and huge libraries to thousand-year-old churches and cursed mosques, Monastiraki square is arguably a place of wonder.

Start your exploration of Athens from this Monastiraki Square and trace your own piece of history while choosing your way under the shadow of the Acropolis Hill Dozens of small shops clustered in Ifestou Street (right next to the station) sell furniture, appliances, clothing, and shoes, but also beads, used trays, decorative items, tools and anything else you can imagine.

Every Sunday morning at the flea market of Abyssinia Square, you will have the chance to find treasures among hundreds of old objects. The centrally located flea market of Monastiraki is also an excellent place to buy your souvenirs from. Dust off your haggling skills and drive a hard bargain. Don’t be shy, it’s expected! 

Please keep in mind that near Monastiraki square lies Athens's central market, so if you're a foodie, make sure to save some time for a visit there as well!

Avissinias Square

The vivid life of Avissinia square - credits: popaganda.gr

Avissinia was the common name for Ethiopia back in the early '20s. The reason that an African country so far away gave its name to a little square in the heart of Athens is not clear.

However, it is believed that this took place as a result of the financial aid commissioned by the regent of Ethiopia at the time, Haile Selassie, to poor Greek immigrants who were forced to abandon their homes and fortunes in Asia Minor as an aftermath of the Catastrophe of Smyrna, and make a new life in mainland Greece.

The locals refer to it also as giousouroum, after the family name of one of the first and most prominent merchants who made his fortune here, after having left Smyrna.

This little, central square is nowadays a window onto a world long gone. Merchants sell antiques, old coins, vinyl records, books, jewels, clothes, and everything else you can imagine; true to its 1910 purpose, this square remains an Athens flea market for second-hand goods and it looks exactly like it must have looked 100 years ago. 

Come here on a Sunday to make the most of your visit, as it's on that day that the giousouroum is most active. If the atmosphere here suits you, make sure to try the local cuisine in the nearby picturesque Café Abyssinia, with live music on the weekends. And if your love for second-hand clothes and accessories goes deep, cross Ermou street for a visit to Kilo shop and Concept Store, where bargain meets style.

Athens' architecture

The Academy of Athens- part of the Athenian Trilogy - credits: Anastasios71/Shutterstock.comThe Academy of Athens- part of the Athenian Trilogy - credits: Anastasios71/Shutterstock.com

Downtown Athens is mostly known around the world for its classical period ruins, such as the Parthenon, the Erectheion, the Temple of Hephaestus in the Ancient Agora, and so on and so forth.

But how about the excellent specimens of neoclassical architecture it boasts, situated in the very heart of a modern city? Doesn’t ring any bells? Well, let us enlighten you then.

Neoclassical is the type of architectural and artistic movement that bloomed around the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe and elsewhere as an effort to revive the classical forms of Greek antiquity and the subsequent Roman Empire.

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In Greece, this type of architecture was very popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with many examples still standing today, such as the numerous neoclassic mansions in Plaka, our Parliament building, the old Parliament House, which is now the National Historical Museum, the Zappeion Mansion, and of course, the best examples of all: The Athenian Trilogy in Panepistimiou str., including the National Library, the University of Athens and the Academy.  

The National Library of Athens

National Library of Athens - credits: Anastasios71/Shutterstock.com

Situated on the far left end of the complex, the National Library was designed by the Danish architect Theophil Hansen and constructed between bewteen1888 and 1902.

It has elements of the Doric Order, characterized by its austerity of form, simplicity, and clear-cut lines, as well as a double renaissance-type staircase leading to its impressive entrance.

The famous white Pentelic marble -coming from mount Penteli- that was used in the construction of the masterpieces of the 5th century BC, was also used in the making of the National Library 2,300 years later. Talk about continuity in art!

And what about the serious-looking statue that holds such a central position at the base of the building? It is Panagis Valianos, who along with many other benefactors financed and donated the National Gallery to the Greek state. Up until 2017, the National Library held close to 2,000,000 books and periodicals and over 4,500 manuscripts. 

