Athens, the capital city of Greece, is an iconic destination, steeped in history and filled with delicious food options and variety of shopping destinations, and also an amazing nightlife. As there are so many exciting things to do in Athens, it can be equally difficult to decide what to do, especially if you are on a short trip.
So, no matter how long your visit is, if you are visiting Athens and you are wondering what to see, here are the most important things to do in Athens.
Climb up to the Acropolis of Athens
Established in the 5th Century, Acropolis is now the most popular attraction in Athens. That means you will find this place crowded with tourists almost all the time. Hence, it is recommended to get there as early as the site opens, i.e. at 8 am. As the cruise ship passengers do not arrive before 10 am, you may find a little less crowded during this time.
The entrance fee is €20 ($23.25). Acropolis is the starting point to see much of Athens all the way to the sea. Do not miss the temple of Athena Nike, the famous temple on the Acropolis of Athens. Take a private guided tour to learn about the history of the site.
Explore the Acropolis Museum in Athens
One of the most important museums in Greece is undoubtedly the Acropolis Museum. It houses more than 3.000 artefacts from the Acropolis. The beauty of this museum lies in the huge presence of natural light that highlights the artefacts well. You can closely see the Parthenon frieze replicas on display.
You can visit the Acropolis Museum either before or after your visiting Acropolis. After the visit, grab a coffee or have your lunch at the museum’s restaurant which gets a breathtaking view of the Acropolis.
Visit Parthenon on the Acropolis
The building of Parthenon always comes to the mind when someone is talking about a great example of classical Greek architecture. There was a gold-and-ivory statue of Goddess Athena inside Parthenon. The Elgin marbles found in Parthenon are true architectural marvels. However, it was destroyed hundreds of years ago along with many other artefacts.
Among those remaining, many of the pieces of artwork were moved to the British Museum in London between the late 18th and early 19th centuries. If the British Museum ever happens to return those marble artworks, those will be showcased in the Acropolis museum.
Go on top of the Philopappou Hill, Athens
Climb up to the Filopappou hill for an amazing view of the Acropolis. Philopappou hill (AKA Filopappou hill) is a beautiful park where there are a number of places to visit including the Philopappos monument, the church of Ayios Demetrios Loumbardiaris, the 16th-century basilica with gorgeous murals, and handmade cobbled roads. Philopappou Hill is a UNESCO world heritage site now.
Visit Hadrian’s Library in Athens
Located in the Monastiraki neighbourhood of Athens, Hadrian’s library is an interesting place to visit. The library used to be a place of study, not a place where books are kept. Established approximately in 132 AD, Hadrian’s library was used as a place to store housing documents and reading rooms. Though not much is left of the library now, still the layout of the library and excellent signages can be seen. Hadrian’s library is not very far from Acropolis.
Explore Monastiraki Square in Athens
Athens’ Monastiraki district is just under the Acropolis. Monastiraki square is one of the main squares in Athens. Though the name Monastiraki means ‘small monsters, it is big enough to have a small church at the centre. There are many roads where you will find restaurants, flea markets and some major retail stores.
Wander around the Monastiraki flea market as it is an excellent place to buy souvenirs and gifts for your friends. In even, especially when a full moon is up over the Acropolis, you will find the Monastiraki Square packed and buzzing with people. And, it is the best place to enjoy Athens nightlife.
Visit the Temple of Poseidon, Athens
If you are a fan of Greek mythology, you cannot miss the Temple of Poseidon while travelling in Athens. Built during 444 to 440 BC, the temple of Poseidon is located at Cape Sounion, 60 metres above sea level. According to Greek mythology, Cape Sunion (also known as Sunium) was a significant ancient Greek religious sanctuary and sacred to the Sea god Poseidon and War goddess Athena.
The marble temple was first constructed by ancient Athenians to honour the sea god Poseidon and also to guide sailors safely home. However, the only remaining of the temple is now a series of towering columns but at sunset, they become the most gorgeous place in the entire country.
See the Caryatids at the New Acropolis Museum in Athens
Visit the New Acropolis Museum in Athens and see the architectural beauty of Caryatids. Caryatids are female figures, placed as pillars to support the building.
This type of column is commonly seen in classical architecture. For example, the 5th century six caryatids who supported parts of the Erechtheum on the Acropolis in Athens. Now, replicas of the six original Caryatids are seen there holding the Erechtheion porch on the Acropolis.
Five of the original Caryatids of the Erechtheum can be seen in the Acropolis Museum in Athens while the sixth one is at the British Museum in London. However, there is an as empty pedestal on the new porch of the maidens in the new Acropolis Museum waiting for her arrival.
Visit the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea in Athens
There are numerous beautiful churches all over Athens as well as in Greece. The Panagia Kapnikarea church is one of them.
The Metropolitan Cathedral, which is the head church of the Greek Orthodox faith is quite near to this church. You can find the church in the middle of Ermou Street, one of the busiest pedestrian shopping streets in Athens.
