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Monastiraki in Athens

With the city’s trendiest neighbourhoods being just a stone’s throw away, Monastiraki has been locals’ favorite meeting point for decades now. The famous square is always full of life, buzzing with cheerful jive and a jaunty atmosphere. Landing in Monastiraki right after your arrival to Athens is the perfect way to get a 360-degree view of Athens and catch a glimpse of what the city is all about – majestic monuments, a vibrant nightlife, unblemished architecture and exquisite gastronomy.

Monastiraki square in Athens, Greece

Location

Boasting the most central location in downtown Athens, Monastiraki is where the heart of the city beats.

It’s located among the most well-known neighbourhoods and sites of Athens, bordering with Thiseio on the east, Syntagma square on the west and Acropolis hill and Plaka on the south.

It’s the ideal starting point to start your exploration and escapades in the city of Athens.

location of Monastiraki square - Athens

History

The iconic Monastiraki neighbourhood presents an amalgam of history, culture, art and architecture with the influence different civilizations and bygone eras still lingering in its picturesque streets.

Its name translates to “little monastery” and it comes from the nunnery of Pantanassa that was built around the tenth century, during the period of the Byzantine Empire.

The chapel still stands today across the train station and has become one of the neighbourhood’s major attractions. 

A few meters away, you’ll find another historical landmark – Tzistarakis Mosque.

It was built in 1759, back when Greece was under Ottoman rule, and was named after the homonymous Voivode of Athens.

Legend has it that in order to make the building stand out, the Aga used columns from the famous Temple of Olympian Zeus.

A few years later, when the plague broke out, locals imputed the disease to the desecration of the ancient temple and the mosque was quickly dubbed as “cursed”.

For the following centuries the building served an array of purposes.

It housed assemblies during the Greek Revolution, it was used as a storage, it turned into barracks and eventually it was used as a jail for a short period of time.

Today, it’s the only mosque in Athens city that is open to visitors.

It houses an impressive collection of ceramics from Greece, Cyprus and Ottoman Turkey as a part of the Museum of Greek Folk Art.

History of Monastiraki square in Athens

Part of the reason why Monastiraki is usually so lively and full of people is the train station that’s located right on the square and just below ground level.

It was commissioned for the first Olympic Games and built in 1895, connecting the city center with the port of Piraeus.

Right next to the train station entrance, lies Ifestou street, home to the most popular flea market in Athens.

It was once called Yusurum, named after a Jewish entrepreneur who was first to open up an antique shop there and attract attention to Monastiraki and its narrow alleyways. 

More recently,  Monastiraki has been revamped and renovated to take the form you see in modern travel guides today.

Its square has been paved with mosaic blocks of cast iron and marble that create a linear design which symbolizes the movements of Mediterranean peoples through the course of history.

What to See and Do in Monastiraki

Monastiraki is quick to become the favorite place in Athens for many visitors – and for good reason.

Apart from the historical buildings, the iconic neighbourhood is home to an abundance of restaurants, rooftop bars, cozy cafes and, of course, numerous souvlaki joints.

In fact, it’s probably the best place in Athens to try some authentic traditional street food, like gyros, kebabs and all other kind of treats.

When the feast is over and you’re ready to go, head down the bohemian Ifestou street and explore a myriad shops that have almost everything on offer – peculiar souvenirs, clothing, memorabilia, old vinyl records and the time-honored leather sandals.

Around the middle of the street, you’ll come across Abyssinia square, a quaint small opening that is ideal for a pitstop and a glass of cold coffee at one of its rooftop cafes.

Finally, don’t omit to explore the streets of Psyrri that lie on the north.

This tiny district looks like it has remained unaltered by time, but its vibrant nightlife makes it one of the best places in Athens to be at after sundown.

What to See and Do in Monastiraki

How to get to Monastiraki

You can reach Monastiraki easily from almost every corner of the city.

Apart from the train station (typically called the ‘’ilektrikos”), Monastiraki also has a metro station (blue line) with two exits on both sides of the square.

How to get to Monastiraki

Even if you’re only visiting Athens for a few hours, Monastiraki is a place not to be missed.

Visiting Monastiraki square and strolling through the backstreets around it will give you a taste of local culture, history and gastronomy and a glance at what day to day life in the marvellous city of Athens looks like.

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