Athens, the capital of Greece, is the home of modern Western civilization. Athens (also called Athenai) is the city devoted to the goddess Athena, and often called the ‘birthplace of democracy’ because it was also home to the Platonic Academy and the Lyceum of Aristotle, where philosophy is inextricably linked with democracy.
Athens has numerous archaeological gems worth visiting. Greece’s wide historical and archaeological places are one of the biggest attractions for tourists, and its capital Athens alone entices millions of visitors each year. With a recorded history dating back more than three thousand years, from The Acropolis to The Ancient Agora, a landscape of fascinating ancient architectures stands tall in Greece, offering glimpses into a once-mighty civilization.
From ancient architectural wonders to scrumptious street foods, Athens has much to offer travellers. A city with a good mix of modern buildings along with older architectural wonders, the best things to do in Athens will lead you on a route through the very notion of Western culture with lots of cosmopolitan charm blended in.
Here are 13 of the best activities and things to do in Athens for an unforgettable and enriching experience.
1. Hike up to the Acropolis – The Coolest Historical Site of Athens
When you think of Athens, one thing that immediately comes to your mind is these magnificent ancient buildings – The Acropolis of Athens – a citadel nested upon a rocky hill at the top of the Greek capital. It is undoubtedly the most significant landmark in Athens, possibly even the whole of Greece!
UNESCO, who listed it as a World Heritage site, stated it as the most magnificent architectural blocks from Greek antiquity. This rocky hill with a flat top features ancient landmarks like the Parthenon, Athena Nike, The Propylaea, and the Erechtheion.
If you are in the city for a short time, this should be one of the top things to see in Athens on your travel list. Spend some hours exploring the Acropolis hill itself, as there is a lot to see with plenty of stair climbing and walking. You’ll surely get a workout there!
2. Explore the Parthenon – The Magnificent Temple on the Acropolis
As part of the Acropolis complex, the Parthenon deserves a special mention and is one of Athens’s must-see attractions. This architectural marvel can be seen throughout the city, and while lit up during the night, the magnificent pillars look spectacular.
This Beautifully preserved 5th century BC Parthenon Temple is a major attraction in Athens and the Acropolis. The Parthenon temple, dedicated to the goddess Athena, is perfectly balanced and believed as the world’s finest Doric masterpiece (although, there are many).
Visiting this magnificent temple first thing in the morning – right when the Acropolis opens – would be highly recommended as it can be get crowded later on, or try to visit during the last few hours before they close!
Also, you can enjoy learning details about the historic locations by self-guided smartphone tours, if you don’t want to hire a dedicated tour guide.
3. See the Odeon of Herodes Atticus an Ancient Entertainment Hub
Who wouldn’t love a little bit of entertainment at a theatre?
Greeks are very particular about appreciating art, like most of us, and this has led to the formation of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a classical stone theatre that in the beginning hosted only the wealthiest Athenians.
Odeon Of Herodes Atticus is one of the oldest theatres with an audience capacity of roughly five thousand and would assure a vintage experience as they host music concerts at regular intervals. Since its restoration in 1950, it has been used as a venue for many popular concerts. Frank Sinatra, Andrea Bocelli, Elton John, Nana Mouskouri, and Luciano Pavarotti have all performed here!
If you somehow by chance visit Athens when a concert is going on here (usually they have concerts going on all year round), it’s highly recommended you go and get a feel of this entertainment hub!
4. Visit the Acropolis Museum and See Historic Archaeological Treasures
A visit to the Acropolis Museum can be combined with a visit to the Acropolis – just a short 600-meters (approx.) walk from the Parthenon – to travel back in time and unfold the mysteries and artefacts from hundreds of centuries ago.
There’s a hell of a lot of things to see and you shouldn’t be in a hurry when witnessing the magnificence this museum keeps. Below the main entrance to the museum, walk through the excavation site of an ancient Athenian neighbourhood dating back to 3000 B.C with streets, houses, and shops.
