Since the financial crisis of 2009 and the austerity years that followed, the Athens street art scene has been a way of telling stories about the Greek reality, an outlet for protest against punishing hardship and unemployment. In Athens, graffiti has always been entwined with political opinion and dissent. The term comes from the Greek word Graffito, “to write” and no doubt the ancient Greeks were scrawling political slogans on alley walls many centuries ago!
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For kids growing up with Athens graffiti, the suburban train line was often the first place to start, with railway carriages seen as the cool place to try your hand with a spray can. However, many of these wannabe street artists in Athens went on to study at the Athens School of Fine Arts, developing their work to create polished murals with commercial sponsors, organised by projects like Urban Act.
In a contrast to the Suburban railway, the Metro line that was built for the Olympics is kept pristine and unmarked by graffiti, since Greeks are so proud of hosting the games in Athens. The green shoots of investment and prosperity in Athens bring similar contradictions; the crumbling house covered with graffiti next to a restored neoclassical mansion, the graffiti covered train next to the clean metro line, the commercially sponsored mural on the same street as the back street graffiti wall.
Street art in Athens continues to thrive, but it mixes the mainstream and commercial murals with the political and protest messages.
Take an Athens street art tour
If you want to discover more about the Athens street art scene, I can highly recommend taking this street art tour in Athens. Not only did we find the best pieces tucked down the side streets, but we heard the stories behind the murals and the artists who create them. Our street art tour in Athens was with Alternative Athens, and our excellent tour guide Niko a.k.a. Rude was himself an urban artist and graphic designer, with plenty of stories to tell.
Street art on derelict buildings in Athens
One curiosity of Athens is that so many beautiful old houses stand derelict or boarded up, even in the most desirable city neighbourhoods. Imagine that happening in Mayfair or Manhattan! Sometimes the old buildings are inherited, but the owners can’t afford to pay high property taxes.
Other times the building may have an inconvenient preservation order, so owners would rather wait until they fall down, then get permission to demolish and build a new apartment building on the plot. Either way, the numerous derelict buildings around Athens make an ideal canvas for street art. Be sure to photograph such pieces when you see them, as they will disappear once the building is renovated!
Stay at 18 Micon Street in the heart of Psiri – a boutique hotel in a converted warehouse.
Technopolis in Gazi
Our Athens street art tour with Alternative Athens began in the Gazi neighbourhood, a working class area that was named after the gas works that fuelled street lighting and gas to homes through the 19th century.
As gas was converted to electric lighting, the old gas works were abandoned and in the 1990s were transformed into the Technopolis centre, incorporating a radio station, museum and events space.
If you’re in the area it’s well worth a look around, to learn more about the city’s industrial heritage, stop in the cafe or check on the upcoming events at Technopolis. We also spotted a recently commissioned mural on display by RTMOne showing the gas works theme.
Street art in Athens – Gazi
Across the road from Technopolis is the Old Depot OSY – an abandoned bus station that has been repurposed as a large events, festival and exhibition space. The walls make an ideal canvas for street art, and every couple of years different artists are invited to paint there.
The colourful mural by Kez on the wall facing Ermou Street was painted for World Aids Day, with hands making gestures that symbolise peace, power, OK. The work of Athens born Kez has a graphic quality, as if sketched in pencil or made from a wood cut and many of his murals are inspired by Greek mythology.
Note: You can find more information about each artists mentioned, with website and social media links at the end of this article.
On the opposite side of the Old Depot, facing the busy main road of Peiraios, is a series of murals by leading Athens street artist INO. His distinctive style has developed over the years and features monochrome photo-realistic images with a trademark flash of blue paint. This series was painted for an exhibition of Leonardo Da Vinci – 500 years of genius that was held in the Old Depot in 2019, although the murals are just as much a commentary on political issues in Greece.
Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Last Supper is reinterpreted to show the Greek political system, with the Acropolis in the background. The central figure where Jesus or the Prime Minister should sit is missing, but along the table his ministers are sitting idly, handling bribes or fallen asleep. No-one pays attention to the hands of the needy reaching up to ask for help, while a bodyguard keeps watch to protect the politicians from any harm.
A little further along the wall, the eyes of the Mona Lisa reflect a rioter and the riot police, as if she sees all this political upheaval but remains silent and inscrutable.
Leondardo’s Vitruvian man has a bar code stamped on his forehead – perhaps humans are mere numbers or data?
The face of Leonardo himself looks out across the street, his disembodied hand working on the drawing.
Our walk continued through Gazi to see murals by Aiva, whose style is often based on radiating mechanical motifs, using the same colour scheme of purple, green and red.
