The word graffiti might have a Greek origin, but the work of graffiti artists in its current form is a relatively new development in the ancient city of Athens.
Drifting over from New York in the 1990s, street art in Athens soon blossomed into a deep and complex subculture, one which allowed those living on the margins to express their creativity.
While initially denounced as a public nuisance or even dangerously subversive, the Athens street art scene is being increasingly embraced as an integral part of Athens’ cultural life.
Tour companies like Alternative Athens run comprehensive three-hour street art tours throughout the city’s hippest neighborhoods, guided by locals immersed in the scene.
But before you dive in, here’s a quick Athens Street Art Guide to get you prepared for the visual smorgasbord that awaits.
A City of Neighbourhoods
Like many old European cities, Athens is a city of neighborhoods, each one with its own unique character shaped by a long and complicated history.
It’s for this reason that I’ve decided to map the street art of Athens district by district, spreading out from downtown Athens, giving you the most coherent and cohesive way to see the city’s street art.
Gazi was once an industrial neighborhood, named after the gasworks which once dominated the district.
Nowadays the once-abandoned gasworks now stands as a cultural center known as the “Technopolis” and the district around it has slowly gentrified into a trendy (if at times grungy) entertainment district. It should be of no surprise that an area like this is a hub for Athenian street artists.
Keep an eye out for a beautiful portrait by Dimitris Taxis among a whole raft of works by Ino, including the somber “Clockwork” on Persefonis, his depiction of a gas worker alongside the new Technopolis, and a series of long murals celebrating Leonardo da Vinci’s 500th centenary.
This old and distinguished quarter of Psyrri was once home to the heroes of Greece’s independence war and the English poet Lord Byron, before falling upon hard times.
Like nearby Gazi (and many of the other districts on this list) it has recently undergone a transformation that has gone hand in hand with street art.
Walk through Psyrri, and you might be accosted by the menacing Owl by Blaqk or by the joyful but unsettling alien faces of Alexandros Vasmoulakis down the end of Aristofanous.
Although a primarily commercial area, Monastiraki is named after a local church and has its fair share of attractions.
Arriving at the local metro station you can’t miss the harlequinesque riot that adorns its wall painted by local artist Woozy (aka Vangelis Hoursoglou).
If you’re heading back towards Psyrri along with Sarri, keep an eye out for the homage to Loukanikos, Athens’ famous Riot Dog. Seen frequently in confrontations with police Loukanikos became a mascot to the anti-austerity movement in Greece and upon his death had this mural painted in his honor.
Plaka is the broad term given to the old historical city of Athens, nestled underneath the famous Acropolis it has become as the neighborhood of the Gods.
A particularly picturesque part of Plaka is Anafiotika, a labyrinthine collection of narrow streets and tiny houses built around the time of Greek independence in the 1830s. You can read more about Anafiotika and accommodation in Anafiotika here.
But apart from its austere and ancient heritage, this part of Athens is also replete with its fair share of street art. The best of the art here is minimalist, with creators like Oré adding small touches like Black Cat or his iconic Mayanesque glyphs to the area’s traditional architectural beauty.
Other bright, modern, and even alien works, from various artists, tend to jar the onlooker but are no less interesting.
You’ll also see more of Sonke’s work here, especially his iconic black and white woman, with her long spiraling hair and eyes closed in melancholy mourning.
Situated a little further out from the center of Athens, Exarcheia is definitely a district with a reputation.
Rougher, tougher, and a little more dangerous than some of the more gentrified areas above, Exarcheia has long been associated with anarchists and sometimes violent protests and riots against the government.
Exarcheia is dominated by the Polytechnic University, the site of the 1973 famous uprising where 40 civilians were killed.
The murals around this area tend to have a very political nature, including murals in honor of rapper Killah P (murdered by the fascist group Golden Dawn) and student Alexandros Grigoropoulos (murdered by police).
Murals here range from the large and artistic to the small and grungy but often share a common message of social critique and anti-government sentiment.
Particularly striking murals include No Land for the Poor by Indonesian-expat WD (Wild Drawings), a large-scale mural of a haggard homeless man drawn across the side of a house in on Emmanouil Mpenaki.
A little to the west of Exarcheia, along Achilleous towards Metaxourgeio, is Ino’s System of a Fraud. A towering representation of the architect of Athenian democracy, Solon, the work stands as an indictment of the failures of modern government.
Make Sure to Explore
Of course, these are just a few of the more graffiti-rich districts of Athens, and the art form (including artworks by more underground and cutting-edge artists) proliferates across the city, from the Acropolis all the way to the outskirts.
You’re never far from a metro station, so don’t be afraid to go off the beaten track and go for a little wander yourself and make the most of this wonderfully cultured city.
Links and Further Information
- There are so many things to do in Greece. See all of the best things to do in Greece from Get Your Guide here
- If you’re planning a trip to Greece, check out my Greek posts here and make sure you listen to the Trip Anthropologist travel podcast series on Greece here.
- If you’re planning a trip to Athens, see my comprehensive guide to Athens Ruins: Ancient Greek Sites of Athens
- Don’t miss my guides to Everything You Need to Know About Visiting the Acropolis and Where to Stay near the Acropolis.
- Hard to decide which ancient Greek ruins to see? Read Best Ancient Ruins in Greece.
- For the must-see Ancient Akrotiri Minoan city on Santorini, see my blog post here
- And for the things you need to know before you book your trip to Santorini, including the best time to visit Santorini, see my travel guide here
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