This should make the top of your list for the day if haven’t been there already! Pay a morning or a late afternoon visit at the acropolis museum to avoid the crowd.
5. Explore Plaka the Oldest Neighbourhood in Athens
Spreading out under the shadow of the Acropolis is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited neighbourhoods called ‘Plaka’, known as the “neighbourhood of the gods”, with beautiful, ancient-looking homes, cobbled streets, and neoclassical architecture.
Plaka possesses a treasure of ancient sites, historic churches, small museums, and picturesque small squares bustling with restaurants and cafés that can consider the best places to eat in Athens. Stroll through the meandering alleys and visit the Kapnikaréa Church, Library of Hadrian, or spend time shopping at popular stores on Ermou Street.
This endearing neighbourhood will give you a feel as you’re back in ancient times! Of course, sometimes just a stroll isn’t sufficient to keep you entertained. Watching a movie at Thissio’s open-air cinema though will surely make your evening memorable. It’s just not that you are under the stars, but shadows of the Acropolis and the iconic Parthenon are there to make your experience sweeter.
This is one of those romantic, underrated Athens tourist attractions and a must-visit during your trip.
6. Wander Around Monastiraki Square and Shop at the Flea Market
Located near to many popular sites, the Monastiraki Flea Market is an unconventional shopping site in Monastiraki Square and is the perfect place to get some souvenirs, handmade footwear, and artisanal products.
Considered as one of the main shopping districts in Athens, it might not look like a flea market except maybe on Sunday. It’s one of the best places to buy just about anything in Athens. Also known for its bargain shopping, this market is great for people on a budget. If you’re moving around, thinking what fun things to do in Athens are available, walking through the Monastiraki flea market stalls is amazing!
Moreover, this can be a great place to grab a bite at one of the many cool restaurants if you need a break. For a striking panoramic view of the square and the city, don’t miss out to visit the rooftop bar ‘A For Athens’. Grab a cocktail and enjoy the view!
7. Stroll Around the Ancient Agora
In ancient Greek cities, the ‘Agora’ or The Central Square was a gathering place for citizens to discuss affairs of state, cultural exchange, and participate in religious rituals. Over the years the Agora has also become a marketplace selling goods and services, pottery, and religious commodities. The least amount of restoration has taken place here to portray how the ancient marketplace was in the golden age of Ancient Greece!
Next to the Ancient Agora, you’ll also find the Temple of Hephaestus. This incredible Doric temple is the perfect place to visit before or after a visit to the Ancient Agora. Among all the astonishing and wonderfully preserved temples in the capital, this one often gets neglected. Considering this is one of the most complete temples in the city, the reason behind it though quite unknown!
Another grand building that has been beautifully preserved is the Stoa of Attalos. Paying a visit to this building from the Hellenistic Period is highly recommended as it houses the Museum of Ancient Agora, i.e., a place to Athenian, Byzantine, and Turkish artefacts.
8. Metropolitan Cathedral – Snap the Greek Beauty
The best things to do in Athens are incomplete without a snap of the Metropolitan Cathedral, popularly known as the Mētrópolis. This significant landmark in Metropolitan Square is the largest cathedral in all of Athens and an important Greek Orthodox cathedral. When Athens was declared as the official capital of Greece, this was the first cathedral built.
Today, the Cathedral stands as a centre of Athens and the Greek Orthodox faith, where coronations, funerals as well as weddings of notable personalities are held persistently. This Greek beauty is totally worth a stop and to take some snaps during any Athens adventure.
9. Panathenaic Stadium – Run Around the Marble-ous Beauty
It’s known to everyone that Athens is the birthplace of the modern Olympic games. So, nothing can’t be better than seeing the original stadium, and the only one in the world made entirely of white marble!
The stadium’s history goes all the way back to before Christ as there were sporting events taking place at that time on the land now occupied by the stadium!
