Things to do in Athens

Athens
© cge2010 / Shutterstock

Athens is one of the oldest cities on the planet, considered the cradle of the Western world and the birthplace of democracy. No matter how much time is allocated to get to know it, tourists never wonder what to do in Athens but always worry about the problem of how to see the main things. Lovers of ancient history will find real architectural treasures and museums that keep priceless relics. The capital of Greece has an authentic atmosphere. It soars in the air of its old neighborhoods with narrow streets, noisy tavernas, gorgeous rooftop restaurant terraces, and countless stores. Despite the abundance of antiquities, this city is future-oriented and delights its guests with modern sights that blend harmoniously with the ancient past.

Acropolis

The rocky hill of Acropolis is the trademark of the capital of Greece. It is the main attraction of Athens, and it was a fortified part of the city in antiquity. This hill, with its gentle top, also has a second name, Cecropia. It received it in honor of Cecrops, who, according to legend, founded the Acropolis and was the first king of Athens. It was here that the main seat of the ruler was located, and the religious buildings were erected — temples, the majestic statue of Athena, sanctuaries, the odeon, and the ancient theater. Many structures were damaged during the siege of the city, and during the hostilities, so they survived to this day in the form of ruins or reconstructed copies. The Acropolis of Athens is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an open-air museum.

Acropolis hill during sunset
Monastiraki square and Acropolis hill © Nick N A / Shutterstock
Temple with spring flowers on the Acropolis
Parthenon temple © Tomas Marek / Shutterstock

Parthenon

The Parthenon is the main temple of ancient Athens and the symbol of the Acropolis. It was built in 447-438 BC in honor of the goddess Athena, who was the patroness of the city and all of Attica. The majestic building was designed by the ancient Greek architect Ictinus and Callicrates supervised its construction. The temple was later finished by the great sculptor of the time, Phidias. The Parthenon served as a treasury until the VI century. After the advent of Christianity, it became a church and then a mosque in the middle of the XVI century. The destruction of the ancient temple happened in 1687 during the Turkish-Venetian war. It was hit by about 700 cannon balls. Works on the preservation and reconstruction of the Parthenon ruins have been carried out for almost a hundred years.

Parthenon at night on the Acropolis
Parthenon © B.Stefanov / Shutterstock

Propylaia

The Athenian Propylaia is the gala entrance to the Acropolis. Its construction began after the end of the Persian Wars, during the reign of Pericles. The structure, which echoes the Parthenon in its architecture, had a central part and two wings, one east, and one west. It contained the Pinacoteca and the library and was used as a refectory and a place of rest for visitors. In Christian times, it had a church. During the reign of the Franks, it was the residence of the Dukes de la Roche and was used by the Ottomans as an ammunition store, which caused it to collapse of an antique building. Today, the Athenian Propylaia can be seen after partial reconstruction.

Ancient entrance to the Acropolis
Propylaia © Viacheslav Lopatin / Shutterstock
Ancient Greek ruins on the Acropolis of Athens
Propylaia © Viacheslav Lopatin / Shutterstock
Remains of the Propylaea Palace in the center of Athens
Propylaia © Viacheslav Lopatin / Shutterstock

Erechtheion

The Érechthéion is the last temple built on the Acropolis. It was dedicated to Athena, Poseidon, and the mythical king Erechtheus. It was erected in 421-406 BC in the Ionic architectural order. According to legend, it was here that Athena defeated Poseidon in a dispute over the right to possess Attica and planted an olive tree. The beautiful temple was used to store valuable relics, and a church was opened there in the Byzantine period. The destruction of the Érechthéion occurred in 1687, during the city's siege by the Venetians. The most recognizable detail of the temple is the portico of the caryatids. Five of its original statues are preserved in the Acropolis Museum, and another caryatid is in the British Museum. At present, you can see their copies in the restored temple.

