Mention Athens to anyone and they immediately think of the ancient wonders this city is known for. Whilst it’s all well and good to schlepp up to the Acropolis, waft about the Monastiraki district to stock up on tourist garb or gawk at stunning artefacts at the National Archeological Museum, we were more interested in chilling out and hanging out.
What? No sightseeing?
Arch of Hadrian
We did our Athenian sightseeing 15 years ago and only saw a few of the sites on this most recent visit. The good thing is, you can still see some gorgeous ancient structures, foundations and mosaics and not pay a thing. Sightseeing in this town isn’t exactly cheap! A walk along Theorias and Dionysiou Areopagitou can provide you with that. Check my map for location.
Not forking out money for inflated entry tickets means more money for food!
Our home was the budget-friendly Urban Rooms in central Athens, located in a gritty-yet-vibrant area that’s close to many of the things people flock to this city for.
The street on which we stayed – Evripidou – has a wonderful souk-like feel to it. Several spice shops are strung along it, each selling not only spices, but garlands of dried vegetables, briki (coffee pots), rice, beans and much more.
Along Aristogitonos are a few more souk-like stores, all packed to the rafters with religious objects, vintage pieces, traditional string instruments and household goods.
Adjacent to these shops, on the other side of the drab-looking parking block, is a strip of fruit and veg stalls with wonderful produce at bargain prices. Here on Armodiou you’ll also see deli items and even live rabbits and chickens.
Head to the corner of Armodiou and Athenas and take in the wonderful goodies at Giotakis deli and Avra deli next door – filled with Russian and Polish edibles. The glorious smells that waft from them are incredible!
Across Athenas – the main drag that runs north-south – is the city’s vibrant Meat & Fish Market. Or as the locals call it – Dimotiki Agora (Public Market).
This is a market that’s an assault to the senses, especially as soon as you set foot into the wet market. Competing vendors shout at the top of their lungs, all vying for your attention.
The meat market can be a tad confronting to some, in terms of smells and displays of shiny offal and other parts of animals. There’s nothing to hide here.
Outside are dried fruit and nut sellers, a few individuals illegally selling fruit or veg from small containers and, on the corner of Athenas and Evripidou, the smallest and cutest spice merchant store I’ve seen.
Further inside the vaulted market building is a handful of traditional tavernas that also vie for your business. We stopped at a little joint called οι φιλοι, which I understand translates to “Friends”. They have a fab selection of traditional dishes – many of which I wanted to try.
Sardines baked with tomato, snails in garlic & tomato, stuffed eggplant etc. We went for their delicious roast pork with fries (6) and beef patties with fries (6.5). Simple, rustic fare and very friendly service.
Bon Espresso Bar – Evripidou 30
Tailor Made Café – Plaka Agias Irinis 2
Good coffee was never too far away from where we were staying, the closest being beneath the Urban Rooms by a tiny spice merchant. Bon Espresso Bar is a tiny third-wave coffee operation that extracts some seriously good espresso. This isn’t the mass produced, over-roasted stuff you see at your average Greek cafés. Instead, it’s made with care, by people that care, and it shows.
Our other favourite is the ever-popular Tailor Made Café, a two-part establishment that serves cocktails and food on one side, and excellent coffee on the other. Or if you’re up for filling your lungs with nicotine as you down a coffee, in true Greek style, then the lovely terrace overlooking St. Irene Church can accommodate.
Kosta’s Gyros – Plaka Agias Irinis 2
Next door to Tailor Made happens to be home to one of the best gyros in town. Kosta’s keeps its fans fed with a small variety of gyros and souvlaki, all of which are a few euro each. There’s often a queue of people waiting to place their orders, take a seat outside and tuck in. They have the cheapest cans of ice cold local beer we could find, too, so this was also our drinking spot each afternoon.
There are numerous eateries and bars around Plaka Agias Irinis, but even more along pedestrianised Aiolou Street, which connects the Meat & Fish Market with Monastiraki. Plenty of shopping, too.
Lukumades – Aiolou 21
One of Greece’s most popular desserts, loukoumades, can be found at Lukumades, a modern dessert bar which specialises in this treat that was served to winners of the Olympic Games way back in 776 B.C.
Have them straight up, as I did, doused in honey, cinnamon and sugar, or go for white or dark chocolate. They even inject them with banana cream!
From sinking our teeth into filled koulouri from a vendor, to a cheap dinner of gyros and house vino at Enteka, there’s much to be had on and around Aiolou Street.
A couple of blocks away from Aiolou is Just Made 33, home to delicious quiches, grainy salads and sandwiches and a carbonara (6.5) like no other. Rather than pasta, here it’s a mushroom, bacon, cream cheese, thyme pesto & mozzarella ensemble on toasted bread. Ok, maybe not a carbonara at all.
Koulouri breads on Ermou Street
Enteka – Aiolou 65
Stumbling upon Feyrouz was like a breath of fresh air, mainly because we were craving some eastern flavours. This Lebanese-run eatery has a very simple formula – a couple of soups, peinirli, lahmajoun, a couple of salads and sweets.
Vegetarians and vegans are also looked after, they offer local Marea craft beer and the tomato, eggplant, chickpea & smoked yoghurt peinirli is pretty damn special.
Aside from eastern food, we also craved Indian; and how perfect that we had ABC Indian Tandoori just metres from where we were staying. Who would have though that the biriyani and mutton curry was some of the best we’d tried in a very long time. And you can’t go wrong when each dish hovers around the €3-€5 mark.
Just Made 33 – Evaggelistrias 33
Peinirli at Feyrouz – Agathonos 2
ABC Indian Tandoori – Athinas 36
The gentrified neighbourhood of Psyri is a hot-pot of eating, drinking and nightlife action. Aside from that, there are art galleries, workshops, sandal makers, jewellers, wicker stores and so much more peppered throughout this gritty part of town.
iFeel Café was our choice for breakfast on a couple of mornings, namely for their excellent scrambled eggs dishes and glorious seedy bread rolls fresh from the oven. Or there’s the ever-popular Bougatsadiko, or Μπουγατσάδικο, on Iroon Square that’s known for its bougatsa.
Not too far away is Avya Restaurant, one of my favourite places in Athens. I’m not sure these guys see tourist blow-ins very often, but I’m sure glad we decided to walk through the unassuming door off the street.
Slightly rowdy courtyard filled with locals swilling on ouzo, simple plates of food and a beyond-authentic atmosphere. Absolutely loved the fried liver (5), pork (5) and Greek salad (5).
iFeel Café – Karaiskaki 33
Avya Restaurant – Agiou Demitriou