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 Apple 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 (Constitution Square)
  • Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea
  • Metropolitan Cathedral
  • Benizelos Mansion
  • Pandrossou Street Market
  • Tzistarakis Mosque
  • Hadrian's Library
  • Fethiye Mosque
  • Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments
  • Tower of the Winds
  • Church of the Holy Apostles
  • Stoa of Attalos and Ancient Agora Museum
  • Temple of Hephaestus
  • Kerameikos Ancient Cemetery
Syntagma Square (Constitution Square)

1) Syntagma Square (Constitution Square)

Syntagma is a spacious public square in front of the 19th-century Royal Palace, which has housed the Greek Parliament since 1935. A common meeting place and a likely destination for many visitors, it was named after the Constitution that King Otto, Greece's first monarch, was compelled to grant to the Greek people following a popular and military uprising in 1843.

Now a bustling hub located near many significant tourist attractions and well connected by major roads, Syntagma serves as a vital transportation interchange where trams, buses, and the subway provide access to various essential destinations in and around Athens. At the same time, it remains an important venue for public gatherings and political demonstrations.

The square is laid on two levels, with the eastern part elevated above the western section. At its center, there is a fountain, along with several benches where visitors can relax or access free public WiFi. Two green areas feature pine and orange trees, and there are cafes offering refreshments. The city recently renovated the whole space with white marble and new lampposts.

One notable element here is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where the National Guard maintain patrols. They also perform a synchronized, high-stepping routine and change guard every hour on the hour, dressed in distinctive uniforms featuring kilts and pom-pom clogs. The tomb itself displays a poignant relief depicting a dying Greek hoplite warrior and was unveiled on March 25, 1932, Independence Day.

Why You Should Visit:
Undoubtedly the most significant square in contemporary Athens, holding immense historical and social importance. Positioned at the very heart of the city, it serves as a focal point for both commercial activity and Greek political life.

Adjacent to the lower end of the square lies the starting point of Ermou Street, Athens' primary shopping thoroughfare, replete with various shops and a bustling flea market to explore.
Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea

2) Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea

Stading at the heart of modern-day Athens, right in the high-traffic shopping area of Ermou Street, this charming Byzantine church, believed to have been constructed around 1050, is one of the city's oldest. Following a common pattern among early Christian structures, it sits atop an ancient Greek temple dedicated to a deity, possibly Athena (the protector of Athens) or Demeter (goddess of the harvest).

When King Otto I of Greece enlisted the Bavarian architect Leo von Klenze to design the new city layout of Athens, there was a consideration to demolish the church. Fortunately, King Ludwig I of Bavaria, a prominent supporter of the arts in Europe, stepped in to safeguard its grandeur, and the fact that it appears somewhat out of place only enhances its charm.

Kapnikarea is now regarded as one of Athens' most significant churches, consisting of a complex of three sections. The primary church on the southern side is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, with a colonnaded porch dating back to the 12th century. The chapel in the northern section is dedicated to Agia Varvara (or Saint Barbara), while an exonarthex was added on the western side.

The church's exterior showcases a splendid mosaic from 1936 depicting the Virgin Mary holding Jesus, crafted by Greek mosaicist Elli Voila. Inside, the walls are adorned with paintings influenced by the Byzantine tradition, created by a hagiography school, while the paintings in the vaulted narthex and the exo-narthex date back to 1900, with the exact artist remaining unknown.

Note that the church's opening hours can be irregular, but if it happens to be open, it's certainly 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. Serving as the official seat of the Bishop of Athens, it remains a prominent city landmark that has hosted significant ceremonial events, from royal coronations to the weddings and funerals of notable individuals. Its interior is adorned with intricate icons, decorations, and detailed murals, showcasing the beauty of Greek Orthodox faith.

Construction on the Metropolis began on Christmas Day in 1842, with King Otto and Queen Amalia of Greece laying the cornerstone. The builders used marble from 72 dismantled churches to construct the colossal walls of the edifice. After 20 years and the contributions of three architects, the church was completed and consecrated in honor of the Annunciation of the Virgin. Measuring 40 meters (130 feet) in length, 20 meters (65 feet) in width, and 24 meters (80 feet) in height, it stands as the largest church in Athens.