Ancient temple with caryatid porch in the Acropolis
Erechtheion © Nick N A / Shutterstock
Attraction on the hill of the Acropolis
Erechtheion © Nick N A / Shutterstock

Temple of Athena Nike

The temple of Apteros Nike is the earliest structure built on the Acropolis in a fully Ionic architectural style. The graceful building stands on the cliff's edge next to the Propylaia. It was erected in 420 BC on the site of another sanctuary at the time of the birth of the cult of Athena-Nike. The ancient Greeks worshipped the goddess of victory, Nike, in the hope of a successful end to the long Peloponnesian War. A statue of the victorious Athena stood inside, holding a pomegranate branch in her hand, a symbol of prosperity. The temple of Apteros Nike was demolished in 1686 by the Turks, and its stones were used to build fortifications. In the XIX century, after the independence of Greece, the ancient structure was restored.

Greek Temple Parthenon at sunset
Temple of Athena Nike © Christian Delbert / Shutterstock
Monument to Agrippa and the Propylaea at night
Temple of Athena Nike © Halawi / Shutterstock

Theatre of Dionysus

One of the world's oldest theaters is located on the southeastern slope of the Acropolis. It was built in the V century BC, and the first reconstruction took place in 326-325 BC when marble ones replaced the wooden stage and seats. The updated facility had a seating capacity for almost half of Athens' population — 17,000. The first row of the Dionysus Theatre was intended for honorary spectators — the names and positions of their owners were carved on the seats. In ancient times, there were theater competitions, and in the Roman era — gladiatorial fights and circus performances. Nowadays, the Theater of Dionysus has been partially reconstructed, and it continues to be used for its intended purpose.

Ancient theater on a summer day in the Acropolis
Theatre of Dionysus © S-F / Shutterstock

Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis Museum is located in an ultra-modern building designed by the Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi. Its exposition is devoted to the Acropolis artifacts, and the building itself is a recognized masterpiece of modern architecture. It stands on more than 100 columns above the excavated site of the ancient settlement, which is the first open level of the structure. The main exhibition hall is above it. It is a three-light space with a transparent ceiling that simultaneously serves as the floor for the next level. The third level is a 360-degree observation deck. It offers one of the best views of the Parthenon.

Interior view of the Acropolis Museum
Acropolis Museum © Heracles Kritikos / Shutterstock
Acropolis at night
Acropolis Museum © Paul Shark / Shutterstock

Areopagus

The rocky hill of the Areopagus, also known as the hill of Mars, is opposite the entrance to the Acropolis, a five-minute walk away. It is famous for its ancient history and the important events that took place there. It was here that the trial of Ares (Mars, the god of war) was held for the murder of the son of Poseidon and where Paul the Apostle gave his speech when he tried to convert the Athenians to the new faith. Two stairs lead up the hill: an ancient staircase with slippery steps carved into the rock and a modern metal one. Tourists and locals now come here to take in the beautiful views of the city at sunset. It is a free attraction that is a must-see in Athens.

View of Thissio
Areopagus © Milan Gonda / Shutterstock
Areopagus hill and aerial view of Athens from the Acropolis
Areopagus © karnizz / Shutterstock

Ancient Agora of Athens

The Agora of Athens was a city square located under the northwestern slope of the Acropolis. It was the center of social, political, cultural, and business life. Trade, theatrical performances, sporting events, trials, and public appearances were held here. Nowadays, it is an open-air archaeological monument. Two structures stand out among the many ruins of the site — the beautifully preserved Temple of Hephaestus and the fully restored Attalus standing.

Agora
Ancient Agora of Athens © Anastasios71 / Shutterstock
Evening light illuminates the ancient ruins
Ancient Agora of Athens © Inu / Shutterstock

Museum of the Ancient Agora

One of the most interesting places in Athens is the Museum of Ancient Agora. A sightseeing tour of the city will not be complete if you miss it. It displays items discovered during excavations of the site, and a large part of the exhibit is devoted to Athenian democracy. The museum is housed in the Stoa of Attalos, a restored structure that was discovered during excavations at the end of the XIX century. King Attalus II of Pergamon ordered it to be built. It is supposed that Socrates' trial in 399 BC was held there. Nowadays, the Stoa of Attalos is used again: on April 16, 2003, the Treaty on the accession of 10 new states to the European Union was signed here.

