27 BEST Things to Do in Athens, Greece - 2023 Guide
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If you enjoy visiting historical sites, then coming to the birthplace of civilization will feel like being a child in a candy shop. There are endless Doric and Ionic temples, statues, vases, and Archaic figurines to explore before getting tired.
You can visit museums to see ballot disks from Ancient Greek courts as well as the Theatre of Dionysus, where plays by Euripides and Aristophanes were performed. You can also walk through the Agora, following the footsteps of Plato and Socrates.
Athens is not just an archaeological site; it also includes modern concrete towers and the historic residential area of Plaka. The city is dotted with hills such as Mount Lycabettus and Philopappos Hill that offer great views of the Acropolis perched on its rocky throne. Let’s explore some of the best things to do in Athens.
The Acropolis is an ancient citadel with famous Classical landmarks, including the Parthenon, Propylea, Erectheion, and Temple of Athena Nike. It is located on a rocky formation above the city and is a popular destination that people wait a long time to visit. To enhance your experience, consider hiring a registered guide who can provide interesting insights about ancient Greek democracy and philosophy and help you skip the long queues.
The climb to the top of the World Heritage Site involves walking on steep and slippery timeworn marble. Once you reach the summit, you may notice cranes and scaffolding. However, these are necessary for maintaining the site’s upkeep.
The Parthenon is considered the Doric Order’s greatest achievement and the most significant building of Classical Greece that still exists in the 21st century. It represents Athenian democracy and western civilization. Construction began in 447 BC, at the time when the Athenian Empire was the dominant power in the Aegean. The architects, Ictinus and Callicrates, co-designed the building, which initially served as a city treasury. Later, it was repurposed as a church in the 6th century and then as a mosque in the 1460s.
In the beginning of the 18th century, The Earl of Elgin took some of the Parthenon’s sculptures, which are now in possession of the British Museum. The remaining original frieze and pediment sculptures can be viewed at the Acropolis Museum.
The Acropolis Museum is located on the southeast slope, and it was designed by Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi. It was opened in 2009 to showcase the numerous artifacts found on the Acropolis archaeological site. The museum is strategically positioned to offer uninterrupted views of the Parthenon. Additionally, it is constructed on top of ancient ruins, with many glass panels and open spaces on the ground floor, allowing visitors to see the foundations below.
Visitors will embark on a historical journey across three levels. The tour begins in a large trapezoidal hall featuring archaic discoveries from the hill, as well as findings from the Erechtheion, Propylaea gateway, and Temple of Athena Nike. Next, visitors will ascend to a hall with the same dimensions, column spacing, and orientation as the Parthenon temple to marvel at the marbles from the frieze, including metopes, and the pediments. Finally, the tour concludes by going back down and exploring Roman and early Christian Athens.
4. Museum of the Ancient Agora
The Stoa of Attalos is a monument located in the Agora that was reconstructed in the 1950s. Its original construction dates back to the mid-2nd century BC and it was destroyed by the Herules in 267. The new building was reconstructed based on available archaeological knowledge at the time and now houses the Museum of the Ancient Agora. The museum displays artifacts that were uncovered during excavations in the area conducted by the American School of Classical Studies.
You will find ancient artifacts such as figurines, weapons, and vases from the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Geometric periods, which were retrieved from tombs and wells. Additionally, you can view exciting items relating to Athenian democracy during the Classical and Late Classical periods, such as an official bronze weight, pottery fragments used in ostracism ballots (ostracons), measuring tools made of clay, and bronze and lead disks used in trials.
5. Panathenaic Stadium
The Panathenaic Stadium was first built for the 1896 Olympics, but it is actually a modern recreation of an ancient stadium that dates back to 330 BC. The original stadium was rebuilt in marble by Herodes Atticus around 200 years later. The current stadium is a U-shaped replica of the 2nd century BC construction and is also made entirely of marble.
During the 2004 Athens Olympics, the stadium hosted the archery events and served as the finish line for both the men’s and women’s marathons. It can accommodate up to 45,000 spectators and offers a view of the Acropolis from its upper tiers.
6. Mount Lycabettus
You can climb Mount Lycabettus on foot for free or take a funicular to the top, unlike Athens’ famous summit. The peak, made of cretaceous limestone, is located northeast of the city and reaches 300 meters. Pine trees cover the lower slopes but become less dense towards the rocky summit. It’s better to climb during winter than in the hot Athens summer. The funicular operates every hour and half-hour.