Within its confines lie the tombs of two saints martyred by the Ottoman Turks during the Ottoman era: Saint Philothéi and Patriarch Gregory V. Saint Philothéi, who passed away in 1589, is interred in a silver reliquary, with her bones still visible. Her benevolent deeds included the ransom of Greek women held captive in Turkish harems. Patriarch Gregory V, who served as the Patriarch of Constantinople, was executed and thrown into the Bosphorus in 1821. Greek sailors rescued his body and transported it to Odessa, eventually returning it to Athens half a century later with the assistance of Black Sea (Pontic) Greeks.

In the square out front, two statues stand in commemoration of the last Byzantine Emperor, who perished while defending Constantinople against the Turks, and the World War II Archbishop who played a crucial role in safeguarding Athens' Jewish community from Nazi persecution. The square itself provides a tranquil alternative to the bustling Syntagma Square, making it an excellent place to enjoy a drink at one of the local cafes while escaping the city's bustle.
Benizelos Mansion

4) Benizelos Mansion

This excellently restored Ottoman-era house, dating back to the 16th or 17th century, is a hidden gem that you can visit for free (though voluntary donations are appreciated). It is recognized as the last surviving 'konaki' in Athens—a type of urban aristocratic residence commonly found in Ottoman cities. Despite being often overlooked in guidebooks, the place is a treasure trove of information, presented in both English and Greek. Surprisingly, you'll find yourself spending more than the anticipated 10 minutes exploring it, as it provides a fresh perspective on the late period of Turkish occupation, filling a crucial gap in the city's architectural history.

The exhibition employs visual materials, audio applications, and digital interactive displays to recount the story of a prominent family. Their daughter, who chose a life of monastic philanthropy, was later canonized as Saint Philothei, with her relics now enshrined in a golden coffin at the city's Metropolitan Cathedral. As expected, you'll gain quite some insight into the lifestyle of the era.

On the first floor is a loggia supported by pillars, which was later enclosed with glass. The mansion's courtyard is enveloped by tall walls, characteristic of Athenian residences from that time period. Moreover, there's a charming garden that offers picturesque views of Athens.
Pandrossou Street Market

5) Pandrossou Street Market

The busy marketplace along the narrow Pandrossou Street is a cluster of nearly one hundred shops. Vendors offer almost anything, from postcards to various souvenirs and local mementos. The selection is vast, and the quality of merchandise on sale is generally high, including both traditional and locally crafted products.

In addition to the typical souvenir stalls, there is a reasonably diverse assortment of antiques, icons, and other valuable items. Plus, the Sunday flea market is a sight to behold, with a range of items strewn all across tables, over carss, and even along the street. So if you plan to bring home some locally made souvenirs or Greek specialty products, this is certainly a worthwhile destination. Just stay aware of the occasional pickpocket, and be sure to verify the authenticity of items, as shopkeepers require government permission to export genuine objects from ancient Greek, Roman, or Byzantine periods.

At No. 36, the Centre for Hellenic Traditions offers a selection of high-quality traditional handicrafts, ceramics, and sculptures crafted by artisans from various regions of Greece. Meanwhile, Martinos Antiques (No. 50) serves as a treasure trove for antique enthusiasts, housing items such as exquisite dowry chests, vintage swords, precious fabrics, and Venetian glass. Within the four floors of this renovated shop, which has stood as an Athens landmark for the past century, you are sure to discover something that piques your interest.
Tzistarakis Mosque

6) Tzistarakis Mosque

Athens endured centuries of Ottoman rule, but very few structures have endured, as archaeologists have predominantly focused on uncovering older artifacts beneath the ground. Perched prominently in the Monastiraki square, this mosque, the largest surviving structure of its kind, is impossible to overlook. Constructed in 1759 under the supervision of the Turkish civil governor of Athens at the time, Tzistarakis, the mosque features one large central dome and two smaller ones, offering a striking departure from the traditional Greek architecture prevalent in the area. While it no longer functions as a mosque, the building now houses an exhibition.

Climbing the steps to enter, visitors can explore a collection of ceramics, sculptures, and decorative arts from the Kyriazopoulos family's private collection. Although relatively small in size, the exhibition contains rare and intriguing pieces from various regions of Greece, including selected works by artists affiliated with the Center for the Study of Traditional Pottery. All in all, it's a worthwhile stop, providing a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of Monastiraki's surroundings.

As an interesting historical aside, the limestone used to construct the mosque was sourced from one of the pillars of the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, in violation of a decree issued by the Turkish Sultan. Local superstition of the time held that the destruction of temples could bring about epidemics, so when the locals learned about the origin of the mosque's building materials, they were incensed. To appease them, the Sultan banished Tzistarakis from Athens, but this wasn't enough, as Tzistarakis was later assassinated.

