Beyond ‘The Jewel at the Top’, the many tourist shops selling questionable souvenirs, tours- on Segways, bicycles and on foot- all kinds of street musicians and somewhat creepy mimes, the Makrygianni has blossomed into a hip, upmarket and warmly welcoming neighbourhood.
When I lived there for two years I felt privileged and enchanted by its elegant, classical splendour
The views of ancient monuments at different turns and from varying angles, always captivating; the tranquil streets that distanced me from gritty urban reality; the blend of greenery and ruins beneath the Odeon of Herod Atticus theatre; the sprawling nature on scenic Pnyx and Filopapou hills; the architectural mixture of stately neoclassical, renovated 18th Century and vintage designer 1960 and 1970s buildings; the cobblestone, pedestrian street of Dyionissiou Aeropagitou for year-round walks.
Similarly, the familial neighbourhood shops, cafes, restaurants and cultural spaces that are proving increasingly attractive to visitors from around the city and the globe. Here I have selected the best, less-touristic places to pop into during a day visit to Makrygianni, a constantly evolving area; I highly recommend you visit the neighbourhood wearing comfortable shoes and with enough time and money in your hands to discover as many of these spots as possible as well as getting lost in tiny side streets, discovering your own new favourite hangouts.
Can’t Miss It!
When in Athens, the Acropolis Museum is the unmissable visiting spot in the area, and has a restaurant/café with a magnificent view of the Acropolis. Apart from its stunning permanent collections, 3D projections, guided tours and exhibitions, there are also programmes for kids involving treasure hunts and creative projects.
Since the museum opened, visitors often choose between the glass-floored and statue filled galleries of the 25,000 sq m space and a visit to the Parthenon itself. Try not to do that, as they are equally meaningful experiences, and the saying ‘there’s nothing like the real thing’ goes for both.
Culture + Jewellery
There happen to be two museum spaces dedicated to jewellery in Makrygianni (well three if you were to include the ancient jewels exhibited at the Acropolis Museum galleries and its gift shop). One is the Eleni Marneri Galerie (7 Lebessi, near the Acropolis metro stop), which is unique in Greece in that it showcases contemporary jewellery designed by around 40 Greek and foreign designers, as well as selling a fantastic collection of modern accessories, home décor objects and of course jewellery.
The other is the Ilias Lalaounis Jewellery Museum, where over 4,000 items themed on the evolution of Greek jewellery design are crafted by the museum’s founder and through over 50 collections are exhibited. The museum shop offers a great pick of décor objects, clothes, books and of course jewellery to buy for a loved one (certainly that can be you). A 10 minute walk from the Acropolis Museum, down Parthenonos (28) St, visit Ariadni Kypri’s Workshop and Gallery – at this flagship store you can admire the artist’s sculptural jewellery collections such as the Circus line, which features acrobats, some of which are movable, or Ydor, inspired by the sea.
On the corner of Kallisperi and Parthenonos streets (30), you’ll find Athena Design Workshop one of the neighbourhood’s most artsy and down to earth décor and accessories stores. Australian-raised Krina Vronti is a charismatic set designer and illustrator who works in technical, set and graphic design as well as making handmade, hand-painted or printed Greek or Athens-themed items like scarves, bags, T-shirts, notebooks, 3D shadow-box frames made with a collage and a story within them.
Hit the spot with coffee and snacks
It’s great to find a café with pretty décor, where you can relax at mid-walk, and there are plentry of those lining Makrygianni St, outside the Acropolis metro station – with attractive décor, good coffee, cakes and several quality dining options. But if you happen to be a hard-core coffee junkie who takes their cup of java seriously, head to Coffee Dive on Misaraliotou St.
For a snack to go with your take-out coffee, right across the road is Takis Bakery, the neighbourhood’s most legendary, loved for its various kinds of pittes, American-style fluffy cakes with creamy fillings and toppings, rich chocolate brownies, shortbread cookies with lavender salt and a variety of breads flavoured with herbs or spices.
On Zitrou, the tiny side street outside Takis, is Drupes & Drips, which sells freshly squeezed juices with fruit, veggies and superpowders, cold cuts, regional cheeses, raki and coffee. For coffee with a view, The Athens Was boutique hotel has a rooftop restaurant/cafe serving a breathtaking panoramic vista over the Acropolis with a side of fresh Mediterranean dishes, drinks and coffee (from 12:00–23:00) daily.
Last but definitely not least, an all-time favourite among gourmet sandwich lovers is a little further down, technically in Koukaki district, on 41 Veikou St. With barely enough room to stand in but always with a determined queue, Guarantee has been making tailor-made sandwiches since the late ‘80s, and although many have discovered it by now, it’s never lost its authenticity due to publicity.
Finally, if you want to shop Greek products to take home, head to Pelasgea, a deli-style store selling organic olive oil, sexy jams, jazzy olives, nutritious rusks and creative dips. Another great grocery store selling a broad variety of Greek traditional, pure, and organic foods is Ellinika Kaloudia (Greek Delights) on 8 Chatzichristou St, just behind the Acropolis Museum.