Lay of the Land
Think of Athens like a cross section of a tree, with the most ancient part of the city (the Acropolis) at its center and the newer areas on the edges. Closest and at its foot is the Ancient Agora Market and Plaka, the city’s oldest neighborhood, touristy but charming with its maze-like streets and many archaeological sites. Other neighborhoods near the iconic monument, like Thissio and Monastiraki, also offer small ancient ruins and neoclassical architecture. Heading south of the Acropolis you’ll find the city’s most upscale and elegant central neighborhoods: Syntagma Square (thanks to it being the home of Parliament, it is also the center of any protests) and the tony Kolonoki, with its chic boutiques and upscale restaurants, the Upper East Side of Athens.
Today you can feel a hopeful energy humming through the streets of Athens’ not-long ago struggling center. Just a few years ago, the economic crisis swept through the city like a hurricane: shops were shuttered, old buildings were abandoned and many unemployed residents had returned to their family village. Now, however, there is a dynamic revival underway, much of it generated by an ambitious movement in food and the arts. Young people, artists and even Greek American expats are moving into the center where rent is a fraction of the price of most capital cities.
Even some of the former royal family has moved back to town: Constantine II is living in Athens now after 46 years of exile. A tipping point will happen when the National Museum of Contemporary Art finally moves into its new home in a former brewery complex in Kolonaki. New alternative multi-functional cultural spaces, such as The Art Foundation and six d.o.g.s. (sixdogs.gr) have opened up in the last few years, many in the newly trendy Monastiraki neighborhood; the gritty area of Kerameikos-Metaxourgeio is starting to get a cultural lift from the biannual ReMap (remapkm.org) a guerilla-style art event.
The area around Agia Irini Square, which is in between Syntagma and Monastiraki, and is named after one of the city’s oldest and most picturesque churches, is also starting to boom. In the last two years lively cafés and bars have been popping up faster than you can say fair trade coffee beans; the adjoining lane of Aiolou has turned into the city’s new Eat Street.