The mosque served as a place of worship until the onset of the Greek War of Independence, after which it was repurposed as a meeting hall for elders. Following Greece's independence from the Ottomans, the Greek government took control of the building and used it in various ways, including as a prison, barracks, warehouse, and venue for military concerts and events.

Sometime between 1839 and 1843, the building's minaret was demolished.
Hadrian's Library

7) Hadrian's Library

While not much remains of this Roman-era library today, it must have been a marvel during its heyday in the 2nd century AD when it enclosed a cloistered court with a hundred columns. Emperor Hadrian, a fervent admirer of Greek culture (earning him the nickname "Graecula" or "Little Greek"), outfitted this expansive complex with art galleries, lecture halls, and a grand central public space. His rule marked an era of peace and prosperity, fostering the flourishing of arts and culture; that left an indelible mark on the Roman Empire.

During Hadrian's time, the library served as a repository for valuable papyrus scrolls and various artworks. It suffered damage during the Herules invasion but was later restored by the Roman leader of Athens, Herculius. Over time, the ruins became the site of three churches: a Byzantine church dating back to the 5th century, a 7th-century church, and a 12th-century cathedral.

The site has only recently become accessible to the public and is still undergoing excavation; however, a few original Corinthian columns have endured, providing a sense of the library's impressive scale. It's particularly striking to realize that the Tetraconch Church, whose remains lie at the center of the site, was constructed entirely within the library's internal courtyard.

Admission is included with the Acropolis ticket, so it's certainly worth a visit. Alternatively, you can get a sense of the site by strolling along the fenced perimeter and peering through.
Fethiye Mosque

8) Fethiye Mosque

In the vicinity of the Roman Forum, you can discover some of the few remaining vestiges of the Ottoman era. The oldest mosque in Athens, known as the Fethiye, was built in 1458 on the ruins of an 8th-century Byzantine basilica. The mosque was dedicated by Sultan Mehmet II, who held admiration for ancient Greek philosophers, and more famously conquered Constantinople in 1453 ("fethiye" means "conquest" in Turkish). The Athenians, less inclined to celebrate the empire that had occupied their city, simply referred to it as the "Wheatmarket Mosque" due to its proximity to the Forum, which had become a wheat market during Ottoman rule.

During a brief period of Venetian occupation of the city in the Morean War (October 1687 – May 1688), the mosque underwent a transformation into a Catholic church, dedicated to Dionysius the Areopagite. Following Athens' liberation from Ottoman rule in the early 19th century, the minaret was dismantled, and the mosque was repurposed as a school. From 1834 until the early 20th century, it served various roles, including as a barracks, a military prison, and eventually a military bakery.

The mosque features an impressive, porticoed entrance, but unfortunately, its interior is not accessible to visitors as it now serves as an archaeological storage facility. Across Eólou Street from this site, roughly opposite the entrance to the Roman Forum, you can still see the gateway and the single dome of a medrese, an Islamic school, which have endured through the years.
Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments

9) Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments

After dedicating 50 years of his life to the study of traditional folk music, the esteemed Cretan musicologist Phoivos Anogianákis (1915–2003) made a significant contribution to the preservation of musical heritage. In 1978, he donated his extensive collection of over 1,200 musical instruments, which had been used by Greek performers since 1750, to the Greek state. Fourteen years later, the museum bearing his name was inaugurated, serving as a tribute to the history of Greek folk and popular music, while prominently featuring the remarkable collection. Housed within an elegant mansion dating back to 1842, which once belonged to a prosperous Athenian family, this museum provides insights into the evolution of various island music styles and the introduction of 'rempétika' (Greek "blues") from Smyrna in 1922.

Instruments from all corners of Greece are on display, neatly organized into four sections based on their types: drums, wind instruments, string instruments, bells. Some are a bit rudimentary, while others are astonishing works of art in their own right. Exhibits are accompanied by photos of people playing the instruments, and many feature headphones that allow visitors to listen to the distinct sounds they produce. Historic videos are also available, demonstrating how some of the instruments were used during various festivities, while highlighting differences in regional musical and playing styles.

In the basement, you'll find an assortment of church and livestock bells, as well as water whistles, wooden clappers, and flutes. Elsewhere, wind instruments like 'tsampoúna' (bagpipes made from goatskin) and string instruments such as the Cretan 'lýra' are on display.

