One of the landmarks of the Athenian skyline, Philopappou Hill stands in all its lush green glory opposite the Acropolis Hill, topped by the original structure of Philopappos mausoleum. An archaeological site, the hill is dotted by parts of the ancient walls of Athens and other remains and of course, the Pnyx, where popular assemblies took place in ancient times and where Pericles and Demosthenes, among others, delivered their famous speeches. The history-steeped hill attracts visitors strolling up and down the paved Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, which leads to the hill’s main entrance. However, for the dwellers of the surrounding neighborhoods of Thiseio, Petralona, and Koukaki, the hill is their back yard: the place to have a picnic on a Sunday afternoon, to walk the dog in the morning or go jogging. The pathways have been paved by a major Greek architect Dimitrios Pikionis.
During the last 15 years, the locals have seen their neighborhoods being transformed, from some of the last authentic and serene Athenian neighborhoods, into the hottest new thing in town. This is also partly as a result of the development of the area in the years leading to the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and the creation of the Acropolis Museum, which resulted in the opening of many cafes, restaurants, and bars. However, the three neighborhoods manage to keep their authentic character and have found a place in the heart of Athenians and visitors alike.
One of the oldest neighborhoods of Athens, today Thiseio is the busiest of the three neighborhoods surrounding Philopappou Hill. The quaint district was transformed, at the turn of the century, into a tourist hub and the favourite spot for the Athenian youth thanks to the creation of the promenade which begins opposite the Hadrian Gate and ends, two kilometers to the northwest, at the Thiseio Metro Station. The pedestrian streets of Apostolou Pavlou and Irakleidon are full of open-air cafes, restaurants and bars buzzing with people from early morning to well after midnight, creating a festive atmosphere particularly during spring and summer.
Thiseio boasts some of Athens most interesting archaeological sites, such as the Temple of Hephaestus. In older times, the temple was mistaken to be dedicated to Theseus, as it carried depictions of the mythological king of Athens – and that’s how Thiseio got its name. Other highlights of the area include the beautiful building of the Observatory of Athens, built in the 19th century by the architect who shaped the capital’s neoclassical facade, the Dane Theophilus Hansen. A short distance from the Observatory, the hidden tiny square in front of Agia Marina church gives a nostalgic whiff of old Athens with its small houses surrounded by blossom gardens. Don’t hesitate to wander in the back streets of Thiseio to discover similar, unspoiled corners.
Culture has its own place in Thiseio, with museums such as the Herakleidon Museum located among the hustle and bustle of the cafes on Irakleidon Street. The museum, housed in the 19th-century neoclassical building, opened its doors in 2004 and has evolved into an interactive center for popularized science. Its educational programs make it ideal for kids. Further down the street, at the corner of Irakleidon and Thessalonikis, stands “Melina” cultural center, at the site of the oldest Athenian hat factory. The building is a fine example of late 19th century industrial architecture and since 1988 belongs to the Municipality of Athens. Dedicated to famous Greek actress and politician Melina Mercouri, the cultural center hosts many exhibitions all year round as well as a small museum.
Heading back to the Thiseio metro station, take the pedestrian Thessalonikis-Eptahalkou streets –effectively one street which changes the name as you walk along the metro lines. The walk offers some fine views of the old gasworks of Athens –now an industrial museum and cultural centre– and a couple of sights, such as the old, tiny church of Agios Athanasios, perched on a rock. One of the oldest churches in Athens is situated just a few meters from the metro station: Agioi Asomatoi was built in the 11th century AD at the spot where Thiseio meets the neighborhood of Psyrri.
According to CNN, it’s the world’s best cinema. And they are probably right: an open-air cinema surrounded by tall, green bushes, an excellent selection of international movies regularly changing between May and October and magnificent views of the Acropolis. So much so that it’s hard to keep your eyes on the screen. Another plus is that all films are subtitled in Greek making them accessible to non-Greek speakers.
Apostolou Pavlou 7, +30 210 34 20 864
A new addition to the neighborhood, “Root” is housed in a spacious building surrounding a courtyard, in the same place where the royal stables once used to be. It is a place where one can wash down paleo cuisine with a glass of fine wine while listening to music or buying vinyl records. On top of that, Root is open to the artistic crowd of the city, regularly hosting exhibitions, events, and workshops.
Irakleidon 10, +30 210 34 50 003
One of the most famous grill houses in Athens, “To Steki tou Ilia” is a quaint, traditional Greek tavern. There, you will enjoy a simple meal with salads and traditional Greek appetizers while waiting for their delicious lamb chops –the star dish of the tavern and the reason why people stand in queue for a table in the yard during summer. Thankfully, they have opened a sister tavern a few hundred meters away, on the same paved street.
Eptahalkou 5, +30 210 34 58 052
Thessalonikis 7, +30 210 34 22 407
A quite cafe, away from the crowds of the busiest streets of Thiseio. The interior is tiny but cosy however in the summer, take a sit outside under the Judas trees and enjoy a Greek coffee while watching the trains go by – the cafe is situated along the metro lines. In the weekends, you may be lucky enough to listen to live Greek traditional music by the musicians who hang in this place.
Open from early in the morning and well into the night, Babouras stands out of the other cafes and bars in the area because of its beautiful interior design and its hip customers. Ideal for a morning coffee or late evening cocktails, it also serves some simple dishes and meze for your tsipouro or ouzo. Babouras offers a fine selection of beers accompanied by great music.
Dimofontos 43, +30 211 710 81 53