Monastiraki Flea Market

Athens

Mike Gerrard of Greece Travel Secrets visits the Monastiraki Flea Market in Athens, followed by Sunday lunch at Sigalas on Monastiraki Square.

The Monastiraki Flea Market in Athens, GreeceThe Monastiraki Flea Market

Monastiraki gets its name from the monastery that used to stand on this square in central Athens. Anything less monastic these days it would be hard to imagine, especially on a Sunday morning when crowds flock to the weekly flea market that starts here and flows through the streets around. Monks would perhaps avert their gaze from the stalls selling second-hand copies of Playboy and Penthouse and browse instead at the one right next door which has beads, Bibles and candles. The sacred and the profane are neighbours in these Athenian streets.

The Monastiraki Flea Market in Athens, GreeceMonastiraki

No doubt they were in ancient times too. Across the railroad tracks is the site of the market-place of ancient Athens, the Agora, a market since the 6th century BC. The foundations of the shops are still there, making it easy to picture the scene, then as now – people sniffing round for a bargain, checking the quality of the fruit and vegetables, or just mooching about.

The Monastiraki Flea Market in Athens, GreeceMonastiraki Flea Market

No-one then would have found what caught my eye on one visit: a large inflatable aubergine, the use for which beggared the imagination. Perhaps it was to decorate a restaurant. Along here you could fully equip any eating place, with chairs and tables, hat stands and mirrors half-blocking the road in a way not many cities would tolerate. But Athens has never lost its human touch.

The Monastiraki Flea Market in Athens, GreeceThe Monastiraki Flea Market

Here are rare first editions, bootleg CDs, a bouzouki maker, fading postcards and typewriters so old they look like they do date back to the 6th century BC and have only just been dug up.

As you head towards the Keramikos Cemetery (this part of Athens was named after Keramos, the patron saint of potters, hence the word ceramics) the roads can get impossibly crowded. Wallets and purses should be well tucked away. Take a diversion into the cemetery, the main burial place of ancient Athens, with tombs dating back to the 12th century BC. It's a peaceful respite from the crowds, with chaffinches dashing and chattering in the olive trees, and terrapins lurking in the grass.

The Sigalas Restaurant on Monastiraki Square in Athens, GreeceSigalas

If the smells from the market food stalls make you hungry, try not to spoil your appetite with a snack but head back to Monastiraki Square and hope you can find a table at Sigalas (full name Bairaktaris Taverna Sigalas). It's not quite as old as the ancient market, and dates back only to the late 19th century (as do some of the waiters, it seems). 

The Sigalas Restaurant on Monastiraki Square in Athens, GreeceSigalas

Life is a cabaret, in Sigalas, with its intriguing mix of local characters and more adventurous tourists. Black and white photos of film stars and politicians gaze down from the wooden walls, and there are all kinds of nooks and crannies, upstairs and down. Don't expect a waiter to greet you at the door and show you to a table. You're on your own. Walk in and hope you can find an empty place somewhere. Menus? Who needs them. Take a look at what's cooking. It won't be gourmet dishes but it will be tasty and generous and easy on the pocket.

Whenever I'm in Athens I eat at Sigalas as often as I can manage it. Turn up twice and you're a regular. More than that and you're one of the family. After one Sunday lunch I was relaxing with a newspaper when one of the waiters began clearing the table next to me. They'd left half a bottle of retsina, which he plonked down in front of me with a wink. A few minutes later he brought a plate of chips to go with it. When I'd finished that lot he gave me a juicy apple for a dessert, and then a cup of coffee. All unordered, and none of them on the bill. 

Suitably sozzled, I tried to imagine that happening in any other European capital city, and couldn't. Only in Athens, where the generous spirit lives on.

Where to Stay in Athens

Some more Athens pages

  • A Drive around Attica

    This drive around Attica offers visitors high hills, beach resorts, small villages and classical sites like Marathon and the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion.