The courtyard offers a refreshing oasis on hot summer days, and you may even stumble upon an outdoor concert if you're fortunate. Additionally, there is a small bookstore that offers books and CDs for those interested in delving deeper into Greek music traditions. The staff is welcoming and knowledgeable, so don't hesitate to ask for guidance; otherwise, you'll be left to explore at your own pace.
Tower of the Winds

10) Tower of the Winds

The most remarkable structure within the Roman Forum complex, this exquisite octagonal marble tower, standing 12 meters tall, served a dual purpose as a horologion—essentially a "timepiece"—and is often regarded as the world's earliest meteorological station. Featuring a combination of sundials, a water clock, and a wind vane, it is attributed to a Syrian Greek astronomer from around 50 BC, although some sources suggest it might have been built in the 2nd century BC prior to the rest of the Forum.

Below the frieze, which portrays the eight wind deities—Boreas (North), Kaikias (Northeast), Apeliotes (East), Eurus (Southeast), Notus (South), Lips (Southwest), Zephyrus (West), and Skiron (Northwest)—you can observe the eight sundials. Meanwhile, within the tower's interior, there was once a complex water clock, or clepsydra, driven by water piped down from the Acropolis. Recent research has revealed that the tower's considerable height was intentional, as it aimed to position the sundials and wind vane at a visible elevation within the Agora, essentially making it an early prototype of a clocktower.

Ironically, during the early Christian era, the building served as the bell-tower for an Eastern Orthodox church. Under Ottoman rule, it was repurposed as a 'tekke' and used by whirling dervishes for their meditative dances. During this time, it was partially buried, with visible traces of this alteration found within the interior, featuring Turkish inscriptions on the walls.

Admission to the site is included in the ticket price for visiting the Roman Agora or is covered by the Acropolis combination ticket.
Church of the Holy Apostles

11) Church of the Holy Apostles

One of the rare Byzantine edifices that has retained much of its original form since the 10th century, the charming little Church of the Holy Apostles can be found near the center of the Ancient Roman Forum. It was originally constructed atop a 2nd-century Nymphaeum (a monument dedicated to nymphs in classical Greece), with the purpose of commemorating Apostle Paul's teachings in the Agora.

In keeping with the architectural trends of its era, the church features exterior brick decorations that mimic Arabic calligraphy. Throughout the period of Ottoman rule, it underwent several alterations, but a restoration effort conducted between 1954 and 1957 removed its 19th-century additions, returning it to its original state.

On a scorching day, this site offers a welcome respite from the sun. Inside, you'll discover a collection of exquisite Byzantine frescoes, relocated from a demolished church, and the relative obscurity of this Byzantine gem means you can often enjoy it in peaceful solitude.

While there isn't seating inside, you can find lovely benches in the shaded area outside to relax and take in the surroundings.

Why You Should Visit:
Although not grand or imposing in scale, this church offers valuable insights into the appearance of smaller churches from centuries past.
Stoa of Attalos and Ancient Agora Museum

12) Stoa of Attalos and Ancient Agora Museum

Widely present in many ancient Greek cities, "stoa" is a type of architectural structure that played an important role in social, commercial, and administrative urban life, acting as central hubs of daily activities. These structures, open at the front with a impressive columned façades, offered a sheltered yet open area for the functions of civil officials, merchants, and various individuals. Moreover, they doubled as exhibition spaces for art and public monuments, were used for religious observances, and contributed to the delineation of public areas.

Originally commissioned by and named after King Attalos II of Pergamon (in present-day Turkey), who offered it as a gift to Athens during his reign, this Stoa is an impressive covered walkway constructed during the 2nd century BC and fully rebuilt in the 1950s. In terms of complexity and size, it surpassed earlier buildings in ancient Athens, measuring 115 meters (377 feet) in length and 20 meters (65 feet) in width.

While it may lack its original bright red and blue paint, the reconstruction remains undeniably spectacular in every other aspect. Made of Pentelic marble and limestone, it incorporates different architectural orders, employing the Doric order for the exterior colonnade on the ground floor and the Ionic order for the interior colonnade.

Within this monumental structure, the small Ancient Agora Museum occupies ten of the 21 shops that comprised the Stoa's lower level, showcasing artifacts discovered at the Agora site, spanning from the earliest Neolithic occupation to the Roman and Byzantine periods.

While many of the early artifacts are sourced from burials, the museum's highlights predominantly belong to the Classical era, including notable red-figure pottery and a bronze Spartan shield. Keep an eye out for the 'ostraka', fragments of pottery inscribed with names. During annual assemblies of citizens, these shards would be submitted, and the individual with the most votes would face banishment or "ostracism" from the city for ten years.

