A northwestern suburb of Athens, Peristeri is the fourth-largest municipality in Greece. For most of its history this was empty fields on the Sacred Way, an ancient procession route from Athens to Eleusis. But during the Greco-Turkish War from of 1919-1922 Peristeri was chosen for refugee camps. These grew into a suburb after the Second World War, and Peristeri was linked up to the Athens Metro via Line 2 at the start of the 2000s.
We’ll start with the interesting things to see in or near Peristeri, and then work our way towards the centre of Athens and its ancient wonders. On the way we’ll stop at the park where Plato founded his academy outside of Athens in the 4th century BC and Gazi, a stylish young neighbourhood that has cropped up around Athens’ old gasworks.
Here are the best things to do in Peristeri:
1. Daphni Monastery
Hardly ten minutes west of Peristeri is a UNESCO World Heritage monastery.
Daphni is one of a dispersed trio of UNESCO-protected monasteries in Greece.
It goes back to the 11th century and is on the Sacred Way, a procession route leading from Athens to Eleusis 20 kilometres away in the Gulf of Elefsina.
The monastery is built over a Sanctuary of Apollo, sacked by the Goths at the end of the 4th century.
One of Ionic columns from that site was adapted into the monastery, while the others were later taken to Britain by the Earl of Elgin.
Daphni Monastery is celebrated for the brilliance of its early-12th-century mosaics, with scenes from the Life of Christ in the pendentives and a glorious Christ Pantocrator in the crown of the dome, in which Jesus, wearing a purple robe, has an unusually stern expression.
2. Diomidous Botanical Garden
Something else that might not be on your map is this botanical garden a few minutes away in Chaidari.
The Diomidous Botanical Garden is officially the largest in Europe, encompassing over 186 hectares and planted with 2,500 species.
The garden was founded in 1952 and was set up with money donated by the prime minister Alexandros Diomidis and his wife Julia.
The individual gardens are arranged by theme and geography, and there are some fascinating spaces, like a garden planted with species mentioned in Greek history, mythology and the Old Testament.
In here you can see the acanthus that appears on Corinthian capitals and hemlock, which was used for Socrates’ execution.
Another garden has plants used for medicine like balsam, rosemary, lavender, ginger and aloe.
There’s also an arboretum on the right side of the main entrance, with cedars, coconut trees, acacias and a Japanese beautyberry.
3. Alsos Peristeriou
This park opened in 2012 and instantly became one of Peristeri’s chief attractions.
It has also had an incalculable impact on local people’s lives, as according to analysis by the University of Athens, Alsos Peristeriou’s water and greenery has helped to lower temperatures by up to 5°C at the height of summer.
The park has free Wi-Fi and is planted with acacia, fig, eucalyptus, olive and plane trees.
If you want to get some weight training into your morning exercise routine there’s an outdoor gym, while kids can go nuts at the historically themed playground and see puppet shows in summer.
There’s also an amphitheatre for summer concerts, while Prasino Spiti (Green House) is a new centre all about green energy, recycling and energy conservation.
4. Atromitos F.C.
Playing at the Peristeri Stadium is a Greek Superleague team founded by students back in 1923. You could say that Atromitos F.C. (translating to “Fearless”) are currently enjoying the most successful period in their history, having played in the Europa League four seasons in a row up to 2016, and achieving their joint highest ever finish in the Superleague in 2013 (3rd). When this post was written in January 2018 they were fourth in the table, comfortably in the Europa League places once more.
One of the catalysts for their recent success has been the Argentinean creative midfielder Javier Umbides.
Atromitos have played at the Peristeri Stadium since 1953, which has seen better days but has a thumping match-day atmosphere powered by the “Fentagin” supporters club, known for their anti-fascist politics.
As long as you’re in Athens, the Acropolis, as the defining image of the ancient world, is something you have to see.
On its rocky crag over the city, the Acropolis took on the shape we know now in the 5th century when Pericles spearheaded the construction of the most emblematic monuments like the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaia and the Temple of Athena Nike.
For extra context and to view the original ornamentation from these monuments, the Acropolis Museum is obligatory.
With a glass floor on its lower level to let you see the archaeology under your feet, the museum has the regal caryatids from the Erechtheion, while the main event is on the upper floor is a room with same dimensions as the Parthenon boasting the original friezes and metopes.
6. National Archaeological Museum
Also essential for any visit to Athens is the museum with the richest collection of Ancient Greek artefacts in the world.
The exhibits date from Neolithic to Roman times and with every new visit you’ll discover something you’ve missed.
Some pieces you’ll never forget include the Bronze Age frescoes from Santorini, the Mycenaean golden Mask of Agamemnon and the finds from the Antikythera wreck.
One of these is the Antikythera mechanism, the earliest example of an analogue computer, assembled in the late second century BC. But this is barely scratching the surface, and still to be seen are armies of marble and bronze sculptures, countless vases and a whole museum in the south wing devoted epigraphs, with more 14,000 ancient inscriptions.
7. Ancient Agora
Below the northwestern slope of the Acropolis was the political, commercial, judicial and administrative heart of ancient Athens.
This location has been occupied constantly for 5,000 years, and throughout that time has been ransacked and rebuilt.
As it is today, the Agora is a mishmash of ruins that are difficult to identity without the help of a map or, even better, a knowledgeable guide.
