Written bylisa alexandermiCorona
Updated January 31, 2022
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A symbol of Western civilization at its finest, Athens' storied history stretches back more than 3,000 years. The city flourished during classical antiquity and was the birthplace of Socrates, Pericles and Sophocles. More than just a relic of its glorious past, today Athens is a bustling modern capital that is home to some of the country's top tourist attractions.
oAcropolisIt is one of the most impressive ancient ruins in the world, and the city's exceptional museums display fascinating artifacts discovered at local sites. Other hidden charms waiting to be discovered are the impressive Byzantine churches found throughout the city and the village-like neighborhoods north of the Acropolis.
When you think you've run out of things to do in Athens, take some time to lose yourself in the narrow pedestrian streets of the Plaka district, lined with quaint bougainvillea-draped houses and cozy restaurant terraces.
A vacation experience completely different from the idyllicGreek islands, Athens can seem hectic and crowded during the summer, but in spring and autumn you can still enjoy the good weather and see much fewer tourists.
Plan your tour with our list of the top tourist attractions in Athens.
See also:Where to stay in Athens
1. Visit the Ancient Acropolis
Few landscapes in the world compare to the Acropolis of Athens, with its Parthenon temple perched on a rocky cliff overlooking centuries of civilization. A reminder of the glory of ancient Athens, the Acropolis was the center of the ancient city and functioned as a citadel in its protected hilltop location.
The most emblematic building is theParthenon, the largest temple of the classical period of antiquity, dating from 447 BC. C. to 338 a. C. With its monumental rows of Doric columns and impressive sculptural details, the temple is an impressive sight. On the frieze on the east side, reliefs depict the birth of the goddess Athena.
Other ruins of the Acropolis include theTemple of Athena Nikeat the entrance andErection, a complex of ancient sanctuaries built between 421 B.C. C. and 395 a. C. The most famous feature of the Erechtheion complex is thePortico of the Caryatids, with six statues of maidens instead of Doric columns.
Forbeautiful views of the Acropolis from below, head to the north side of the hill. Street restaurants line the pedestrian street ofApostolou Pavlouand see the Acropolis. Some of these restaurants also offer rooftop dining with incredible views of the Acropolis, showing the grand entrance, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Parthenon, all illuminated at night.
On hot days, it's best to visit the Acropolis in the morning, then head to the air-conditioned Acropolis Museum in the afternoon. Alternatively, head to the Acropolis for the sunset. To avoid the long line to get in, buy oneSkip the line Acropolis of Athenscross, which includes a guided tour of the site.
- See more information:Visiting the Acropolis of Athens: the essential guide
2. Acropolis Museum
Another of the main attractions of Athens, the Acropolis Museum containsone of the most valuable collections of ancient Greek art in the world. The new facility was completed in 2007 below the hilltop of the Acropolis and replaced the old museum on the hill.
This massive 25,000 square meter facility has 14,000 square meters of exhibition space. The unique design incorporates an ancient Athenian quarter.
This is one of the best things to do in Athens when temperatures soar around noon. Please note that the entrance queue to buy tickets can be long, so it is betterbook your tickets onlinein advance. In this way, you will be guaranteed entry at a specific time.
3. National Museum of Archeology
Founded in the 19th century, the National Archaeological Museum of Athens is thelargest archaeological museum in Greeceand one of the largest museums of antiquities in the world.
The museum is housed in an impressive neoclassical building with 8,000 square meters of exhibition space. On display are five permanent collections with more than 11,000 exhibits, offering a comprehensive overview of Greek civilization from prehistory to the classical period and late antiquity.
oprehistoric collectionIt spans from the sixth millennium BC. C. until 1050 a. C. (the Neolithic, Cycladic and Mycenaean periods) and presents discoveries of prehistoric settlements on Thera. Hesculpture collectiondisplays ancient Greek sculptures from the 6th century B.C. C. until the V century a. C., including rare masterpieces. HeCollection of Vases and Decoration Objectsexhibits ancient Greek pottery from the 11th century B.C. C. until the classical Roman period. HeStathatos Collectionit features smaller objects from a wide range of historical periods. Small statues and exquisite metal-carved figurines are on display in theMetallurgy Collection.
Address: 44 Patission Street, Athens
4. Stroll through the neighborhoods of Pláka and Anafiotika
Between the northern slope of the Acropolis and Rua Ermoú, the picturesquehe's cryingneighborhood is a tourist hot spot. The main attraction of this historic area is its charming village atmosphere. The narrow pedestrian streets and lively little squares of the Pláka district are lined with pretty houses, restaurants and shops painted in pastel colors with bougainvillea.