Nowadays, the historical building has closed its doors to the public but the contents remain an open archive through the facilities of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center

The University of Athens

The University of Athens - credits: Anastasios71/Shutterstock.com

The University of Athens -or Panepistimion in Greek-, lies at the heart of the Trilogy. It's the first one to have been constructed, back in 1864, and also the reason behind Panepistimiou street's name -which translates to 'University street'- and the metro stop, Panepistimio right outside.

It's the only one out of the three to have been designed by Christian Hansen, brother to Theophile, the original architect of the other two.

Nowadays, the building houses administrative offices, but it's also where official and graduation ceremonies for all the different departments of the first and oldest university in Greece, the National And Kapodistrian University, take place.

This building is another example of neoclassical architecture but compared to the other two, it sports a somewhat simpler style. Around the entrance, you can see five different statues of men.

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The first one depicts the philhellene William Ewart Gladstone, a symbol of close ties between Europe and Greece. The second one depicts Adamantios Korais, a leading figure during the Greek Enlightenment and also an important scholar and writer. 

The third one depicts Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first governor of Greece and a very charismatic political figure after whom the university is named.

The fourth depicts Rigas Feraios, a writer and political thinker who played a major role in the spirit of the country and died in the War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire. 

The fifth and last statue depicts the Patriarch of Constantinople, Gregory the Fifth who was sent to the gallows by the Ottomans as a result of the Greeks' revolt against their rule in 1821. 

The Academy

Academy of Athens - credits: lornet/Shutterstock.com

The final building on our list is the Academy. It was constructed in 1859-1885 and it's a result of the combined efforts and inspirations of architects Theophile Hansen and Ernst Ziller, as well as the sculptors Leonidas Drosis and Christian Griepenkerl.

Again, fine Pentelic marble was used here, while the main source of financing was a rich family by the name of Sina. The Academy is built in resemblance to the Propylaea of the Acropolis (the entrance to the sacred hill) and it's considered by many the best example of neoclassical architecture in the world.

Inside the building, there is an extensive mural depicting the myth of Promytheas painted in chronological order, as to inform the viewer of the story narrated to us by Aeschylus in his famous homonymous tragedy.

On each side of the building, we see Plato and Socrates, the two great philosophers who along with Aristotle laid the foundations of Western thought and civilization. 

Rising higher than the roof itself, the ancient protectors of Wisdom and Light, Athena and Apollo watch tirelessly over their ancient city and their former subjects, still protecting and enlightening us in our endeavors, hopefully not begrudging our changed ways. 

The Benizelos Mansion: The Oldest House in Athens

The Benizelos Mansion - credits: Birute Vijeikiene/Shutterstock.comThe Benizelos Mansion - credits: Birute Vijeikiene/Shutterstock.com

The oldest house in Athens tells a story of the life of Athenian aristocrats before the Greek revolution and paints a picture of their traditions and habits. That being said, there is another story that this old house tells: one of great humanity and faith.

It is a story of a Greek woman who faced all the possible challenges but was determined to fight for what she believed in and protect the vulnerable who had no means of defending themselves.

The Benizelos Mansion has been identified as the oldest house in Athens and is located in Plaka, Athens’ beautiful old town and historical center, at the foot of the ancient Acropolis. This mansion was built in the 16th century and is a testament to the eloquent architecture that the Ottoman Empire brought along with its occupation.

Today, the mansion has been restored and turned into a museum that is open to the public four days a week. You can see details about opening hours on the official website.

Tip: You can visit the Benizelos Mansion in one of our tailor-made Athens tours

The whole building is an exhibition that maintains elements of many different eras. For example, archeologists found the remains of the Roman City Wall 15 ft under it!

It is a great example of Ottoman-style architecture with a loggia, open outdoor archways, marble archways, and T-shaped verandas, an interior yard with a well, and an olive press.

It is a two-story building that was overtaken by the Greek Ministry of Culture in 1972 and was given to the Holy Archdiocese of Athens in 1999. The European Union, funded this project and enabled it to be fully restored and made into the cultural museum it is today.

Not only is the mansion beautiful, but it has a rich religious and cultural history, making it a fascinating place to visit.

The house’s first occupants were Angelos Benizelos and his wife Syrigi Palaiologina. The couple were Athenian aristocrats with Byzantine roots and were initially childless. However, in November 1522, Syrigi’s prayers to bear a child were finally answered and she gave birth to a girl.

