From Snails to Pig Tails: Why You Shouldn’t Miss a Visit to Athens Central Market

Bursting with life, filled with tradition, simultaneously chaotic and beautiful, the Athens Central Market encapsulates the city’s essence like no other. 

This food and goods market is a long-time staple of Athens’ daily life. Here, you’ll find a true cross-section of Athenian society, from grannies shopping for family dinners to chefs sourcing ingredients for Michelin-starred restaurants. It is a do-not-miss stop for any visit to Athens and a great place to load up on some tasty treats to bring home with you.

Where should you go and what should you buy in the Athens Central Market? Our insider guide has got you covered.

The Athens Central Market is chaotic inside and out, everyday. Photo credit: Liz Muir

What is the Athens Central Market?

The Athens Central Market is a broad open-air market where vendors sell almost everything–all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables, spices, teas, olive oils, honey, dried goods, local fish, butchery cuts, pots, pans, hand-woven carpets, vintage and light-fixtures. 

It is almost always crowded with people doing their shopping, haggling over prices, and looking for the best quality ingredients. 

Many of the vendors are local farmers and producers who bring their harvest directly to the market, ensuring that the produce is not only fresh but also sustainably sourced. Whether it’s a juicy watermelon from the countryside or dried oregano from the hillsides of Athens, each item carries a story of the land and the hands that nurtured it.

Herbs, spices, nuts, seeds—whatever you can imagine is on offer at this vibrant market. Photo credit: Liz Muir

What is the history of the market?

During the 1800s the central market was located closer to the historic center of Athens, near the ancient Roman Agora. But at the end of the 19th century the entire city of Athens underwent significant urban development– apartment buildings sprouted up where one-story homes once were, the city flooded with newcomers from villages–and the demand for a larger central market became real. The current market Varvakios Market was constructed around 1886, in the area of Monastiraki.

The market is officially named the Varvakios Market, after Ioannis Varvakis, a Greek magnate, philanthropist, and national hero of the Greek War of Independence. It is said that Varvakis donated the money to build the current market, though with little evidence to prove this, there’s some debate about if this is historically accurate.

Over the years, the market expanded and became a bustling hub of activity for Athenians, offering a wide variety of goods including fresh produce, meat, fish, spices, and other food products. It became known as the place where locals and restaurateurs would go to find the freshest ingredients.

Today, the market is housed in a large, covered building with a distinctive neoclassical facade filled with rows of stalls and shops. The market spills out across the street to more covered stalls, and reaches side streets and shops all around the surrounding area. 

Beyond its historical significance, the Varvakios Market has also become a cultural icon of Athens. It is a popular destination for both locals and tourists, offering a vibrant atmosphere and a glimpse into traditional Greek market life.

The market is bustling every day of the week. Try to get there as early as possible to explore! Photo credit: Heather Cowper

What can I buy in the Athens Central Market?

Meat: The central market has a massive butcher’s section, with meat from local farms. They have both whole animals, different cuts of meat, and pre-made meatballs. If you are not used to buying fresh meat, or are a vegetarian, this may be a section of the market to avoid! 

If you’re looking for cured meats and sausages do check out Karamanlidika (located on 1 Sokratous street), which cures their own wares and displays them hanging from the rafters of the shop, if you’re looking to sit down for lunch this is also a great place to do it!  

Take it from us: the meat area of the market is not for the faint of heart. Photo credit: Kirk K

Fish: The fish market is right next to the meat market, and offers every kind of catch you can imagine, kept fresh on beds of ice. We recommend getting some of the local fish and shellfish such as sardines, octopus, tuna, mackerel, and anchovies. But there are also plenty of imports if you’re looking for crab or salmon.

