Exarcheia Walk (Self Guided), Athens

Exarcheia is among Athens’ oldest, most well-worn districts with an abundance of historic buildings and landmarks. The location here of the National Library, the University and the National Academy confirm it as the intellectual heart of modern Athens. Follow this walk to get some idea of how the Agora of the ancient city may have looked in its prime, and make your way further through the area's lively cafés and rembetika (old-style Greek 'blues') bars to reach the National Archaeological Museum, Greece’s greatest treasure storehouse.
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Exarcheia Walk Map

Guide Name: Exarcheia Walk
Guide Location: Greece » Athens (See other walking tours in Athens)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.8 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: emily
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Syntagma Square
  • Academy of Athens
  • University of Athens
  • National Library of Greece
  • Athens Central Market (Varvakeios, or Dimotiki Agora)
  • Kotzia Square
  • National Technical University of Athens
  • Epigraphical Museum
  • National Archaeological Museum
  • Pedion tou Areos (Field of Ares Park)
1
Syntagma Square

1) Syntagma Square (must see)

Syntagma Square is a large public square located in front of the 19th-century Royal Palace, that houses the Greek Parliament since 1935. The square is named after the Constitution that Otto, the first King of Greece, was obliged to grant to the Greek people, after a popular and military uprising in 1843.

The square is now a bustling destination located near many major tourist attractions and connected by many busy roads. It is also a major transportation hub where trams, buses, and the subway take people to several important destinations in and around Athens. At the same time, the square remains an important venue for public meetings and political demonstrations.

Syntagma Square is laid in two levels, with the Eastern part being higher than the Western. There is a fountain at its center and several benches where visitors relax or use free public WiFi internet. There are two green areas with pine and orange trees as well as cafes that offer refreshments. The city has recently renovated the square with white marble and new lamp posts. The fountain and benches around it have also been restored. You'll probably find yourself in this square at some point as it's so central and is also one of the most common meeting points.

Why You Should Visit:
Undoubtedly the most important square of modern Athens from both a historical and social point of view, it sits at the epicentre of commercial activity and Greek politics.
You will probably find yourself in this square at some point as it's so central, connects many places and is also one of the most common meeting points.

Tip:
At the bottom of the square is the beginning of Ermou Street, the main shopping street of Athens filled with different stores and a flea market to browse around.
2
Academy of Athens

2) Academy of Athens

The building of the Academy is one of the major landmarks of Athens and houses the highest research establishment in the country. Established in 1926, its title hearkens back to the ancient Academy of Plato that was a great seat of learning in classical times.

Providing a glimpse of how Athens was over a century ago, the building is located on the right of a neoclassical trilogy that also includes the National Library on the left and the University of Athens at the center. It was designed by Danish architect, Theophil Hansen and completed in 1885. The main entrance has two Ionic pillars with the figures of Athena and Apollo. There are also sculptures of great ancient Greek philosophers and writers outside and within the academy.

The Athens Academy is depicted on a high-value collectors €100 coin minted to commemorate the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics. The intention was to highlight the premise that in the city of Athena, the Olympic Games should not only be the most important athletic event but also reflect equal importance toward intellectual and cultural activities.

Tip:
You can take a peek inside to see at least the meeting room, which is superbly decorated and in great condition.
3
University of Athens

3) University of Athens

Originally known as the Ottonian University after the Greek King Otto, this is the oldest university in southeast Europe and occupies the central building of the neoclassical trilogy designed by Danish architects Theophil and Christian Hansen.

Combining architectural magnificence with human simplicity, the building's neoclassical style is designed to suit the Mediterranean climate of Athens. Completed in 1885, the structure has two symmetrical wings divided by an Ionian-style entrance with columns and capitals replicating those found in the Propylaea temple in the Acropolis. The statues located beside the columns either side are suitably grand, as is the gable freeze.

A recent (2019) Webometrics Ranking of World Universities listed the University of Athens in the 219th place out of 12,000 universities worldwide (1st in Greece, 70th in Europe).
4
National Library of Greece

4) National Library of Greece

The National Library of Greece stands on the left side of the famous Hansen brothers’ trilogy of neo-classical buildings including the Academy of Athens and the original building of the Athens University.

The three structures are faithful reproductions of Classical architecture in all but one respect: color. Flecks of paint on particularly well-preserved ancient artifacts tell us that neon-garish blues, reds, oranges and yellows were the rule for ancient statuary and relief work, but this was apparently felt to be too vulgar for modern sensibilities, so the pediments are in more subdued hues.

The National Library stands out with a sweeping pair of curving marble staircases, well worth ascending to see the exhibits—the library displays some of Greece’s most rare manuscripts, among which fragments of 6th-century gospels of Matthew and the earliest known written versions of Homeric epics and hymns. Other treasures include a large etymological dictionary ("Etymologicum Magnum") and a historic Byzantine dictionary.
5
Athens Central Market (Varvakeios, or Dimotiki Agora)

5) Athens Central Market (Varvakeios, or Dimotiki Agora)

If you want a break from touring the historic sites of Athens or simply need to save money on food, or wish to see how Athens is fed, consider visiting the city's busy Central Market. Full of exotic sights, smells and colors, it is simply ideal for the “life as it is” photography. Halls of meat, fish, fruits and veggies, spices and herbs, as well as cheeses and sweets from all over Greece are here to be found. If you're not faint-hearted, you may even watch the butchers at work.

Varvakeios is undoubtedly one the best places in town for authentic Greek lunches, local food specialties, and edible souvenirs such as fresh olives (many olive vendors here have vacuum-seal equipment, so you can easily take your purchase back home), feta cheeses (made from sheep's, goat's, or cow's milk, varying in texture from the young cottage-cheese-like to the aged hard, granular kind, and ultimately, kefalotyri – hard, salty sheep’s milk cheese), and herbs.