This little girl, born 'Revoula', later became the most famous resident of the oldest house in Athens, and a pillar of philanthropy, known as Saint Philothei. Revoula’s parents forced her to marry her abusive husband at the age of just 14 years old.

She became a widow and an orphan at the age of 17 after her husband and parents passed away and she inherited a fortune. She was finally free to live the life of her choosing and she chose, from that point on, to take on a monastic lifestyle of prayer.

Revoula adopted her new name, Philothei, which translates to 'friend of god' when she established her first monastery. Today, the name Philothei is celebrated on the 19th of February, and the Athenian district of Filothei is named after her.  

St. Philothei used her affluent background to create a number of charitable establishments such as schools -where she taught Greek Christian heritage-, hospices, elderly homes, and monasteries.

These shelters served as a place of worship, but also as a refuge for Athenian, specifically female, slaves under Ottoman rule. The Holy Martyr was also known for buying the freedom of Greek slaves, which put a target on her back for she outwardly defied the Turkish regime.

St. Filothei was an exceptional woman and a real feminist; she had a particular concern for the quandary of her fellow women at the time, putting her own safety at risk. She provided a safe haven for young women and girls who were often victims of violence and injustice under Turkish rule.

St. Philothei’s actions did not go unpunished. She was beaten and imprisoned by the Turkish Regime on multiple occasions but none of this held her back: she continued to defy the rulers by saving the young girls held in captivity and by teaching Christianity.

Eventually, however, at the age of 67, St. Philothei attended a church ceremony which was raided by Turks who seized her and beat her gravely. She was bedridden for 4 months before dying of her injuries; 10 years later St. Philothei was canonized and enlisted as one of the blessed and holy women of the Orthodox church. 

The Benizelos Mansion is now a standing reminder of St. Philothei, an extraordinary woman whose dedication to her people and to her faith cost her her life.

Athens' parks

National gardens of Athens - credits: Anastasios71/ Shutterstock.comNational Gardens of Athens - credits: Anastasios71/ Shutterstock.com

Athens may not have a reputation for huge, idyllic parks or green gardens. However, that doesn't mean that the city doesn't have any; on the contrary, there are impressive parks in the heart of Athens full of lush vegetation, where people go to relax and enjoy a short break from the urban scene of the Greek capital

Here, you can learn about three of the best parks in Athens that will provide you with the perfect shelter from the summer heat.

National Garden of Athens

National Garden of Athens - credits: en.protothema.gr

The entrance of the largest garden in Athens is located downtown, just two minutes away from the Greek parliament. All you have to do is walk the parliament´s pavement on the right, and you will stumble upon it. This park used to be the king´s yard back in the day until 1974, which is the reason why it was known as 'Vasilikos kipos', which translates to 'the king's yard' in Greek.

Nowadays, people who want to take a break from the hectic city life, breathe some fresh air, and enjoy reading their newspaper under the trees' shadow, find what they are looking for in the national park, right in the middle of Athens.

When the weather is warm and the sun is shining, families, friends, and couples of any age enjoy walks in the National Garden of Athens, while fitness enthusiasts prefer the location for running. What's impressive, is the fact that even though many citizens visit the garden every day, only a few of them know about the sundial, which is located 10 meters from the park’s main entrance. 

Don’t pass by this one-of-a-kind clock;  you can try to 'read' the time, like the ancient world used to.

Garden of the Athens Concert Hall

Megaron Garden megaron.grGarden of the Athens Concert Hall - credits: megaron.gr

It is regularly said that this garden’s refinement is equal to the elegance of the Concert Hall. The access to this garden is easy enough, with the metro station called 'Megaro Mousikis' being right outside the Concert Hall and the garden’s entrance being on the left side of the music hall’s entrance.

Visitors of this garden love it not only because it is a beautiful place for relaxing walks, but also because it hosts live concerts during the summertime.  More information about this park is available on the Athens Concert Hall's website. 

If you happen to be there, don’t miss the chance to have a picnic in the park just next to the Athens Concert Hall. It is also one of the most popular skate spots in Athens and teenagers regularly practice their skate and BMX feats down the little grassy hill. 