Tucked away in quiet corners of the neighborhood are historic churches like the Church of the Metamorphosis in the southwest and the Church of Kapnikaréa in the north. A leisurely stroll through the picturesque countryside is the perfect thing to do when you've had your fill of ruins and museums.
The Plaka neighbourhood, together withneighbor anafiotikaLocated on the northern slope of the Acropolis, it has a large number of authentic Greek restaurants with cozy terraces. The winding medieval streets of Anafiotika are also a delight to explore at night. This area is famous for itsStaircase of the restaurant on Mnisikleous street. Nearby, the quieter streets are tucked into the hillside, hiding cute little cafes and restaurants.
The area has two important archaeological sites on Pepopida street: from the 1st century B.C.roman nowand the second centuryHadrian's Library.
5. Stroll through the Ancient Agora: Market Ruins
The Ancient Agora was the marketplace and the center of daily life in ancient Athens. For a stunning view of the Agora from afar, head to the north wall of the Acropolis or the roads of the Areopagus.
The best place to enter the Ágora is through the north gate of Rua Adrianoú (near the Church of São Filipe). The Greek word "Agora" means "to gather and pray," indicating that this site was a place for public speaking. The Agora was a place of administration and commerce, as well as the meeting place of the Agora tou Dimou, a civic decision-making group. Sporting events and theatrical performances have also been held.
One of the most striking features of the Ancient Agora is theStoa of Attalos, originally built by King Attalos II and rebuilt in the 1950s. The stoa may have been the scene of Socrates' trial in 399 BC.
Another important place is the inspiringTemple of Hephaestus. It can be reached by taking a pleasant walk along the path that goes up to the Hill of the Agora (Kolonos Agoraios). This Doric temple from the 5th century B.C. C. is one of the best preserved ancient Greek temples, thanks to its conversion into a Christian church, which saved it from destruction. The temple was designed on a classical plan with six rows of 13 columns, and the Ionic friezes appear to have been modeled on the Parthenon.
Address: Andrianou Street 24, Athens
6. The Roman Agora and Hadrian's Library
Adjacent to the Ancient Agora is the site of the Roman Agora. While it may all seem like one place, these buildings were built later and construction was eventually moved to the site of the Ancient Agora. One of the easily recognizable sites here is thetower of the winds.
At the edge of the Roman Agora stands the ancientHadrian's Library, founded by Emperor Hadrian in AD 132. Even later, during Byzantine times, three churches were built near the library site.
You can see a wall of Hadrian's Library and the ruins of the Roman Agora from the street, but if you want to explore more, you can buy a ticket and walk through the ruins.
7. Museum of Art of the Cyclades
In the Kolonáki district, the Museum of Cycladic Art was created in 1986 by the Nicholas and Dolly Goulandris Foundation. Shipowner Nikolas P. Goulandris was a well-known patron of the arts and cultural life in Athens. The Goulandris collection itself forms the core of the museum's exhibits.
Housed in an elegant modern building with a marble and glass facade, the museum's permanent collection includes more than 3,000 objects. The collection represents ancient Greek art, ancient art from the Cyclades (the Aegean islands surrounding the island ofDelosnear Mykonos) and Cypriot art (from the island ofCyprus) dating from the 4th century B.C. to the sixth century AD.
Many of the artifacts on display date from the 6th century BC. Temporary exhibitions are held in the elegant 19th-century Stathatos Mansion, accessible from the main building via an atrium walkway.
Address: Calle Neophytou Douka, 4, Athens
8. Olympieion: Temple of Olympian Zeus
Dedicated to Zeus, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, also called Olympieion,It was the largest temple in ancient Greece.. Although the Parthenon is better preserved, the Temple of Olympian Zeus was an even more monumental structure in its day. The temple dates from the 6th century BC. C., but it was not finished until the 2nd century AD. C. by Emperor Hadrian. Opposite the Olympieion, not far from the entrance, isHadrian's Archsin final de Dionysiou Areopagitou.
It is easy to imagine what a great impression this temple made in its completed form. Over a hundred huge marble columns once supported the great sanctuary. Only 15 columns remain standing, with another surviving column lying on the ground, but the monumental presence of the ruins gives an idea of the massive size of the original building. The gigantic structure was a sanctuary worthy of Zeus, the most powerful god of the ancient Greeks, known as the King of the Gods.
