Plaka Attractions Walking Tour, Athens

Plaka Attractions Walking Tour (Self Guided), Athens

In the shadow of the Acropolis stands Plaka, the most picturesque and oldest district of Athens, with continuous habitation from antiquity until today. The “neighborhood of the Gods”, as it is called, is like a romantic, atmospheric trip to old Athens adorned with antiquities, historic 19th-century buildings, museums and Byzantine churches.

From the vibrant Syntagma Square walking down Ermou Street, you will first come across the Church of Kapnikarea built on the ruins of an ancient temple, in a very nice area with good shops and lots of locals. Going deeper into the neighborhood, you’ll find another very interesting piece of Greek history – the Benizelos Mansion, worth visiting for anyone interested in investigating the Ottoman era in Greek history and also get a good look at how everyday-life used to be.

Check out the street shops on Pandrossou Street, which is pedestrianized and safe from the ever-present traffic, then head to see the Tzistarakis Mosque and older Fethiye Mosque – both looking a great deal similar from the outside, though there are some differences, to be sure.

Past the remains of Hadrian’s Library and the great buildings of the Roman Agora, at the foot of the Acropolis, you will encounter quieter bars/cafes, less touristy shopping, and a very interesting collection of Greek musical instruments housed in an 1842 mansion.

Further along the way, confine your archaeological visits to the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos (now housing the Ancient Agora Museum), the nearly intact mini-Parthenon in the Temple of Hephaestus, as well as the Kerameikos Cemetery; a very evocative, well laid-out and well-maintained part of the city – also fairly quiet and off the main tourist routes. Walking the Street of Tombs with its massive graveside markers and monuments definitely brings a different feel of ancient Athens than that evoked by the Acropolis, but no less striking.

Join us on this self-guided walking tour of Athens’ most popular area, through narrow, winding streets, to see everything one could dream of on a visit to the ancient town!
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from iTunes App Store or Google Play Store to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Plaka Attractions Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Plaka Attractions Walking Tour
Guide Location: Greece » Athens (See other walking tours in Athens)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 14
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.6 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: emily
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Syntagma Square
  • Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea
  • Metropolitan Cathedral
  • Benizelos Mansion
  • Pandrossou Street Market
  • Tzistarakis Mosque
  • Hadrian's Library
  • Fethiye Mosque
  • Museum of Popular Music Instruments
  • Tower of the Winds
  • Church of the Holy Apostles
  • Ancient Agora Museum / Stoa of Attalos
  • Temple of Hephaestus
  • Kerameikos Cemetery
Syntagma Square

1) Syntagma Square

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.

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.
Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea

2) Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea

Standing in the center of modern-day Athens, right in the middle of the high-traffic shopping area of Ermou Street, this nice little Byzantine church is one of the city's oldest, having been built perhaps around 1050. As common with early Christian edifices, this was built over an ancient Greek temple dedicated to the worship of a goddess, possibly Athena or Demeter.

When King Otto I of Greece brought the Bavarian architect Leo von Klenze to draw the new city plan of Athens, the church was considered for demolition but, thankfully, the King of Bavaria, Ludwig I intervened and one can still admire its magnificence; the fact that it seems out of place only adding to that.

Presently, it is formed by a complex of three different units attached together, built in succession. The interior is filled with ancient mosaics and a gorgeous icon stand. The exterior has attractive stone and brickwork which gives it a beautiful exterior appearance as well. The church is very well maintained and many people drop in for a prayer.

Hours are irregular but if open, it is worth stopping by.
Metropolitan Cathedral

3) Metropolitan Cathedral

This cathedral church, more popularly known as the "Metropolis", has recently been cleaned, restored and reopened to visitors. The interior decoration, with elaborate icons, decorations, and detailed murals, is beautiful and a great example of Greek Orthodox faith.

Construction of the church began on Christmas Day, 1842, with the laying of the cornerstone by King Otto and Queen Amalia of Greece. Workers used marble from 72 demolished churches to build the structure's immense walls. Three architects and 20 years later, it was complete.

