Bohemian Athens

Athens is infused with counterculture, ranging from the anarchic and graffitied to global-nomad hipster. Bohemia tends to concentrate in a few neighborhoods, notably Exarchia, Kerameikos, Metaxourgeio and the road leading toward Pireaus, but street art and edgy eateries can dot even posher neighborhoods. Of note are Athens’ many wonderful collective DIY art venues combining nightlife, music, art, performance and sometimes even daytime work.

Exarcheia, Athens 106 81, Greece
Exarcheia is the most unique neighborhood in Athens, by far. It’s not for everyone. It’s gritty, graffiti-laden, and crawling with punk rock kids who are far more harmless than they appear.


But behind its rough exterior you’ll find a dozen bookshops, tiny cafes where old men sit sipping Greek coffee, and an onslaught of art exhibits with political undertones. The neighborhood’s cultural identity is diverse: you can smoke hookah with Syrians or you can dine with the artsy Greeks. Embrace every second of it.
9 Leonidou
Art woman about town Rebecca Camhi has been in the city since 1995, but hers was one of first galleries to settle into Athens’ now trendy, and still somewhat sketchy, Metaxourgeio neighborhood. Expect to see beautifully curated and often provocative shows in the upstairs white-cube space (Camhi has exhibited the work of photographer Nan Goldin), but downstairs you’ll find something unusual—a gallery boutique. Here Camhi sells one-of-a-kind ceramics, ethnic textiles, and other small objects at real-world prices. The gallerist lives in the back part of the building, and here you can feel the proximity of an aesthetic visionary.
57 Kolokotroni
Booze Cooperativa is “a brain hub of tribes and nations in creative disruption.” That certainly sounds like millennial trendspeak, but the Cooperativa—a three-story neoclassical textile mill repurposed in 1989 into spaces for art, music, and people-meeting, and eating and drinking, has been promoting local artists, providing community for artists of all sorts (many of whom co-work, or play chess with their friends, at the six-meter-long—almost 20 feet—table by day), and acting as a nighttime watering hole ever since. Booze isn’t just about booze at all, but you can smoke here—its owner registered the building as a political party headquarters to get around the Greek indoor smoking ban.
Leonidou 63-65, Athina 104 35, Greece
In a derelict empty lot in the trendy-but-scruffy neighborhood of Kerameikos, architect and sometime skateboarder Zarchos Varfis saw potential: In summer 2017 (after some serious crowdfunding, connecting, and fundraising) he opened Latraac, a curvy plywood skate bowl he designed for the lot, and a “skate café" to exist alongside it. The skate bowl is free for the public to use; it also serves as a performance and event space. Latraac has fast become a popular hangout and a symbol of the DIY culture cropping up amidst the city’s ongoing economic crisis.
Street, Petraki 15, Athina 105 63, Greece
The brainchild of Greek art curator Helena Papadoupoulos (formerly of New York and Berlin and thus a familiar face on the art circuit), Radio Athènes is an arts nonprofit that advances visual culture. That means it not only mounts provocative and often political exhibitions, but also and, maybe more importantly, hosts deep talks and discourse on cultural issues of our day. Its space is also a bookstore-library. Check the rich schedule of talks and events at radioathenes.org.
Pireos 84, Athina 104 35, Greece
Rooftop cocktail bars are a new craze in Athens, but this place was 20 years ahead of the curve. A prime Athens spot on a hot summer (or spring, or fall) night, Bios is a hybrid of watering hole and cultural center—the rooftop bar is legendary for perfect Acropolis views, but there’s a lot more going on inside: two music halls, a theater, rehearsal rooms, exhibition areas, and additional hangout zones. Events are well-visited by the Athenian cool crowd, but the atmosphere is relaxed, not contrived. Come for culture, company, and sweeping views over the city’s rooftops, under the stars of the warm Greek sky.
Melanthiou, Athina 105 54, Greece
Brit-born cycling fanatic Gareth Jones first opened a bike shop called Vicious Cycles, then expanded into the next-door space with the Handlebar, a funky restaurant/bar/“cycle” cafe on a grungy, graffiti-lined backstreet in the increasingly touristy Psirri neighborhood. The simple brunch, bagels, and (mostly vegan or vegetarian) snacks fare here consistently earns rave reviews, and so do the DJs’s mad mixes of house music and more. The beer is cheap, and the young, edgy crowd is consistently enthusiastic. The bar closes at midnight so this isn’t a late-night venue. But where else can you eat well, drink inexpensively, listen to great tunes and get your bike fixed, all at the same time? Keep an eye out for occasional record launches, live gigs, and street parties.
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