Nearby, to the north of the Olympieion, there is a small park containing the remains of Themistocles' wall and the ancientroman baths. The baths are quite impressive considering that they are a free attraction that you can easily include in your walking tour near the Olympieion. They are located on Avenida Vassilissis Amalias, next to the highway.
Location: City center near Athens Gate and Athanasiou Diakou street, Athens
9. Panathenaic Stadium and Olympic Stadium
The largest building in ancient Athens, the Panathenaic Stadium, has a capacity of 60,000 spectators. Built around 335 B.C. C. during the era of Herod Atticus, the site hosted the Panathenaic Games, where runners competed in races around the track. The 204 meter long track was designed with four double arms where the runners would take the turns in the races.
Around the year 140 AD. C., Herod Atticus updated the stadium with new marble seats. The structure that tourists see today isa replica of the original stadium,which was rebuilt for the 1896 Olympic Games. This modern Olympic Stadium was created in the same way as the Panathenaic Stadium, with 47 tiers of seats and a rounded southeast end.
The facility hosts concerts and other events during the summer. Seeing a show can be a great way to spend an evening in Athens.
Location: Ardettos Hill, Athens
10. Byzantine Museum
This interesting museum offers fascinating information about the Byzantine period of Greek history. Housed in a 19th-century palace originally built for the Duchess of Plaisance, wife of Charles-François Lebrun of France, the museum displays a priceless collection of Byzantine art.
The Byzantine Empire was the legacy of the eastern half of the Roman Empire after its fall. From the 3rd century to the 15th century, the Byzantine Empire ruled the land of what is now the Balkans, Greece, and Asia Minor. At that time, sacred art was highly valued. Byzantine artists created masterpieces of brilliantly detailed mosaics and gilded icons.
With more than 25,000 artifacts on display, the Byzantine Museum is a treasure trove of religious artifacts from the Byzantine period, as well as pieces from the Christian, Medieval, and Post-Byzantine eras. The collection includes sculptures, paintings, icons, textiles, and mosaics. The architectural fragments of early Christian basilicas and Byzantine churches and the reproduction of a fountain represented in the Dafní Monastery stand out. The courtyard of the museum presents a splendid fragment of a mosaic floor from the 5th century.
Address: 22 Vas. Sofias Avenue, Athens
Location: Ancient Agora, Athens
11. Look for bargains in Monastiraki and the flea market
Narrow streets lined with shops selling everything from jewelry and trinkets to clothing and everyday items is what you'll find at the Athens flea market in Monastiraki. This is one of the main attractions of the neighborhood, but this area has a unique atmosphere and is a good place to relax on an outdoor patio or take a walk.
Monastiraki has no shortage of restaurants, and this is a good lunch spot if you want to grab a gyro or any kind of traditional Greek dish. Unlike the more exclusive Plaka district, this area is a bit more casual.
Monastiraki Square is an open area surrounded by a mix of old and new buildings. This is a good place to orient yourself. A sign on one side of the square points up the street to the Flea Market. From the square, you can see the Acropolis in the distance, and a short walk from the square takes you to Hadrian's Library.
12. Iglesia Panaghia Kapnikarea
In a small square that opens onto a pedestrianized section of the bustling Rua Ermoú, the Panaghia Kapnikaréa church is a lovely place to visit and one you are likely to pass by. This church is a splendid example of 19th century architecture.11th century Byzantine eraand a stark contrast to the modern architecture that surrounds it. It was saved from demolition in the 19th century thanks to the intervention of King Ludwig I of Bavaria.
When built, cruciform-domed churches like this one were typical. In the 12th century, the church was enhanced with an elegant entrance portico and a narthex with four pediments (built at the west end). Inside, the church is decorated with 19th century paintings created in the iconographic style of the Middle Byzantine period.
Location: corner of Ermoú and Kalamiótous streets, Athens
13. See the changing of the guard at Syntagma Square
For many tourists, watching the changing of the guard at Syntagma Square is an exciting and memorable experience. Soldiers from the Presidential Guard stand in front of the Hellenic Parliament in Syntagma Square 24 hours a day, all year round. The guards wear traditional dress complete with pleated skirts, tassels on the legs, and pom-pom shoes.
The changing of the guard occursin front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiermonument at 11 am every day. This monument honors the anonymous soldiers who died fighting for their country. The monument presents a marble relief that imitates the stele of an ancient warrior tomb.