The Museum of the Ancient Agora has inscribed stones, coins and ballot disks that were used in trials, harking back to the birth of Athenian democracy.
On the Agoraios Kolonos Hill to the northwest is perhaps Ancient Athens’ best preserved monument, the Temple of Hephaestus, a near-complete Doric temple from the middle of the 5th century BC.
8. Plato Academy Park
Peristeri is only a kilometre from the place where Plato founded his philosophical school at the start of the 4th century BC. It would stay open until it was closed by the Roman dictator Sulla in 86 BC. The academy was founded some way to the northwest of the ancient city of Athens, far from political life, and there have been archaeological surveys of the park since 1929. On the south side of the park you can see a section of the ancient road that led to the academy.
And in the park are the modest ruins believed to belong to the academy itself.
Now, although there isn’t a great deal to see, many tourists make the journey to stand on the figurative foundations of western thought.
9. Plato Academy Digital Museum
The Foundation of the Hellenic World has built a multimedia museum on the site, all about Plato, his academy and his philosophy.
The museum makes this weighty subject accessible by calling on cartoons and interactive games.
You’ll get the chance to philosophise, and consider how Plato’s thoughts chime with your own.
There are also explanations of how Plato’s teachings informed subsequent generations and still have traction today.
You can also explore an interactive 3D model of the Platonic Academy to see how it would have looked 2,400 years ago, bringing life to the modest ruins in the park.
10. Allou! Fun Park
A short drive down the E75 and you’ll arrive at Greece’s largest amusement park.
The Allou! Fun Park is made up of two parks joined together: There’s Allou!, which has the funfair-style thrill rides and amusements for teenagers, and Kidom, which is more for families and younger children.
This has games and less action-packed joys like merry-go-rounds, flying elephants and boat rides.
It’s worth allowing a few hours to get full value for the €21 entrance fee.
A new arrival that has made a big splash at Allou! is the House of Fear, a haunted house, the only attraction of its kind in Greece and with a big team of actors in scary outfits.
11. Gazi Area
Past the Plato Academy Park to the southeast of Peristeri is Gazi, a neighbourhood that surrounds Athens’ old gasworks.
The gasworks shut down in 1984, and over the last couple of decades Gazi has reimagined itself as an artsy nightlife and entertainment area, with an active LGBT scene.
Many of the restaurants and nightspots are in Neoclassical buildings built for the factory, and in the last few years some photo-worthy works of street art have started to adorn the area’s walls.
A fitting place to start an evening in Gazi is at one of the rooftop bars where you can often see the Acropolis lit up at night in the distance.
The gasworks in the middle of Gazi have become an enormous living museum and cultural venue, taking up more three hectares.
Technopolis stages concerts, seminars, exhibitions and all sorts of other cultural events, and each of the restored 19th-century buildings in this historic compound have the names of important Greek poets.
In the past these were amenities for what was once a self-contained community, providing a clinic, barber shop and later a car mechanic.
In 2013 the Industrial Gas Museum opened its doors and takes you around 13 stops at the old plant.
As you go you can find out how this facility generated heat and light for the city for more than a century, see vintage machinery and get a glimpse of working conditions at the factory.
13. Kerameikos Archaeological Site
Northwest of the Ancient Agora is an ancient site that you can get to after a short ride on the C16 bus from Peristeri.
Kerameikos is the furthest most tourists will stray from the ancient city, and it holds many spellbinding monuments if you know what you’re looking at.
As well as Athens’ ancient walls there’s the Sacred Gate, which was the start of the Sacred Way that led to Eleusis.
The main entrance to Athens in those times was the Dyplon Gate, where in the 5th century BC the General of Athens Pericles gave a famous speech in memory of those who had died at the start of the Peloponnesian War.
The Street of Tombs has replicas of gravestones for Athens’ most distinguished citizens, while the Pompeion was where the preparations were made for the Panathenaic Procession to the Parthenon every four years, coinciding with the Panathenaic Games.
14. Centre for the Study of Traditional Pottery
A research and education resource as well as a museum, the Centre for the Study of Traditional Pottery was founded in the Kerameikos area in 1987. It was an appropriate location because, as the name will tell you, Kerameikos was Athens’ traditional potters’ quarter.
The period in focus at the museum is from the early 19th century to the early 20th century, and the museum studies the wealth of techniques and styles from all corners of Greece.
More than 5,000 earthenware pieces are kept at this museum, and you can find out about the technology used to produce them, the intricacies of production and pottery’s role in daily life and rituals.
15. Benaki Museum of Islamic Art
Opened in time for the Athens Olympics in 2004, the Islamic Art department of the Benaki Museum is in a group of Neoclassical buildings in Kerameikos.
The museum has works from all over the Islamic world, including North Africa, the Middle East, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Spain, India, Persia, Egypt and Sicily.
On show are inscribed funerary steles, ceramics, textiles, bone carvings, armour, weapons, glasswork, wood carvings and metalwork.
Some pieces not to be missed are an Iranian enamel dagger hilt from the 1810s, a Turkish wooden compass used to used to work out the hour of prayer and direction of Mecca, 16th-century wall tiles from the mausoleum of Suleiman the Magnificent and Arab coins from the 7th century.