Romance, Ruins and Relics: An Afternoon Escape in Pláka, Athens' Picture-Perfect Old Town
As a frequent traveler, one quickly learns that many destinations have unique neighborhoods that embody the heart and culture of the city like no other area. For Athens, that distinct hub is Pláka - the beautiful historic district nestled at the foot of the Acropolis. Spanning some 35 acres below the iconic ruins, Pláka feels like a lively open-air museum where the past effortlessly blends with the present. If you only have a short time in Athens, focus your visit here to get the deepest possible cultural immersion.
The second you set foot in Pláka, the magic begins. Cobblestone pathways wind between buildings dating back over 500 years, when this area was part of the original city of Athens. You'll notice architecture spanning many eras from medieval castles and neoclassical mansions to traditional 19th century homes. Take your time wandering without purpose - peek through decorative ironwork balconies, snap shots of ornate architectural details, and let the history soak in.
No visit to Pláka is complete without ascending its iconic network of narrow alleyways called "pezodromoi." These twist and turn past houses spilling onto the streets, many adorned with bougainvillea and pots overflowing with trailing flowers. It's easy to get lost here in the best possible way. Pro-tip: follow signs for the path that leads up toward the Acropolis for stunning views through the zig-zagging alleyways.
Throughout your wanderings, look up. You'll spot scores of wooden balconies jutting over the lanes, some with vines creeping towards the cobbles far below. Local legend says if a lover throws a coin from their balcony, their love will be eternal. Feel free to test the theory - you could do worse than drawing inspiration from romantic Pláka!
History aside, Pláka is also great for browsing handicrafts, stopping for coffee or snacks, and picking up unique souvenirs. Shop for traditional pottery, jewelry, painted Santorini urns and hand-woven fabrics along streets like Adrianou and Evrippidon.
Fuel up at a classic zaharoplastio, Greece's version of a pastry shop, to sample sweet treats like baklava, kataifi (shredded pastry drenched in syrup), and galaktoboureko (custard-filled filo pastry). Pair these with a frappé, Greece's iced coffee beverage that's like a dreamy milkshake.
For java with views, climb up to one of Pláka's venerable outdoor cafes under the Acropolis like Café Tsiris or a table at Dionysos Zonars. Order a Greek coffee and indulge in people watching while Athenians and visitors alike stroll below. No matter how you fuel up here, prepare to work it off on all the walking!
As the sun goes down, Pláka's back streets and squares come alive. Graze plates of meze like tzatziki, taramosalata and dolmades washed down with ouzo or retsina at traditional tavernas tucked down hidden alleys. Many have live Greek music to add to the magic.
Some great spots for low-key dinner include Paradosiako, located down a quiet pedestrian street, and restaurant Kalnterimi featuring homemade pastas and rooftop views. Those craving larger portions can head to Platanos Tavern on Adrianou Street for grilled meat and seafood.
Later, continue your cultural education over drinks at one of Pláka's hopping bars. Dionysos Zonars always has a lively local crowd, while Cypress Bar on Kydathinaion is great for cocktails with Acropolis views. No matter your plans, getting lost in this historic core is truly the best way to soak up Athens at its pedestrian-friendly finest.
For a true home base to seamlessly explore Pláka on foot, consider these unique accommodation options right in the heart of the neighborhood:
AthenStyle Hotel - Housed in a heritage-listed 19th century building, this boutique hotel blends modern comforts with preserved architectural details for an elegant retreat. Doubles from €135.
Hotel Periscope - Situated on a peaceful square, this design-forward hotel feels like an oasis yet is steps from buzzing Propylaea Street. Doubles from €120.
Athens Was - For a true city experience, book an apartment at this artfully decorated collection of renovated flats, some dating back centuries. Studios from €100.
Hotel Pláka - Family-run for over 50 years, this hotel pampers guests with attentive staff and plush rooms, all tucked down a charming pedestrian lane. Doubles from €80.
So whether seeking history, culture or simple relaxation, vibrant Pláka really is the best home base for exploring captivating Athens. Wander its enchanting lanes and let the soul of this enduring city flow through you. Keep in mind BitBook offers great hotel deals in the area too for travel on a budget!