Last updated on August 4th, 2020 at 06:57 am
Do you consider yourself a foodie? Are you intrigued by new ingredients and flavours? Or, do you just like Greek food? The Varvakios central food market in Athens is a place you should absolutely see when you visit our city.
The central food market in Athens
If you want to see an authentic part of Athens, look no further than our vibrant Varvakios food market. With dozens of shops and stalls selling pretty much every traditional Greek product available, you will love it. You might even buy a few goodies to take back home.
The Varvakios food market is located very close to Psiri area, a small, lively neighbourhood with many cafes, tavernas and bars.
The market in Ancient Athens
Food markets in Athens go back a long, long time. In Ancient Athens, the area which is nowadays called “Ancient Agora” was the centre of all financial, social and commercial activity of the city. The market was also home to various food stalls, where Athenians could buy food to take home.
Foods in Ancient Athens weren’t extremely different to what we eat today, though some products were not around yet.
As an example, foods like tomatoes, potatos and coffee didn’t exist in Ancient Athens, as they arrived to Europe much, much later.
Other foods though, like olive oil, wine, bread, garlic, onions, meat and fish, were consumed in Ancient Athens, just like today.
Varvakios food market in Athens
At the time when Greece regained its independence from the Ottoman Empire, in 1821, the food market was located close to Hadrian’s Library and the Roman Agora.
The market was due to be moved somewhere with more space, when a fire, in 1884, destroyed several stalls.
The need for a new market became more pressing, and the Varvakios food market was established in 1886 on Athinas street, between Monastiraki and Omonia metro stations. It was named after a Greek benefactor named Varvakis.
Today, the market has several different sections, selling all sorts of fresh and dried products. Around the market, mainly on Athinas and Evripidou streets but also on the side streets, there are several shops selling a huge variety of local delicacies.
At first impression, the Varvakios food market might look slightly dirty or scruffy, especially if you are not used to goods being sold loose. However, this is one of the most authentic places you can do your food shopping in Athens. Or you can just come to explore, and take some photos.
The meat section
Vegetarians or vegans might not appreciate this section. Here you can see many types of meat, from cow, pork and chicken, to more exotic meats, like goat and boar.
Occasionally, you may see some obscure parts of the animals. Next to liver and intestines, you may see other inside parts. We’ll leave this to your imagination!
The meat section is probably the most shocking for some visitors. Due to the rise of supermarkets it’s definitely not as busy as it used to be 10-15 years ago, however many customers have their designated butcher where they will buy meat from. It is very crowded at specific times of the year when meat is consumed, like Tsiknopempti (Meat-Eating Thursday, we are not kidding you!) and Greek Easter.
The fish market in Athens
Right next to the meat market, you will find the fish section. If you can’t see it, just follow the smell.
The fish market is the one that most people seem to be impressed with. There are dozens different types of local fish, such as sardines, anchovies, mackerel, tuna, but also some imported fish, such as cod and salmon. Apart from fish, you will also see several shells and other seafood, like shrimp, crabs and octopus.
If you walk around the fish market, note that the floor will be wet because of melting ice, which is used to keep the fish fresh. Tip – avoid wearing sandals.
The fruit and vegetable section
This is one of the most popular sections with tourists. It’s interesting to look at all those goats and crabs, but it’s unlikely that you are going to cook any of that during your stay in Athens!
This section isn’t huge, but there are many stalls where you can get fresh fruit and veg at a fraction of the price you would pay at home. They make for great snacks, especially on a hot summer day.
Nuts and spices in the Athens central food market
All around the market area, you will see plenty of shops, mostly selling nuts, spices, herbs and olives. Our favourite nut store is on Athinas 42. They are called 1001 Gefsis, and they have the best nuts in Athens. They also sell a variety of spices, dried fruits and several other products.
On Evripidou 41, you can find Bahar store. This is pretty much the only spice store in Athens that always has a long queue. There are many more down the street, but if you want the best quality just wait patiently in the queue. Nearby Miran has a good selection as well, apart from their famous cured meats and other delicacies.
Bakeries, cookies, olives and cheese
Some of our favourite bakeries in the area are right on Athinas street. They sell traditional breads, cookies and other goodies like honey and halva. Great for vegans.
As you would expect, there are several olive shops in the area, including a few stalls within the fruit and veg section. You can try as many as you want, and decide if you want to buy any. Some shops have a vacuum packing service, so you can have them sealed and take them home.
If you are a fan of cheese, there are a few good places to taste and buy some local cheeses – and no, it’s not just feta.
Zouridakis, on Evripidou 25, is a lovely store with Cretan products, where you can have a taste of Cretan cheeses, rusks and the famous Cretan raki. Just walk around the are though, and you will discover more shops. Karatzas, on Athinas 57, also has a great selection of great local cheeses.
Finally, if you are interested in real Greek yoghurt, look no further than Stani, near Omonia square. Their yoghurts are out of this world! They are made of cow’s or sheep’s milk, and they are probably very different to what you’ve tasted before.
The Pakistani / Bangladeshi shops
If you walk just a couple of blocks down from the market, reaching Sokratous and Menandrou streets, you will find a small but very distinct area with ethnic shops. This is the Pakistani / Bangladeshi area in central Athens. While strictly speaking this area doesn’t belong to the food market, it’s so close that you can go and have a look.
You may be surprised at the absence of Greek people in these few blocks. For many Athenians, this is considered a ghetto area, and you will probably feel that the vibes are different. You may also be asked if you want any drugs – we’ve had this a few times. Just say no, unless this is what you were after in the first place, but we strongly advise against it.
If you are craving some authentic Indian / Pakistani food, or some Indian desserts, this is the area to head for. Just be aware that it’s not a tourist area, and some people have felt intimidated.
When is the central Athens food market open?
The food market is generally open from 7am – 3pm from Monday to Saturday, though some stores will stay open later. On Sundays and public holidays the stores are closed, though some of the nut stores on Athinas street may be open.
There is a very special day of the year where the Varvakios market stays open all night long. This is the Sunday before Clean Monday. The shops and stalls inside the market remain open throughout the night, and there is a feast that goes on until the next day. You can read more about Clean Monday and other special days in Greece in this article.
The future of the central food market in Athens
Unlike the Boqueria in Barcelona, or other food markets in Europe, the Athens food market is not intended for tourists. It is an authentic, real market where lots of Athenians do their everyday shopping.
There have been ongoing talks for the market to undergo major refurbishment, but nothing is set in stone yet. We will update this article with more information. Until then, we will enjoy its real, authentic side!
You can easily stroll around the market yourself. If you have a special interest in food and food culture though, you can book a private Athens walking tour and let us explain everything about Greek food!