On the same wall is a well known collaboration by Aiva and INO called Access Control. which was painted on a building owned by a telecoms company. On the right INO’s eye is stamped across the pupil with binary code, while Aiva’s robot like figure on the left appears to be attacking it – like technology under attack from a virus. Small details provide additional commentary, with the surveillance camera continually watching and the escape key under the eye. Location: Corner Evadnis / Ikarieon in Gazi
To find the latest and best street art in Athens, we can highly recommend taking the original street art tour of Athens. with Alternative Athens.
Close to the heart of Gazi around Persephone’s Square, we found the ideal selfie opportunity at the I* Athens / In Athens mosaic sponsored by Heineken, created in 2016. The user generated art project was created at a time of intense discontent about the political situation, which the organisers turned on its head to ask the people of Athens “What would you never want to change about Athens?”
By shifting the conversation towards the positive, the answers ranged from “Sunday Strolling” or “Sea and Sun”, to the stray cats that are seen everywhere on the streets of Athens. Answers were etched on tiles to make up the colourful mosaic. When unveiled the In Athens mural generated huge social media, blog and online coverage, showing how commercial brands are increasingly using street art as a way of reaching a new generation of consumers. Location: Corner Gargittion / Persefonis in Gazi
Just across the square is another major piece known as “Make love not war”, which was created in 2014 as a collaboration between artists Alex Martinez, Kez and Same84. The commercial sponsor was a men’s toiletry brand, but after a couple of years nothing more had been paid to the building owner, so he proposed to have the mural removed.
However the artists stepped in and it was agreed to keep the mural once the sponsor’s logo and text had been painted out, leaving it as a piece of street art to be enjoyed in Gazi. Location: North side Persephone’s Square, Gazi
Stay at Vasi in the Athens historic triangle – with light filled rooms and a natural colour scheme
During the day as we walked through, the Gazi neighbourhood was almost deserted, but it comes alive at night when the bars and restaurants open and people gather from all over Athens to meet their friends.
Leaving the main square of Gazi, our walk continued down the colourful lane of Sofroniou. We passed restaurants like The Place who offer veggie dishes and tours on their Coco-mat wooden bikes, and A Liar Man who incorporate art into their cafe design.
Crossing the busy road of Iera Odos we spotted a couple more pieces by INO, which showed how his style had developed over the years.
Set back from the road on a wall is one of the early pieces by INO, showing the Greek mathematician Constantin Caratheodory, who collaborated with Einstein on the theory of relativity. Location: Iera Odos, Gazi
The “Freedom for Sale” mural by INO of a Girl’s head and a dove overlooks a parking lot in Metaxourgeio. This piece, created in 2019 shows INO’s more recent photorealistic style and the blue flash that has become his trademark. Like his British counterpart Banksy, INO prefers to keep a low profile and remain anonymous to the public. Location: Corner Leonidou / Evrymedontos in Metxourgeio.
If you want to get the inside stories about all the street artists working in Athens, we can highly recommend taking the original street art tour of Athens with Alternative Athens.
Street art in Athens – Metaxourgeio
From Gazi, our Athens Street art tour with Alternative Athens moved into the neighbouring district of Metaxourgeio. Known as the silk district for its small mills and workshops, this was a thriving working class area of Athens until the 1970s, when many families moved out of Athens to other parts of Greece.
What goes down, must come up and in the last decade, the low rents and government regeneration programmes attracted both immigrants and middle class arty types. Metaxourgeio is now considered an “up and coming neighbourhood” and parts of it are sought after places to live for young professionals, although other sections of the neighbourhood have a slightly more dodgy reputation.
We noticed plenty of attractive two or three story older buildings, with less of the wall to wall concrete apartment blocks that characterise more recently developed neighbourhoods. Athens seems to specialise in beautiful buildings that look as if they are about to collapse, but many of the older houses are now being snapped up at high prices by investors.
Along the main street of Kerameikou we found this piece by Barba Dee. The artist’s slogan is “Light your future bright” and his work features flames and bright colours. The motifs are all about protest and rioting, with a sentiment of protest to improve the future.
Further along the street are murals created as part of the Urban Act project in 2018. The murals by Kez feature motifs from Greek mythology and are typical of the “woodcut” style of many of his artworks. Location: Corner Kerameikou / Marathonos in Metaxourgeio.
On the adjoining building, is a mural by Same84 of a girl holding a book about the history of Athens, with names of different neighbourhoods of the city making up the backdrop. Both this and the Kez piece were created as part of the Urban Act project for Athens World Book Capital 2018, using the theme of books and reading. Location: Corner Kerameikou / Myilerou in Metaxourgeio.
Graffiti art vans in Metaxourgeio
As we walked around Metaxourgeio, I was curious about the many vans we saw covered with graffiti and street art, thinking that there might be people living in them, or that they were owned by the street artists.