Alsos Ktimatos Syggrou (Syggrou Park)

Syggrou Park - credits: ecologygreece.blogspot.com

This park is better described as a forest near Athens! It stretches across about 950 acres in the borders of 3 municipalities; Marousi, Kifissia, and Melissia. It is undoubtedly the ultimate spot for a picnic! There are large areas consisting of trees, grass, colorful flowers, as well as lakes and picnic tables, basketball and football courts, and anything else one might need, just 10 km away from Athens' center.

This park is home to the Institute of Agronomic Studies and the church of Saint George; the one and only Gothic church in Greece, designed by Ernst Ziller, a student of Theophilus Hansen and an outstanding representative of neoclassicism.  

The garden of the Athens Concert Hall opens at 10:00 and closes when the sun sets, whilst the other two parks have similar opening hours; they are open to the public from sunrise to sunset. Don’t hesitate to wear your t-shirts, go out in parks and savor the heat of Greek summer with your loved ones.

Athens Botanical Garden 

botanical garden greece is 2Athens Botanical Garden - credits: greece-is.com

Last but not least, another hidden gem right in the heart of Athens is the Botanical Garden.

Located in the city center, specifically in the Haidari area, you can access the beautiful gardens through the entrance on Iera Odos street. With approximately 3000 plant species, making it the largest garden in Greece, the Ioulia and Alexandrou Diogenes Botanical Garden is also used for research and teaching purposes by the National Kapodistrian University of Athens.

Lucky for all of us, it is also open to the public, so you can take a walk along the paths and stroll through the many sections of ornamental plants and flowers, historic plants, and aromatic herbs. You will also be able to find an arboretum, several greenhouses, as well as a cafe and playground, so the whole family can enjoy themselves.

Have a cold refreshment or a cup of coffee after your exploration and enjoy the small natural paradise, right in the middle of the urban scene of Athens. The opening hours, when you can visit Athens Botanical Garden are from 9 am to 8 pm. 

In case you want to take a walk somewhere with beautiful natural scenery AND an archaeological significance, you can visit the Three Knights of the Acropolis; Pnyx, Aeropagos, and Philopappou, or the hill of Lycabettus for a stunning view of the city. 

Athens' photo-perfect spots

Lycabettus Hill; A Breathtaking View From the Highest Point of Athens

View from Lycabettus hill - credits: Milan Gonda/Shutterstock.comView from Lycabettus hill - credits: Milan Gonda/Shutterstock.com

Lycabettus Hill is considered one of the most romantic places in Athens that no one, whether they are in a romantic mood or not, should miss. With a height of 277 meters (745 ft), Lycabettus is the tallest hill in the capital, offering a panoramic view of almost the entire city. The view from the top awakens emotions and provides unforgettable moments.

The city of Athens stretches for miles in a wide mesa surrounded by high mountains and the sea. Inside this large mesa, numerous hills and peaks create a diverse landscape, born by the violent earth movements and carved by the flow of ancient rivers.

Since prehistoric times, the first inhabitants of Athens have tested their possibilities of establishing a settlement in the Athenian mesa. Being close to a hill offered a valuable advantage since the control of the naval and land routes was essential for the survival of these first settlers.

Another important prerequisite was the reliable and constant supply of fresh water.  In the end, the obvious answer was a hill that was far more easily accessible and, most importantly, had numerous springs offering precious drinking water: the Acropolis.

Despite the fact that Lycabettus Hill was larger and higher, its lack of natural springs sealed its fate as the neighboring hill of the Acropolis, without any human occupation.

Its size though captured the imagination of the Athenians from early on. Soon enough, myths concerning its creation and role in the city started to form and gradually became part of the main mythological narrative of the Athenians.

The most popular is the following:

According to legend, Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war, right after her victory over Poseidon for the patronage of the city of Athens, started helping the Athenians fortify the Acropolis, their political and religious center.  The goddess came down to Earth in a gigantic form and quarried rocks from a nearby town to place them on the sides of the Acropolis rock.

In the meantime, she had to equip herself with new weapons and armor.  Therefore, she decided to pay a visit to the workshop of the god of crafts, Hephaestus. As soon as the god laid his eyes on her, her divine beauty took his breath away and he fell in love with her.

