Ermou street Athens is to the Greek capital what Oxford Street is to London. This is the city´s main high street and it is perpetually bursting with life and activity.
By day, you can barely move for students and shoppers. You will see highbrow Athenians dashing along its cobbles on their lunch breaks as they head towards coffee meetings in Kolonaki.
Stores here are typically open until 10 pm, depending on the specific day of the week. By nightfall, the churches along Ermou street are illuminated and revelers head towards the eclectic bars of Psiri.
Ermou Street Athens
Ermou street Athens is a 1.5km stretch of road that extends from Syntagma Square in the south, up to Gazi/Kerameikos. It passes through the districts of Psiri and Thissio and you are likely to walk along its cobbles numerous times while getting from A to B in Athens.
At first glance, Ermou street Athens appears as little more than ¨just another¨ European city high street. You can find all of the best-known high street clothing, accessories, and beauty stores here.
Massimo Dutti, H&M, Zara, Sephora, Pull & Bear, and The Body Shop, among a plethora of others, all have stores on Ermou Street. But, like anywhere in Athens, Ermou street also brings its share of distinctive Greek culture into the mix.
Ermou Street Food
Athens Street food vendors can often be found throughout Ermou street. In the mornings, you will see a number of pushcarts here selling koulouri.
This is a savoury, circle-shaped sesame seeded bread. It is essentially the Greek answer to the New York pretzel and is commonly eaten for breakfast or as a mid-morning snack.
A koulouri costs little more than one euro and they are huge! One portion is about the size of your head! Sometimes, you can find variations that are filled with ham, cheese, and other treats.
During the winter months, Athenian street vendors set up stalls on Ermou street to sell roasted chestnuts, grilled corn on the cob, and warm cups of salep. Salep is a warm beverage that is enjoyed in Greece and Turkey during the winter months.
It is made from hot milk, sugar, and flour made from orchid tubers. A hearty sprinkling of cinnamon is then added to the top.
This may sound unusual, but the result is a delightfully creamy, flavourful winter drink. Salep could in some ways be compared to Indian Chai. From November onwards, you will see vendors preparing it in huge copper cauldrons.
Notable Ermou Shops
All of the high street favourites have branches on Ermou. Shopping here means a day of retail therapy that doesn’t break the bank. There are also many independent Greek stores here that sell affordable footwear and clothing.
Hondos Centre may be particularly interesting. It is a Greek department store that could be likened to John Lewis in the UK, or perhaps Macy’s in the US.
The ground floor sells every cosmetic and skincare brand imaginable, along with a range of beauty accessories. The upper floors sell clothing, underwear, hosiery, accessories, and footwear.
As you approach Monastiraki Square, you will see Moustakas on your left-hand side – a giant Greek toy store. There are often little stalls set up in Monastiraki Square selling everything from fresh fruits and dried nuts, to cotton candy and souvenirs.
A further detour takes you to the Monastiraki flea market. This is one of the main tourist streets in Athens. You can find every quintessentially Greek souvenir that you can think of here – komboloi beads, evil eye jewelry, handmade leather sandals, etc.
Shopping at Ermou
The stores in and around Ermou are relatively affordable. If you are looking for more upscale brands – whether stores owned by international fashion houses or Greek designers, you should head towards Kolonaki.
Domestic Greek stores here like Pink Lady and others sell clothing at prices that are as much as 30-50% cheaper than those at high street stores. Unfortunately, that is sometimes reflected in the quality.
However, it is also a result of the Greek economy that continues to struggle and ever so slowly recover. Most people here speak good English, as is the case everywhere in Athens and in Greece on the whole.
Sales tend to take place at the end of the summer, around September as the old summer clothing lines are being replaced with cosier Autumn/Winter wear. Then, there are also typically sales around February/March time too.
You can enjoy tax-free shopping in a lot of Ermou stores if you are not an EU resident. This includes British and American travellers.
The cashier will usually ask you if you want tax-free shopping but if they don´t, ask if they offer it. Even just a few euros here and thereafter each purchase does add up.
You will be asked to present your passport and then the cashier will complete a form and hand it back to you in a sealed envelope. You can exchange this for a tax refund when you leave the country.
History of Ermou Street Athens
Ermou has been a retail hub of Athens for as long as it has existed. Back in 1834, it was little more than a dirt trail.
However, once Athens became the Greek capital as part of its newfound independence from Turkey, development, and construction started all over the city. It was decided that Ermou would become the city’s retail hub.
At the time, it predominantly catered to the Athenian elite. Ladies would come here to buy elaborate hats and headwear.
Tailors and dressmakers set up their workshops in the narrow streets that veered off from Ermou. Ermou has been completely pedestrianised since the 1990s.
All those centuries ago, performers would sing and dance to entertain the high-class crowds of Ermou. Today, this culture remains to an extent.
You will still see old pappous (Greek grandfathers) wheeling old, traditional wind-up music boxes along Ermou. These are, sadly, a dying aspect of Greek culture and there are only one or two old-timers that actually pull these music boxes around.
Give a few coins if you can and he will play you a tune. You will also of course see buskers and people playing instruments, sometimes to a crowd of curious Greeks and tourists if they are particularly good.
Sights Around Ermou
There are several churches scattered along the length of Ermou. You could joke that the Greek capital has Orthodox churches on every street corner in the same way western cities have Starbucks coffee shops.
In particular, look out for the Byzantine church of the Virgin Kapnikarea. This 11th-century church is the oldest in Athens and was built on the ruins of an old pagan temple.
The church was almost turned to rubble as it stood in the way of King Otto’s plans of transforming Ermou into a major shopping street. Fortunately, he and other Greek royals and nobles understood the church´s historic significance and built around it!
Nearby, Panagia Pantanassa sits in the heart of Monastiraki Square. It is a three-aisled basilica church that dates back to the 17th century. It celebrates the day of its patron saint on the 15th of August each year.
In the same square, you will also find the mosque of Tzistarakis which dates back to the Ottoman days of Athens. The mosque now contains a folk art museum but it has been closed to the public for some time.
It is said to be cursed after the Ottomans knocked down several pillars from the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Library to build the mosque. Legends say that after they did this, several unlucky and unfortunate events happened around the city.
Both the Greeks and the Ottomans blamed this on the pillaging of materials from Athens’ historic attractions. At the end of the street, you will arrive close to the Ancient Agora, Thissio, and the Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos.
Accommodation In and Around Ermou
Several excellent hotels and accommodation options can be found on the streets that veer off from Ermou. Opting to stay in any of these districts – Psiri, Syntagma, Monastiraki, Thissio, etc, is a good choice.
Doing so places you right in the heart of the action and means that you are just a short walk away from all of Athens’s main sights. This is a perfect base for spending one or two days in Athens.