Evening light illuminates the ancient ruins
Emperor Antoninus Pius © ArtRomanov / Shutterstock
Columnar arcade of the museum
Museum of the Ancient Agora © Chubykin Arkady / Shutterstock

Temple of Olympian Zeus

The majestic Temple of Olympian Zeus is one of the largest structures of the ancient era. Millennia later, only 15 gigantic columns remain. But they easily give an idea of the scale of the project, which was launched to surpass the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, which is included in the list of the Seven Wonders of the World. The ambitious construction took place with long interruptions over almost 650 years — from 515 BC to 132 AD. The Roman Emperor Hadrian, a great admirer of Greek culture, finished it. A huge ivory and gold statue of Zeus occupied the entire space of the sanctuary inside the building. A century later, the temple was looted during the invasion of the Heruli, and its building materials were used to rebuild the destruction of other sanctuaries and houses in Athens.

Olympion
Temple of Olympian Zeus © saiko3p / Shutterstock

Kapnikarea

Panagia Kapnikarea is one of the oldest orthodox churches in Athens, and it was built around 1050 on the site of an ancient temple. It is a fine example of XI-century Byzantine architecture and adorns the main shopping artery, Ermou Street, located in the city's center. Damaged during the revolution in the XIX century, the old building was not demolished thanks to the intervention of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. The interior of the building is decorated with ornate icon paintings done by Photis Kontoglou and his students in the middle of the XX century. The Church of Kapnikarea also fascinates with its elegant architecture and is a must-see in Athens.

Church of Our Lady of Kapnikarea
Kapnikarea © Kirk Fisher / Shutterstock
Fragment of the church in the center of Ermou shopping street
Kapnikarea © Halawi / Shutterstock

Mount Lycabettus

Mount Lycabettus is one of the best viewpoints in Athens. It offers panoramic views of the city. They are especially beautiful in the evening when the lights of the Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Panathenaic Stadium, and the Ancient Agora light up. The white-washed Greek church of St. George, a souvenir store, cafe, and restaurant with a magnificent panorama of the city are located at the top. You can climb Mount Lycabettus by cable car, which moves in a tunnel inside the rock. You can also walk up on foot, enjoying the beautiful views and the scent of the fluffy pine trees. The walk-up takes from 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the physical condition of the hikers.

View from the Acropolis
Mount Lycabettus © turtix / Shutterstock

Temple of Hephaestus

The almost perfectly preserved ancient Temple of Hephaestus is located on the west side of the Athenian Agora. It was built in the second half of the V century BC during the reign of Pericles in honor of Hephaestus, god of fire and blacksmithing, and Athena Ergane, patroness of potters and crafts. The majestic structure escaped destruction like other pagan temples because it served as a church from the advent of Christianity in Greece until 1834. Afterward (until 1930), it housed an exhibition of the National Archaeological Museum. The temple of Hephaestus takes a leading place among the must-see places in Athens.

Temple in the Ancient Agora
Temple of Hephaestus © Viacheslav Lopatin / Shutterstock

Museum of Cycladic Art

The unique Museum of Cycladic Art captivates visitors from the very first minute. Its exhibition is dedicated to the ancient culture of the Aegean Sea and Cyprus, with an emphasis on Cycladic culture. The museum is based on the extensive collection of objects collected by Nicholas and Dolly Goulandris. Amongst more than 3,000 artifacts, one can find real treasures telling the story of the high culture of the inhabitants of the small archipelago of the Cyclades, which was inhabited over 6,000 years ago. The valuable exhibit is housed in the couple's home in the center of Athens.

Sculpture on display at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens
Museum of Cycladic Art © Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock

National Garden

The National Garden in Athens is a real oasis among the urban jungle. It was formerly called the Royal Park because it was planted for the first queen of independent Greece, Amalia of Oldenburg, wife of King Otto I. It's a great place to relax, especially on a hot day. There are over 15,000 plants, several refreshing lakes with birds swimming in them, as well as a small zoo and a cafe where you can eat. It also has ancient ruins with mosaics, columns, and busts of famous citizens. This is a free attraction that is a must-see in Athens. The National Garden is located next to the Parliament and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is in front of it, where the changing of the guard takes place every hour.