Athena, reluctant to give in to Hephaestus’ coquetry, tried to escape the workshop by hitting the god with her spear. After having escaped Hephaestus' grip, she realized in disgust that Hephaestus’ sperm was all over one of her sandals. With a piece of wool, she cleaned her shoe and tossed it on the ground.

Then, miraculously, a baby was born from the earth; little Ericthonius. Embarrassed to bring the baby to Olympus, she decided to put it in a jar with two guardian-serpents and keep it inside her temple in Athens.

As the offspring of gods, Athena decided to appoint the infant as the next king of the city.  The princesses of Athens, who were her priestesses at the same time, took the responsibility of guarding the jar, even though they did not know what was inside.

With her mind at ease, Athena continued her work on the fortifications by bringing rocks from the nearby quarry.

Days passed by and the future king was kept hidden inside his jar, nurtured and protected by the divine serpents. One of the princesses though, driven by her own curiosity, wanted to know what was kept in the large jar they were constantly protecting.

After having persuaded her sisters, they decided to open the jar and find out the truth. Once they saw the baby king wrapped with the serpents, they started screaming out of terror, startling the snakes that attacked the princesses out of fear. 

In their effort to escape, the princesses panicked and started running in the middle of the night, only to find a terrible end by falling off the Acropolis' walls.

The duty of informing the goddess of this terrible incident fell upon a crow, which flew into the night sky and reached Athena in no time.

When Athena heard the terrible news, scared for the sake of the future king,  she dropped the rock she was carrying and rushed to her temple After taking care of everything, she cursed the crow for bringing her such bad news, causing the bird to immediately turn black.

The rock she dropped while hurrying off to ensure the well-being of Ericthonius, came to be the Hill of Lycabettus.

During medieval times, a small church was built on the top of the hill, probably on the grounds of an ancient shrine. The building that is still visible today dates back to the 18th century.

The visitor can see an inscription on the floor of the church mentioning the bishop of Athens Benedict and the dedication of the church to St. George. The original building was enriched with some additions, while Queen Olga ordered the construction of the bell tower everyone can see today.

On the west slope, there is a cave with the quaint church of St. Isidore. Northeast, is the Lycabettus Theatre, a spacious open-air theatre of 3000 seats. During the summer, the theatre hosts various theatrical performances and concerts.

All these attributes make Lycabettus one of the most inspiring sites in Athens. You can access Lycabettus Hill in several ways, while the entrance to Lycabettus is completely free of charge. In front of the theatre, there is a parking area.

If you love nature and enjoy the greenery, there is a path for keen walkers with steps to facilitate access by Plutarch Street in Kolonaki. Usually, visitors, in order to ascend to the top of the hill, prefer the cable car which is available at the end of Plutarch Street, which is close to Evangelismos metro station (blue metro line).

The cable car is available to the public 9.00 am-1.30 am every day and runs every 30 minutes. The ticket costs 7.50 euros including the return ticket. The route is fast and pleasant.

Alternatively, you can ascend to the top of Lycabettus using the cable car and descend on foot. That way, you can have the full local experience of Lycabettus Hill. 

Tip! If you choose the hard way (on foot) to ascend Lycabettus Hill, comfortable shoes and a bottle of water will be your best friends! The view will reward you.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens

The Change of the Guards whyathensThe changing of the Presidential Guards - credits: whyathens.com

All around the globe, courage, self-sacrifice, patriotism, and the call of duty are principles highly honored for those anonymous soldiers that died on the battlefield while protecting their country.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens is one of these memorials that keep evermore the memory of those people alive.

Right in front of the Greek Parliament on Syntagma Square, the symbol of the Greek Republic which was formerly the royal palace, lies a modest monument, guarded by the elite force of the Greek army, the Evzones (broadly known as tsoliades in Greek), the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 

The Tomb of the Uknown Soldier is a cenotaph dedicated to all those that lost their lives throughout the history of Greece while serving their duty towards their nation and country. This concept though is not as modern as it may seem.

