The residential area of Thissio is full of well-preserved neoclassical townhouses dating from the early 20th century. Parts of this photogenic neighbourhood—the ones nearest the Ancient Agora—are built right on the ruins of classical Athens. From Thissio metro station, walk south along the train tracks towards Eptahalkou Street, where you’ll discover a beautifully-preserved corner of Belle Epoque Athens.
A short stroll along Eptahalkou brings you to Bernier-Eliades Gallery, one of the city's oldest and most influential galleries. Since 1977, Jean Bernier and Marina Eliades have played a crucial role in bringing some of the biggest names in contemporary art to Athens: seminal artists like Joseph Beuys, Jannis Kounelis, Gilbert & George and Robert Wilson. Stop by to discover some of the fine contemporary Greek artists also represented here.
As you continue along Eptahalkou, the street name changes to Thessalonikis. Pause for a coffee at Loux café, and take in some interesting vistas of modern Athens beyond the railway lines. At the end of Thessalonikis, you'll come across the old Pilopoulos hat factory, which is now the Melina Mercouri Cultural Centre, an homage to 19th century Athens and traditional shadow-puppet theatre.
Take a left and keep walking until you hit Iraklidon Street, awash with lively bars and restaurants. Follow the old tram lines until you reach Lemoni Bookshop, a tiny trove of new and old books in Greek, which also stocks some good translations of Greek titles in English, German, Italian and French. Owner Spyros Xenos loves chatting about literature; he also organises occasional painting and photography exhibitions at this neighbourhood meeting point, named after the fragrant lemon trees in the yard.
A few metres away is the interactive Herakleidon Museum. Catch an exhibition on ancient technologies, mathematics and other brainy topics, then walk on along Iraklidon to reach picturesque Thissio Square with its humming café society. Or head uphill along Amfiktionos and take a turn on Likomidon to visit the artist-run space SECCMA Trust. Housed in a typically Athenian ground floor shop, it’s the headquarters for Serapis, a collective of young Greek artists and designers. Drop in to see them at work, producing avant-garde fashion and conceptual art inspired by the shipping industry.
From here, it’s just a short climb up to the Hill of the Nymphs, crowned by the Athens Observatory, the first research centre in modern Greece, founded in 1846. After a tour of the building and grounds—all antique telescopes, stencilled ceilings and stunning cityscapes—walk around the forested hill to the neighbourhood of Petralona.
On the corner of Thorikion and Dimofontos Streets, you’ll find Eleni Koroneou Gallery. Co-owned and run by the founder’s daughter, Alexandra Ikonomou, it has been showing the work of acclaimed global and emerging Greek artists since 1989. Before Athens got its own contemporary art museum, EMST, it was up to galleries like this one to introduce the public current trends in modern art.
You are now on the border between Thissio and Petralona. If you walk along Dimofontos, it will deliver you to the hip Ano Petralona neighbourhood, with its many bars and restaurants. Otherwise, a short walk downhill will take you back across the train lines to the more down-to-earth Kato Petralona neighbourhood.
Hidden away here is the Mentis Passementerie, an historic textile factory that turned out some of the country’s finest ‘passementerie’ (ornamental cords, fringes, piping, and tassels) used for theatrical costumes, military uniforms, and haute couture for 150 years. When the business sadly closed in 2011, the Mentis family donated this intriguing ‘living museum’ to the Benaki Museum.
To explore contemporary Athens culture, wander a few blocks to the Benaki Museum's excellent Pireos Street Annexe, which hosts exhibitions across different disciplines, from painting and sculpture to architecture, photography and fashion. Keep an eye out for some of the city’s most ambitious street murals along the way.
Total walking distance: 1700 metres