National garden with palm trees in the center of Athens
National Garden © TTstudio / Shutterstock
Wooden bridge in the National Garden of Athens
National garden with palm trees in the center of Athens © Dario Racane / Shutterstock

National Archaeological Museum

The National Archaeological Museum, dedicated to ancient Greek art, is the largest in Greece and one of the largest in the world. Lovers of artifacts and history can easily spend a whole day here, looking at sculptures, vases, figurines, weapons, ceramics, and numerous decorative objects. All in all, the exposition includes over 20,000 exhibits from different eras. They include unique items, such as the famous golden mask of Agamemnon and the bronze statue of Artemision.

Front yard of the National Archaeological Museum of Greece
National Archaeological Museum © saiko3p / Shutterstock
Artifacts from various archaeological sites in Greece
National Archaeological Museum © Dimitris Koskinas / Shutterstock

Plaka

If you still don't know what to do in Athens, visit the lively Plaka neighborhood. It's one of the oldest permanently inhabited places on the planet. Its narrow, winding streets are ornamented with bougainvillea blooming in summer. There are ancient churches, a beautiful neighborhood called Anafiotika with white Cycladic-style houses, and the Cine Paris movie theater, where you can watch movies in the open air. The neighborhood is buzzing with activity in the numerous stores that sell everything from sweets to jewelry and clothing. Plaka is an area of nightlife, late-night restaurants, and family-run tavernas. You can always find cheerful people strolling around and get in a good mood.

View of the old street in the Plaka area
Plaka © Nejdet Duzen / Shutterstock
Colorful street view in Plaka district
Plaka © Nejdet Duzen / Shutterstock

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus was used for singing and music contests and is one of the oldest open-air structures of its kind in the world. It was built in 161 AD by the Greek philosopher and orator, one of the country's wealthiest citizens, Herodes Atticus, in memory of his Roman wife, Appia Annia Regilla. The Odeon was carved into the rocky southern slope of the Acropolis hill and originally had a cedar roof and a three-story facade of arches. The 5,000-seat antique structure was completely restored in 1950 and now hosts the annual Athens Festival and other world-class events.

Ruins of the ancient theater of Herodium Attica in the Acropolis
Odeon of Herodes Atticus © TTstudio / Shutterstock

Temple of Poseidon, Sounion

The ruins of the majestic temple of Poseidon are situated 80 km from Athens, at Cape Sounion. It was built in white marble (444-440 BC) and symbolized Athenian power and the religious center of the time. The magnificent structure on the edge of a rocky cliff, only 200 meters from the sea, was destroyed in 480 BC by the Persians. Only 16 of the building's original 38 columns remained. A massive bronze statue of Poseidon, five meters high, stood inside the temple. Today, only a part of it survives, and it is on display at the Archaeological Museum of Athens. It is believed that the most beautiful sunset can be seen from this place — it is a must-see in Athens.

Temple ruins at Cape Sounion
Temple of Poseidon, Sounion © Anastasios71 / Shutterstock
Temple of Poseidon on Sounio
Temple of Poseidon © Anastasios71 / Shutterstock

Church of Agios Eleftherios

A small Church of Agios Eleftherios, also known as Mikri Mitropolis, is located in the heart of Athens, in the square of the Metropolis. It was built in the Byzantine period (from the VIII to the beginning of the XIII century) on the site of the ancient temple of the goddess Eileithyia. This tiny marble cathedral in the shape of a cross was erected from previously used building materials belonging to different eras. That's why its façade is extremely interesting. You can see fragments of architecture from both ancient Greece and Byzantium.

Athens Metropolitan Church
Church of Agios Eleftherios © Nejdet Duzen / Shutterstock

Hellenic Motor Museum

Greece is not only antiquities and ruins. If you're wondering what to see in Athens, head to the Hellenic Motor Museum. It is located on the top three floors of the Athenian Capitol shopping center and belongs to the Theodore Charagionis Foundation. Its exposition covers 4,000 m² and is dedicated to the evolution of the automobile. More than 300 vehicles can be seen here — 110 of them are exclusive. In addition, there are Formula 1 simulators and much more.