You will be amazed by the stunning view of the city from the top. Take your time to identify the Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Piraeus Coast, Pentelicus (the marble source for the Acropolis), and Parnitha (located to the north).
7. Odeon of Herodes Atticus
The construction of the concert hall was ordered by the Athenian Magnate Herodes Atticus during the Roman era in 161 AD, possibly as a tribute to his wife, Aspasia Annia Regilla. This hall had a cedar wood roof and accommodated up to 5,000 people. However, in 275, the Herules destroyed it. The ruins of the monument were forgotten over the next 1,700 years, and it was unclear to medieval visitors what they represented.
Archaeologist Kyriakos Pittakis and Alexandros Rizos Rangavis conducted the initial excavation of the theatre in 1848 in the presence of Otto of Greece. In the 1950s, the stone tiers of the theatre were reconstructed using the same marble from Mount Pentelicus. For an authentic experience of the Odeon as it was 2,000 years ago, attend an evening concert and secure a seat.
8. Philopappos Monument
The hill covered with pine trees next to the Acropolis on the southwest is called both the Hill of the Muses and the Philopappos Hill. It was named after Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos, a prince from the Kingdom of Commagene during the 1st and 2nd centuries. His passing in 116 AD was a source of sadness for the people of Athens, particularly his sister Julia Balbilla, who constructed a permanent monument in his honor.
The monument is two storeys high and has a frieze on the lower level depicting Philiopappos as a Roman consul riding in a chariot and accompanied by bodyguards. The upper section is damaged, but it originally featured sculptures of Antiochus IV, the last King of Commagene, and Philoppapos, along with an inscription in a niche below Philoppapos’ image.
9. Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC)
The place I’m referring to is a lush green park situated in the Faliro region. Spread across 170,000 square meters, it has a lot to offer, including playgrounds, gardens, cafes, and an eco-friendly glass building that hosts the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera. You can also enjoy a breathtaking view of the Acropolis from here.
10. Monastiraki Neighbourhood
Can you provide information about Monastiraki? I’m interested in knowing why people visit there. I heard it’s one of the oldest and busiest areas in the capital, with rooftop bars, ancient sights, and huge markets. I also heard that the Monastiraki metro station is close to the main square, which has fantastic views of the Acropolis. I’m curious about the Monastiraki flea market and the antique shops, handmade jewellery, and Greek handicrafts that can be found in the area.
11. Byzantine and Christian Museum
If you’re knowledgeable about ancient Greece, don’t miss out on the Byzantine period from the 3rd to the 15th century. You can explore the wonders of this period at the Byzantine and Christian Museum located in the neo-Renaissance Villa Ilissia, which opened in 1914 and was renovated for the 2004 Olympics. The museum houses an enchanting collection of sculptures, icons, frescoes, jewelry, architectural fragments, religious vestments, manuscripts, books, and mosaics.
At the museum, you can learn about important events in Byzantine history, such as the legalization of Christianity by Constantine and the shift of Roman power from Rome to Constantinople in the 4th century. Additionally, the museum examines the decline of Byzantine power and explores how cosmopolitan populations in Venetian-controlled territories played a role in paving the way for the Renaissance in Europe.
After visiting the Byzantine Museum, head to Kapnikarea, an 11th-century church located on Ermou Street, which is one of Athens’ most luxurious commercial areas. One of the city’s oldest churches, Kapnikarea, was established around 1050, and it was constructed over an ancient Greek pagan temple dedicated to Demeter or Athena, as was typical of early Christian churches.
The interior of the church has a mix of decorations. The colorful iconography was created by painter Photis Kontoglou during the mid-20th century, while the friezes and sculpted column capitals inside the church feature older decorations.
Northwest of the Acropolis, among the pine and cypress trees, there is another large white rock. If you climb the slippery marble steps of the Areopagus carefully, you will be able to see Piraeus Port, the Acropolis, and the Northern part of Athens. This rock is part of the Classical city and has many myths associated with it, including the trial of Ares for the murder of Poseidon’s son Halirrhothius.
Before the 5th century BC, the city council of Athens used to meet at Areopagus in the real world. However, Ephialtes brought reforms that took away the council’s authority. Even after the reforms, Areopagus continued to function as Athens’ primary court for homicide cases.
14. Theatre of Dionysus
The first-ever theatre constructed was the Theatre of Dionysus, where performances were held starting in the 6th century BC. It is located on the rocky southern slope of the Acropolis and is considered the birthplace of European drama.
