One of my favourite neighbourhoods in Athens Greece is a small, quirky area full of street art called Psiri. Here’s what I find so special about Psiri in Athens.
The neighbourhood of Psiri in Athens
The neighborhood of Psiri is right in the center of Athens. It is next to Monastiraki metro, about a 15-minute walk from Plaka and the Acropolis. Its exact location is between Ermou, Athinas, Evripidou, Agion Asomaton and Peiraios streets.
Psiri has been one of the most vibrant areas in Athens for several decades. Unlike some other areas in the center, it has kept an air of authenticity. This is despite the numerous hotels and AirBnB apartments that have sprung up in the last few years.
While Psiri Athens is very small on the map, there is a lot to do here. You can easily take a half day sitting around the numerous cafes and restaurants, or exploring the cool shops and street art.
How did Athens Psiri take its name?
It is not entirely clear how Psiri took its original Greek name. It is likely that the neighborhood was named after someone who moved here from Psara, an island close to Chios.
There is disagreement over the correct spelling of the area in Greek, even among renowned contemporary authors. According to some people it is Ψυρή, while others spell it Ψυρρή.
When written in Latin characters, it gets even worse! You will find the name of the area as Psiri, Psirri, Psyri or Psyrri. Fortunately, Googlemaps recognizes all of them, so you will have no problems.
A short history of Psiri area
There is not much solid information about Athens Psiri during the Ottoman Era or earlier. According to some accounts, the area was inhabited since the times of ancient Greece. What is certain is that Psirri is one of the oldest neighbourhoods of modern Athens.
The tiny neighborhood was likely established in the decades before the Greek Revolution, in 1821. If you are familiar with Lord Byron, the English poet, you might know that he moved here in 1809. The central Iroon square in Psiri was constructed in the 1850s.
During the late 1800s, Psirri was a popular hangout for groups of underground people, called koutsavakides. These men were a sort of mafia of the times, participating in all sorts of illegal activities. At the time, Athens Psiri was apparently a no-go area.
The koutsavakides eventually disappeared, primarily due to the efforts of a well-known police chief, Bairaktaris. His great grandchildren own the famous Bairaktaris souvlaki place, one of the best-known restaurants among visitors. It is located on Mitropoleos street, just off Monastiraki square.
Athens Psirri in the 20th century
Psiri started growing from the beginning of the 20th century onwards. The newly established Varvakios food market was drawing new residents to the wider area. Little by little, new businesses opened in the neighbourhood.
Things changed dramatically during WWII. During that period, Psiri was home to profiteers who were selling goods on the black market, just like in many other areas of Athens.
During the day, the German army marched around the tiny streets. By night, rebels went around and wrote mottos on the walls. It is hard to imagine that this was only 80 years ago!
Psiri in Athens today
In the years that followed WWII, more and more businesses opened in the area, selling all sorts of stuff. Eventually, some of the residents left, looking for quieter places to live. This backfired on many of the businesses, and their owners realized that they were no longer viable.
During the 80s and the 90s, the neighborhood was almost abandoned, until a decision was taken for it to be gentrified.
In 2003, Monastiraki metro station on the blue line opened. This helped Psiri flourish once again, and dozens of new cafes, restaurants and bars opened up. The area soon became one of the most vibrant neighbourhoods in Athens.
Today, Psiri is a mix of traditional shops and businesses, old tavernas, cool cafes and several churches. Add on to this a number of new, trendy shops and hipster bars, and you will find that this cool little locale has a lot more than meets the eye.
Where to have a snack in Psiri Athens
There are many nice cafes and snack shops in Psiri. Many of them are featured in various Athens Athens walking tours. Due to its proximity to the food market, Psiri is a convenient area to go for food tasting in Athens.
For a light snack, head to the original koulouri bakery, which is open 365 days of the year, 24/7! With just 50 cents you can have a tasty local snack to keep you going until your next meal.