Who’s up for some fresh snails? Photo credit: Kirk K

Fruit and Vegetables: The fruit and vegetables are located across the street from the meat and fish, and sprawl across stands and stands of fresh delectable options. Most impressive, not only are these fruits and veggies fresh and high quality, because they are grown and shipped directly to Varvakios, they are almost always cheaper than any other market or supermarket in the city. Do not be startled if you hear some hollering while you are there– the vendors are shouting out their offerings for the day! 

man standing beside a display of fruit in a market
While you’ll see most of the usual fruits and veggies on display, there are always a few surprises on offer at the market. Photo credit: Trans World Productions

In this portion of the market you will also see giant tubs of olives of all kinds—fat and sweet, pruny and salty, pickled, or fresh. Ask the vendor if they can vacuum seal your olives, (many of them have a little machine on hand,) as it’s the best way to make sure you can bring fresh Greek olives on a flight home.

Man standing near displays of olives of different colors
Greek olives at simply delicious. Make sure to bring a bag home as gifts for friends and family. Photo credit: Frank Sinks

Cheeses, Yogurt and Olive Oil: Of course the must-buy at the Athens central market is authentic Greek Feta, sourced from all over the country, kept fresh in big tubs of brine. But Greek cheeses come in a plethora of other flavors, types, and textures. Our favorite shop is Arcadia (on Evripidou street), which has cheeses from all over Greece that are a must-try for anyone looking to expand their palette. Many of these cheese shops also proffer all sorts of strained thick Greek yogurt from cow, goat and sheep’s milk; and green bottles of hand-pressed olive oil.

display of large chucks of white cheese in market stall
Tart and creamy, Feta cheese is definitely one of Greece’s gifts to the world. Photo credit: Liz Muir

Spices and Dried Goods: Beside the fish market and behind the vegetable stalls, are several shops with massive glass jars and sacks of every kind of herb or spice you can imagine. These shops are fragrant with Paprika, Cumin, Thyme, and dried mountain tea. Amidst the spices are often dried beans, lentils and fruits, nuts, flours and any other dried product needed for your kitchen. We recommend getting some Greek oregano, sourced from nearby mountains and with a bit of a kick!

The market is a home cook’s dream come true! Photo credit: Heather Cowper

Antiques and bric-a-brac: Off to the side of the Varvakios Market are various antique shops, crammed quite literally floor to ceiling with carpets, lamps, and various other tchotchkes. Here is where you really have to keep your bargaining wits about you– the vendors here are not going to give away their treasures for free, and know the quality of the products they have. But this doesn’t mean you should try to haggle them down a few euros for a better price!

There’s definitely some treasure to be found in these outdoor stalls. Photo credit: Heather Cowper

Tips for getting the most out of your Athens Central Market visit:

Go early: For the best selection and most authentic atmosphere, visit the market in the morning when it’s at its busiest. The market is open Monday through Saturday from 8 am until about 6 pm. 

Bring cash: While some vendors may accept credit cards, it’s always wise to have cash on hand for smaller purchases and of course, haggling.

Explore beyond the main avenues: Venture into the side streets and hidden alleys to discover hidden gems and lesser-known specialties.

If you’re looking for somewhere to eat during your shopping, check out Oinomageireio Epirus, located in the middle of the meat market. This tiny shop is the height of Greek authenticity, serving up home-cooked meals with ingredients sourced from the market itself, using recipes that have not changed for decades, plated out over a classic red-checkerboard tablecloth. The menu changes daily depending on the wares at the market, but we haven’t ever had a dish there we disliked!

Insider’s Tip: You can also find many more excellent restaurants in nearby Monastiraki, which is a busy shopping area.  

Monastiraki Square is lined with flea market stands and some delicious restaurants. Photo credit: Mark Pazolli

The Athens Central Market is more than just a place to buy groceries – it’s a living, breathing testament to the soul of the city. Even if you’re not planning to cook on your trip, it’s an excellent stop for some edible souvenirs and one of the best spots for people-watching in Athens!

And once you’ve perused all of the amazing ingredients on offer on the market, why not check out the finished products by signing up for a food tour? Let our expert guides take you on the Ultimate Athens Food Tour or a Koukaki Neighborhood Food & Wine Tour, where you will be able to taste popular dishes while learning about the fascinating history behind traditional Greek food.