Plaka is the central tourist area in Athens. It stretches round the side of the Acropolis starting, roughly speaking, from the new Acropolis metro station to the Monastiraki station. The major road through the area is Adrianou (Hadrian), which starts up near Hadrian's Arch and runs gently downhill to Hadrian's Library near Monastiraki. The road is largely, in theory, pedestrianised but look out for delivery trucks, taxis, motorcycles, people who are sure one car won't hurt etc.
This area is very pretty, full of amazing views of spectacular archelogical sites, and the area you are likely to see most of if you are in Athens for a short time. Central Athens has been hugely improved in recent years by extensive pedestrianisation all around the Acropolis, which makes for wonderful views of the Acropoli from all angles, and loads of cafes with scenic views in relatively peaceful and green surroundings.
Plaka is also the most expensive and least neighbourhoody area in Greece, so what you gain in scenic surroundings you can lose out on in terms of a more lively Greek experience.
There are a vast number of eating places in this area, but increasingly few we would recommend. The exceptions are below.
This is in what we call Plaka Square, but is in fact next to the small park on Kydatheneon Street
In December 2015 we had: gigantes, potato salad, tsatsiki, a chicken souvlaki and a beer for 32 euros.
The Byzantino is a good value, traditional taverna right in the centre of Plaka, which isn't overpriced and still turns out good, straightforward, traditional Greek dishes.
It gets frequented by Greeks as well as tourists, and doesn't have any fancy hype. Waiters are stationed outside to try and lure you in - something we always reckon frightens more people off than it entices in - but they aren't pushy. Impressively they can extoll the virtues of their restaurant in Japanese!
The waiters can speak Japanese as well as most European languages, but also deal with our basic Greek in a very matter of fact way.
It's generally busy - with Greeks having a late lunch, tourists having an early evening meal and a later, mainly Greek crowd, around 9.30pm.
There are seats outside, along the side of the restaurant and opposite. It's sheltered and sunny - we've eaten outside in December, at lunchtime and in the evening.
They have space heaters providing a bit of extra warmth for the evening. It's a good place to people-watch, as you are in the heart of Plaka, and can sit and watch the world go by.
They have a selection of oven cooked dishes, which are on display in the kitchen on the left if you want to view before you choose.
They also do a good range of nice salads, including black-eyed beans with onion which is tasty.
If we have lunch here we tend to go for a couple of salads and courgette fried balls or country sausage. We had a meal on Christmas day here in 2009, with roast turkey and roast pork, which was very good.
Last visited December 2015
Bairaktares and O Sigalas
Metropolis 63 & Metropolis 88 - on the corner where Ermou meets the Square of Monastiraki
In December 2015, briam, tomato and cucumber salad, chicken souvlaki, wine cost 30 euros.
This is one of the oldest and most famous tavernas in central Athens. It's been going since 1879. It seems to be always open and always busy.
Bairaktares has quite an empire here, just a few minutes away from the Monistiraki tube station. They have two restaurants at the bottom of the street, and a third further up on the right. They do a continual trade in take-away souvlaki and kebabs, and the pedestrianised street is completely packed with tables.
There is another famous souvlaki place, Thanosis, next door to them, which is also always busy.
As well as kebabs and souvlaki, you can get standard taverna dishes, and enough vegetarian choice to have a good meal.
Try the fava (split pea dip) and the gigantes (butter beans in tomato sauce) with horta (greens) or beetroot and skordalia (garlic dip), and of course, they do a large and tasty greek salad. And very good chips!They usually give us some halva (a kind of spiced semolina cake)at the end of the meal. The food is consistently good, if not spectacular - but then you are not paying fancy prices and it's not the sort of place you come to for cordon bleu food.
Our favourite of these restaurants is the Sigalas, recently re-opened after a long closure for refurbishment.
This has a bigger and more relaxed sitting area - three floors in fact - and is less fast-foody than the other two. It also has an outside courtyard, backing on to a little Byzantine church in Monistiraki square.
There is still a feel of it being a family run business, despite it's size and central Athens position.
Most nights a couple of musicians play rembetika and laika from about 9.30pm. Sometimes people eating in the taverna will get up and take a turn at the mic - and the popular numbers get most people joining in from their tables.
All of the restaurants are decorated with masses of large framed photographs. These feature the owners sharing a drink with various celebraties and politicians.
It's always a lively experience eating here - lots of greek families, lots going on. We usually end up here at least a couple of times when we are in Athens. One of the advantages is that it has a fairly continuous flow of people throughout the day, so there is always some atmosphere and activity. It's also very convenient if you happen to be staying in the Attalos Hotel on Athinas.
Last visited December 2015
To Steki tou Ilia
5 Eptakalkou - see directions below.
In Dec 2012 fava, boiled corgettes, horta and a pork chop with two wines cost 28 euros
This taverna doesn't really count as a Plaka or Monistiraki taverna in either location or atmosphere. It's in Thissio, right on the edge of the Monistiraki area, and a bit off the beaten track.
However, it's very easily reached from Monistiraki or Plaka, and is one of our favourite places within this broader central area.
We always go at least once whenever we are in Athens. It's often where we end up on our first night, as it brings you immediately into a very Greek experience.