Run around the stadium and get hold of the magnificent architecture of the world’s only marble stadium or, to get an even better view of how massive it is, climb to the top of the stadium. Also, there is a tri-level medal podium where you can pose for photos.
Inside the stadium, there is a little museum of Olympic history to visit, full of the torches used in past games. If you’re travelling to Greece in November, watch athletes cross the finish line of the city’s marathon (or why not sign up and join it yourself?).
10. Hike Up Mount Lycabettus – For Some of the Best View of Athens
A cretaceous limestone hill towering over Athens Lykavittos or Mount Lycabettus is another cool place to visit in Athens. Covered with pine trees and rising 300 meters above sea level, the hill is perfect for adventure lovers to go for a hike to the top. In return, it rewards the visitor with some of the best views of Athens.
If you find yourself not wanting to hike or walk, there’s a funicular train on the hill too. Taking the Lycabettus funicular to the top is even a great way to enjoy the views on the way up and atop the hill. Moreover, at the top is one of the best places to eat in Athens.
Staggering views at dusk with delicious local and traditional food is a great way to spend a romantic evening. Spend some time at the restaurant after visiting the Chapel of St. George. Don’t miss this splendid Athens hotspot, especially if you’re looking for something romantic to do.
11. See the Greek Parliament Building and Changing of the Guards
Near to Syntagma Square, is the base of the Greek parliament. This is the place where you’ll find the country’s royal palace. Greece’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is dedicated to all lost Greek soldiers in past wars, is placed in front of the Greek Parliament Building.
Every hour the changing of the presidential honour guard takes place. On Sundays, at 11 AM a big and impressive ceremony takes place with a large group of Evzones (presidential guards), brass band, and parade. It’s pretty popular and as this is a free thing to do in Athens, there’s often a large crowd watching this spectacle.
12. Relax in The National Gardens
The National Gardens is a big public park situated right behind the Greek Parliament building. The garden is full of beautiful greenery, orange trees, and ruins!
If you want to continue your daily jogging or running routine on your travel trip, there’s nowhere better to exercise than this gorgeous garden! There’s even a children’s library to keep the kids engaged and entertained!
One of the nicer things to do in Athens, as you get a chance to take a break from the bustle of the concrete jungle and stroll through some relaxing and gorgeous greenery.
13. From Souvlaki to Horitaki – Indulge in Greek Food
Typical Greek food is popular across the globe – especially classic dishes like souvlaki (grilled meat skewers), spanakopita (spinach pie), moussaka (similar to lasagne), and horitaki salata (Greek salad). If you get hungry, make sure you try some authentic souvlaki, the ultimate Greek street food, nicely wrapped in a píta.
All over Athens, there are many good tavernas and places to eat. You can find out many tavernas near Plaka or Psiri (Psyri) Quarter. Old Ithaki is a great lunch spot, just next to the Athens Cathedral.
But if you want to eat somewhere luxurious, visit the Vouliagmeni neighbourhood. This classy and laid-back suburb offers a wide range of seaside cafes and lunch options, traditional Greek cuisine in ‘Louizidis’ taverna for a beautiful view of the coast.
Also, there are tons of rooftop bars throughout Athens (a few of them can be found near Plaka and Monastiraki Square) that have a fantastic view of the Acropolis and other landmarks. It sounds relaxing having a nice drink whilst admiring the view of Athens from above.
So, that concludes our list of the best things to do in Athens. We hope that this has been a handy and informative list that has given you some ideas of the best neighbourhoods and places to see in Athens!
From captivating architectural treasures, great food, and happening nightlife to some cool and extraordinary attractions – whatever you looking for from your holiday in the Greek capital, you’re bound to find most of it here. It’s all sheltered there somewhere under the shadow of the Acropolis.
If you’re passionate about travel and exploring a new culture, it would be difficult to not have a fabulous time in Athens.