The current design of the Theatre of Dionysus dates back to the middle of the 4th century BC and was supervised by Lycurgus, a statesman who managed the city’s finances. Although many changes were made during the Roman period. The Theatre of Dionysus was once the venue for the Dionysia Festival, where renowned dramatists like Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides, Menander, and Aristophanes participated. It can be incredible to realize that you are looking at the same stage where all the classical masterpieces were first performed.
Although Plaka is great for sightseeing and shopping, Psiri is now considered the top nightlife destination in Athens, with lively crowds filling the streets until dawn on weekends. It’s worth noting that Psiri used to have a rough reputation and was not always welcoming to visitors from the establishment of the modern Greek state in 1828 until the 1990s.
Psiri was once the home of Koutsavakides, who were a group of people in the 19th century that enforced their own laws. They were easily identified by their long mustaches, long coats, and high-heeled boots that they wore to hide their guns. However, in the last 20 years, Psiri has transformed and now offers an array of options for music taverns, bars, restaurants, cafes, and nightclubs catering to different tastes.
There is a temple to Athena and Poseidon on the north side of the Acropolis, which was built from 421 to 406 BC in the Ionic Order. It had multiple uses over time, including being a Byzantine church, a Frankish palace, and a residence for the Ottoman commander’s harem. The southern Porch of the Maidens is the main attraction of the Erechtheion.
The roof of this structure is supported by six remarkable caryatids that were carved by Callimachus or Alcamenes. The caryatids that are currently present are replicas, while the original five can be found in the Acropolis museum, and the sixth one is displayed at the British Museum.
17. National Archaeological Museum
The National Archaeological Museum in Athens is a large and rich collection of ancient art that includes many world-famous exhibits. One such exhibit is the Atikythera Mechanism, the oldest analog computer in the world, dating back to the 4th century BC. The museum also houses the contemplative Philosopher’s Head.
The Mask of Agamemnon is a gold funerary mask from the 16th century BC that was probably made for Mycenaean royalty, although it was created too early for Agamemnon. Additionally, the user can explore other ancient artifacts such as the Eleusinian relief from the 5th century BC, Bronze Age frescoes from Santorini and Thera islands, and the Jockey of Artemision, which is a fascinating statue of a racehorse that dates back to 150-140 BC.
18. Temple of Hephaestus
The Temple of Hephaestus is located on top of the Agoraios Kolonos hill on the northwest side of the Agora of Athens. It is a well-preserved Doric peripteral temple that stands 65 meters tall. The construction was delayed for three decades due to the lack of funds and labor, which were redirected towards the Parthenon. The temple was designed by Ictinus and dedicated to Athena and Hephaestus. Hephaestus was an ancient god known for fire, metalworking, forges, sculpture, and stonemasonry. It has six fluted columns on its west side and 13 on its north and south.
There are many sculpted elements that can be seen on the temple, including the Labour of Hercules on the meotopes located on the east side. Other sculpted elements include the pronaos and opisthodomos, which depict scenes such as Theseus and the battle of Centaurs and Lapiths.
19. Museum of Cycladic Art
Nicholas and Dolly Goulandris collected prehistoric art from the Cycladic Islands in the Aegean starting in the 1960s. Their collection grew to become the world’s largest, and by the 1980s, it was large enough to fill a museum.
The museum opened in 1986 and displays over 3,000 pieces of art from the Cycladic, Ancient Greek, and Cypriot cultures, which date back to 3,000 to the 4th century BC. Among the collection, the Cycladic marble figurines are the most popular due to their minimal and abstract lines. Fans of modern art may notice similarities in style to works by artists such as Giacometti and Henry Moore.
20. Temple of Athena Nike
The Temple of Athena Nike is located in a commanding position on the southeast slope of the Acropolis. It was built in 420 BC and is the first complete Ionic Order temple on the hill. This temple is the most recent of several temples built to honor Athena Nike at the Acropolis. The previous temple was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC. Designed by Callicrates, the temple has four elegantly narrow columns on its front and rear porches with Ionic volutes or scrolls.
The Acropolis Museum showcases fragments of the frieze and relief found on the parapet below. This includes a stunning sculpture of a goddess fixing her sandal, which features intricate details in the drapery.
Located in the shadow of the Acropolis, Plaka offers a unique blend of ancient and modern elements. This district is filled with narrow alleys adorned with flowery bougainvillea draping 19th-century facades during summer. Plaka boasts family-run shops selling an assortment of items, including handmade jewelry, ceramics, musical instruments, and specialty food shops stocked with a variety of olives and spices. When it comes to dining and nightlife, Plaka is the perfect destination, offering a range of options from casual gyro stands to meze restaurants.
