Last updated on March 6th, 2020 at 03:01 pm
Ask any person who has visited Athens in Greece, and they are likely to mention one area – Plaka. This small neighborhood is full of boutique hotels, tavernas and souvenir shops. But that’s not all! Here’s why Plaka in Athens is so unique.
Plaka neighborhood in Athens
The small historic quarter called Plaka is located at the foot of the Acropolis, and is a maze of tiny streets and alleys. It’s a great place to explore, and easy to find being squeezed between Syntagma, Monastiraki and Acropolis metro stations.
This pocket-sized neighbourhood is largely traffic free, and has tons of tavernas, cafes and souvenir shops. There are also plenty of hotels, some newer than others, so it’s a popular neighborhood to stay for first-time visitors to Athens.
What makes Plaka so charming though, is the way it’s built. Perched up on the hill just below the Acropolis, it’s a really quaint neighborhood. You can see neoclassical houses next to small museums, and street art right next to tiny churches and crumbling buildings.
Short history of Plaka Athens
Plaka has been pretty much continuously inhabited since the times of Ancient Greece. The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, on Tripodon street, dates from 335-334 BC. A French Capuchin monastery was built by its side in 1658.
During the Ottoman Era, Plaka was where the Turkish Governor and other Ottomans lived. As such, the small neighbourhood was considered to be the Turkish quarter of Athens.
After the Greek Independence War, more people came to live in Plaka. A mix of Greeks, Jewish people and Arvanites, a bilingual Orthodox group, populated the area. The word “Plaka” probably comes from a word in the Arvanite dialect, meaning “old”.
Many of the buildings in Plaka were built during King Otto’s reign. Allegedly, the King himself invited skilled workers from the Cyclades islands to come and help reconstruct Greece’s new capital.
Those people lived in Anafiotika area, just above Plaka. They worked hard to build the beautiful neoclassical buildings in Athens.
During those times, a large market resembling a contemporary Turkish bazaar was in operation in the area. The market was located near the Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library, just at the outskirts of Plaka.
On 8 and 9 August 1884, a large fire destroyed everything in the area. Subsequently, the new Athens food market was constructed. This is still functioning on Athinas street, and it is called Varvakios market.
At the same time, archaeologists started excavations in the area surrounding the neoclassical houses. Several houses and other buildings just outside Plaka had to be demolished. It was time for Ancient Athens to resurface.
After WWII, the whole Plaka quarter was designated as a landmark area with listed buildings. Plaka is the only neighborhood in Athens that resembles the way the city looked 100-150 years ago.
What to do in Plaka Athens
Plaka really deserves to be explored. Yes, it is touristy, but it’s also charming. Yes, it can get busy, especially in summer, but there are also quiet corners.
I live in Athens, and really enjoy walking around Plaka, particularly on weekday mornings in winter. I sometimes wonder what life was like here a hundred, or a thousand years ago.
Just walk around with no set itinerary and observe the details. Look up, and you will be impressed by the stunning balconies of the neoclassical houses.
Walk on the streets, and you will love the friendly cafes, vibrant tavernas and colourful souvenir shops. Stop for a coffee or a meal, and watch the world go by.
Special mention goes to the Byzantine churches in Plaka, many of which date from the 10th – 12th century. Most of them were reconstructed and restored in later centuries.
Churches in Plaka are generally open at irregular times, if at all, but you can always admire their exterior.
If you are visiting Athens around Greek Easter, you should definitely follow the Epitafios processions on Big Friday. You can also go inside most of the churches, but bear in mind that they will be very crowded.
Tip – one thing you will need to know about Plaka is that there are stairs, lots of stairs! If you want to explore it properly, be prepared to walk up and down a few times.
Where to eat food in Plaka
Plaka is home to all sorts of places where you can have a coffee, meal or drink. There are countless cafes, restaurants, tavernas, pastry shops, ice-cream shops and mezedopolia.
Although arguably many of the restaurants are what we often describe as “touristy”, food is generally quite good. The old advice “go where the locals go” can’t be wrong. If you look carefully, you will notice that many Greeks actually hang around in Plaka.