14. Church of the Holy Apostles
On the site of the ancient Agora, the Church of the Holy Apostles was the only building left standing when this entire neighborhood of Athens was demolished to excavate the archaeological site of the Agora. Built in the 10th century, the church stands on a nymphaion (sacred spring).
The exterior is notable for its ashlar masonry and ornate Kufic inscriptions (a style of Arabic writing). Typical of Byzantine architecture, the church has a dome supported by four columns, and the apse and transept feature semicircular shells. The interior of the dome is adorned with original frescoes depicting Christ Pantokrator (Ruler of all), John the Baptist, adorable cherubs and archangels. Much of the original 11th century iconostasis (wall of religious icons and paintings) has also been well preserved.
15. National Gardens and Zappeion
Located next to the Greek Parliament,the national gardenit is a large green space behind the Temple of Olympian Zeus and home to the Zappeion. If you've had enough sun during your day, this is a quiet, shady place to relax and cool off. The inviting trails wind through tall trees and offer a respite from the busy streets. It is also a free attraction in Athens.
At the edge of the garden is theZappeion Hall, which you can insert to peek if it's not in use. It was built in the 1870s and is used for events. Inside the main entrance is an impressive open-air round room flanked by columns.
16. Church of Demetrio Lombardiaris
In a green environment inColina Philopappou, this small 12th century Byzantine chapel offers the opportunity to live an enchanting spiritual experience. The building was built over the Diateichisma Gate due to the ancient belief that the deity protected the gates.
Inside, the church is in the form of a vaulted basilica with a single nave and the walls are adorned with frescoes dating from 1732. The name of the chapel "Loumbardiaris" (meaning "The Gunboat") is related to the legend that the church was saved by a miracle around 1650, when the Turkish commander of the Acropolis, Yusuf, bombarded the church. The church was restored in the 1960s by the architect D. Pikionis. Another highlight of visiting Philopappou Hill is the opportunity to enjoy the spectacular views of the Parthenon from this location.
Location: Philopappou Hill, Athens
17. Dine and socialize on the stairs of Mnisikleous street
If you are looking for things to do at night in Athens, head up the stairs to Mnisikleous street. Restaurants line this flight of stairs at the top of Mnisikleous Street and draw a late-night crowd.
The restaurants vary in quality, although some are very good, but the atmosphere here is hard to beat. It is extremely informal and relaxed. In fact, when the tables are full, people sit on cushions on the stone stairs, and small knee-high wooden benches are brought in and placed on the stairs, creating a makeshift table. People are usually very tightly packed, which makes for an intimate and friendly experience.
18. National Museum of Contemporary Art
Sometimes a visit to Athens can feel like an overdose of history. To alleviate this condition, go to the National Museum of Contemporary Art. This institution is the cultural epicenter of Athens and hosts a constant stream of temporary exhibitions showcasing the latest in art.
In addition to visiting exhibits, the museum has an impressive permanent collection of 172 pieces on display. These pieces were created by 78 different artists, national and international, along two specific themes requested by the museum.
The total collection of the museum includes 1,300 pieces, the majority of painting and photography.
19. Enjoy the view from Mount Lycabettus
Contemplating Athens from the Acropolis, you may be wondering what the hill in the distance is. That would be Lycabettus Hill, and well worth a visit. The view from the top of Mount Lycabettus is one of the best in Athens.
At 227 meters high, it is the highest point in the city and offers a unique view of the Acropolis. The funicular works until late at night (from 12:00 to 01:30 depending on the season), so a trip hereat night to see the city lights and the fully illuminated Acropolisis highly recommended OR if you are there during the day take time to enjoy it with a cold drink or bite to eat at the restaurant on top.
You can walk to the top if you really want, or like most people take the three minute funicular.
20. Varvakios Now
If you want to get off the beaten tourist track in Athens and see how real Athenians live, set your alarm to wake up early and head to the Agora of Varvakios. Located in the Monastiraki district, thisfresh food marketit is an experience like no other in Athens.
The bounty of the sea and the farm is on full display, with lively vendors selling their wares to locals and tourists alike. Fruit, vegetables and, of course, olives are sold in another nearby building. Small restaurants are located on site, offering cheap, tasty and filling meals. Take your time to wander the halls and soak up the atmosphere, and don't forget to bring your camera!
