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The city of Athens is famous for its ancient ruins and tasty street food. But few know that there is a secret village, right in the heart of the city. Indeed, just above Plaka, you will find the quaint quarter of Anafiotika.
How Anafiotika came to be?
Anafiotika is one of the oldest areas of Athens. Back in the 19th century, the then king Otto wished to build new public buildings for his capital. As this was right after Greece’s independence, Athens was still very much like a sleepy village. It looked nothing like the other European capitals of the time. As a result, Otto wanted to rebuild and modernize the place.
For that purpose, he asked builders, masons and carpenters to help. Some of the best ones lived on the island of Anafi. As a result, the islanders had to come to Athens and live there during the project. They settled on the northern slope of the Acropolis and they called the area “Anafiotika“, after their homeland.
What does the area look like?
Have you ever been to the Greek islands? For example, Paros or Mykonos? If so, you have an idea of what Anafiotika is like. As the people who settled here came from the Cyclades, they built their new homes in a similar style.
Imagine white-washed small houses, colourful shutters and doors, narrow alleys and potted geraniums in bloom. Oh, and the ubiquitous stray cat of course! The area is a riot of colour and charm.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself chatting with a friendly old lady, sitting at her window. The area is so compact, that you will can easily see inside a house, if they have any of their windows open.
I was walking with a friend and we passed by an old lady sitting at her porch. She was so happy to see us! We said “hi” back to her and started chatting about Plaka and the tourists passing by. She was so nice that it was touching.
So please be nice to the old ladies of Anafiotika. Keep in mind that, what to you is a tourist attraction, to them is their home.
How to get to Anafiotika
Non-Greek friends tell me that it can be tricky to find this area. I have to admit, as someone born in Athens, it never crossed my mind! But, to help you out, here are detailed directions on how to get to Anafiotika on foot.
The easiest way is to start from Acropolis metro station. As you exit the station from the Makrygianni street exit, turn left. Follow Makrygianni street for a few metres. Then turn left, as if to go to the Acropolis Museum.
A little while later, turn right to the first street you see. It should be Thrasyllou street. Follow it for quite some time. It’s about 150m uphill. On your left, as you walk, you should see ancient ruins and the Acropolis on the hill above.
At some point, eventually, the road will widen a bit and then split in two. Also, you’ll see a little church on your left and a few parked cars (usually!). The church is called Agios Georgios of the Rock (aptly named, don’t you think?).
Just take the upper narrow alley. You are practically in Anafiotika by then! There’s no map of the area. Often you’ll think that the next alley is a dead end. It’s not really. Just very narrow! So keep going up and let yourself get lost in the pretty alleys.
Alternatively, you can always join a walking tour!
Anafiotika also has a secret of its own. It so happens that here you can find some of the best street art in the city. More specifically, there is a small alley that doubles as the private gallery of street artist LOAF. If you can find it, it is definitely worth your effort! It’s difficult to pinpoint where it is on the map, but I think that’s part of its charm.
To sum things up…
There are many more things that you can discover walking around Anafiotika and Plaka. The bottom line is, if you are visiting Athens, make time to explore this charming “island” of Athens. It may be busier now with tourists than it used to be, but it still worth a visit. In addition, if you go high enough, you can enjoy an amazing view of Athens and Lycabettus hill too.