Monastiraki is the old market in the historic center of Athens, located at the north foot of the Acropolis rock. Chances are good that you will stroll it’s pedestrian streets for a few hours, either for a leisurely walk on its cobblestone streets, for dinner, or for some fun shopping in the open air bazar.
What to See and Do
Areos Street: Steep ascent to the Acropolis through Plaka
As you exit the Monastiraki metro station and with the Monastiraki station the street to your right is called Areos. The road is framed by shops on the right, and the Hadrian’s library on the left.
After the first hundred meters or so, the path becomes steep and devoid of shops. To your right you will enjoy a good view of the Agora of Athens, and if you venture to your left, you will get lost in the quiet streets of the old historic district of Plaka. If you continue your ascent, you will eventually reach the Acropolis.
Pandrosou Street: Your souvenir shoping paradise
If you go straight ahead after exiting the Monastiraki Metro station, and after crossing the busy square, you will see the cobblestone, tourist shop-packed Pandrosou street that would take you all the way to Mitropoleos square. While tourist shops are sprinkled throughout the area, this street alone specifically caters to the tourist souvenir-hunting crowds.
There is something for everyone there. You will find replicas of ancient Greek statues (with the exception of very few accurate replicas, the vast of them are exceptionally ugly, with a good portion bordering on tasteless), good quality leather goods, carpets, clothing, and many jewelry shops.
Prices range from tantalizing cheap for the most useless knick-knacks, to prohibitively expensive for the most exuberant ones. Bartering for small items might invoke a shop owner’s tissy fit, but for more expensive items like jewelry, art, and carpets it might be worth a shot.
Parallel to Pandrosou, Mitropoleos street houses most of the restaurants in the area. Following Mitropoleos, you will come to Mitropoleos square, home of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens overshadowing the exquisite Agios Eleftherios church on its south side. If you look carefully, you will see many marble pieces from the acropolis built into its wall.
If you continue straight, eventually you will end up on Syntagma square, albeit after Mitropoleos square the street is devoid of interest or shops.
Ermou Street: Fashionable shopping
Parallel to Mitropoleos, and diagonally to your left as you stand with your back to Monastiraki station, Ermou street would guide you to Syntagma square through a pedestrian, cobblestone pavement lined with the most fashionable shops. It has lost its luster since the economic crisis in 2009, but it’s still a popular shopping hotspot.
If you walk Ermou street the other way (west), you will be walking through busy traffic and a more “gritty” sidewalk with fewer tourists. If you take that route, any left turn would take you right back into the pedestrian portion of Monastiraki.
Ifaistou Street: The open air bazar
If you turn sharp left immediately after exiting Monastiraki station, you will be engulfed by Ifaistou (Ηφαίστου) street. It’s a cobblestone street lined with thrift shops and packed with pedestrians. While you can find tourist shops sprinkled here and there, most of the stores sell clothes, antiques, music, and home decorations.
As you walk through Ifaistou, you will come across Agiou Filipou street. Going straight would take you through less touristy paths (and more gritty ones), but turning left will bring you to Adrianou.
Adrianou Street: Dine with an ancient view
Adrianou street is lined with restaurants and cafeterias where you can enjoy a meal or a drink flanked by the ruins of ancient Agora. It’s a popular spot for enjoying a beverage or dinner for Greeks and tourists alike.
Following Adrinanou street toward the west (to your left if you are coming from Agiou Filipou) would bring you full circle back to Monastiraki. If you walk to the east, soon you will find yourself at the Thesion Metro station where a sharp left up the wide cobblestone street would bring you to the foot of the Acropolis. Beyond that, the pleasant walk would take you to the new Acropolis Museum and the Olympeion beyond.
Archaeological Sites & Museums
One of the most charming aspects of the Monastiraki streets is that they are peppered with a plethora of ancient monuments, details, and ruins.
Walking through the abundance of antiques and antiquities around Monastiraki will make the long history of Athens feel tangible.
Besides the 2500-year old Acropolis that’s perched above the whole district, a different monument or ancient detail will greet you at every turn: the Agora here, the Library of Hadrian there, the Roman Agora a little farther, the Monument of Lysicrates around the next corner, and so on.
With the exception of the Acropolis above and the Agora, which are more expansive archaeological sites, the rest of the monuments can be seen from outside their fence simply by strolling the streets. Of course, you may venture in if you want to see them up close.
The ticket that lets you into the Acropolis also includes entrance to most of the ancient sites around Monastiraki.
Best time to Go
Best time to go is after 8:00 PM when the heat of the day begins dissipating, or in the morning before 10:30 AM.
Monastiraki shops are open all day long and they close at 10:30 PM (or 11 PM if there are enough people on the streets). Restaurants and cafés stay open later so you can enjoy a late meal or a drink, but we found that after closing hours, the streets feel deserted and a bit desolate.
Monastiraki would make a good activity for your last day before you fly out of Greece. A dinner and a drink at an outdoor restaurant next to ancient ruins in full view of the Acropolis and the Agora can be a memorable last day experience.
Of course, if you neglected to buy gifts for family and friends back home during your stay in Greece, you can pack a suitcase full of knickknacks in a last-minute shopping spree in Monastiraki.
What to Buy
Besides the overwhelming number of shops that sell tourist knickknacks, Monastiraki has it’s fair share of quality shops that sell everything from original artwork, to hand-made craft items, to jewelry, to health food items.
You can be lost among all the choices, and prices can vary from shop to shop, so do a round or two of window-shopping before you commit to an expensive purchase. Small souvenirs don’t have such a big variety in prices.
While the bazaar atmosphere makes it seem that it's a good place for haggling, shop owners frown upon the idea and might not be very cooperative.
In terms of quality, the little souvenir items are the same you’ll find everywhere else in Greece (and every other country). However, gold jewelry, leather goods, carpets, crafts, and fine art are of good to excellent quality.
Monastiraki is also a good place to stock up on t-shirts, but be aware that imitation goods might be posing as brand name items in high prices.
If you like antiques and thrift shops, look no further, and plan some long days of treasure hunting. Monastiraki is the best spot for buying old vinyl records, WWII paraphernalia, and other assorted treasures or old junk for every taste.
Speaking of taste, you will also be amazed at the amount of tasteless artifacts depicting sexual content (much in the form of ancient Greek erotic art) that are on open display in many tourist shops.
If you buy electric items, like night lights with Greek themes, remember that electricity in Greece is 220V and they might not work back home if your wall outlets back home only pump out 110V.
For larger items like carpets, shop owners have always had to answer the question “how do I take it on my flight?”, and they have very creative ways of packaging your goods for you. For things that are impossible to squeeze down to a hand bag, most shops will ship your purchase to your home for an additional fee.
Getting to Monastiraki
Best way to reach Monastiraki is by Metro. Get off at the “Monastiraki” station, which is sandwiched between the Omonia and Thesion stops on the HSAP line.
If you go by car, you will have a very hard time navigating the narrow streets, and an an even harder time parking. The farther away you venture for parking, and that means two or three blocks north of Ermou in Psyri district, the seedier the streets become, so don’t leave valuables in your parked car.