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Looking down on Athens from high up on the Acropolis, it might look like one big, rambling mass of white apartment buildings. But, once you start making your way around its narrow streets, you’ll find the ancient yet irresistibly hip city is easier to explore than you might imagine. From inner districts studded with archeological sites and flea markets, to hidden alleyways lined with smart hole-in-the-wall cocktail bars, here are the neighborhoods worth checking out while you’re in town.
Ride Athens’ slick underground metro to Akropoli station and take a leisurely stroll along pedestrianized Dionysiou Areopagitou Street. The marble-paved thoroughfare runs along the southern edge of the ancient Acropolis, crowned by the 5th-century BC Parthenon. After poring over the temples and monuments, pay a visit to the treasure-filled Acropolis Museum. In the streets leading down from the Acropolis is the understated residential neighborhood of the same name, lined with stately neoclassical buildings. Here you’ll find the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum, which traces the history of silver and goldsmithing, along with minuscule stores selling handcrafted jewelry and singular objets d’art.
Plaka is all about that Insta-pretty village life, but smack bang in the city center. Athens’ old town is where you’ll find the ancient Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds, considered the world’s first weather station. Snap away in the slim alleyways of the Anafiotika quarter, whose pastel-coloured homes at the foot of the Acropolis were built by craftsmen from the Cycladic island of Anafi. Plaka’s main drag is crammed with tourist shops, but be choosy and seek out locally-produced items. The same goes for tavernas in this part of town. Do your homework or follow the locals.
Shoppers with a penchant for bling should make a beeline for Kolonaki. At the foot of Lycabettus Hill, the upscale district is dripping with brand-name boutiques but also low-key Greek design wear. If contemporary art is your thing, there are plenty of galleries, including Athens’ own Gagosian. Here you’ll also find the city’s museum mile, encompassing the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture, the Museum of Cycladic Art, and the Byzantine and Christian Museum, among others. Get your fix of café culture on the tree-shaded central square. By night, Kolonaki is where the beautiful people gather to bar-hop and dine at the city’s slickest restaurants.
There’s more to Monastiraki than its bustling Ifestou Street flea market, filled with endless souvenirs. Ancient highlights include Hadrian’s Library, the Stoa of Attalos, and the nearby Ancient Agora of Athens. On weekends, Athenians head down the western end of Ermou Street, and its side streets, to scour vintage stores and thrift shops for one-of-a-kind treasures, ranging from upcycled clothing to rare vinyls. Avissinias Square is a favorite haunt, but don’t expect bargains; on Sundays, the open-air bazaar becomes a festive, music-filled affair. Once you’ve sourced your take-home keepsake, head up to one of the many attractive rooftop cafés and cocktail bars and marvel at an illuminated Parthenon.
One of Athens’ oldest neighbourhoods, Psirri once played host to countless shoemakers and leather workshops, which were replaced by party-hard bars and clubs in the early ’00s. Fortunately, shops featuring handcrafted items are gradually returning, framed by some of the city’s most spectacular street art. Along the streets fanning out from Iroon Square, take your pick of cozy tavernas and mezedopolia featuring live Greek music on the weekends. At multipurpose art spaces like TAF / The Art Foundation, DJs spin alternative tunes and emerging artists showcase their work.
At the foot of Filopappou Hill, Petralona is one of Athens’ last surviving old-school residential neighborhoods. Mingle with Athenians in Ano (upper) Petralona, who congregate at Mom-and-Pop tavernas that have remained unchanged for decades to savor hearty, slow-cooked magirefta, such as casseroles, oven-roasted lamb and goat, and plenty of vegetable-based dishes. Merkouri Square is a lively hangout for impromptu afternoon picnics. In the evening, university students catch a movie at the open-air cinema Zefyros or gather at edgy yet unpretentious bistros and bars for meze platters and inventive cocktails.
Pangrati has evolved from a run-of-the-mill Downtown neighborhood to one of Athens’ coolest meeting points and cultural hotspots. Start out at the all-marble Panathenaic Stadium, where the modern Olympic Games were revived in 1896. Reserve time to see works by renowned Greek artists ranging from post-Byzantine art to modern Greek prints at the National Gallery. At the Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation, view one of the country’s pre-eminent private modern and contemporary art collections, including works by Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Monet. Beyond the arty attractions, Pangrati is brimming with café-bars vying for the title of best brunch spot, and restaurants helmed by creative chefs.