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Monastiraki:
Complete Guide and Things to Do

Monastiraki: Complete Guide and Things to Do

Date
22 July 2020

Monastiraki is one of the oldest neighborhoods of Athens, located at the heart of the city. Monastiraki square is a famous meeting place for Athenians and the area around it offers many things to see and do! Standing in the middle of the square, you can see a blend of historical eras, architecture and cultures, and many roads leading to different directions. You are wondering which one to take? Here is a complete guide to the Monastiraki area and things to do to enjoy it to the fullest!

Image after introtext
Walking next to the Roman Agora in Monastiraki - Credit: Milang / BigStock

How to get to Monastiraki Square

Monastiraki square is a meeting point not only because it is located in the heart of Athens but also because it offers you multiple ways to access it from various locations. Its Metro station (subway) is located just a stop away from Syntagma Metro station. It is Metro blue line, meaning you can stop at Monastiraki station if you take the Metro from the airport, without changing lines. Monastiraki is also connected with the green line so you can get there by train from Piraeus and the port. The square is next to the road so you can get there by bus or a taxi. If you are in Syntagma square or Plaka or Thiseio areas, you can walk to Monastiraki since it is just 10-15 minutes away by foot.

Monastiraki square

Monastiraki: a little bit of history

Located under the shadow of the Acropolis, Monastiraki is a unique neighborhood that has been inhabited for six thousand consecutive years! It is among the oldest, most historic and important neighborhoods in Western Culture. The name “Monastiraki” was established during the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Occupation. It was inspired by the nunnery (female monastery) that was established on the square. The area includes the Ancient Agora, one of the most important archeological sites in Athens, which was the center of the ancient city of Athens. Just next to the Monastiraki square, one will find also the Hadrian Library and the Roman Agora with the Tower of Winds.

The Tower of Winds inside the Roman Agora in Monastiraki

Underneath the cobblestones of the square runs an ancient river. Actually, the works for the new Metro station encountered exceptional difficulties due to their encounter with the riverbed of the river Eridanus, the sacred river of the ancient Athenians. In the modern city, the only uncovered part of the river is located in the neighboring archeological site of Kerameikos. The traces of the lost riverbed that were rediscovered are partially visible in a special exhibition space with archeological findings inside the Monastiraki Metro station. Monastiraki continued its role as a marketplace in modern Greece as well, with merchants selling their products like fresh fruit, grilled corn, handmade sandals and more, on their street benches. If you are looking for vintage products then this is the place to go!

Vintage shops in Monastiraki

What to see in Monastiraki

You have just stepped on Monastiraki square and you are standing in the middle. Street artists are playing music, local vendors sell their products, locals greet each other at the meeting place, tourists are looking around to see which direction to follow… you can immediately feel the strong local vibes of the area, and soon you are considering the best things to do.

After admiring the view of the Acropolis Hill, the first thing you will probably notice is the Tzistarakis Mosque. Built in 1759, the Mosque was named after the Ottoman voivode of the city, Mustafa Aga Tzistarakis. It was also known as the Lower Sintrivani Mosque from the nearby fountain, which was supplied by Eridanus river. Its use as a museum of handicrafts began after its first repair in 1915 and since 1975 it houses a remarkable collection of pottery from Greece, Cyprus, Ottoman and modern Turkey. Inside the Mosque you will find information and photos about the works and the artists and the historical significance of the building. Under the Mosque and in the section of Hephaestus Street that is defined by it, the workshops of the old shoemakers remain, some of which have now been turned into shops for touristic souvenirs.

The Tzistarakis Mosque in Monastiraki square

Next to the mosque, you will find the remnants of the Hadrian’s Library, which was built in 132 AD as an offer to the city of Athens by Hadrian, the Roman emperor. Under his rule, the ancient city of Theseus was enriched with important infrastructure, traces of which still dominate the center. The entrance to the Library was overlooking the Roman Forum, founded by Julius Caesar in 10 AD and as an extension to the Ancient Agora.

The small church of Pantanassa is what is left today by the nunnery of the Byzantine times, which also functioned during the Ottoman period, occupying the area of today's square. During the Frankish rule, it functioned as a Catholic church and was the personal property of a Venetian nobleman. Today, you will see people resting at its perimeter gazing at the people passing by, eating street food, or waiting for someone.

The Hadrian’s Library in Monastiraki

The entrance to Mitropoleos Street from the Square hosts the most famous corner of kebab shops in Athens. The first to open a kebab shop here is "Savvas", with roots in Armenia. The ownership of the business still belongs to the same family. The Athenians became acquainted with kebabs after the arrival of refugees from Anatolia in the 1920s (abroad, the Greek gyros is called kebab as well but it is actually a completely different thing).

