Athens is undeniably one of the best cities in the world for immersing yourself in the ancient world, but what do you do after a few days when you hit ‘peak history’? Where do you go for more modern, urban entertainment? According to my list below, the answer is Gazi, the cool, industrial area north-west of Athens’ Old Town. Here’s seven places where you can get yourself a mix of food, drinks and music, plus art that isn’t quite as old as all the rest up there on that ubiquitous hill. And yep, four of them are in Gazi.
Located on the site of an old gasworks, Technopolis is a mixed arts venue where you can see just about every form of art and performance you can think of. It’s an interesting space to check out but unless you’re there for a specific event, you’ll probably not need more than an hour or so to have a good nosey about. Entry to the site is free, but there’s a small charge for some of the exhibits inside, like the small museum that tells you about the history of the gasworks.
Athens Street Food Festival
The very first Athens Street Food Festival happened to take place when I was there (May 2016). From what I saw it was a huge success, so keep an eye on their Facebook page to see if there’s one happening when you’re there. Held in a huge abandoned building, it was just across the road from Technopolis (cnr Ermou and Peireos Streets). Handy. Inside there were over twenty street food stalls with food from Europe, America, Asia and Africa. There was also a DJ and stage set up for live music later, a couple of bars and a genuinely friendly vibe all round from both the staff and revelers. It was family and dog friendly too, not that you’d have your dog with you while you’re traveling, but anyway, now you know there’s dogs to fuss over if you’re missing yours.
Bios is another mixed media venue with arts and fashion events, film screenings, seminars, photography exhibitions, dance, theatre and, my favourite, a rooftop bar with a view of the Acropolis. I would definitely check their website or Facebook page to see if there’s any events on that interest you while you’re in Athens, but if not, the roof is a chilled place to have a few drinks. It’s a little tricky to find though, so here’s a tip. Bios is on the corner of Peireos (very happening street it appears) and Salaminos Streets. If you walk into the bar on the ground floor you’ll not find any stairs to a rooftop inside. The stairs are outside on Salaminos Street. Again there’s no signage and it looks like the entrance to an apartment block, but head on up a couple of flights and you’ll find the terrace. There was a very mixed crowd when I was there early evening (even an elderly couple sitting on some sun loungers enjoying a cocktail) but I suspect the younger, hipper kids turn up en-masse closer to midnight.
Bordering the corners of Leonidou, Kerameikou, Giatrakou and Germanikou streets in Gazi, Avdi Square is where the locals go to hang out and where, if you do too, you’ll get a real feel for what Gazi is all about. The square has the Municipal Gallery, restaurants with chairs that spill out onto the square and, as Gazi’s also known as the LGBTQI centre of the city, you’ll find the very popular lesbian bar Myrovolos here too. There’s regular street parties, festivals and art displays, but even if nothing much is going on it’s simply a good place to wander to during the day (closest Metro station is Metaxourgio), have some drinks or a meal and enjoy some prime people watching.
For some reason I have no photos of the time I spent in the square. Probably something to do with the fact it was our last stop on a six venue ‘hop’ and I may or may not have lost control of my arms and/or vision by then.
Finally, somewhere not in Gazi. Six D.O.G’s is in Monastiraki, just north of Ermou Street and the Monastiraki sqaure. It very much reminded me of one of Budapest’s famous Ruin Bars or Kerts. With a large garden area out the back, you can escape the bustle of the city and relax amidst all the greenery on a cushioned bench or a swing (yep, a swing). By day it’s a cafe/bar with gallery shows and exhibitions and at night it becomes more clubby, known as one of the best places in Athens for electro music and great cocktails.
The Art Foundation ( TAF) is… bet you can’t guess… a mixed arts venue! Like most of the others above, at TAF you can get drinks, nibbles, live music, dj’s and various artworks to peruse. We got there waaaaaaay too early (about 3pm mid-week) so it was a bit lacking in atmosphere unfortunately, and by a bit I mean a lot, because we were the only ones there. But I’m sure later on as it fills up things get a lot more fun. Again I was reminded of Budapest’s ruin bars, as the space is basically a courtyard accessed via an unassuming doorway down an alley and everything inside is shabby and run down (on purpose). Because we were there at silly foreigner o’clock, I would definitely choose Six D.O.G’s over this one if you’re looking for an afternoon place to escape the crowds. There was a cool little alternative movie poster exhibition to check out, but that was about it when visited.
The neighbourhood of Exarchia has a bit of a bad rep, due to its past troubles with rioting youth, but it’s really nothing to be afraid of. Athens University is located here and to me it has exactly the same feel as any other university hood. There’s oodles of cafes and bars, everyone rides a bicycle or scooter and there’s hip, radical looking (ripped clothes, crazy haircuts) young adults lounging about the streets deep in conversation. Best of all, and the reason I went exploring there, it also has the best graffiti I’ve ever come across. Criss cross the streets and alleys a couple of blocks wide from Strefi Hill down to Omonia Metro and you’ll no doubt be blown away by the artistry and message behind the works you find.
So there you go. It’s easy to fill every waking second of a visit to Athens with ancient sites and galleries and still not cover it all, but you should definitely try to check out its more modern side while you’re there too. Athens is very definitely not just all about The Acropolis.