The Varvakios central market in Athens is a place you should definitely see when you visit our city. Here is some information on this bustling Athens market.
The central food market in Athens
Do you consider yourself a foodie? Are you intrigued by new ingredients and flavours? Or, do you just like Greek food? If the answer to any of these question is yes, the Athens central market is for you.
The Varvakios food market is located on Athinas street in central Athens. It’s a short walk from Monastiraki and Omonia metro stations.
If you want to include an authentic part of Athens in your trip, look no further than the vibrant Varvakios food market. There are dozens of shops and stalls selling hundreds of traditional Greek products. You can even buy a few goodies to take back home!
Food market in Ancient Athens
Food markets in Athens go back a long, long time. The area which is nowadays known as “Ancient Agora” was the centre of all financial, social and commercial activity of the city. The market was 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, potatoes and coffee didn’t exist in Ancient Greece. 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. It looks like life hasn’t changed too much!
The word “Agora” had multiple meanings back then. It meant a place for gatherings, a talk, and also a market. Today, the word is only used to describe a marketplace.
History of the Varvakios food market in Athens
Greece regained its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821. The Athens central market of the time was located close to Hadrian’s Library and the Roman Agora.
The food market was due to be moved somewhere with more free space. Then, in 1884, a big fire destroyed several stalls, and the need for a new central market became more pressing.
Two years later, in 1886, the Varvakios food market was established on Athinas street. It was named after Varvakis, a Greek benefactor who donated the money for its construction.
What does the Athens central market look like?
Much of the Varvakios food market is covered, but certain parts are open-air. There are different sections, where all sorts of fresh and dried products are sold. You will find meat, fish, fruit and vegetable, cheese, herbs and spices, bread, cookies and olives.
Between the separate food markets, there are several deli stores. You will find a huge variety of local delicacies, including good selections of regional products. All these shops are located on Athinas and Evripidou streets, and also on the nearby alleys.
At first impression, the central market might look slightly dirty and scruffy, especially if you are not used to goods being sold loose. However, it’s 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 Athens meat market
The meat market is the first covered section you will see on your right hand side, if you are walking from Monastiraki metro. This is the most shocking section for some tourists. In fact, vegetarians and vegans will most likely want to give it a miss.
Here you can see many kinds of meat, from cow, pork and chicken, to more exotic types, like goat and boar. You will typically see whole animals hanging from hooks, next to each other.
In addition, you will see some obscure animal insides. The most common parts are liver and intestines, but you may well see other entrails. I’ll leave this to your imagination!
Due to the rise of supermarkets, the meat section is not as busy as it used to be 10-15 years ago. However, many people have their designated butcher where they’ve been shopping for many years.
The meat market gets very crowded at specific times of the year. Two examples are Tsiknopempti (Meat-Eating Thursday – yes, it is really a thing!) and Greek Easter, when our culture calls for lamb and goat on the spit.
Here, you will also find an old traditional restaurant called Ipeiros (Epirus). They specialize in soups like tripe or goat stew. It is definitely an authentic experience!
The fish market in Athens
Right next to the meat market, you can visit the fish section. If you can’t see it, just follow the smell.
The fish market is the one that most visitors seem to be impressed with. There are dozens of different types of local fish, such as sardines, anchovies, mackerel and tuna. You will also find imported fish, such as cod and salmon.
In addition, shellfish and other seafood is available, like shrimp, crabs and octopus.
Tip – If you are planning to walk around the fish market, avoid wearing sandals. The floor is normally wet because of melting ice, which is used to keep the fish fresh. The best time to visit is in the morning, as it tends to get more crowded later on.
Fruit and vegetables market Athens
Most tourists love the fruit and veg section. While it’s interesting to look at all those goats and crabs, it’s highly unlikely that you are going to cook any of that during your stay in Athens!
The fruit and vegetable market is across the street from the meat and fish sections. You will see a series of open-air stalls in a large square, surrounded by more shops.
Here, you can get fresh groceries at a fraction of the price you would pay at home or at a supermarket. They make for great snacks, especially on a hot summer day.
Common veggies in summer include tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, aubergines / eggplants, and several types of leafy greens, called horta. The most common types of fruit are apricots, peaches, cherries, melon, watermelon and figs.
Alongside the vegetables, you will also see big bowls of olives. You can try as many as you want, and decide if you want to buy any. Some sellers offer a vacuum packing service, so you can have them sealed and take them home. They typically cost 2-4 euros per kilo!
Nuts and spices in the Athens central food market
It might come as a surprise, but we have shops specializing in loose nuts, spices and herbs. My favourite nut store is 1001 Gefsis, on Athinas 42. They have the best nuts in Athens, and also sell a variety of herbs, dried fruits and more.
On Evripidou 41, you can find Bahar store. This is the only dedicated spice store in central Athens that is always busy. There are many more down the street, but if you want the best quality just wait patiently in the queue.
More food shopping – Bakeries, cheese and delis
Some of my favourite bakeries in the city of Athens are on Athinas street. They sell traditional types of bread, cookies and other goodies like honey and halva. Vegans love our bakeries!
If you are a fan of cheese, there are a few popular shops to buy some local cheeses. Apart from our famous feta cheese, look out for kasseri, graviera and kefalotyri. Karatzas, on the corner of Athinas and Sofokleous street, has amazing quality.
Zouridakis, on Evripidou 25, is a lovely store with Cretan products. You can have a taste of Cretan cheeses, rusks and the famous Cretan raki.
Miran, also on Evripidou street, is famous for the cured meats and delicacies from all around Greece. In addition, they have a good selection of spices. It’s a deli store with prices to match, and they offer nice mixed platters, which you can enjoy with your friends.
Finally, if you are interested in real Greek yoghurt, walk to a specialty shop called Stani, near Omonia square. Their cow and sheep yoghurts have a thick texture, and they taste a little sour. You will find that they are very different to any “Greek yoghurt” you’ve tried before!
The Pakistani / Bangladeshi shops
If you walk just a couple of blocks down from the market, you will reach Sokratous and Menandrou streets. 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 – I’ve had this a few times. Unless this is what you were after in the first place, just say no and walk on, and you are unlikely to be hassled.
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 visitors may feel intimidated.
When is the central Athens food market open?
The food market is generally open from 7.00 to 15.00 from Monday to Saturday, and some stores stay open later. On Sundays and public holidays most stores are closed. Here’s what to do in Athens on a Sunday!
There is a 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.
What else is there to do close to Varvakios?
After you’ve checked out our food market, you can visit the nearby Psiri area. This is a small, lively neighbourhood with many cafes, tavernas and bars.
Later, stroll back to Monastiraki Square, and cross over to Plaka. Although our city is big, all these places of interest are close to each other, and you can easily visit them in the same day.
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. Until then, we will enjoy its real, original side!
You can easily stroll around the market yourself. If you have a special interest in Greek food culture though, you can try a private Athens walking tour where you will learn everything about Greek food!
Hello! My name is Vanessa, I was born in Athens, and I love helping people discover more about Greece. I love my vibrant city, with all its lively shopping neighbourhoods and markets. I really enjoy shopping at the Varvakios market, with all its hustle and bustle. When you visit Athens, make sure you check it out!