Inside are the tombs of two saints killed by the Ottoman Turks during the Ottoman period: Saint Philothei and Patriarch Gregory V. In the Square in front of the Cathedral stand two statues of the last Byzantine Emperor, killed defending Constantinople against the Turks, as well as of the World War II Archbishop who worked to save Athens' Jews from the Nazi persecution. The square itself is much quieter than Syntagma Square and is a great spot to escape the bustle while having a drink in one of the cafes.

Opening Hours:
Daily 6:30am-7pm
Benizelos Mansion

4) Benizelos Mansion

Nicely restored and free to visit (voluntary donations welcome), here is a great display of an Ottoman-era (16th century) house, identified as the last surviving konaki in Athens. Despite being overlooked by guide books, it is full of information (in English and Greek) and surprisingly takes up more time than the 10 mins to visit, opening up a new view on the late period of Turkish occupation without which the city's architectural history would have been incomplete.

Visual material, as well as audio applications and digital interactive exhibits, narrate the history of a distinguished family whose daughter became a saint (Saint Philothei, her relics held in a golden coffin in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens), as well as the way of living then and there.

On the first floor is a loggia, supported by pillars, which was glazed in later years. The mansion’s courtyard is surrounded by high walls, typical of Athenian residences of the era.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Thu: 10am–1pm; Sun: 11am–4pm
Pandrossou Street Market

5) Pandrossou Street Market

The busy market on the narrow Pandrossou Street is a cluster of nearly one hundred shops. Vendors offer almost anything, from postcards to a range of souvenirs and local memorabilia. The choice is enormous and the quality of items on sale is generally good, including traditional and locally-made stuff. Alongside regular souvenir stalls, there is a fairly good choice of antiques and other valuable items. Plus, the flea market held on Sundays is a sight to behold. So if you plan to bring home some locally made souvenirs or Greek specialty products, this is definitely a good place to visit. Just stay aware of the occasional pickpocket, and you'll be fine.

The flea market here on Sundays is a particularly great time to visit. The range of antiques, junk and sometimes, valuable items, are strewn all across tables, over cars and even along the street.
Tzistarakis Mosque

6) Tzistarakis Mosque

Sitting high in the busy Monastiraki square, this mosque cannot be missed. Built in 1759 by then Turkish civil governor of Athens, it has one large dome and two smaller ones, demonstrating a different edge to the typical Ancient Greek architecture in the area. While no longer operating as a mosque, it hosts an exhibition inside.

Go up the steps and view the interesting collection of ceramics, sculpture and decorative arts from the Kyriazopoulos family's collection. Though rather small, it includes rare and interesting pieces from many regions of Greece, along with selected works by artists from the Center for the Study of Traditional Pottery. All in all, worth visiting if only to get some respite from the hustle and bustle of outside Monastiraki.

On a side note, the limestone used to build the structure was taken from the columns of the temple of the Olympian Zeus. The minaret of the mosque was destroyed during the Greek revolution in 1821.
Hadrian's Library

7) Hadrian's Library

There is not a whole lot left of this Roman-era library, but it must have been a wonder in its 2nd century A.D. heyday. Emperor Hadrian, a great admirer of Greek culture (he was known as "Graecula" or "Little Greek"), equipped the expansive complex with lecture halls, gardens and art galleries. His rule was a time of peace and prosperity, when arts and culture flourished. Therefore, the library is an example of the cultural institutions established during his reign.

During Hadrian’s reign, the library was a storehouse of valuable rolls of papyrus and other artwork. The building had many chambers used as reading rooms and some were lecture halls. It was damaged during the invasion of Herules and was restored again by the Roman leader of Athens, Herculius. Later, three Byzantine churches were built within its ruins: a Byzantine 5th-century church, a 7th-century church and a 12th century cathedral form part of the ruins.

The best-preserved part of the library is an outer wall with Corinthian columns. There isn't a whole lot to see inside, but admission is included with the Acropolis ticket, so certainly worth a walk-through.
Fethiye Mosque

8) Fethiye Mosque

On the site of the Roman Agora stands the Fethiye Mosque or Mosque of Mehmet the Conqueror, one of the few religious buildings erected by the Ottomans that is still visible in Athens.