It's about a ten minute walk from Monastiraki. Walk down Adrianou, the road which runs along the metro line and has cafes and restaurants on one side, until the end. You are then facing Thisseo Metro station. Turn left across the metro line and then then go right across a small scrubby park - basically a large triangle of grass and trees. A path cuts diagonally across this, and meets up with a pedestrian street running alongside, but above, the metro line which is now on your right. To Steki tou Ilia is on your left here, just opposite a church.
The menu is limited, with the speciality being lamb chops. You order these by weight, and a big plate arrives which you all tuck into. They also do pork chops, beef patties, and sausage, along with a good range of the usual salads. The food is plentiful, simple and good and is also very reasonably priced. It's possible to make a meal from salads and starters if you don't fancy grilled meat.
It has a traditional taverna feel, with big wine barrels (no longer used) lining one of the walls, wooden tables and chairs and simple decor. The waiters are all older men who seem to have worked there for ever - well, for as long as we've been going in there, anyway.
In the summer the action shifts to a very pleasant, large garden opposite.
It's a lively place, mainly Greeks rather than tourists, but with a fair sprinkling of tourists in the summer months. It's not one of those places that only get going from 9.30pm - there are usually a few tables full whenever they are open, though things do get much busier later.
They have another restaurant further down the same street. This is smaller, with no garden, and in our experience attracts a younger crowd.
It's closed on a Monday, but open Sunday evening.
Last visited December 2015
Just off Adrianou on the corner of Thiseou. It’s behind a small square of grass, set slightly back from Adrianou.
In Dec 2013 a meal for 2 of large mixed salad of lettuce, carrot, olives, onions; roasted red peppers; fried courgette balls; village sausage and wine was 33 euros
This taverna is untypical of the area, with good fresh food and cheap prices, and an old fashioned Greek feel.
It has a bit of a ramshackle look, with a collection of wooden chairs and tables on the pavement besides a rather token bit of cat-infested grass and trees.
In the winter they erect a plastic barricade and put out space heaters.
At around 9.30 a couple of musicians turn up and sing laiki and rembetika songs.
We’ve had two good nights here – one outside in the summer, and the other in December. Both times the food was good and the staff friendly. There’s a casual and relaxed atmosphere, and you know it’s not going to cost you an arm and a leg. It was fairly quiet both times we’ve been.
The owner told us that times were hard as a lot of hotels have inclusive package tours so guests don’t use the local restaurants, or guides are paid to take people to a particular restaurant. He said he didn’t go along with this, as what was important to him was providing good, fresh food at reasonable prices.
We’d recommend the loukanika – village sausage – served in a traditional style, on paper ‘ladokolla’ and is especially tasty.
On the part of Adrianou Street which runs below Hadrian's library, parallel with the metro line by the side of the Agora.
The stretch of Adrianou from Monistiraki down to Thisseo has lots of cafes and tavernas and is always buzzing with activity.
This is a great street to have coffee or a meal in, as you get spectacular views across the Agora to the Acropoli, and looking the other way to the Thission.
You really feel that you are at the heart of ancient Athens.There's also always lots of lively people-watching to keep you entertained.
This part of Adrianou is pedestrianised, and the café tables spill out on to the road. On busy summer days people sitting in cafes are competing for space with a constant stream of people wandering up and down taking in the views and atmosphere, street sellers setting out their wares and the little electric sight-seeing trains which do regular runs down Adrianou.
We have a couple of favourite places here for coffee. We generally don’t eat evening meals in cafes as they tend to be more expensive than tavernas, and we frequent them quite a lot during the day for coffee and drinks, so fancy a change. You can get decent food in cafes, though, and they can be good for lunches as well as evening meals.
They will also be lively earlier in the evening than a lot of Greek tavernas, and quite a lot of the Adrianou cafes now have live Greek music in the evenings.
The Diodos is immediately opposite the main entrance to the Agora, and has an amazing view of the Acropolis.
It's a traditional cafe, with marble or metal tables, wooden chairs, and smartly dressed waiters.
There's a small inside, but the action is really outside, where you get the views and the atmosphere of Adrianou.
The tables stretch down the street a little way and in the winter space heaters allow you to sit out when the evenings are cooler.
It's one of our favourite places for coffee or early evening drinks, and the view of the Acropolis never ceases to amaze.
We don't tend to eat in cafes in the evening, but it has been known for an early evening ouzo to extend into a meal.
You can get all the usual salads, chicken and pork souvlaki, as well as 'pikiles' plates with a variety of different salads, dips, pastries, fish or meat on them.
It's a fantastic place to sit and soak up the atmosphere of Athen's ancient sites and feels quite magical as it gets dark and the Acropolis is lit up.
Last visited December 2015
The Diatafta is closer to the Monistiraki end of Andrianou, and looks out over the back of the Stoa in the Agora - not as grand a view as from the Diodos, but still very pleasant.
As well as tables out on the street the Diotafta has a big inside, which is a bonus for us as we're often here when it's not warm enough to sit out. The grand old building the cafe is in has been stripped back to the bare walls and renovated in a simple and pleasing style, which we think of as 'new traditional'.
This is another of our regular haunts for coffee and sometimes for lunch. We ate lunch here twice in December 2016 - gigantes and horiatiki plus beer were 19 euros. The food was good, and you can have a full meal or just a few dishes.
On some days there is live music, starting around 3pm and going on into the evening.
Like most of the cafes on Adrianou it closed from around 8pm on New Years Eve. It also didn't open on New Years Day, although most of the other cafes were open.
Last visited December 2015