While turning around, your eyes will also meet the most uninteresting part of the square, the concrete buildings, which are the result of the 1960s spatial legislation. But don’t get discouraged! Right behind them lies the flea market! The most important modern street in Monastiraki is the bazaar on Hephaestus Street and the adjacent straits or Jusurum, named after a Jewish old shop owner in the area which is actually the flea market of Athens center. The name Yusurum was incorporated into the urban Greek language and even became the title of a 1980s song by the underground music scene. Wondering these streets is one of the best things to do for locals and tourists alike! Clothes, shoes, jewelry, records, there is nothing you won’t find in this street market, with retailers welcoming you to the entrance of Yusurum with warm chestnuts for a small fee.

The Bazar of Athens in Monastiraki during the Ottoman period

A little further down, Hephaestus street meets Abyssinia Square, which was destined to host the first auction of the new capital of Greece. Today, it is known for its antique shops and furniture stores that repair old pieces, but also make copies inspired by old Athenian houses. A popular hangout here is the tavern among the junk shops, especially on Sunday afternoons, when the traditional delicacies may be accompanied by the sounds of an amazing gypsy band. In the summer evenings, you can also have a drink at the bar opposite the same (packed) shops.

Going a little bit deeper into the area you will find the Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments. This is a museum and a Research Center of Ethnomusicology at the Lassani Mansion with about 600 Greek musical instruments that have been exhibited in the last 300 years! Walking at Adrianou street, you will find yourself right next to the Ancient Agora where the most powerful men in the political and social life of antiquity used to walk. You will also see the sight of a wonderful ancient temple. It is no other but the Temple of Hephaestus, one of the most perfectly preserved ancient temples in Greece. It was dedicated to the god Hephaestus and Ergani Athena.

Temple of Hephaestus in Ancient Agora

Walking back again towards the Monastiraki square and in parallel with the Ancient Agora, you will reach the Roman Agora. This Agora consisted of a large rectangular courtyard surrounded by colonnades, many of which you can see even today standing there. The monument that is located on the corner of the site of the Roman Agora, known as the Tower of the Winds, is considered to be the first meteorological station in the world! You will see the 8 Wind Gods engraved around the structure! Both sites are included in all local guides among the best things to do in Monastiraki and Athens in general.

Last but not least, pause a moment to admire the Gate of Athena Archegetis which was the gate connecting the Ancient Agora with the Roman. A monumental entrance with four grand columns and a pediment of Pentelic marble which is in excellent condition. Usually, you will encounter musicians playing at the pedestrian street next to the gate, adding a little bit of a romantic element to the ancient sight.

The Gate of Athena Archegetis in Monastiraki

Where to enjoy a coffee break in Monastiraki

Take a break from all the exploring and get some rest at one of the many cafés or terraces of the Monastiraki area. This neighborhood combined small, picturesque cafés in little corners and terraces with breathtaking views!

Six Dogs is a very famous spot among the locals and during the summer you can enjoy a fresh break at its inner courtyard. This place has created a relaxing environment in a scenery that reminds you of the central square of a mountain village. Couleur Locale, a wonderful bar on one of the urban style terraces in the center of Athens will help you relax by drinking a fragrant coffee while enjoying the magnificent view of the Acropolis.

Six Dogs café in Monastiraki

If you are looking for something with a classic value and in a place where you can enjoy the vibes of the city, then head to Dioscuri! Sit at its tables on the pedestrian street of the ancient Adrianou street and enjoy your coffee with the view of the Ancient Agora just under the Holy Rock of the Acropolis. Enjoy the happy groups of students, couples, families and visitors that pass by and get the best vibe from this ancient neighborhood.

On the other hand, if you want to combine tradition with a view then there is no other place like Vryssaki. A cute, lively and artistic café, where people meet to create, discuss and be inspired while enjoying their coffee. Guests are welcome to enjoy their coffee or drink on the terrace overlooking the Acropolis, the little yard on the ground floor or the warm interiors reminiscent of something from home. Funk, Jazz and World music create a relaxing atmosphere by inspiring visitors to chat and socialize in a beautiful yard and a cozy terrace in the so-called "lost" neighborhood under Acropolis.

Vrysaki café in Monastiraki

Where to eat in Monastiraki

Let’s start from the classic part of Monastiraki by looking for a table in one of the oldest and best places to eat, at the “Kallipateira” tavern; popular with everyone and classic. In a historic neoclassical building, designed by the famous architect Ziller, overlooking the Hephaestus Temple on the picturesque pedestrian street of Monastiraki, you will find a welcoming atmosphere and homemade traditional Greek food, cooked with authentic ingredients and lots of love.

A local favorite is the “Karamanlidika” at 119 Ermou street. This eatery offers a corner full of aroma and taste from Anatolia, reviving excellently the essence of the Byzantine cuisine. Try their traditional “prosfournia”, adding your choice of cheeses from small, family-run Greek producers. Also, don’t miss their homemade “soutzouki” and “pastourma”!

