Exarchia has long been a hub of radicalism and counterculture. Wedged between upmarket Kolonaki and residential Kypseli, Exarchia is a bohemian enclave where students, intellectuals, artists and long-standing residents navigate their everyday chores with a punk rock attitude. Or in the case of local-boy-made-good Leon of Athens, a Greek indie-pop attitude. The singer-songwriter (real name Leon Veremis) developed his soulful electro sound while living in Exarchia. Despite spending most of his time in London or on the road these days, he still keeps his music studio in this idiosyncratic neighbourhood.
Elsewhere, squats and contemporary art spaces grace the streets around the namesake square and almost every surface is covered in murals by well-known street artists (and tags by lesser known vandals). Exarchia is the place to enjoy an arthouse film or an edgier take on Athens’ famous nightlife, according to Leon. “You’ll find it in the small clubs, bars and live music scenes—like the legendary An Club, where many of us cut our clubbing teeth,” he says. It’s also the heart of literary Athens: you’ll encounter as many bookshops and publishing houses here as there are cafes. “Exarchia attracts a broad crowd, from exchange students to migrants to middle-aged creatives,” says the performer. “I like that it’s a little rough around the edges; because that roughness weaves itself into the everyday sense of a real Athenian neighbourhood.”
Kallidromiou Farmer’s Market
Early on Saturday morning, hilly Kallidromiou Street is transformed into one of the best Athenian farmers’ markets (laiki), with heaps of seasonal fruits and vegetables from Greek producers laid out underneath bright orange tarps. The crowd is an odd mix of young and old Athenians, artists, migrants, and fashion models. Everyone finds time for a chat and politics is always on the agenda, but exchanges are frequently interrupted by vendors, shouting to drive attention back to the stalls. Market visitors will almost always look for a table in one of the cafes that line Kallidromiou Street, like Paraskinio, which serves good coffee and mini croissants on marble top tables.
If you’re after a quiet drink on lively Kallidromiou Street, come back in the evening when Enikos, a classic drinking haunt from the early 1990s, opens its doors. The music is subtle enough to foster meaningful conversations and the walls are decorated with prints, photographs and book covers, many donated by the writers and artists who congregate here.
Ama Lachei Stis Nefelis
For an original culinary experience, head to Ama Lachei for lunch or dinner. Walk through the gate of this converted primary school and you immediately get an idea of what an old Athenian courtyard used to look like. On a sunny day, you can soak up the relaxed atmosphere watching the locals gesture their way through endless conversations, as they occupy the tables for hours. You can try a variety of meze dishes that use local delicacies. There’s a good selection of wines and it all comes at very reasonable prices.
Exarchia has dozens of record shops full of new and used picks, because frankly vinyl never went out of fashion here. In general, vintage shopping is staging a strong comeback in this neighbourhood of bargain hunters. Visit Ippokratous Street to unearth second hand luxury in shops like BOHBO or Yesterday’s Bread, which imports clothes and accessories from the Netherlands.
Alexandrino Café Bistro
For French flair, Alexandrino, an all-day joint flanked by restaurants, has a cosmopolitan vibe that’s a far cry from your average Exarchia bar. An established spot for people watching, it enjoys a reputation for great service and cocktails, including a mean pisco sour. To fully enjoy the long list of drinks and wines, you’ll have to get lucky and snare a stool at the long wooden bar. If you do manage to grab one of the coveted tables, settle in to savour the jazzy ambience and enticing selection of sweet and savoury snacks.
Another great all-day choice, Warehouse offers a refreshing combination of relaxed sophistication and industrial design, where you can choose from a lengthy list of wines by the glass. The food menu is short, but includes dishes that give classic recipes a touch up, like the striploin steak and buttery bulgur, making the place an established favourite of the locals.
The National Archaeological Museum Café
At the far end of Exarchia on the once grand Patission Avenue, the National Archeological Museum and the National Technical University of Athens stand out as two elegant examples of neoclassical architecture. The Museum displays jaw-dropping collections that cover 7,000 years of ancient Greek history. If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the area, take refuge in its wonderful garden café where you can sip on a Greek coffee sitting amongst ancient statues.