We learned however, that they belong to local shops and businesses. Being parked on the streets overnight they are considered fair game by anyone with a spray can wanting to try their skill. Hence they become “bombed” or spray painted at random to the point that there is no point the owners trying to clean them up, as it would just happen again.
To hear all the inside stories about street artist in Athens, we can highly recommend taking the original street art tour of Athens with Alternative Athens.
Street art in Athens – Psiri
Our street art tour of Athens turned towards the Psiri neighbourhood, which has become a trendy area for nightlife, with bars and restaurants in the streets that radiate from Plateia Iroon or “Hero’s Square”.
This is one of the top areas of Athens for street art, with many large murals by well known artists that are commissioned by organised projects like Urban Act. Other streets like those around Sarri, are more of a practice ground for graffiti artists, with new pieces constantly being painted over others.
One of the older pieces we saw on a street near Sarri is by Wild Drawing or WD, a well known Athens urban artist who is skilled at using different artistic mediums in his work. His work often plays with perspective and angles, setting parts of the design on different buildings that combine to make the whole image when seen from a certain angle. This piece from 2017 is located on Evmorfopoulou in Psiri.
Wild Drawing is best known for his Owl mural in Athens, which is well known piece on a street corner in Metaxourgeio, which unfortunately we didn’t see.
Stay at Asomaton near Thisio Metro – this luxury boutique hotel retains the original stonework of the old carriage repair shop.
We passed a house on Epikourou in Psiri completely covered with a mural, although I wasn’t able to identify the artist. It provided a typical Athens contrast to another beautifully restored neo-classical house across the street.
Street art in Psiri – Sarri street
If you want to get a handle on the street art scene in the Psiri neighbourhood of Athens, a walk along Sarri Street is a good place to start. It’s a few blocks away from the neighbourhood heart of Hero’s Square. I didn’t feel quite comfortable walking there on my own at night, but it’s fine in the daytime. The Old Fire Station on Sarri offers a number of walls that are covered with murals, including the window boardings above street level.
The owl mural is by Blakq, a pair of artists based in Athens whose work centres around calligraphy. The owl is a motif for Athens, known since ancient times as the symbol of Athena, goddess of wisdom and patron of Greece’s capital.
The burning portrait is by Wild Drawing, appropriate for the front of a fire station?
The artist George Callas a.k.a. Mad.onn.athens is known for his obsession with painting the pop star Madonna – she has even reposted some of his work on her instagram.
Look up to the first floor of a building on Sarri to find this girl sitting on a pile of suitcases by Paparazzi Art Studio, who also painted the Jazz musicians on the corner of the same building. The artist is a self proclaimed “little vandal” based in Cyprus with many pieces in Athens and around Greece.
Riot Dog Mural in Psiri Athens
The most famous Psiri mural, which you’ll find on the corner of the old fire station, is the Riot Dog. During the financial crisis in Greece, thousands of people gathered to protest outside the Greek parliament, and the stray dog was to be found joining the rioters and barking at police on the front line.
Named Loukanikos or “sausage” he was often featured in international TV coverage and chosen by Times magazine as “Person of the year” in 2011. The stray was reported to have been affected by the tear gas fumes, although he was adopted by a family and died in 2014.
Loukanikos was immortalised in this mural as a hero of the cause, with a crown above his head, and as the mural proclaims “all dogs go to heaven”. The mural is a collaboration by artists SMART, N_Grams and Alex Martinez. Location: Corner Sarri / Riga Palamidou in Psiri.
To hear all the best stories about the street art in Athens, we can highly recommend taking the original street art tour of Athens with Alternative Athens.
Streetart in Psiri – Riga Palamidou
Turning off Sarri by the fire station is an alley, Riga Palamidou, which is a happy hunting ground for street art. It’s best seen during the day when shutters are down, and the side walls of the fire station are covered with a regularly changing canvas of murals, graffiti and tagging. I liked the trendy teddy bear, who has the comb and scissors in his pocket, since he stands right opposite a barber’s shop.
Stay at 18 Micon Street in the heart of Psiri – a boutique hotel in a converted warehouse.
Murals in Psiri, Athens
In contrast to the smaller pieces of street art pieces around Sarri, there are numerous more polished murals around Psiri. In the central Plateia Iroon (Hero’s Square) of Psiri is a striking mural by Vasmou, looming over all the shaded seating of the surrounding cafes and bars. His piece incorporates lines of small mirrors into the design which glint in the sunshine from a certain angle.
Standing in Hero’s Square and looking towards Nancy’s Sweet Home cafe on the corner, you’ll spot the mural by Same 84 that was part of the Carpe Diem project, a predecessor to the Urban Act organisation.
