Varvakios Agora (Athens Central Market) is a worthwhile stopping point during any trip to the Greek capital. This is the city’s largest and oldest indoor market.
The Varvakios Agora, Athens
The Varvakios Agora first opened its doors way back in 1886 and it has been one of the most popular places to shop for meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables ever since. Prior to the market’s creation, locals purchased their grocery items from makeshift stalls that were scattered around the Roman forum and at the foot of Acropolis hill.
Some small renovations took place later between 1979 and 1996. Every day, more than 3000-5000 people shop at the marketplace.
Varvakios Agora (Βαρβάκειος Αγορά) is named after the affluent Athenian businessman Ioannis Varvakeios that funded its construction. The word “Agora” means marketplace in both Ancient and Modern Greek.
Today, the market predominantly sells meat and fish. However, herbs, spices, fresh fruits and vegetables, cheeses, olives, and deli products can be found at the stalls and Lilliputian stalls that encircle the market.
Varvakios Agora can be found at Athinas 42. It is encircled by the streets of Athinas, Evripidou, Sofokleous, and Aristidou and is a short walk away from Omonia, Panepistimio, and Monastiraki metro stations.
Visiting Varvakios Agora, Athens
The Varvakios Agora is open Monday to Saturday from 8 am until 6 pm. While admittedly as a tourist you are not likely to come here for shopping, the market is worth visiting for the people-watching opportunities and glimpse into local life that it provides.
The best time to stop by is very early in the morning. If you are able to arrive just after 8 am, you will see local vendors finalising setting up their stalls for the day.
At the same time, restaurateurs swing by to purchase fresh meat and fish in bulk, ready to season and serve to delighted customers later that day. Of course, the Varvakios Agora is typically fairly busy at any time of day.
So, whenever you choose to stop by you will see locals stopping by to buy a nice cut of steak, and Greek yiayias haggling with vendors about the prices of ingredients for that all-important Greek Sunday dinner. You will note that Greeks have a preference to shop at traditional marketplaces like this, as opposed to chain supermarkets.
There is a great sense of supporting local independent producers and businesses. Not to mention, produce is generally fresher, better quality, and more affordable.
Indeed, “laiki agora” (λαϊκή αγορά) are smaller-scale farmers markets that are found all over the city. They are found in various Athenian neighbourhoods on different days of the week.
You may be interested to ask your hotel concierge or Airbnb host about where your closest laiki agora is. For reference, some of the most central/interesting ones are hosted as per the below.
- Kypseli – Tuesdays on Sikinou Street
- Pagrati – Tuesdays on Laertou & Timotheos Street
- Glyfada – Thursdays at Agiou Gerasimou Street
- Kolonaki – Fridays at Ksenokratous Street
- Vouliagmeni – Saturdays at Thiseos Street
Sights and Sounds of the Varvakios Agora
Arguably, some aspects of visiting Athens’ Varvakios agora are not for the faint of heart. The market mainly sells meat and fish.
Here, artfully arranged fish heads stare up at you, lamb carcasses hang from metal hooks, and local butchers wield giant sharp cleavers that narrowly miss their fingers. If you happen to be staying in self-catered accommodation or taking a cooking class in Athens, buying your ingredients here is a fun experience.
Cuts of meat here differ slightly from that which you may find elsewhere in Europe. One great aspect of purchasing fresh meat here is that they will cut or dice it for you.
Arkas Batanian is one of the oldest stalls at the Athens Central Market. They specialise in cured meats and sausages.
These delightfully seasoned meats are perfect to enjoy at home grilled and served with a side of fresh horiatiki (Greek salad), warm pita bread, and Greek yoghurt. As you pass by the meat and fish stalls of the Varvakios Agora, vendors shout out to you in order to capture your attention and your custom over their competitors.
The Fish Market of the Varvakios Agora
The fish market here is the largest in Europe and can be quite an eye-opener if you haven’t visited a similar marketplace in the past. There are more than 100 fish stalls here and they have more than 5 tonnes of fresh fish delivered daily!
You will find fish for every taste here sold by the kilo. Sardine, kolios, gopa, anchovies, fresh cod, maridaki, and atherina are perhaps among the most common.
