Historically Exarchia has always been the centre of ‘alternative’ Athens. Located on the hill behind Omonia Square, the National Archeological museum and Athens University it’s a densely populated area, with the usual sixties apartment blocks and a sprinkling of decaying neo-classical houses. You’ll be aware of the large student population, the extensive graffiti and lots of political posters.
In many ways Exarchia is a pleasant place – the central square is lined with cafes and tavernas and a criss-cross of pedestrianized streets climb up the hill to a small park (Lofos Strefi) with magnificent views over Athens.
There’s a local street market once a week, and lots of ordinary people just getting on with their lives. The student population also mean there are lots of lively bars, cheap tavernas and clubs and music venues in the area.
Having said that, Exarchia is also a focus for the social tensions in Athens. Since the economic crisis began in 2008 it has been the centre of sporadic clashes between police and activists, and occasional fully fledged riots.
We wouldn’t want to exaggerate any possible danger. We’ve stayed in the area several times in the past, often walk through it, and have never encountered a problem.
On the other hand if you do decide to visit it is best not to do so when there is a particular crisis generating large demonstrations in the city, and to be prepared to turn around and walk away if you wander into anything that looks heavy.
With all that said, and hoping we haven’t put you off the area entirely, there are two restaurants close to the main square we would particularly recommend.
Valetsiou 54, Exarchia
The Rozalia is something of an Athens institution and has been going for 35 years. It's a spacious, welcoming place with lots of plants and trees in a large courtyard. This is covered and heated in the winter.
It's in a quiet pedestrianised side street, just off the square in Exarchia. It's open from midday until 2am, and whatever time you come you'll find people here. There's always a mix of people as well - old and young, groups and couples - some just having a couple of meze and a drink, others settling in for a long evening.
The food is good and prices reasonable. One of their specialities is to bring a selection of hot and cold mezze out on a big tray, from which you choose the dishes you want. They also do main courses - grills, fish, pasta - but if you fancy it, you can make a tasty meal out of different plates of mezze.
Although it is a very local place there is often a scattering of tourists or foreigners studying or working in Athens. They have menus in English, and staff can speak English.
We've been coming here for many years, and are always happy to return.
The Rozalia's website has lots more information on it and is worth a look.
Valtetsiou 62, Exarchia
A substantial meal for one - sausage with chips, black eyed peas and marouli plus a half litre of red wine - was 16 euros in March 2016.
In the same street as the Rozalia you'll find this good, everyday taverna which has a nice range of tasty dishes.
On one side of the street is the kitchen and a take away section and on the other a comfortable and traditional looking dining room. In the summer they have tables outside between the two.
It opens at 11 in the morning and is the kind of place that is in use all day. People go there for a working lunch, local single men eat their dinner there at around 7pm and later in the evening groups of friends arrive.