The Varvakios central market in Athens, located at Athinas Street, which connects Monastiraki to Omonia, is a monument to Greek produce, where every possible food under the sun is bought and sold in front of your very eyes.
Varvakios is a slice from traditional Greek daily life, beginning in the early hours of the morning and lasting until the late afternoon. In this crowded, noisy, fragrant, and lively place, one can find almost any basic source of protein, foodstuff or exotic item that one’s heart desires.
The Market includes a “kreatagorá” (meat market), a “psaragorá” (fish market) and a “lachanagorá” (an open-air fruit and vegetable market).
Fish reign supreme, however, with almost 100 fishmongers located in the heart of the building block taken up by the market complex, while meats are sold in a separate hall.
Fruit and vegetables beckon from across the street. Fruit stalls are laden with seasonal produce, including gleaming cherries, apricots, the largest watermelons you have ever seen, and — in early autumn — green and purple figs.
A sprinkling of herbs and dried goods counters can be found all over the Market. If you are a fan of cheese, there are a few popular shops to buy some local cheeses. Apart from the famous feta cheese, look out for kasseri, graviera and kefalotyri.
A stroll through Varvakios market is an Athens tradition
It has long been the tradition for Athenians to head to the Market once a week to buy locally grown seasonal fruit, vegetables, cheeses, meat and fish as well as local herbs and spices. Today there are market stalls and specialist shops in the adjacent streets too.
The merchants shout out to the public, advertising their products and competitive prices and they try to initiate conversation in hopes of selling to you.
If you are brave enough in Varvakeios you can try some Greek dishes for adventurous foodies. One example is “patsas” (a soup made from pork leg and tripe) and “mageiritsa” (a soup made from lamb offal and lettuce often eaten at Pascha to break the fast). There are a couple of eateries inside the market that offer these and other very traditional Greek dishes.
Even though the market closes at sunset, these eateries stay open 24/7.
The market was built in 1886 with funds donated by Ioannis Varvakis, a distinguished member of the Russian and Greek communities, as well as a national hero, a member of the Filiki Eteria and a benefactor of the many places where he lived.
It is through a donation of his that the Varvakeion Lyceum was built near what is today Athinas Street. This was founded in 1857 as the country’s only Lyceum of its kind for many years.
The old building was destroyed during the December events in 1944 but today the famous “Varvakeio School” operates as a high school in a new building in Paleo Psychiko, Athens.