Karamanlidika traditional eatery in Monastiraki

If you wish to combine food with a view, then "Zillers" is your place to go. Located in one of the many terraces of Monastiraki, right next to the Metropoles church of Athens, it offers a breathtaking view of the Acropolis, especially at night! If you are a fan of modern and elegant dishes and tastes you will surely like their menu. Make sure to book a place in advance though, especially if it is the weekend.

Zillers’ Roof Garden in Monastiraki

Monastiraki has something for every taste, from Asian to Indian restaurants, classic Greek taverns or Souvlaki places to authentic Sicilian food! At “Cosa Nostra” in Monastiraki, you will feel that you are in a setting of the famous movie Godfather or in New York’s Little Italy. In this warm and mysterious atmosphere, with the black and white floor, the authentic vintage decoration, the tables with the checkered fabric tablecloths and the red curtains that "hide" you from the outside world, you can try authentic Italian recipes. Cause, who doesn’t love pasta?

Monastiraki by night

Athenians love going out in the center! Monastiraki, Psyri, Gazi, Plaka and everything… The rooftops of Monastiraki are famous for inspiring cocktails and unparalleled views! There are also some small bars in little corners and alleys that will get you hooked!

The night never ends in Athens so start lightly with a glass of wine. “Monk Grapes and Spirits” is known for its oasis terrace, but also for its awesome interior with a "balcony" floor, overlooking the entire store. The "monk that knows good wine", as they say, is one of the best wine bar-restaurants in the center of Athens. With industrial aesthetics with arty elements, you will enjoy good wine and creative cocktails with delicious Greek cuisine, accompanied by jazz, bossa nova, funky and soul melodies.

Monk wine bar in Monastiraki

One of the oldest bars in the city center and among the first to take the cocktail theme to another level: “Baba au Rum”. The whole atmosphere travels you to exotic countries and areas where rum is plentiful and fun is unabated. Its cellar, especially in rum, is admirable while its catalog is a real work of art.

At “TAF (The Art Foundation)” you will find one of the most interesting courtyards in the city and you will enjoy your drink, cocktail or coffee any time of the day. In addition to the relaxation it offers, you can tour the various rooms of the space, which often host art exhibitions and other artistic activities. TAF is a favorite hotspot among the locals, located near the Hephaestus street and Monastiraki square.

TAF (The Art Foundation) in Monastiraki

A little bit further from Monastiraki square, you will find “Booze”. Possible the most unique hangout area for locals, welcoming you with huge posters announcing the (more than you can watch) artistic events and happenings, accompanied by great music and beautiful people! And just next to it, you will find “Noel”, a more ‘classy’ and elegant bar inside an arcade, offering amazing cocktails!

Noel in Monastiraki

If you walk around the streets in that area, you will find countless bars for any taste! In a very short distance, you will also find the whole square of Agias Eirinis filled with tables, chairs and cushions from the many bars on it! “A for Athens” also offers one of the best terraces in the city for a night out. Upstairs, the hip bar offers an incredible view of the Acropolis and Monastiraki Square just below. Tip: choose one of its signature cocktails. Have fun!

View from A for Athens terrace in Monastiraki

Things to do in Monastiraki's vicinity

Just 10 minutes away from Monastiraki's square, walking the street of Ermou, you will reach Syntagma square. There, you can admire the former royal palace of the first King of Greece, Otto, housing now the Greek Parliament. In front of the parliament, you can witness the Change of Guard, a sight not to miss! The Presidential Guards are guarding the Tomb of the Uknown Soldier, wearing traditional war costumes. The change happens every hour of the day so it is hard to miss. Following the opposite direction of Ermou street, you will shortly reach the Kerameikos site and the cemetery of ancient Athens. Next to Monastiraki, there are also Plaka and Anafiotika neighborhoods, arguably the most picturesque areas of Athens. If you follow Athena's street from Monastiraki square, you will reach the Central Market of Athens and the neighborhood of Psyri!

Alley in Plaka neighborhood

If you are only for a couple of nights in Athens and you wish to make the most of it, there is nothing better than having a local showing you around! Feel free to contact us and together we can create a unique itinerary to include all the things you wish to see and experience! If you are a nightcrawler, you can even enjoy a nightlife tour with a local Athenian who will show you the best of the city at night, according to your interest.

Monastiraki is a timeless, hotspot area of the Athenian center. Next to it, you will find two of the main, commercial streets of Athens, the paved Aeolus with the endless shops, and Ermou, the most famous shopping street of Athens named after another god, the Olympian Hermes. When you are in Monastiraki you are essentially at the center of everything! A breath away from Syntagma, the vibrant Psyri, the wonderful Thissio, and the romantic Plaka! Stroll around freely and enjoy the vibes!

 

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