Even in ancient Athens, the fallen soldiers (their remains) were brought back to their home city-state and were honored with proper ceremonies paid by the State. Sophocles, in his work Ajax, vividly paints a picture of how important burial was in ancient Greek culture. Euripides in Helen insists that for the Greeks, burying the dead is part of the Law, an inviolable ancient rule. 

The history of the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier 

The first monument dedicated to 'unknown soldiers' is located in Denmark in the town of Fredericia, the so-called Landsolaten, dedicated to the ones that fell during the First Schleswig War.

The brutality and the unimaginable number of casualties of WWI was the one that led to a series of countries establishing monuments to honor their dead. The most famous one is the tomb that lies underneath the Arch of Triumph in Paris.

In Greece, even from the birth of the new State, there were initiatives for the construction of such a monument, firstly to honor the dead of the Greek War of Independence. In 1880, on the island of Syros, the municipality assigned the creation of the monument of the Unburied Fighter to the sculptor Georgios Vitalis.

Now to be found just outside of the church of St. Nicholas, the visitor can see the incarnation of the city of Hermopolis offering her respects to the known and unknown heroes of the Greek  Revolution.

In Athens, the Minister of the Army issued a decision in 1926 to declare a public call for the design of the monument of the 'unknown soldier'.

The position of the monument was heavily debated but in the end and after the political persistence of Eleftherios Venizelos, it was decided that the space in front of the old Palace would be the perfect spot for such a memorial.

At first, the plan was to create a depiction of Gigantomachy, inspired by the ancient myth including the dying soldier and Greece accepting him into her arms.

Because of a scandal of the time, which included the sculptors responsible for the monument, the project was reassigned to Fokion Rok, a graduate of the Athens School of Fine Arts who studied in France at the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts and at the Grande Chaumière Academy.

He chose a different theme, one emitting the simplicity and awe which suited the monument. One figure on low relief, an ancient soldier lying on his back on the ground wearing his helmet in a really twofold position; either he is ready to get up or these are his last living moments.

Right below the relief, a cenotaph made out of marble stands there illuminated by the light of a feeble flame. The flame comes from the monastery of Hagia Lavra, where supposedly the Greek Revolution was declared against the Ottoman Empire.

Flanking the figure of the soldier, two sentences are carved in ancient Greek right from the speech of Pericles as saved by Thycidides:

"There's one empty bier made up for the unidentified [fallen] ones"

”The whole earth is the sepulcher of famous  men"

The names of battles where many Greek lives were lost in recent history are written into the limestone walls around the sculpture. Any addition must be unanimously accepted and voted by the Greek Parliament.

The Monument is guarded by the Presidential Guard consisting of Evzones soldiers, the elite force of the Greek Army. The name evzones mean the “well-girted” and they are dressed in their special uniform of the typical Greek soldier of the 19th century, inspired by the Greek revolution and designed during the reign of King Otto.

The hat is called “fario” and bears the national emblem. Its red color represents the blood of the soldier that died on the battlefield while the numerous strings of its long black braid are a symbol of the tears of Jesus on the Cross.

The jacket is the most difficult piece of the uniform. Made through laborious handmade traditional processes, the “fermeli” reflects the rich folklore tradition of Greece. The most impressive piece though is the red tsarouchia, those leather shoes with the black pom poms on the front protecting the toes from frostbite. 

The duties of the Presidential Guard

The duties of the men of the Presidential Guard are the honorary guarding of the Presidential Palace, but also of the central gate of the adjacent camp ‘G. Tzavela’, where the well-to-do live and are educated.

The list of duties of the body also includes the raising and submission of the Greek flag on Sundays and holidays on the rock of the Acropolis, as well as the awarding of honors to the President of the Republic and to heads of foreign states.

In addition, during the celebration of the national anniversary on March 25, the Presidential Guard always opens the parade of infantry of the Armed Forces in front of the President of the Republic, while part of the guard sometimes participates in events of expatriate organizations abroad, as well as at the welcoming ceremony of the Holy Light from Jerusalem. 

The most sacred duty of the well-to-do of the Presidential Guard is - almost a century now (since 1932, when it was inaugurated) - the 24-hour honorary guarding of the monument of the Unknown Soldier, in front of the Greek Parliament building, where on September 3, 1843, the people first revolted against the palace, insisting on the adoption of a Constitution.