Finally, you may treat yourself to a freshly-cooked meal at one of the first-come, first-served grill areas (try the grilled calamari!), or seek these two spots in particular:

– EPIRUS TAVERN ("Oinomageireio H Epirus"; Filopimenos 4; Mon-Sat: 6am–8:30pm)
Pleasant casual/retro feel; very welcoming staff/owners; typical grandma's recipes, very well cooked; and enormous portions. If on a little adventurous mood, try the tripe soup or the goat soup; if you feel less adventurous, stick with the chicken soup or the vegan options.

– KRINOS ("Κρίνος"; Aiolou 87; Mon, Wed, Sat: 8am–5pm; Tue, Thu-Fri: 8am–8:30pm)
Great place to pop by for a snack of the delicious “loukoumades”, or Greek deep-fried doughnuts, deep-fried to a golden crispy brown, then drizzled with honey syrup and sprinkled with cinnamon. A plate of 6 costs €3.5. To give the extra kick, ask for a serving of soft ice-cream (vanilla, chocolate, or mix)!

Tip:
Although Varvakeios operates from early morning until late in the afternoon (Mon-Sat), it is still best to do your shopping here first prior to setting out to dine at EPIRUS or KRINOS, as many of the market stalls and nearby shops wrap up for the day at about 3pm.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 7am-3pm (late: 6pm)
6
Kotzia Square

6) Kotzia Square

For a glimpse of 19th-century Athens at its best down, head to Athinas Street at beautifully restored Kotzia Square. Its grand neoclassical buildings include the Athens City Hall designed in 1874 and the marbled National Bank of Greece. Next door to the bank is the more contemporary National Bank of Greece Cultural Centre, which was cleverly built to show off the remains of the ancient Acharnian Gate.

In the middle of the square, look out for the fenced-off excavation area showing a large portion of an ancient road, along with several ancient tombs and small buildings.

Tip:
The square is beautiful at night when it is dramatically lit.
7
National Technical University of Athens

7) National Technical University of Athens

Also called the Athens Polytechnic, this educational institution (established by Royal Decree in 1836) was the only one providing engineering degrees in Greece until the 1950s, it became well known around the world during the student uprising in 1973 against the then military junta who ruled Greece. The dictators retaliated by crashing a tank into the gates of the institution, leaving dozens killed. Each year, the campus is closed on the 15th of November in memory of the students who died fighting for the overthrow of the ruling military dictatorship.

The university's traditional campus, located in the center of Athens on Patision Avenue, features a suite of magnificent neo-classical buildings by architect Lysandros Kaftantzoglou (1811–1885). A new campus – the Zografou – was built in the 1980s.
8
Epigraphical Museum

8) Epigraphical Museum

Housed here is a fascinating collection of over 14,000, mostly Greek, inscriptions, from early historical times to the Late Roman period. For the history enthusiast, getting so close to these epigraphic treasures will surely cause some goosebumps.

Here you will find carved in marble the original resolutions and laws adopted by the ancient Athenians in crucial chapters of their history: the creation of democracy, the strategy during the Persian Wars, the desperation of the Peloponnesian Wars, the Athenian resistance against Philip of Macedon – among many others. These carved letters, once 'officially' placed in the Agora (central square) profoundly affected the course of history, ever since.

While the museum is beautiful and quiet, it is not uncommon for staff to stay around and clarify questions or explain things.

Opening Hours:
Wed-Mon: 8:30am–4pm
Last admission 15mins before closing
9
National Archaeological Museum

9) National Archaeological Museum (must see)

The largest collections of ancient Greek artifacts are on display at the National Archeological Museum in Athens. Collections include exhibits excavated from archeological locations around the country and from sunken ships under the Mediterranean Sea, most of which are in exceptional shape.

Not really off the tourist track, the number of tourists here is much lower than in other central places, which makes it easier to examine the exhibits and read the descriptions/information posted. The bronzes, gold objects from the Mycenaean Civilization, and the sculpture are all wonderful, but the most interesting object is the Antikythera mechanism. One whole room is dedicated to this and no visit to Athens is complete without seeing it.

The building has a neoclassical design with an adjoining neoclassical-style garden in front, studded with many ancient statues. There is also a cafe and a gift shop, the latter selling reproductions of many of the objects displayed at the museum. Visitors can request English speaking guides for a better understanding of the history behind the exhibits.

Tip:
Make sure to read about the highlights before your visit so as not to miss them.
Go during the heat of the day and stay cool with the air-conditioning. Bring your camera, too – photography is allowed.

Opening Hours:
Tue: 1–8pm; Wed-Mon: 8:30am–4pm (Nov 1st–Apr 12th); Tue: 12:30–8pm; Wed-Mon: 8am–8pm (Apr 13–Oct 31)
10
Pedion tou Areos (Field of Ares Park)

10) Pedion tou Areos (Field of Ares Park)

Pedion tou Areos is one of the largest public parks in Athens, and also the name of the wider neighborhood. The park was designed in 1934 with a purpose to honor the heroes of the Greek Revolution of 1821, 21 of whom are depicted in marble busts standing in the park.

In front of the main entrance of the park, there is an equestrian statue of King Constantine I since 1938. At the other entrance, near Alexandras Avenue, stands a memorial to the English, Australian and New Zealander soldiers who fought in the Battle of Greece in the Second World War. The memorial is surmounted by a statue of goddess Athena. A total renovation of the park was completed in December 2010.

Tip:
Try going during the day to avoid strange encounters with dubious characters.

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