Anafiotika is a neighborhood located beneath the rocky northeastern slope of the Acropolis. It was settled during the reign of Otto of Greece in the 19th century when workers moved there to assist with the renovation of King Othon’s Palace. The neighborhood is steep and characterized by whitewashed buildings.
22. Temple of Olympian Zeus
Although much of the Temple of Olympian Zeus east of the Acropolis is now gone, the remaining structure is still quite extensive. It was built over a period of centuries, beginning in the 6th century BC and not finished until the 2nd century AD during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. By the time it was completed, the Corinthian order was popular, which is reflected in the 15 columns that still exist among the original 104. These surviving columns showcase detailed scrolls and acanthus patterns.
The temple, was destroyed during the Herulian attack on Athens in 267 AD. The stone from the temple was then taken and used for construction in other parts of the city.
23. Benaki Museum
The Benaki Museum, which was founded by art collector Antonis Benakis in 1930, offers a comprehensive history of Greek culture and history. The museum is divided into three floors, allowing visitors to explore the evolution of Greek art from prehistoric times to the present day. On the ground floor, visitors can view remarkable Neolithic vases, Archaic ceramics and figurines, and Classical sculpture. Antonis Benakis established the museum in memory of his father, Emmanuel, a well-known politician who had passed away the previous year.
The exhibits on the first floor showcase religious icons and folk costumes from the late Byzantine period and Ottoman rule. Once you pass the cafeteria on the third floor, you can explore paintings, documents, and weapons related to the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829) against the Ottoman Empire on the top floor.
24. Ancient Agora of Athens
The Agora, located at the center of Classical Athens, was used for trade and public gatherings. It is bordered by the Acropolis to the southeast and the Agoraios Kolonos hill to the south. The site was established in the 6th century BC and consists of over 30 buildings and monuments in ruins. You can download a map and explore the area at your own pace or hire a guide to learn about ancient customs such as ostracism, where potential threats to the state were exiled. Use your imagination and enjoy your visit!
25. National Garden
The National Garden in Athens is located close to Psiri and Plaka and serves as a green space between the historic and modern parts of the city. It was originally the Royal Garden, commissioned by Amalia of Oldenburg in the late 1830s and situated to the south of the Old Royal Palace. Visitors can enjoy a peaceful break under the shade of the pergolas and tall palm trees, and take their children to see the turtles and ducks living in the two ponds.
In addition to its botanical museum, the park features a small zoo which houses peacocks, birds of prey, wolves, and monkeys. As Athens is the location of the park, it is not uncommon to come across some remnants of the ancient city, such as mosaics and columns.
26. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
There is a cenotaph underneath the Old Royal Palace on Syntagma Square to honor all Greek soldiers who died in the war. The monument was created in the 1930s and combines French Empire and ancient Athens architectural styles, as well as Art Deco. It features a relief that highlights the Art Deco influence. The Evzones, an elite infantry group, guard the tomb, and a short changing of the guard ceremony takes place every hour.
The monument is surrounded by inscriptions on the steps and wall, which document various battles, including those from the First and Second Balkan War, the Greek-Turkish War, the First World War, and the Second World War.
27. Eating on the Move
Athens offers plenty of options for meals throughout the day, even if you need to eat quickly while moving between temples or museums. In the mornings, bakeries sell pastries such as tiropita (a pastry with cheese and egg) and spanakopita (a pastry with spinach, feta, and onions). Another popular morning choice is koulouri, a circular bread covered in sesame seeds and enjoyed fresh out of the oven. Bougatsa is another breakfast pastry option made with filo dough and filled with cheese, semolina custard, or minced meat.
If you want a more filling option, you can try the traditional souvlaki. It typically consists of pork meat, onions, tomatoes, and tzatziki wrapped in a pita. For an affordable choice, you can go for the classic patsa soup made from pig’s offal which is available at dedicated patsa restaurants all over the city.
To enter the Acropolis, you need to buy a ticket. There are three options for tickets: a combo ticket, skip-the-line entry, or a guided tour. You can buy tickets on-site, but if you don’t want to wait in line, it is recommended to buy tickets online.
Athens, is a well-known historic city and the capital of Greece. It is widely recognized as the birthplace of Western civilization, as many of the intellectual and artistic ideas of Classical civilization originated there.