Exarcheia is widely known as the capital’s anarchy-base, and this is not down to urban legend. Indeed, when things get politically or socio-politically intense, there’s likely to be tear gas, Molotov cocktails or window-breaking episodes in the area. With an intellectually active student/youth culture, the area is abuzz with record stores, bookshops, a community-created park, artful graffiti, and cool bars and coffee shops. On any average day, Exarcheia can be a great place to explore, with its quirky stores, some beautiful (though generally unkempt) neoclassical architecture, and a palpably edgy yet vibrant cultural vibe. Here we present some of the best places to visit during the day or night in this area wedged between Omonia, Kolonaki, and Lycabettus.
The cafe-bar-culture in Exarcheia has spread way beyond the main square and a few dark corners as it used to be a decade ago. Now practically every street has somewhere artsy and cozy to sit and sip your coffee as you watch the world go by. A great place to start your day working on your laptop while sipping a hot drink from an excellent array of freshly ground coffees or teas as well as munching on yummy homemade style koulourakia, sandwiches and healthy oat, chocolate or nut bars is Kaldicafe. Another great cafe with a wide selection of sophisticated coffee varieties as well as Warehouse Specialty Blends, which also happens to be top-quality yet unpretentious wine-bar. For an equally hip but slightly more youthful vibe sprawl out at an outdoor table at Cusco or Karagiozis, the latter which has a more traditional Greek music theme and a ‘koultouriariko‘ ambiance. For some intellectual stimulation paired with a smooth cup of java head to Paraskinio Cafe, which runs literary gatherings, and for live DJ sets with cool grooves and a crowd of steady regulars stop by Mavros Gatos.
The area is known for its quirky stores – you can find plenty of shops with specialty products such as vinyl records, old books, puzzles, modelling-set equipment, and musical instruments. Plastikourgeiostands out as an exemplary store that showcases all the various alternatives to plastic in decor as well as utilitarian items, and also has its own plastic-upcycling lab, while working with the local community to cut down or recycle plastics. Apart from the two Philippos Nakas musical instrument stores where you’ll find everything from egg-sized maracas to giant xylophones you can find even more unique instruments from around the world at Amola Kalimba, and instruments such as singing bowls and chimes as well as unique wooden games, accessories, crystals and decor items at Paradise Waterfalls. If you’d rather listen to music than create it, explore the vintage record stores in the area such as Sound Effects Records, Kasseta Records Shop and Le Disque Noir. For second-hand clothing that can add a splash of non-commercial style to your look head to Yesterday’s Bread and Hotsie Totsie.
Still going strong and highly popular for its traditional-with-a-twist Greek food, Yianteshas a large courtyard, uses fresh, seasonal and local ingredients and serves up several palatable surprises. Ama Laxeitoo is especially nice in summer when you can sprawl out in the avli (although wintertime indoors is cozy too), to sample an exciting and flavoursome selection of meze dishes. For something beyond the Greek yet offering high-quality cuisine and homemade ingredients at accessible prices, The Salty Pig serves pan-American cuisine based on authentic recipes prepared by high-level chefs, and Pink Elephant has become extremely popular for its sophisticated, authentic Indian dishes. If you still prefer going Greek, visit Frumelfor raki and mezedes or Oxo Nou for really delicious, authentic Cretan food.
And as it must happen in Athens, after dinner a drink in a buzzy bar is always in order. Hartes is an ideal hangout for a chilled-out night of wine and conversation, backgammon and a few homemade snacks. If you want to sit on the main square, order a cocktail at Blue Bear, or go right around the corner to Alexandrino, which has a very unique retro style. For American rock n roll that spans styles and generations go to the Beatniks Road Bar, but if instead you prefer the real Greek experience and want to listen to some of the best rembetika music in town visit O Aggelos, which also serves delectable traditional home cooking. Finally, if you want to dive into a grungy rock wave visit the classic After Darkclub.
When in Exarcheia…
Other places not to miss out in in the area include The National Archaeological Museum, the open-air, Saturday Kallidromiou food market, the Shrine to Alexis Grigoropoulos, the 15-year-old youth shot dead by a policeman in 2010, the Navarinou community park, that was saved from becoming a parking lot of building site and turned into a gathering spot with a playground and a fruit and vegetable garden that feeds the poor, and a trek to Strefi hill.