On the upper level, the balcony area hosts an intriguing exhibition on the Agora site's excavations and the Stoa's reconstruction, presenting various models, plans, and photos of buildings, with the models particularly aiding in comprehending the broader Agora site.

Why You Should Visit:
Provides essential background information about the Agora and offers a genuine sense of the scale and grandeur of ancient public buildings. Somewhat reminiscent of a modern shopping mall, but far more aesthetically pleasing!

Entry to the museum is included in the Agora ticket, with no separate fee required. While there, don't miss the sweeping view of the grounds from the upper level!
Temple of Hephaestus

13) Temple of Hephaestus (must see)

The temple dedicated to Hephaestus, the best-preserved ancient Greek temple, has maintained its integrity in part due to its transformation into a Greek Orthodox church from the 7th to the 19th centuries. Standing on a hill on the north-west side of the Agora, it may not match the grandeur of the Parthenon's remains or the colossal temple of the Olympian Zeus, but it offers a genuine sense of the true proportions of an authentic Greek temple, thanks to its mostly intact structure.

In Greek mythology, Hephaestus was the deity associated with fire, metalworking, blacksmiths, and artisans. Only he possessed the skill to craft the magnificent and indestructible bronze residences where the other Olympian gods dwelled.

Construction of the temple began in 449 BC, and some scholars suggest that it may have taken around three decades to complete, as resources and labor were diverted towards the Parthenon. As documented in the "Description of Greece" by Greek traveler Pausanias in the 2nd century AD, the temple once housed bronze statues of Athena and Hephaestus. The surroundings have been adorned with trees and shrubs, creating a small garden where visitors can find shaded spots and enjoy excellent views of other historical sites.

You can explore this site with the Acropolis multi-site ticket, which is highly recommended. Consider obtaining an audio guide for a richer experience. While entry inside the structure is restricted, you can walk around it to admire the decorative friezes adorning its exterior.
Kerameikos Ancient Cemetery

14) Kerameikos Ancient Cemetery

The Kerameikos site, encompassing the primary cemetery of ancient Athens along with a substantial section of the ancient wall, offers a captivating and peaceful retreat. Often overlooked by tourists, it exudes a sense of oasis with the lush Iridhanós channel meandering from east to west, speckled with water lilies. Upon entering, to the right, you'll come across the stream and a double line of the city wall. Two roads pierced the city's fortifications, and excavations have revealed the gates that served as their entry points into the city.

The grand Dipylon Gate was the busiest entrance in ancient Athens, marking the arrival point for the road from Pireás, Eleusis, and the north. In contrast, the Sacred Gate was a ceremonial entrance through which the “Ierá Odhós” or Sacred Way entered the city – it was used for the Eleusinian and Panathenaic processions.

Branching off to the left from the Sacred Way, the Street of the Tombs cuts through the cemetery. Alongside it, many commemorative monuments have been unearthed, with their stones either restored or replaced with replicas. The flat vertical stelae were the main funerary monuments of the Classical world, while the sarcophagi you may encounter are from later Hellenistic or Roman periods. Notable among them is the Memorial of Dexileos, honoring the 20-year-old son of Lysanias of Thorikos, who lost his life in action at Corinth in 394 BC. Nearby, you'll find the Monument of Dionysios of Kollytos, shaped like a pillar stele supporting a bull carved from Pentelic marble.

The site's new museum is a delightful marble-floored space showcasing discoveries from the site and related artifacts, with a particular emphasis on stelae and grave markers. Additionally, it houses poignant funerary offerings, such as toys from child burials, gold jewelry, and an array of exquisite small objects. The ceramics on display are particularly impressive, including beautiful dishes with horse motifs on their lids from the early 8th century BC and stunning 5th-century-BC black-and-red figure pottery.

Access is part of the Acropolis multi-site ticket, which is highly recommended for exploring Athens' historical treasures.

Why You Should Visit:
A unique blend of ruins and memorials, archaeology and classical sculpture, making it an appealing site for a wide range of interests. Despite this, it tends to be less crowded than some of the city's more famous attractions. The vast, green surroundings make it easy to forget you're in the heart of a large city. Plus, you can visit at any time of day, as there is plenty of shade if needed.

Climb the hill near the entrance to enjoy a panoramic view of the entire cemetery, along with a small church.

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