Go to the Ancient Agora in Athens
A visit to Athens is incomplete without a visit to the ancient Agora. Located at the foot of the Acropolis, the Agora is an ancient marketplace in Athens. Greek vendors started using this space as a market in the 6th century BC and the practice continues about 1200 years. During this time, ancient Agora was the central hub of the city. The Agora was the place where both Socrates and St. Paul spoke to the crowd.
This ancient marketplace is just a grassy remnant now. However, it is a nice place to relax or walk around and try to imagine how thousands of people used to gather in this area. Do not miss the stoa of Attalos, which dates back to the second century BC. However, the American School of Archaeology had to reconstruct the sculpture in 1956. Once, there were many small shops in the ancient shopping mall, but now there is a museum in that place.
The most beautiful building in Agora is the temple of Hephaestus. It can be easily seen from the Acropolis. Walk up to the top of the Acropolis from the Monastiraki square or Athens tea market, where you can buy the joint ticket at the entrance to the ancient agora.
Explore the National Archaeological Museum, Athens
National Archaeological Museum of Athens is the largest museum in Greece. It has more than 20,000 exhibits covering a vast period of history. The museum is organised in chronological order. Since it is very large, you might want to study the map or brochure you receive when buying a ticket to plan your time. You can also take along your favourite guidebook.
There is a fascinating story behind every item that you can find in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. See the famous bronze statue in the museum. It was built in the 5th century BC. However, there is an ongoing battle over 100 years regarding whose statue it is- Zeus’ or Poseidon’s. If the statue is holding a thunderbolt, he is Zeus, but if he is holding a trident, he is Poseidon. Unfortunately, they found the statue in a shipwreck off Cape Artemision and the weapon was missing. The statue is quite an impressive piece of sculpture.
Visit the Greek Parliament Building in Athens
When it was established in 1842, the Greek Parliament building was actually a palace for King Otto. However, the Greek citizen protested against the lavish spending of this Bavarian king and subsequently disposed of him in 1862. They renovated the building after the return of a parliamentary form to Greece.
After being neglected for decades, the building finally started to be used as the home of the Greek Parliament since 1935. You can visit the building and enter the library as it is open to the public. However, the main attraction of the building is the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the unknown soldier.
Watch the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens
The elite Evzone guards keep on changing every hour with a ceremony that takes place at 5 minutes before the changing hour. The ceremony is more or less simple but watching the guards march and stand at attention is worthwhile. They also march for in front of the tomb on the half-hour. You can even take pictures with the guards.
On Sundays at 11 am, a longer and more elaborate changing of the guard ceremony takes place at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The changing of the guard ceremony is quite festive as the bands play while the elite Evzone guards march. However, most people go to watch this ceremony on Sundays. So, you may have to struggle to get a seat at the ‘changing of the guards’ ceremony on Sunday.
Visit the Old Olympic Stadium in Athens
The old Olympic stadium is a must-visit attraction in Athens. In the year 1896, the first modern Olympic Games took place in this marble stadium. The original wooden stadium dates back to the 4th century BC. Hence, another name for the stadium is the Panathenaic Stadium. The 2004 Olympic Games used this stadium for two events – the archery competition and the 26.2-mile marathon.
Stroll the beautiful streets of Plaka
Take a stroll around the paved streets of Plaka, Athens. This oldest neighbourhood is located at the foot of Acropolis. The picturesque locality has neoclassical houses, restaurants shops, narrow streets and ruins from the classical era.
Explore the Syntagma Square, Athens
Syntagma Square is the centre of modern Athens. It is only a few blocks away from Plaka. Syntagma square is right across the street from the beautiful neoclassical Greek parliament building. Syntagmata is also known as Constitution Square. Furthermore, it is a site of political demonstrations. Syntagmata Square is the central square of Athens. It is located in front of the 19th century Old Royal Palace. Syntagmata Square is housing the Greek Parliament since 1934.
Go shopping in downtown Athens
If shopping occupies an important part of your trip, you must visit the downtown area of Athens. Within a 10 minutes walk from Syntagma, you will reach Ernou Street. Ermou street is the major shopping areas in downtown Athens. It is right opposite Syntagma Square and Kolonaki. You can find a great variety of shops in Ermou street. from women’s clothes and accessories to household decoratives and souvenirs – you will find almost everything you want to buy in Greece.
After that, set aside some time to explore Kolonaki. It is a posh neighbourhood in Athens. Stylish and beautiful, Kolonaki is a hub for upscale shopping. Beside international labels, you can find many Greek designer boutiques and expensive jewellery shops in this place.
Ready to visit Athens?
So, you can see that there are a number of things to do in Athens. You can break your trip into several themes- one for each day. For example, going on a food trail or shopping on one day, exploring all the archaeology sites the other day and so on. If you plan your travel based on a theme, you will have enough days to aimlessly explore and see what you can discover in Athens.