  • Athens to Santorini

    There are lots of flights from Athens to Santorini as well as a ferry service from Piraeus, with flights to Santorini leaving from Athens International Airport.

  • Where to Eat in Athens and Piraeus

    If you're wondering where to eat in Athens and Piraeus we have a few suggestions including some favorites around the Acropolis, Omonia Square, and Syntagma.

  • Ten Fun Things to Do in Athens

    Ten Fun Things to Do in Athens include eating in the Central Market, watching the sun set over the Acropolis and seeing one of the world's oldest theatres.

  • Marathon

    The ancient site of Marathon and the site of the Battle of Marathon are in Attica and naturally about 26 miles or 42 kilometres from the centre of Athens.

  • Cape Sounion and the East Coast

    The beach resorts of Athens are easily reached from the city and also close are Cape Sounion with the Temple of Poseidon, ancient Marathon and Rafina's port.

  • Piraeus

    Piraeus is the port of Athens from where many ferries to the Greek islands depart, and it also has an Archaeological Museum and the Hellenic Maritime Museum.

  • Pictures of Athens

    Pictures of Athens from the Greece Travel Secrets website

  • National Archaeological Museum

    The National Archaeological Museum is one of the best things to see in Athens, and the best museum in the world for seeing Greece's archaeological treasures.

  • My Athens: a Portrait by Travel Writer Mike Gerrard

    In My Athens on Greece Travel Secrets travel writer Mike Gerrard describes what he loves about Athens including the Acropolis and eating!

  • Monastiraki and Around

    Around Monastiraki is the flea market, Athens cathedral, Kerameikos Cemetery, the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art and the Psirri and Gazi nightlife districts.

  • A History of Athens

    A History of Athens from the first people to live on the Acropolis through the Golden Age of Pericles and Alexander the Great to the military junta.

  • Greek Architecture

    This beginner's guide to Greek architecture explains how to tell your Ionic from your Doric columns, and what to look for in temples and Byzantine churches.

  • Entertainment in Athens

    There's all kinds of entertainment in Athens whether you're interested in theatre, dance, classical music, jazz, Greek music, rock music, disco, opera or movies.

  • Easter in Athens

    Easter in Athens is, like everywhere in Greece, the biggest religious celebration of the year and this page tells you what to expect over the Easter weekend.

  • The Best Things to Do in Athens

    The best things to do in Athens, Greece, include top archaeological sites like the Acropolis and must-see attractions such as the National Archaeological Museum

  • Best Cocktail Bars in Athens

    Two of the best cocktail bars in Athens, MoMix Kerameikos and The Clumsies, are making creative cocktails using that most Greek of Greek spirits, Metaxa.

  • Athens: Travel Information and Advice about Athens, Greece

    Athens is a top vacation destination. The Greece Travel Secrets Athensguide has information on hotels, museums, Athens airport and all the best things to do.

  • Athens Weather and the Best Time to Visit

    The Greece Travel Secrets website looks at the Athens weather, the chance of rain, the climate in summer and winter and the best time to visit Athens.

  • Athens Walking Tours and Other Experiences

    Athens walking tours and other experiences like cookery lessons, ceramics workshops, dining with a family, and street art are available from Alternative Athens

  • Athens International Airport

    Athens International Airport is east of Athens city centre with its own Metro train station, buses to Athens and Piraeus, taxis and car rental offices.

  • Athens in the Rain

    Athens in the rain isn’t something you’re likely to experience but here are suggestions for things to do in the rain in Athens including museums and shopping

  • Athens Food Tours

    Athens Food Tours are being introduced by new company The Greek Fork, and will include tours of the Central Market, and the best street food.

  • Athens Events and Public Holidays

    If visiting Athens it helps to know when major events and public holidays take place, as some shops and attractions may be closed, but to be there at times like Easter can make for a magical trip.

  • Athens Eaters Guide

    Athens, an Eater's Guide to the City, is published by Culinary Backstreets, who do walking food tours in Athens and the book recommends the best places to eat.

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