A Local’s Guide to Monastiraki in Athens

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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 in athens
Monastiraki square, Athens. Courtesy: ᴅɪᴍɪᴛʀɪs ᴀɴᴅʀ| ᴘʜᴏᴛᴏɢʀᴀᴘʜᴇʀ

Where is Monastiraki Located

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 neighborhoods and sites of Athens, bordering with Thission neighborhood on the east, Syntagma square on the west, and Acropolis Hill as well as the picturesque Plaka on the south.

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

athens monastiraki
You can’t say you’ve seen Athens without exploring marvelous Monastiraki

The History of Monastiraki and Monastiraki Square

The iconic Monastiraki neighborhood presents an amalgam of history, culture, art, and architecture with the influence of 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 neighborhood’s major attractions. 

Pantanassa monastery monastiraki athens
The Church of Pantanassa in Monastiraki Square. Courtesy: Ramón J. Sánchez

A few meters away, you’ll find another historical landmark – Tzistarakis Mosque. It was built in 1759, back when Greece was under the 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”.

Tzistarakis Mosque in monastiraki
Tzistarakis Mosque is an Ottoman mosque, built in 1759, in Monastiraki Square

For the following centuries, the building served an array of purposes. It housed assemblies during the Greek Revolution, it was used as 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.

monastiraki tzistarakis columns
Side view of Tzistarakis Mosque in Monastiraki

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 ferry 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 the first to open up an antique shop there and attract attention to Monastiraki and its narrow alleyways. 

flea market in monastiraki
When in Athens, make sure to get lost in the alleys of historic Monastiraki. Courtesy: Weekend Wayfarers / flickr.com

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 that symbolizes the movements of Mediterranean peoples through the course of history.

monastiraki at night
Monastiraki Square at night with the Acropolis in the background.
Courtesy: ᴅɪᴍɪᴛʀɪs ᴀɴᴅʀ| ᴘʜᴏᴛᴏɢʀᴀᴘʜᴇʀ

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 neighborhood 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 kinds of treats.

gyros in monastiraki
Gyros is one of the most popular street foods in Athens. Courtesy: Adrian Chan

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

monastiraki flea market
A visit to the Monastiraki flea market in Athens is a must. Courtesy: Udri / flickr.com

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.

How to Get to Monastiraki

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

Apart from the train station (typically called the ‘’ilektrikos”), the Monastiraki neighborhood also has a metro station (blue line) with two exits on both sides of the square. Read here how to get around Athens.

monastiraki station
Monastiraki train station, Athens

Even if you’re only visiting Athens for one day, 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 marvelous city of Athens looks like.

A Quick Reminder:

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