Plaka Bordered by the Acropolis, Amalias and Mitropoleos Streets, Metro: Syntagma, Monastiraki.
This is what Athens has to offer as an old town, a district most visitors feel obliged (and rightly so) to pass through at least once, but few Athenians visit for their entertainment needs. Countless tourist shops, selling kitsch ancient replicas and tasteless souvenirs and many moussaka-restaurants, most dating back to the 1970s, give the visitor a cliched and somehow false view of Athens. However, if you wander off the beaten track, through its picturesque and serene meandering streets leading up to the Acropolis, you can discover a plethora of architectural gems giving a unique feel of the city at the beginning of the twentieth century, as well as discovering many small museums to keep you occupied for hours.The old neighbourhood of ‘Anafiotica’ just under the Acropolis rock will give you a déjà-vu of your last Greek island holiday, right in the centre of Athens.
Kolonaki Bordered by: Vassilisis Sofias, Akadimias Streets and Lycabettus Hill. Metro: Syntagma.
Anyone who is (or thinks he is) anyone, lives or hangs around Kolonaki Square (Filikis Eterias Square). The Athenian élite of politicians, high profile journalists, actors, models and powerful businessmen, together with idle non-working residents who spend their days in the numerous posh cafés and restaurants, mingle, show off and decide the future of the country. All the expensive fashion boutiques are based here, and the nightlife is designed to please the above-mentioned crowds, as well as visitors who come here from the rest of Athens to get a taste of the high life. Beach attire, large groups of lads and the matching attitude are should be avoided, if you wish to pass through the strict face control of the bouncers and spend a night among Athens’ ‘beautiful people’.
Exarchia Bordered by: Asklipiou, Akadimias, Patision (October 28th) Streets. Metro: Omonia.
Neighbouring Kolonaki but at the exact opposite end of the spectrum, this is the traditional alternative corner of Athens inhabited by old Athenians and frequented by young bohemian intellectuals, leftists, students, rockers and anarchists. The nightlife here is excellent, and as you’d expect a lot more relaxed and laid back. Nobody cares about what you wear or who you are. The old days’ frequent riots are now very rare, but there is always a peaceful and refreshing revolutionary feeling to make restless minds feel at home.
Psirri Bordered by Athinas, Ermou, Pireos, Evripidou Streets. Metro: Monastiraki, Thissio.
This neighbourhood of narrow streets, workshops, warehouses and wholesale shops of every kind, established itself as the ‘Soho’ of Athens about fifteen years ago. (Since then, this title has been variously attributed to each new nightlife hub that springs up in previously deprived areas). Countless bars, clubs, theatres, restaurants and cafés catered for mixed crowds but the area has been in a steady decline as a nightlife destination, as the masses started to move elsewhere. The food is generally average, with some exceptions, and some bars sell spirits of a low quality disguised in branded bottles (colloquially called ‘bombs’). Restaurants with live Greek music often charge higher prices than the quality of their food justifies, but if you want to experience dancing and singing the Greek way, do enter any of them on a Saturday evening, or even better a Sunday afternoon.
Gazi Bordered by Pireos, Iera Odos, Konstantinoupoleos Streets. Metro: Kerameikos
A relatively new hot spot, characterised by the old factory that used to produce gas for lighting the streets and houses of the city many decades ago. Fortunately, the Municipality of Athens preserved the old factory building and transformed it into the ‘Technopolis’ cultural centre where concerts, exhibitions and festivals take place. With the completion of Kerameikos metro station in 2007, the area took off and it is now a top choice for entertainment among young Athenians. A good number of gay bars and clubs have given the homosexual community of Athens a night-time destination, although one cannot describe Gazi as a purely gay district.
Thissio Bordered by Ermou Street, Philopappou Hill, Ancient Agora, Metro: Thissio.
One of the oldest districts of Athens. The Acropolis towering above and its many neoclassical buildings preserve the aura of a bygone era. Walk around the Ancient Agora and Philopappou hill, soak up the atmosphere of the cradle of western civilisation, imagine Socrates conversing with his disciples on these very same grounds and attune yourself to the rhythm of life of modern city-dwellers sipping their indispensable ‘frappé’ (iced coffee the Greek way) at one of the countless outdoor cafés directly facing the Sacred Rock.
Metaxourgio Bordered by Pireos, Iera Odos, Achilleos Streets. Metro: Kerameikos.
This is the latest up and coming area of the capital, with a new bar, restaurant or art venue appearing every few days. Like many other European cities, Athens is gradually rediscovering its neglected and forsaken districts of ill repute and transforming them into night-time hot spots. The shoddy brothels still operate here around the clock, but, at night, the fashionable crowds of the capital reclaim the neighbourhood.
Makrigianni Bordered by the Acropolis, Philopappou hill, Syngrou Ave. Metro: Acropolis.
A district overwhelmed by sixties blocks of flats (like most of Athens of course) with some forgotten neoclassical treasures amongst them, Makrigianni hasn’t so far had very much to offer the visitor except its proximity to the ancient monuments and some tourist shops and restaurants. To be sure, this will be the case until the New Acropolis Museum, the pride and joy of the capital, opens its doors,in March 2009 and thereafter transforms the district into one of the foremost attractions for foreign visitors and Athenians alike.
Commercial triangle (or historic centre)
Bordered by Stadiou, Athinas and Ermou Streets. Metro: Monastiraki, Syntagma, Panepistimio.
A complex of narrow streets lined with shops selling everything you can imagine, this is the traditional shopping heart of the city. It used to be dead quiet in the evenings, but when neighbouring Psirri started becoming saturated with nightspots of all kinds, entertainment entrepreneurs took the opportunity to cross Athinas street and liven up this historic part of the capital. The establishments in this area of town tend to maintain a certain individuality and character and target more selective audiences.
Omonia Square and the area west of Athinas & September 3rd Streets. Metro: Omonia
This central square is the Balkan face of Athens. Buzzing and ugly, gritty and colourful, its working class crowds mingle with immigrants, street traders, lottery ticket sellers and, occasionally, suspicious and weird figures.
If you head towards the backstreets to the west of the square you'll find yourself in the Athenian version of a China town, except the predominant nationalities here are Pakistanis and Africans.
A few surviving neoclassical buildings come as a welcome contrast to the concrete of the square, the looks of which most Athenians hated as soon as it was reconstructed a few years ago.