I Went to the Monastiraki Market and I Think I *Might* Have Traveled Through Time
The Monastiraki Market in Athens is truly iconic. And it should be – it has bits and pieces of nearly every culture that has influenced Greece. It’s like traveling through time, witnessing eras and eras, all in one afternoon.
The moment I got out of my Uber and stepped into Monastiraki Square, I thought to myself, “THIS is Greece.” Sure, there were tourists galore, but there was also history, yet another angle of the Acropolis, the smell of fresh produce and baked goods, the sounds of traditional music, and color everywhere. Friendly vendors were selling their wares and such wares they had!
I sat on a bench for a full ten minutes in the square just soaking it all in before I wandered down a walkway into the market itself. I wished I had worn a full patterned skirt with little bells on the hem to make me truly a part of that evocative scene.
It felt like I could have witnessed almost the same scenario in 2019 as I would have in 1919 and almost the same one in 1819. It’s a place where you can literally witness the passage of time from the moment you step into the main square.
Most folks start off in Monastiraki Square, which is fascinating and where the whole time travel thing starts.
There’s a small, sunken, Byzantine church in the square that was dedicated to Virgin Mary Pantanassa which was built sometime in the 1600s atop the site of an even older church that was built in about the 10th century. There’s also an old mosque dating back to 1759 when the local governor Tzistarakis had it built. In a move that enflamed locals during the Ottoman occupation, Tzistarakis demolished one of the columns of the Temple of Zeus to build his mosque.
Just behind all of this, you can find the ruins of the Library of Hadrian. This impressive structure was built in 132 AD right beside what are now the ruins of the Roman Agora, built by Julius Ceasar and Emperor Augustus. Both the library and the agora were destroyed in 267 during the invasion of the Herulians. But the ruins remain and I love the fact that around these ancient places it’s still a bustling place of commerce. Up there on the mountain above it all is the Acropolis.
The square itself is like time travel. You’ve got everything from the Acropolis towering over the old church and mosque to the first metro station built in Athens to more recent modern-designed buildings.
Visiting Monastiraki Market
The market itself is a labyrinth of walkways off of Monastiraki Square. Six days per week, there are little shops, most of which are open daily. They sell everything: clothing, shoes, souvenirs, jewelry, art, and textiles, to name a few things. There are also secondhand and antique items. You can get old records, old books, and vintage furniture, too.
But the real fun comes on Sunday when the Monastiraki Flea Market is open. If you can at all, go on Sunday. For reals.
You have to wander through the main market to get to it but it’s well worth it. Lots of gypsies (yes, real gypsies) sell at the flea market and there’s no limit to the things you can find there. If I had a home to bring things back to, I’d visit this flea market and leave with a truckload of vintage glass, lighting fixtures, and brass candleholders.
It’s a feast for your eyes and your stomach in this market any day of the week. There are a number of restaurants that sell everything from overpriced food for tourists to inexpensive places you walk up to and get traditional goodies. Everywhere you look is filled with color and there are random vines and flowers growing in the most unexpected places.
I picked up a beautiful pocketknife that the vendor told me was handmade on Crete (who knows if it was for sure?) and a small handpainted purse for those days I didn’t want to tote around my backpack or large travel purse. I also got some olive oil soap, body wash, and lotion. The skincare products in Greece are luscious. I was glad I’d brought my backpack to lug home all my treasures. For lunch, I ordered gyros from a place that was likely for tourists but delicious, nonetheless. Before I left, I took a second quick trip to buy a pair of handmade leather sandals that I’d regretted not picking up on my first visit. The prices of most things were extremely reasonable.
Another totally awesome thing is that sometimes a group of people will sit down, pull out instruments, and give a little concert of traditional music right there on one of the wider walkways. Nothing adds more to the feel of the exotic than traditional music while you’re flipping through scarves.
Here are some of the photos I took on my Sunday excursion. Click on any photo and use the arrows to go through the gallery.
What you should know about Monastiraki Market
Here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions about visiting Monastiraki Market.
How physically challenging is visiting Monastiraki Market?
Most areas are easily accessible and paved. There are a couple of inclines when you go deeper into the market around the Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library but they are not exceptionally steep. Some shops have steps to enter them.
What’s the bathroom sitch?
I didn’t see any public restrooms at Monastiraki Market. The best way to find a bathroom is to eat at a sit-down restaurant. This is the oldest part of Athens and the plumbing reflects it. You’ll see notes asking you not to flush anything – and “anything” includes toilet paper. Some toilets in the older parts of Athens do not have seats. You have to just hover over the ceramic. As is the case in many Athenian restaurants, the restrooms are generally not on the main floor – you’ll need to either go up or down a flight of stairs.
Is there food?
There’s every kind of food you can imagine.
Is there anything tourists should be warned about in the Monastiraki Market?
Pickpockets and beggars are somewhat prevalent in the market.
As well, there are guys who will try to “give” you a bracelet. They’ll tie it onto your wrist but then they want a “tip.” I had run out of cash and was just using my debit card when this happened to me and even though I told him I had absolutely no cash, the guy still put a bracelet on me, telling me it was a gift. I tested this theory by walking away and he followed me and – big shock – he wanted his bracelet back. Locals I spoke with told me this is a very common thing at the market if they think you’re a tourist. When I walked through with a local friend on my second visit, I was not offered a “free” bracelet. When you encounter these folks unless you actually want a little plastic braided bracelet, just give them a firm “no” and keep walking.
How expensive is the Monastiraki Market?
There’s no charge for admission to the market. The money you spend will be completely dependent on what you decide to buy.
Have you been to Monastiraki Market?
Did you enjoy it? What did you buy? Do you have any questions about visiting the market? Let’s talk about it in the comments.