Two of the best restaurants in Plaka include Scholarchio on Tripodon street and the nearby Kafeneio on Epiharmou street.
Both of them are quite busy, and you will normally see a mix of tourists and Greeks.
Yiasemi, on the stairs of Mnisikleous street, is another popular place. If you are going on a weekend, you will probably have to wait to be seated. You might want to leave some space for one of their scrumptious desserts.
Another decent choice in the area is Platanos on Diogenous street, right next to the Museum of Greek Popular Instruments. They have a nice open courtyard, and you can go and check out their kitchen if you want.
Finally, Evgenia on Voulis street, close to Syntagma, is very popular with local Athenians. One of my professors from university lives next door and eats there frequently. If you are after authentic Greek food, you can’t go wrong.
I took the above photo at 4 pm on a weekday – this should explain the lack of customers!
Nightlife in Plaka
Plaka was one of the first neighbourhoods of Athens where nightlife became a thing.
During the glorious 60s and 70s, Athens was expanding rapidly and steadily. New blocks of flats were being built, to accommodate the thousands of people who came to live in the capital.
As Plaka was a traditional settlement, no new apartments could be built in the area. Rent prices went down, and the neighbourhood became popular with the young bohemians of the times. Many musicians and other artists started hanging out in Plaka.
Tiny music bars, known as boites (from the French word for box), opened everywhere in Plaka. They attracted a young, artsy crowd, who were crammed together with the young musicians.
The ambience was pretty unique, and apparently these bars may not have been exactly legal. Eventually, many of them were closed down.
These days, nightlife in Athens has moved elsewhere. Still, Plaka has a fair few late-night cafes and bars. While nightlife in Plaka is not as big as it was in the 70s, you can still have a late drink, or spend the evening in a music taverna.
One of the best things to do in Plaka at night is to watch a movie at Cine Paris. Open daily from May to October, this unique open-air cinema with a view to the Acropolis is really popular. Try to arrive early, as queues for snacks and drinks can get quite long.
Souvenir shopping in Plaka Athens
People who are interested in buying some Greek souvenirs or local goodies will love Plaka. Although prices are a little higher than in other areas, there is a good variety of stores.
Admittedly, many of the products on offer are quite touristy. Still, it can be worth having a look around.
As you would expect, you can buy anything related to olive trees and olive oil. You will find pre-packaged olives, olive oil, soap bars, other cosmetics and wooden utensils. If tourist prices don’t appeal, you can always head to the Central Market instead.
You will find a variety of leather bags and the famous Greek leather sandals everywhere in Plaka. Some may be better quality than others.
You can also find different types of clothes, from elegant dresses and hippy clothes to slightly tacky tourist T-shirts.
Bigger items, such as carpets, rugs, fur coats and replicas of icons and ecclesiastical items are also available. If you are serious about any of these items, it’s best to do some in-depth research.
One thing that some people will want to look for in Plaka is silver jewellery. You can find traditional designs, but there are also many little stores offering unique pieces at very affordable prices.
My own favourite is AlexisP store – he makes some really cute jewellery. I’m a proud owner of two of his rings – and no, I’m not getting a commission!
Finally, you can get your fix in magnets, cups, and some rather rude, phallically-shaped bottle openers.
My tip – do your own research and visit Pandrossou and Ifestou streets in Monastiraki before you decide to buy anything. As for bargaining, you might not be aware that VAT is very high in Greece. Shopkeepers might not be making as much as you’d think!
Museums in Plaka Athens
For an area of its size, Plaka has more than its fair share of museums. Most of them are quite small, so you can visit more than one on the same day.
Even though none of the museums in Plaka are very well known, I find most of them quite interesting. They can help you form a picture of life in Athens from the Ancient Times to this day. There are also a few art museums that will appeal to many visitors.
Hotels in Plaka Athens
If this is your first time in Athens, Plaka or the nearby Koukaki area are probably the best areas to stay. Some hotels are much newer than others, and prices can vary widely. If you are interested in views to the Acropolis, make sure you read the hotel descriptions carefully.
Visiting Plaka Athens
I hope that this article has given you some insight to one of Athens’ most visited neighbourhoods. Feel free to share your opinion on Plaka below!