Built in 1456 on the ruins of an 8th-century Byzantine basilica, in honor of Sultan Mehmet II, an admirer of ancient Greek philosophers, this mosque is named Fethiye, which means "conquest". The Athenians, less inclined to celebrate the Empire that occupied them, simply called it the "Wheatmarket Mosque" because of its proximity to the Agora, which became a wheat market under Ottoman rule.

During the brief occupation of the city by the Venetian forces in the Morean War (Oct 1687 – May 1688), the mosque was converted by into a Catholic church, dedicated to Dionysius the Areopagite. When Athens was liberated from the Ottoman yoke in the early 19th century, the minaret was torn down and the mosque became a school. From 1834 and until the early 20th century, it was used successively as a barracks, a military prison and finally as a military bakery.

By 2017, the mosque has undergone an extensive restoration and renovation, now hosting various cultural exhibitions that are open to the public.
Museum of Popular Music Instruments

9) Museum of Popular Music Instruments

Housed in an 1842 mansion belonging to a wealthy Athenian family, this small museum has a wide range of traditional Greek musical instruments arranged in three halls on three floors.

Eminent Greek musicologist, Fivos Anoyanakis, researched traditional folk music for 50 years. The museum now displays about 600 musical instruments gathered by him from different parts of the country, which were used by Greek performers from 1750 onwards. These are grouped into four sections, such as drums, wind instruments, string instruments and bells. Some are a bit rudimentary; others are unbelievable works of art in themselves.

The display cases are surrounded by photographs of people playing the instruments, and headphones next to many of the displays allow visitors to listen to what the instruments sound like. There are also historic videos demonstrating how some of the instruments (including goat bells!) were used during festivities.

The museum's courtyard provides a cool oasis on a hot summer day (if lucky, one might come across an outdoor concert). There is a small bookstore, offering books and CDs for those wishing to delve further. The staff is very welcoming and informative – just ask! Otherwise, you'll be left to wander at your own pace.

Opening Hours:
Tue, Thu-Sun: 10am-2pm; Wed: 12am-6pm
Tower of the Winds

10) Tower of the Winds

This beautiful octagonal marble tower, standing 12 meters tall, functioned as a horologion or "timepiece", and is considered the world's first meteorological station. Featuring a combination of sundials, a water clock, and a wind vane, the monument is also unofficially called Aerides ("Winds"). It was supposedly built by Andronicus of Cyrrhus around 50 BC, but according to other sources, might have been constructed in the 2nd century BC before the rest of the forum.

The eight sundials can be seen below the frieze depicting the eight wind deities—Boreas (N), Kaikias (NE), Apeliotes (E), Eurus (SE), Notus (S), Lips (SW), Zephyrus (W), and Skiron (NW). In its interior, there used to be a complicated water clock (or clepsydra), driven by water coming down from the Acropolis. Recent research has shown that the considerable height of the tower was motivated by the intention to place the sundials and the wind-vane at a visible height on the Agora, effectively making it an early example of a clocktower.

In early Christian times, the building was used as the bell-tower of an Eastern Orthodox church. Under Ottoman rule, it became a tekke and was used by whirling dervishes to perform their meditative dance. At that time it was buried up to half its height, and traces of this can be observed in the interior, where Turkish inscriptions may be found on the walls.

Entry is included in the price of a visit to the Roman Agora or otherwise included with the Acropolis combination ticket.
Church of the Holy Apostles

11) Church of the Holy Apostles

One of the few Byzantine structures that largely remains intact from the 10th century, the Church of the Holy Apostles, located in the middle of the Ancient Agora, was built over a 2nd-century Nymphaeum (monument dedicated to nymphs in classical Greece) to commemorate Apostle Paul's visit to Athens.

On a hot day, this is a great place to get out of the sun. There are a number of impressive 17th-century frescos to enjoy, and you can usually do it in solitude, as most visitors to the Agora tend to pass this Byzantine treasure by.