If you prefer something more filling, try a scrumptious pie from the bougatsa shop right on Iroon Square. This local delicacy is made with filo pastry and generous sweet or savoury fillings. These pies are very fresh – you can literally see them being made! You can have them for breakfast, or as a snack.
Desserts and sweets in Psiri Athens
When it comes to dessert, there is plenty of choice in Psyrri. Nancy’s Sweet Home on Iroon square is owned by the passionate Nancy and her husband. They specialize in traditional Greek and middle Eastern desserts, and they travel abroad often to discover new recipes. It’s a must-stop for anyone with a sweet tooth.
The aforementioned Nancy used to work at the nearby Serbetia stou Psyrri. This old sweet shop is equally popular, and serves equally big portions. If traditional Greek sweets are your thing, visit them both and let me know which one you liked better 🙂
There is also the quirky Little Kook cafe that looks like it came out of a fairytale. It is ideal if you are travelling with young kids, as they will love the decoration. Anyone with a soft spot for Alice in Wonderland, Halloween or dragons should visit this quaint cafe.
And last but not least, for ice-cream on the go, try Kokkion on Protogenous street. Featuring classic and unique flavours, they use the best quality ingredients to create their lovely sorbets and ice creams. Don’t be surprised (or discouraged) if there’s a queue.
Where to eat in Psirri
My favourite taverna in Athens is in Psirri. It is called Mavros Gatos, and it’s on Navarchou Apostoli street. I’ve been going there for years, and I find all their dishes exceptional. If I had to choose a couple, I’d mention the strapatsada and the chicken with peppers. At the end of your meal, they will bring you a free treat!
If you can’t get a seat at Mavros Gatos restaurant, the nearby Pame Naxo and O Kalos Lykos are also pretty good. I also like Kafeneio tis Ivis, though sitting can get tricky at times as the tables are right on the street.
Visitors who like fish should check out Atlantikos, tucked away in a little alley. In my opinion, it’s among the best fish tavernas in central Athens.
A hidden restaurant that has become very popular in recent years, is Avli on Agiou Dimitriou street. While the setting is very cool, I didn’t find the food very special last time I was there. Hence, I need to plan a visit very soon!
Finally, beer lovers will enjoy Beer Time on Iroon square, just next to the bougatsa shop. They have a great selection of international and local craft beers, which you can accompany with a few tasty snacks.
Nightlife in Psyri Athens
Nightlife in Psiri became a big thing in the 2000s. Some of the coolest bars in Athens were right there. One of my favourites was Aristophanes bar, that played rock and heavy metal music. I also loved a karaoke bar whose name I can’t remember anymore.
A night out in Psyri normally ended at some point in the morning. I have many fond (or should I say hazy?!) memories of taking the first morning metro from Monastiraki to go home.
All in all, nightlife in Psyri has remained busy and vibrant over the years. Often, the streets around Iroon Square are packed with young people. On Saturday nights it’s so crowded that it can even be difficult to walk! Many of these people will start (or finish) their evening sitting around Monastiraki square, beer in hand.
Psyrri has many all-day-bars, such as Tranzistor and Barrett on Protogenous street. These are open until the early morning hours. You can start with a late afternoon coffee, continue with a beer, and stay up for hours, watching the people go by.
Most of the cafes and bars in Psiri are fairly low-key, so don’t expect anything too wild. If you are into clubbing, take a short walk to Kerameikos / Gazi area, and explore the famous night scene.
What to do in Psyri Athens – Shopping
Psiri is a great little area to go shopping. First of all, you can find shops selling all sorts of stuff in both Psyrri and Athinas street nearby. DIY items, tools, paints, traditional wicker baskets, pots, coils of rope and all sorts of household goodies. Whether you actually need any of those is another matter!
If you are looking for clothes, you can find many leather goods, such as shoes, bags and belts. It’s also possible to buy pure leather, ideal for DIY creations.