Where to stay in Athens for sightseeing
The best place to stay in Athens is near the Acropolis in the Plaka or Anafiotika neighborhoods. This puts you in the center of the action and within walking distance of the Acropolis, Roman Agora, Hadrian's Library and Syntagma Square. Both neighborhoods are quaint and quaint, with narrow pedestrian-only streets, lots of interesting restaurants and shops. Below are somehighly rated hotelsin convenient locations:
- A few steps from the Temple of Olympian Zeus and many fine restaurants, the boutiqueHotel AvaAthensoffers quaint and cozy suites with kitchens.
- oBoutique O&B AthensHotelIt is a 10-minute walk from the Acropolis and offers modern rooms and a spectacular rooftop patio with incredible views.
- the elegantBritainHotel, with a renowned restaurant on the terrace, is located in a privileged place that it has occupied since 1874.
- the proper namepratoHotelIt offers good rooms in a great location, and the rooftop patio overlooks the Acropolis. Free coffee and tea available all day.
- oHermesHotelin Plaka has been recently renovated and is just a two-minute walk from the attractions of Syntagma Square.
- On a quiet street, theCentralHotelIt has also been recently renovated and offers modern, comfortable rooms and a hot breakfast. It's a 15 minute walk to the Acropolis and the view from the rooftop patio is spectacular.
- Acropolis HotelCasait's a good budget option with a great location close to attractions, and the shops of pedestrian-only Ermou Street are a short walk away. This is a historic property, and the rooms are dated but come in a variety of sizes. Some rooms have their own bathroom, but others have their own bathroom located in the hallway. Guests have their own key for their private bathrooms.
- oHotelMetropolisIt was recently renovated and offers rooms with balconies, some with views of the Acropolis.
Tips and tours: how to make the most of your visit to Athens
- See the atractions:To maximize the flexibility and value of sightseeing, it's hard to beat theCity Sightseeing Athens Hop-On Hop-Off Buscross. Accompanied by audio commentary, you can cruise around Athens on an open-top, double-decker bus, hopping on and off at any of 14 stops to spend more time at your favorite attractions, like the Acropolis or Plaka. If you only have a few hours to see the highlights of Athens, theHalf day tour of Athenscrosscombines the old and modern attractions of the city. An expert guide takes you to important sites like the Tomb of the Unknown, the Acropolis, and the Pantheon. This 3.5-hour tour includes admission to the Acropolis of Athens and the Acropolis Museum (optional), hotel pickup, and free Wi-Fi on the bus.
- Delphi Day Trip:If you want to complement your tour of Athens by exploring historical monuments further afield, consider thedelphian dayTrip. This full-day tour takes you to this World Heritage-listed archaeological site to see the Temple of Apollo and the Delphi Archaeological Museum. On the way home, you will have the opportunity to explore the picturesque villages of Arachova and Levadia. Tour includes pickup and drop-off at select hotels, free Wi-Fi, and entrance fees.
- Mycenae and Epidaurus Day Trip:Stunning scenery and hilltop ruins are the highlights of theMycenae and Epidaurus DayTrip. This full-day guided adventure includes a beautiful drive across the Saronic Gulf and Peloponnese to see the hilltop ruins of Mycenae, as well as a visit to Epidaurus, the birthplace of the son of Apollo, and the picturesque city of Nauplia. Also included are entrance fees, a professional guide, free Wi-Fi on the bus, and a map.
- Cape Sounion and Temple of Poseidon Day Tour: See one of the most famous monuments of Athens in theCape Sounion and Temple of Poseidon half dayTrip. Traveling by air-conditioned coach, you can sit back, relax and enjoy a scenic drive to Cape Sounion to see the ruins of the cliff-top Temple of Poseidon overlooking the sea, while an experienced guide shares information about your story. This four-hour tour includes pick-up and drop-off at selected hotels, tickets and free Wi-Fi on the bus.
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For many people, Athens is simply a gateway to the Greek islands or northern destinations. If you are planning your trip, here are some ideas to help you find places to visit in Greece.
Greek islands:The most famous and popular.Greek islandsit isSantorini. If this is your first excursion to the Greek islands, it should be on your itinerary. It is also very popularCreta. This is a large island with a lot to see and do, so be sure to allow for more than a day or two if you plan to stop here. Other ideas for the Greek islands includecorfu,Wheels,samosand Mykonos.
Exploring Greece:Greece's rich history extends far beyond Athens, but the remains of the Temple of Apollo inCorinthand the seat of the oracle indelphithey are within reach of a day trip. Another highlight are the monasteries on the rock formations inMeteorite. For more ideas, check out our guide toMain tourist attractions in Greece.