Welcome to Athens, dear friends! Move over Acropolis (well, not quite, but more on that later), move over ruins and stuffy museums. Follow us on a brief journey to discover 5 unusual Athens places!
Unusual Athens Places: Street Art
Metaxourgeio. No, it’s not a drink. It is quite a mouthful, though. One of our favourite neighbourhoods in town, Metaxourgeio is between Omonia square and Larissa train station, making it a convenient place to be based away from the hustle and bustle of Monastiraki.
We loved strolling around Metaxourgeio, looking for some of the best street art in town. Read here our full street art post! At first glance, the neighbourhood kind of looks rough around the edges. But delve a little deeper, and you’ll find evidence of vibrant counter culture, miles away from the tourist-filled centre. Street art, political or not, neighbourhood cafés that looked out of a period film, children playing in the street and greeting you as you go past.
Metaxourgeio is also famous for being home to a lively Albanian community, with smoky shisha bars selling plates of fried sardines. It’s a neighbourhood that still feels like a neighbourhood, that luckily escaped Athens’s 1960s building frenzy..
Unlike other unusual Athens places, Metaxourgheio has a bit of a reputation for being seedy. Now, I can’t vouch for that, but do watch your belongings. Definitely visit during the day – at night, you’ll miss most of the street art.
2. Psirri – in memory of Loukanikos
I can’t call Psirri a secret or an undiscovered gem, but it’s worth a visit nonetheless. This district is a stone’s throw from Monastiraki and has some of the best street art around, a close second to Metaxourgeio in my opinion. In Psirri, the street art is fancier and more polished-up compared to Metaxourgeio – think BIG building-side pieces, usually commissioned by the municipality or private owners.
There is one piece that is worth a trip to Psirri, in my opinion. It’s the one dedicated to Loukanikos, Athens’s most famous riot dog. Along many other stray dogs, Loukanikos appeared regularly alongside students during protests against the BCE and the IMF, becoming a symbol of Greece’s struggle against austerity measures. He achieved such fame that he was even featured in Time Magazine. He died on October 9th, 2014, his health severely damaged by the continuos inhaling of tear gas and other chemicals.
We visited on October 22nd, when the piece had just been concluded.
Unusual Athens Places: villages in the city
Ok, I said I wasn’t going to talk about Acropolis Hill. Actually, I might, just a little bit. Anafiotika is a tiny neighbourhood a short walk from the Acropolis. If you are walking down from the hill to Monastiraki, you’re bound to walk through it.
The neighbourhood was built in the second half of the 19th century, by Cycladic islanders who had moved to the capital to build King Otto’s palace. Anafiotika streets are covered with cascading bouganvillea and criss-crossed by wandering cats; houses are small, cubic and whitewashed, giving one the feeling of being in Santorini. If it wasn’t for the Parthenon, overlooking village life from the top of the hill.
For a more in-depth exploration of Anafiotika and its architectural features, read here!
4. Athens Central Market
I love covered markets. Whether they’re modern Scandinavian affairs or decadent colonial pavillions, I love them all. And Athens was one of the best ones ever, feeling like a market village within a city. From the souk-like dried fruit section, selling pistachio nuts and loukoumi, to the fish section, where huge swordfish and dainty prawns sit pretty on mountains of cascading ice, I love them all. The meat section was not for the faint-hearted, with carcasses and animals quarters lit by swinging light bulbs. We visited the market during our Athens Insiders tour, and loved every corner of it.
I would like to return to Athens just to have a meal at an oinomageirio, 24-hour eateries scattered around the market district. they are dimly-lit, retro looking restaurants, with grumpy moustachioed chefs stirring huge pots behind a counter. Oinomageirio’s quintessential meal is tripe soup. Eeeek, I hear you say. Well, you know we’re adventurous eaters, right?
We were told by a friend that the capital of Greek food is actually further north: Thessaloniki food is supposed to be the best in the country! I didn’t need another reason to return to Greece, but there it is!
Unusual Athens Places: an underground river
5. Eridanos at Monastiraki Metro Station
In a city like Athens, dig and you’re bound to find some ruins. Which is exactly what happened when the metro was being built. However, I bet they didn’t expect to find a long-forgotten river, once one of the largest in Greece, that was diverted into a system of channels in ancient times in an attempt to control its gushing waters.
The river Eridanos is visible at Monastiraki Metro station, in the passageway between line 1 and line 3. A small section of Roman ruins is visible, with the channelled river running through. If you fancy exploring more of the Eridanos, its riverbed is still visible in the site of the Kerameikos cemetery, along with a resident population of Greek tortoises. A plan for next time?
If you’re looking for a hotel in Athens, have a look at our post on Athenstyle, our favourite hostel.