Old classic cars inside the car museum
Hellenic Motor Museum © Giannis Papanikos / Shutterstock

Archaeological Site of Kerameikos

The Kerameikos area is not to be missed among the oldest archaeological sites in Athens. There was a cemetery that was used from the IX century BC to Roman times. Potters had settled in this area even before the tombs appeared. The area was a major center for the production of Attic ceramics. The ruins of the ancient area of Kerameikos are an open-air museum. However, all the sculptures here have been replaced by plaster copies, and their originals and artifacts found during excavations are kept in museums.
Archaeological site of Keramikos near the ancient Agora
Archaeological Site of Kerameikos © Milan Gonda / Shutterstock

Philopappos Hill

On the southwest side of the Acropolis is the Hill of Philopappos, also known as the Hill of the Muses, overgrown with downy pines and silver olive trees. If you're not sure what to do in Athens in the evening, come up here before sunset. This is one of the city's favorite places for hiking. Its top offers stunning views of the Acropolis, Athens, the Aegean Sea, and Attica. The current name of the hill is in honor of Gaius Philoppos, a prince of the Kingdom of Commagene in the I and II centuries. After the conquest of the Roman Empire, he was exiled to ancient Athens, where he was engaged in the improvement of the city, for which he won great love from the locals. After the prince's death, a monument was erected to him at the top of the hill.

Statue of Philopappos and view of Athens from Philopappou Hill
Philopappos Hill © Milan Gonda / Shutterstock

Museum of Illusions

Athens has not only ancient ruins and historical sites but also many modern attractions. For example, there is the popular Museum of Illusions, where every visitor will have a fascinating time. Its exposition uses the simple laws of physics to create optical illusions that invariably amuse and amaze. Here you can take unusual photographs and see interesting puzzles.

Tunnel of illusions
Museum of Illusions © torontolife.com

Port of Piraeus

Piraeus is the largest port in Greece and the largest passenger port in Europe, and the third-largest in the world. It is located on the shores of the Saronic Gulf of the Aegean Sea. The main attraction of this place is the ocean liners, luxury yachts, and swift boats that rock on the blue waves. Tourists tend to come here to take the snow-white ferries to rest on the islands or just to admire the surroundings.
View of the harbor of Piraeus in Athens from the foothills of Egaleo
Port of Piraeus © Milan Gonda / Shutterstock
Microlimano and marina
Port of Piraeus © NAPA / Shutterstock

Psiri

People usually come to cheerful Psiri for entertainment. It's a neighborhood of restaurants and cafes open till morning, with beautiful Greek music, dancing, and singing. There are no ancient buildings or ruins, but you can taste great traditional food and enjoy unhurried conversation and an authentic atmosphere. Many facades of Psiri houses are decorated with graffiti, and stores sell handmade leather goods, jewelry, fashion jewelry, souvenirs, and traditional sweets. It is a wonderful place to visit at the end of the day.
Restaurants in the Psirri area in the center of Athens
Psiri © Milan Gonda / Shutterstock
Restaurants and coffee houses in the Psirri area near the Heroes' Square
Psiri © Milan Gonda / Shutterstock
Coffee shop in Psiri area
Psiri © Milan Gonda / Shutterstock

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center is a modern architectural landmark and public space. It hosts cultural, educational, sports, environmental, and recreational events. The foundation includes the buildings of the National Library and the National Opera, and the Stavros Niarchos Park. The latter occupies an area of 21 hectares and is one of the largest green spaces in Athens. It has cafes, playgrounds, gardens, and places to relax and offers free guided tours.
Cultural center night on the river bank
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center © aas.gr

A for Athens Cocktail Bar & Restaurant

A for Athens is a small cocktail bar located on the hotel's roof of the same name, offering stunning views of the city. It is located in the heart of the historic center of Athens — within walking distance of Psiri, Monastiraki, and Plaka districts, where there are many nightclubs and other entertainment.
Cocktail bar terrace overlooking the historical city of Athens
A for Athens Cocktail Bar & Restaurant © aforathens.com

Apollo Coast

Athens and Cape Sounion, on which rise the ruins of the temple of Poseidon, are connected by the picturesque coast of Apollo. It is carved by streams separating the capes and sandy beaches. It is one of the most beautiful places where tourists come to enjoy the beautiful sea views and take pictures.
Ruins of the Temple of Apollo
Apollo Coast © Efired / Shutterstock