No seating inside, but lovely benches in the shade outside.
Ancient Agora Museum / Stoa of Attalos

12) Ancient Agora Museum / Stoa of Attalos

The Ancient Agora Museum is housed in the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos, a most impressive stoa originally built during the 2nd century BC. A stoa is a covered walkway that's commonly built for public use. This stoa was built by and named after King Attalos II of Pergamon who made it a gift to Athens during his rule. The stoa was more elaborate and larger than earlier buildings in ancient Athens. Its dimensions are 115 meters long by 20 meters wide and it is made of Pentelic marble and limestone. The building skillfully makes use of different architectural orders. The Doric order was used for the exterior colonnade on the ground floor with Ionic for the interior colonnade. It is rather like a modern shopping mall but much more beautiful.

The exhibition in the Museum gallery holds archaeological finds from systematic excavations in the area. The exhibits are dated from the Neolithic to the Post-byzantine and Ottoman periods. And to no one's surprise, most are connected with Athenian democracy. The museum's collection includes clay, bronze and glass objects, sculptures, coins and inscriptions from the 7th to the 5th century BC. Notable also is the pottery of the Byzantine period and the Turkish occupation. The museum has no separate fee as entry is always included in the Agora ticket.

Why You Should Visit:
Gives you a real sense of the size and grandeur of ancient public buildings; it is rather like a modern shopping mall but much more beautiful.

The price of entry is included in the Agora ticket. Upper level has a sweeping view of the grounds!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am-8pm (Apr 13-Oct 31)
On Tuesdays, the museum opens at 10am
Temple of Hephaestus

13) Temple of Hephaestus (must see)

The temple dedicated to Hephaestus is the best preserved ancient Greek temple, partly because it was transformed into a Greek Orthodox church from the 7th until the 19th centuries. It is located at the north-west side of the Agora, on top of a hill, and really gives a feel of the true scale of an actual Greek temple, due to the structure being basically intact.

In Greek mythology, Hephaestus was the god of fire and metalwork, so he is also described as the god of blacksmiths and artisans. No one but him was able to build the beautiful, indestructible bronze mansions where all the other Olympians lived.

The temple's construction started in 449 BC, and some scholars believe the building has not been completed for some three decades, as funds and workers were redirected towards the Parthenon. According to the “Description of Greece” written by the great Greek traveler Pausanias in the 2nd century AD, the temple housed the bronze statues of Athena and Hephaestos. Trees and shrubs were planted around the temple, creating a small garden. So if you visit, you will have some shady spots as well as great views of other sites from the temple. It is really advisable to get an audio guide as soon as you arrive, as it provides a much better story to the experience.

Why You Should Visit:
Not as enormous as the remains of the Parthenon or the few ruins of the gigantic temple of the Olympian Zeus but it gives a feel of the true scale of these amazing structures, as the structure is basically intact.

You can visit this site as part of the Acropolis multi-site ticket, which is highly recommended.
It is really advisable to get an audio guide, as this provides a much better story to the experience.
While you cannot walk inside the structure, you can walk around it to see the decorative frizes that surround it.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30am-6pm (Winter); 8am-8pm (Summer)
Kerameikos Cemetery

14) Kerameikos Cemetery

This large archaeological site to the west of the Acropolis is much more than a mere cemetery. The excavation stretches from one of the main gates of ancient Athens along the road to the Piraeus, and so uncovers roadside shops and buildings as well as the Themistoclean Wall.

There are also funerary monuments, as burials happened outside the walls along the road. The mixture of ruins and memorials means that there is something to appeal to everyone at this site. Despite this, it is quite quiet, as it is some distance from the better-known attractions. The area is large enough and green enough that it is easy to forget that you're in the middle of a large city – plus, you can visit any time of day as there is plenty of shade if needed.

There is a small museum on-site that displays sculpture, pottery, and many of the original funeral monuments (the ones presented in situ are copies), among which a beautiful marble bull that was found over the grave of Dionysus of Kolitos. The combination of archaeology and classical sculpture makes this one of the more interesting ancient sites in Athens.

There is a hill near the entrance where you can see the whole cemetery and also a small church.
You can visit this site as part of the Acropolis multi-site ticket, which is highly recommended.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30am-3pm (Winter); 8am-7:30pm (Summer)
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

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