Being one of the most ancient cities in the world and the cradle of European and western civilization, Athens has always attracted visitors for its millennia-old historical sites, like the Acropolis and the Parthenon (best discovered on our Acropolis Tour). This being said, the city’s rich history belies its burgeoning art and culture scene. In the wake of the financial crises Athens endured through much of the decade, downtrodden neighborhoods have been reclaimed by artists, entrepreneurs, and young people with a vision for a new Athens. Here’s our guide to the neighborhoods of alternative Athens, boasting the city’s best and brightest art galleries, venues, new takes on Greek food, and street art.
Alternative Athens: Metaxourgeio
This formerly middle-class neighborhood has shifted in a trendier direction thanks to a wealth of new art galleries, museums, restaurants, and cafes. Of particular note is the graffiti from prominent Greek artists that covers crumbling buildings and renovated houses alike, making the neighborhood an art gallery en plain air (as well as one of Europe’s most exciting hot spots for street art). Among the galleries that animate this district, our favorites include the Vamiali Gallery, The Breeder, and the Rebecca Camhi Gallery.
Alternative Athens: Gazi
Surrounding the former gasworks, the neighborhood of Gazi was formerly the domain of workers, immigrants from northern Greece, brothels, and markets. Now, bolstered by the opening of the Kerameikos Metro Station and the conversion of the gasworks into Technolopolis, a multipurpose arts space, Gazi is laden with bars and restaurants, as well as most of the city’s LGBTQ nighlife. We also suggest checking out Gazarte, a cocktail bar, bookstore, venue, and cinema.
If you’d like to dig into the contemporary Greek experience, you should try our Contemporary Athens In Context walk.
Alternative Athens: Exarchia
After taking our National Archeological Museum tour, spend some time in the the young and colorful Exarchia district, where the museum is located. The meeting point of students, musicians, and artists, this bohemian hub has long played host to local poets, theater directors, political activists, actors, composers, and singers. This confluence of intellectuals, particularly those with left-wing and anarchist leanings, has led to the presence of many bookstores, printing companies, and libraries, as well as rare guitar and record stores. Tread with caution—while we love the neighborhood’s boho vibe, it has been known to be a center of political unrest.
Alternative Athens: Syngrou Avenue
Contemporary art and architecture lovers will enjoy a stroll down Syngrou Avenue, one of the main arteries from downtown to the south of Athens. Along this luxuriously broad, straight avenue (a rarity in Athens), you can find the EMST – National Museum of Contemporary Art, hosted in the Fix Brewery, built in 1893 and renewed in 1957 by Takis Zenetos and Margaritis Apostolidis, two of the major proponents of post-war modernism in Greece. Walking south, you will reach the Onassis Cultural Center, built by the Onassis Foundation and designed by the French architectural practice “Architecture Studio.” The Onassis Centre is a cultural space hosting events that run the gamut of art, ranging from theater, to dance, to music, cinema and the visual arts, to even digital and hybrid art, supporting Greek artists and cultivating international collaborations. Another important venue that you shouldn’t miss to visit is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre, designed by the world famous Italian architect Renzo Piano. This sprawling complex on the edge of Faliro Bay includes the National Library of Greece, the Greek National Opera, and Stavros Niarchos Park.
Alternative Athens: Varkakios Agora – Athens Central Market
You can’t leave Athens without having tried its incredible food. Our favorite place to do so is the Varkakios Agora – Athens Central Market: fish, meat, fruit, vegetables, and dozens of different varieties of olives are proudly displayed on thousands of colorful stands. After perusing, head to the meat market to find two traditional restaurants, where the atmosphere is spartan but the food is among the most quintessentially Greek one can find in town. Walking out of the Central Market, stroll down Evripidou Street for some of the city’s best stores for herbs and spices.