In the parking area on Agatharchou in Psiri is the “Heart of Athens” mural by Yiakou & Simple G
Also in the same parking area on Agatharchou in Psiri is this mural by Paparazzi Art Studio, which has been partly covered over in the apartment renovation.
Another striking mural by INO is called “Apocalypse Now” painted in 2020 and on the side of the building below is a piece by Alex Martinez. Location: Corner Miaouli / Agias Eleousis in Psiri.
The mural above an exit of the Monastiraki metro station is by Woozy. This Athens based artist is one of the founders in 1995 of the Carpe Diem collective, who were instrumental in setting up projects around Athens to create large scale murals and create more legal art spaces for street artists. Location: Thermidos in Psiri.
This mural by Vasmou can be found on Epikourou in Psiri.
Across the street from the central market in Athens can be seen this mural, overlooking the fruit and veg stalls – let me know if you know the artist. Location: Sokratous in Psiri.
One of the most recent murals by INO is “Breaking barriers of equality” painted in 2021, which was sponsored by Converse Greece for the Converse City Forests project. You’ll find it on the side of The Foundry hotel in Psiri, which incidentally has an amazing roof garden for cocktails and pizza.
Read more: Uncovering the delicious food in Athens
Stay at Vasi in the Athens historic triangle – with light filled rooms and a natural colour scheme
Street art in Athens – Exarchia
While our street art tour of Athens with Alternative Athens was focussed on the areas of Gazi, Metaxourgeio and Psiri, there are some other areas that you may want to visit. Exarchia is another neighbourhood of Athens with lots of murals and street art, especially those with hard hitting, political messages.
This is a big student area known for its radical politics, but one you probably won’t visit on an organised street art tour, since some residents are sensitive about their neighbourhood being exploited or commercialised. However, it’s fine to visit on your own in the daytime to look for street art, although best to avoid photographing any locals who may not appreciate their business being captured on camera.
Street art in Athens – Anafiotika
A small neighbourhood that’s also worth a look is the cute area of Anafiotika that’s tucked just under the Acropolis. Narrow streets and tiny cottages are reminiscent of a Greek Island, and the story goes that they were built by immigrants from the island of Anafi, who recreated a place to remind them of home.
If you wander around you’ll find picturesque houses covered with flowers, mixed in with overgrown plots and crumbling walls, where there are a few smaller murals and graffiti.
Need a guidebook for Athens? We recommend the DK Eyewitness Top 10 Athens guide
Take a Street Art Tour in Athens
I can highly recommend the tour we took with Alternative Athens, and our excellent guide Niko who gave use so many insights and stories about the street art scene in Athens. Although you can visit many of the murals yourself, some are hard to find unless you know what you are looking for. By taking a tour we got a much better understanding about the work and some insider’s information about the artists. You can also combine taking a street art tour with visiting some of the other areas like Exarchia on your own.
More information about the street artists and organisations
Urban Act – This organisation evolved from the collective Carpe Diem and is now a leading organiser of street art projects, murals and festivals in Athens and around Greece.
Athens Street art festival – founded in 2009 to promote murals and graffiti as an art form, organising mural projects and festivals.
Petit Paris – a cultural festival that takes place in the Petit Paris area of Athens and includes painting of murals within the area.
Street artists in Athens
- Achilles – Instagram: @Mister.Achilles
- AIVA – No contact information found on this artist
- Barba Dee – Instagram: @Barba.dee
- Blaqk – Instagram: @blaqk_2
- George Callas / Mad.onn.athens – Facebook
- INO – Instagram: @inoexpo | Website: ino.net
- Kez – Instagram: @insta.zez| Website: Kez.gr
- Martinez – Alex Martinez – Instagram: @alex_martinez_graffiti
- N_Grams – Website: Naipngrams.blogspot.com
- Onebran – Instagram: @Onebran | Website: Onebran.gr
- Paparazzi Art Studio – Instagram: @Paparazziartstudio | Website: Paparazziartstudio.com
- RTMOne – Instagram: @rtm_one | Website
- Same84 – Instagram: | @Rebel_Same84 Website: Same84.com
- Simple G – Instagram: @Simpleg1 | Website: SimpleG.net
- Vasmou – Alexandros Vasmoulakis – Instagram: @Vasmou | Website: Vasmou.com
- Wild Drawing / WD – Instagram: @Wd_wilddrawing | Youtube
- Woozy / Vaggelis Choursoglou – Instagram: @Woozy79 | Website: Woozy.gr
- Yiakou – Instagram: @yiakou_street_artcoholic
I took a complimentary* street art tour hosted by Alternative Athens
* More info on my policies page
This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com