As you walk around the neighbourhood, you will spot a few boutique and alternative clothes stores. As an example, for handmade clothes and accessories, you can get in touch with The Real Intellectuals. If you are more into vintage stuff, Gouadeloupe will probably be more up your alley. Stroll around, and you will definitely discover something interesting.
Art, graffiti and street art in Psiri Athens
One thing that you will immediately notice in Psyri, is the amount of graffiti everywhere. While to some people this brings up images of abandonment, many people like the colour that it adds to our city.
Psiri has some of the best street art in Athens. Stroll around the tiny streets, and you will come across many fantastic murals and smaller art works. Sarri and Louka Nika streets have some really beautiful designs.
For an alternative local experience, check out the self-organized Embros theatre, which hosts several interesting events. It might look daunting from the outside, but once you are past the dark exterior you will discover a whole new world.
What to do in Psiri Athens – Sightseeing
Psiri has its fair share of sightseeing, though the best known archaeological sites and museums in Athens are located further away.
If you are interested in Orthodox churches, you will be happy to know that Psiri has several. There is even a hidden Byzantine church, located within a neoclassical building which was built around it! Other religious places of interest in Psyri include the Synagogue and the Armenian Church.
Psiri is a short walk from the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos. This is where ancient Athenians buried their dead. There is a small museum that explains a few things about funerary customs in Ancient Greece.
On Agion Asomaton street, you will find the Museum of Islamic Art, which belongs to the Benaki Foundation. Apart from its impressive permanent collection, the museum often hosts temporary exhibitions.
These museums were created to honour the political exiles of the 1940s and 1950s. As none of the information is in English, try to visit with someone who speaks Greek.
By the way, did you know that Mykonos had also used as a place for exile, back in the 1930s? Amazing, eh!
Hotels, AirBnBs and boutique hotels in Psiri Athens
Most people who visit Athens for the first time prefer to stay around the Acropolis area. Plaka and Koukaki are both nice, and they are very close to the ancient monuments and the Acropolis Museum.
Still, if you enjoy walking, I totally recommend staying in Psiri Athens. This is where I’d stay myself. After all, the tiny district is only a ten minute walk from Plaka, and fifteen from the Acropolis.
Not only will you have a more vibrant, authentic local experience, but you will also see one of the oldest and constantly evolving neighbourhoods of Athens.
There are plenty of hotels, apartments and other types of accommodation in Psiri. Some of them are also available for short lets.
Some of the best hotels to stay in Athens Psiri include Acropolis View Apartments, the Foundry Suites and Art Deco Athens. Since I am an Athenian. I haven’t stayed in any of those myself. Still, these would be some of my best choices for accommodation in Athens.
Note – If you walk around Psyrri, you will be surprised at how many of the amazing neoclassical houses in the area are in terrible shape. These have probably been inherited by siblings who either disagree on what to do with them, or cannot afford the cost of a full renovation. Who knows, maybe one day these will also become hotels or AirBnBs…
Beyond and above Psiri
As Psyri is right in the center, there is lots to do around the small area. Most visitors will enjoy Monastiraki with the flea market and Plaka with the lovely neoclassical buildings. Others will want to go up Ermou, the main shopping street in Athens. It’s also worth spending an hour or two on Athinas street, with the bustling Varvakios food market.
Whatever you do, make sure you visit a cafe with an open-air terrace, such as A for Athens or 360. These hotel / cafes are both located on Monastiraki square, and offer some of the best views of Athens from above.
Psiri in Athens – Your thoughts
This completes my guide to Psiri Athens! Have you been here? What did you think to it? Let me know in the comments!
Hi, I’m Vanessa!
Hi! I am Vanessa, and I love helping people discover more about Greece. I was born in Athens and I love my vibrant city, with all its bustling neighbourhoods. Psiri is fascinating, as it combines everything you can think of in a tiny area. When you visit Athens, check it out!