Tuna, swordfish, anglerfish, menolules, argos, mullets, red mullets and millstones are also sold here. You can also find lobster and prawns on sale, but keep in mind that these have been imported from elsewhere.
Korakis is the oldest stall in the marketplace. It is a family-owned venture that has been passed down through the generations.
If you are not sure what locally sourced fish are the best to try, the vendors are always happy to give their two cents. You should be sure to wear non-slip, closed-toed shoes when you visit the Athens Central Market as the floor can be wet, smelly, and slippy.
There are photo opportunities abound here for the aspiring culture photographer. Just be sure to always ask for the vendor’s permission before you snap them!
Stalls Around the Varvakios Agora
A trip to the Varvakios Agora is just the beginning of a day spent window shopping around Psiri, one of the most vibrant neighbourhoods in central Athens. Once you have finished exploring the indoor market, cross Athinas street to the fruit and vegetable market.
Here you will find row after row of beautifully polished fresh fruit and vegetables. The exact produce that you will find here varies depending on the season.
Everything can be purchased by the kilo or the half-kilo and is very reasonably priced. There is usually only a few euros in price variation between the two so it is usually worth buying a full kilo.
You can find everything here – bags of fresh oranges and apples, punnets of cherries and peaches, etc. If you travel to Greece during the summer months, you will be travelling during the watermelon season.
Fresh Greek watermelon is not to be missed and you can buy the fruit by the whole or in halves. If you can manage to carry it, chilled sliced watermelon stored in the freezer for a little while is heavenly.
A lot of the stalls here also sell dried dates, fruits, seeds, and nuts. Some sell countless varieties of marinated and stuffed olives. Vendors are always happy to let you sample something before you buy, too.
Nearby Evripidou street is an attack on all the senses. This bustling promenade is best known for its quirky stalls that sell agro products, homemade homeopathy items, soaps, cured meats, and spices.
Some of the spice stalls here are more reminiscent of an Arabian souk in the Middle East than what you would expect to see in the Greek capital. The experience of shopping here is as wonderful as the experience of sampling what you have purchased.
Giant jars of spices in every colour under the rainbow are stacked on shelves from floor to ceiling. If there is something that takes your fancy, the vendors will unscrew the old-fashioned candy store-style jars, scoop out the desired spice, and weigh it for you. Saffron can be purchased here for an excellent price.
Arguably the most quintessentially Greek herb to purchase is oregano – dried and fresh. The herb complements so many Mediterranean recipes.
In its most simple form, oregano can be sprinkled over chunks of feta cheese and drizzled in olive oil. Another great thing to try here is halva – a crumbly dessert that is made from sesame seed oil/tahini.
Notable Stores of Evripidou Street
In a sea of options, there are a few stores on Evripidou street that you should look out for specifically. If you consider yourself as being something of a cheese connoisseur, head to Arcadia.
This is one of the oldest cheese shops in Athens. Here, you will discover that Greek cheese goes way beyond just feta.
Manouri is a must-try – it is a semi-soft white cheese with a consistency similar to mozzarella. It is made from either goat or sheep’s milk (or sometimes a combination of the two) and is a byproduct of feta production.
Different regions of Greece are known for different cuisines and that is no different when it comes to cheese. Another option to have on your radar is metsovone.
This is a smoked cheese that originates from the little Vlach village of Metsovo, high in the Pindus mountains. Zouridakis and Bitsika are two other excellent Evripidou cheese shops that both boast expansive selections.
Miran (Evripidou 45) and Karamanlidika (Sokratous 1) are two beloved local delicatessens. You will spot them a mile off as you stroll along Evripidou street.
They are easily distinguishable by the weird and wonderful display of cured meats and pastourma (seasoned, air-dried cured beef) that hang from the ceilings. Both places can prepare you a bespoke charcuterie board that showcases the best of Greek agro products.
Miran predominantly sells produce that originates from the Serres and Kerkini region of Greece. Meanwhile, a lot of what you find at Karamanlidika is sourced from in and around the little northern village of Drama.
If you want a sit-down lunch, Karamanlidika is the more taverna-style of the two. They also serve a selection of hearty Greek classic dishes that can be paired with exquisite Greek wines.
Have any additional questions or comments about the historic Athens central market/Varvakios Agora? Feel free to reach out below!
Have a wonderful time in Athens! Geia sou, Melissa xo