The uniform of the Presidental Guard

Evzones greece isThe uniform of the Presidential Guard - credits: greece-is.com

All the peoples of the earth, apart from their language, religion, customs, and traditions, maintain a character of traditional national costume. In Greece, the current uniform of the Evzones embodies entire periods of national struggles and peaceful life.

The uniform began to take shape from the time of Homer, with its main feature being the belt, which as an element indicates the superiority of the wearer, ie the "well-belted" fighters named Evzones.

The evolution of the uniform continued during the classical and Hellenistic times and ended with the 'fustanela' -the skirt-like garment- and the 'tsarouchia' -the shoes depicted in the photo above- during the Turkish occupation.

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A look at the costumes of the ancient Greek army, which are preserved in various vases, proves the use already from the classic times of a similar multi-layered short dress whirling around the middle, the evolution of which is the current guy uniform of the Evzones, which began to be introduced against the Greek Revolution of 1821.

During the Turkish occupation, the simple clothing of the Greek fighters, in combination with its cheap quality, established the nickname 'tsolias', which meant the wearer of cheap clothing.

This outfit consisted of the fez, the vest, the 'fustanela' that went to the knees and was tied tightly to the waistband, socks, and 'tsarouchia' made from raw ox leather. 

The Presidential Guard wears the following uniforms:
• Formal Evzoni uniform
• Winter dulamas
• Summer dulamas
• Cretan costume
• Pontian uniform.

The Evzones' uniform represents the fighters of the mainland, while the Cretan represents the fighters of the Greek island. However, the other uniforms of the Evzones, apart from the official ones, come directly through the Greek war tradition.

The winter Evzoni uniform retains the basic characteristics of the official one, with the difference that instead of a vermilion, a shoe, and a fustanella, the Evzones wear the deep blue Macedonian 'dulama', which is the traditional war uniform of the Macedonian struggle.

Also, the summer uniform differs only in the use of light-colored 'dulama'. The Cretan uniform, beyond the vest and the wide waist belt, is characterized by wide blue pants and white boots. 

The changing of the Presidental Guard

Every hour, the Evzones pay their respects to the monument by performing a ceremonial march. This is also when the famous 'changing of the guards' takes place in Syntagma Square, right in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Two young Evzones start with a strict gait from their barracks located on Vasilissis Sofias Avenue and reach the front of the monument of the Unknown Soldier to take the place of their colleagues. 

The most impressive change of the guards happens every Sunday though. At 11.00 every Sunday morning, the guard change ceremony is so elaborate that crowds gather to enjoy it.

FAQs

What is the best place to stay in Athens?

Depending on what you're looking for during your stay in Athens, the city center boasts a number of neighborhoods that are perfect for your stay during your visit to the Greek capital.

If you're artsy and prefer a more alternative type of vacation, the best neighborhoods for your stay in Athens are Pirri, with its unique street art, and Exchareia, host of the National Archaeological Museum.

If you're not interested in cultural stimuli, the National Archaeological Museum is not on your radar, but you like shopping and want to be in the heart of everything, then Syntagma would be your best bet. Finally, if you're looking for a luxurious experience, Kolonaki is the most upscale neighborhood with a great central location.

In any case, take a look at our Athens Travel Guide for more information.

Where should you not stay in Athens?

While most of Athens' neighborhoods are friendly and offer safe accommodation, there are a few places you should avoid during your stay in Athens. 

The most notorious neighborhood of Athens is Omonoia, which is known even among locals for its high crime activity. So As a result, we wouldn't recommend you book your accommodation there, even if it's a boutique hotel, and especially if it is for an affordable hotel with suspiciously low prices.

Conclusion

Athens is a cultural hub with plenty of beauty and things to do, see and experience. From ancient ruins and luscious parks to live music venues and striking street art, it has everything anyone could wish for. It is a dreamy destination you shouldn't leave out of your itinerary when planning your trip to Greece.

If you are interested in a tour through Athens including not only all of the places mentioned above but also much other sightseeing of the city, join our Athens tours, such as Best of Athens Tour: Acropolis and city tour or our Highlights of Athens Evening Tour,  for an unforgettable experience!