Athens Stories and Tips

Ruins? We've got ruins - Plaka, the most charming part of Athens

The antiques market on Platia Agora Photo, Athens, Greece

Do you think you will get close to the Evones?

You remember the Evones? Those goosestepping soldiers that guard the Greek Parliament. Young men in tassled caps, kilts, and woolly leggings. They stride up and down with rifles over their shoulders wearing a costume taken from the mountains of Greece. When they stop the tourists jump in, grins on their faces, and try and get their pictures taken with these symbols of Athens.

I'm not a great fan of national guards being used as a tourist convenience. I've walked walked past Horseguards Parade too many times and seen tourists try and make London's own 'household cavalry' crack up and lose their composure. And I often see it as an exercise in humiliation for the amusement of the tourists. So I can't say I was a fan of the tourist scene in Syndtagma Square which really is Greece's premier central square. On one hand it's pretty impressive and surrounded by some aesthetically pleasing buildings with the eastern part is dominated by the pink sandstone Vouli (Greek Parliament). And just as impressive is the hotel Grande Bretagne where Winston Churchill came very close to being blown up on Christmas day 1944 by Greek saboteurs.

But Syntagma is a good place to venture into the Greek maze that is Plaka. It's the most attractive part of central Athens. A warren of narrow streets mainly of 19th century buildings. A lot of it is pedestrianised allowing no traffic through the wonderful narrow streets with their stone staircases, ancient churches, terracotta buildings and a liberal sprinkling of ancient ruins. For that is the thing with Athens - everytime you turn a corner there is another ancient site. And Plaka has some gems - the Roman Forum, Hadrians library, Mitropolis Cathedral, the Tower of the Winds and the Lykistratos Monument. There's almost too much to take in. It is touristy - no doubt about that - but despite the tavernas and tourist shops this was when Athens began to charm me. Easily, the most enjoyable part of the city.

To get there is easy. Athinas leads down from Omonia Square. But if you are coming by METRO the nearest stop is Monastiraki . Most people seem to hit Plaka when they descend from the Acropolis. The stone staircase riddled streets reach up the sides of the famous crag. For example, I blundered out onto the Roman Agora by just wandering down from the Acropolis. Around the ruined agoras sides were tourist shops where the shop owners would try and engage you in conversation to get you in (often asking you "where you from?). Then they will try and get you to buy their statues of the gods, calenders, and pictures of Greece.

Another way is from Syntagma Square. The street Ermou is pedestrianised and is lined with fashion boutiques and department stores. But it leads down to Monastiraki and the start of Plaka market. You can start the market either by heading west down Ifestou or east down narrow Pandressou both streets have something of the bazaar about them. Platia Agora is impressive as it is the antiques market. Furniture takes one side of the market while candelabra, chamberpots, and brassware is spread on the ground. Ifestou is also enjoyable and is crammed with shops and hundreds of Greek tavernas. The shops sell clothes, souvenirs, counterfeit DVD's, leatherware, silverware, marble statues etc. All enhanced by old men playing barrel organs and blaring Europop music.

But you may need a break and there are plenty of tavernas to choose from. So pull up a chair, order an ouzo and a plate of olives, rest those weary feet. Time to relax in the Greek sunshine.

Been to this destination?

Share Your Story or Tip