Omonia: the heart of Athens

Omonia Square

Do you remember the Madrid of the 1980s?  Have you been to Buenos Aires in recent years?  They aren’t the prettiest of capital cities but, like Athens, they are full of life.  We’ve written before about the many charms of the Greek capital, and today we’re going to tell you some more about some of its less well-known areas in the North of the city centre.

The guidebook and various online fora told us to stay away from the central neighbourhood of Omonia, but our hotel (the Hotel Fresh) was there, just a few steps from Athens’ central market.  During the day, the whole area is feels like one giant bazaar: here, you can buy everything from underpants to chickens.  The market itself is open from 8am to 6pm, and it’s a joy to see local traders shouting and joking and selling their wares.

By nightfall, things quieten down significantly, as though all of the traders have gone home to rest up for the following day’s trading.  Despite what we read online (Thieves! Danger! Avoid! No Starbucks!) we didn’t see any pickpockets or trouble of any kind.

At the heart of Omonia is the 19th Century square, which connects the area with the rest of the city via Athens’ efficient metro service.  The construction of this square, whose name means ‘harmony’ in Greek’, was one of the pillars of Athens’ modernisation, which happened at around the same time as the Hausmannian reimangining of Paris, or Cerdá’s rebuilding of Barcelona’s Ensanche.  The unmissable National Archaeological Museum, home to a breathtaking collection of ancient sculpture as well as the treasures of Mycenae, is jsut 500m from Omonia Square, while Syntagma Square, the seat of Greek power, is about a kilometer away.

Omonia is also the place where Greeks congregate to celebrate their sporting victories, although these have been fewer over recent years.  The square is still a good place to have a cheap (but good) gyros and chat about the Troika or Spanish football with the waiters (all of whom seem to speak good enough English to badmouth The Man, and follow La Liga as closely as the Spanish).

For a bigger meal, head up to Calle Valtetsiou in the Exarchia (about a 15 minute walk), where there are lots of good places to eat.

Photos: Flickr / Alexandre Nakonechnyj – Andreas Alygizos

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