Athens is the capital of Greece. Its allure and charm have been sung by timeless popular Greek songs, from the beauty of its colors to the variety of its neighborhoods, its people, its customs, and its vibrant life. Athens is one of the eternal cities of the world: it is the oldest European capital that has been inhabited non-stop for over five millennia!
As a result, Athens can be a little chaotic, haphazardly developed, and hard to explore. As a city, it’s been built literally on its own ruins and previous versions over the hundreds of centuries of its highly active and historically powerful existence.
Depending on who you ask, Athens can be anything from a concrete jungle of gray, smog, and questionable graffiti to a time capsule of breathtaking beauty, nature, and colorful heritage. The secret is to know how to navigate it to crack open the treasure trove that holds Athens’ secrets of beauty, culture, and vibrant, timeless heritage as it meshes with modernity.
The best way to start is by taking a city walk!
Despite its anarchic and unbridled expansion, Athens is a great city to walk in. Perhaps it’s because it has existed long before automobiles or even chariots or perhaps out of a love for preserving neighborhoods with all their nooks and crannies.
Whatever the reason, you can walk nearly everywhere in Athens on very picturesque streets and promenades. If you like hiking or walking, you’re in for a unique experience by taking any of these popular, beautiful walks in Athens!
Route 1: Dionysiou Areopageitou Street
Listed as the most beautiful street in Athens, Dionysiou Areopageitou street is one of the most popular walking routes for locals and tourists alike. It feels like a walk through the ages, combining the Athens of antiquity with the modern Athens of the 19th and 20th centuries just by the vistas alone.
It is also a fairly long street, starting from Amalias Avenue opposite the Temple of Zeus and the iconic statue of General Makrygiannis, one of the most important figures of the Greek War of Independence of 1821.
From there you will walk on a very wide, beautifully paved street with turn-of-the-century buildings that are gems of neoclassical, art nouveau, and art deco architectural design on one side. On the other side, you will see the sacred rock of the Acropolis, with the Parthenon visible against the blue sky rising over the verdant park.
Many of the turn-of-the-century buildings feature beautiful outward decorations and intricate, unique designs. Street performers and musicians will accompany your walk with beautiful performances. If you are lucky, you may even happen upon a performance by a summer band or orchestra!
There is also a beautiful 1919 neo-Byzantine chapel to explore, usually open and active with liturgies.
On Dionysiou Areopageitou street you will also find the Acropolis Museum, with its post-modern design and its remarkable exhibits not only within, but also underneath it.
The street technically ends at the foot of Philopappou Hill. It carries on to lead you to the highly popular Theseion area, but its name changes to Apostolou Pavlou street. You can find many cafés and places to have refreshments and rest around there if you don’t opt for doing that in the Acropolis Museum café a little earlier!
Route 2: Philopappou Hill and the Pnyx
Right where Dionysiou Areopageitou street ends, is where the route for Philopappou Hill begins!
This one is more of a hike than a promenade, so make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes that won’t skid or slip easily, for maximum safety and enjoyment of this route.
Philopappou Hill is a very lushly verdant forest miniature, with several places to take a rest under the shade. It is also strewn with ancient ruins and ancient pathways which you, too, will be using just like the ancient Athenians did!
You go in past the iconic chapel of Aghios Dimitrios Lombardiaris (bonus points if you do this during Easter week!) which was built as early as the 9th century AD and is still in operation! Then, choose one of the many picturesque, paved pathways that will lead you to the top. Each one has its own little surprises, so don’t hesitate to do this route again through a different path!
Depending on which path you choose, you might come across the tomb of Kimon, the father of Miltiades, the famous strategist who won the battle of Marathon, the Seven Seats Plateau which could have been some kind of ancient tribunal, or the ancient Deme of Koile, a small administrative location for an Athenian demos, or even the so-called Prison of Socrates (though it probably wasn’t a prison nor did it house Socrates).
When you get to the top, you will be double rewarded for your efforts: you get to see a sweeping, breathtaking view of all of Athens, complete with the Acropolis, and you get to see the iconic monument to Philopappos.
Philopappos was a royal descendant of Commagene, where modern-day Syria is, and a grand benefactor of Athens who died as an Athenian citizen. His monument is quite tall, and some speculate that he was seeking to rival the Acropolis itself with the edifice!
Coming down from the top, walk towards the adjacent hill of Pnyx. The Pnyx was the historical meeting place of the ancient Athenian democratic assembly or “ekklesia”, where democracy was first practiced!
You will have a chance to walk to the top of the hill where you can sit in the remnants of the structure housing the assembly and gaze at the Acropolis, and you can stand at the ‘bema’, the special platform carved out of the rock where Athenians would stand to give speeches about city issues.
Pnyx is an experience, not only for the amazing view, but also for the sheer awe of standing where democracy was born, and sitting where at least six, but up to twenty, thousand Athenian citizens would congregate to decide for themselves on the issues of their own city.
Route 3: Mount Lycabettus
This route is yet another for hike lovers, so make sure you wear shoes accordingly. Mt. Lycabettus is intertwined with ancient myth. Supposedly it was created when the goddess Athena accidentally dropped a giant boulder she had been carrying across Athens because she got some bad news from a raven. That, however, is a myth for another day!
Mt. Lycabettus features some of the most picturesque and romantic pathways you can take in Athens! It is also a perfect place for enjoying one of Athens’ beautiful sunsets. The pathways are meandering and can be quite long as they go around the mountain, so make sure you are prepared for it!
If you aren’t feeling up for a long walk, you can also take the cable car to the top, but that will deprive you of most of the gorgeous views going up. You will also miss the ancient Lycabettus theater, which is a great place to enjoy the sunset at. The theater isn’t in operation due to safety reasons but people still go on occasion to enjoy the magical view from there.
When you get to the top, you will find the small chapel of Aghios Georgios of Lycabettus, which is a functioning little church with the greatest view from a churchyard in Athens! You will also find a café and fine dining restaurant right underneath the chapel, so you can enjoy your coffee or a full dinner with Athens at your feet and the Acropolis right in your view.
Route 4: Syntagma square, Ermou street, and Monastiraki square
The iconic route you must take even if you are not much of a walking fan is the Syntagma to Monastiraki route.
Syntagma square is as iconic as the Acropolis. That is where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is, with the Evzones, or presidential guards, guarding it at all hours, every day. Right over the Tomb, there is the Parliament House, which used to be the royal palace during the era when the modern Greek state was a monarchy and later a constitutional monarchy.
Make sure you stick around to enjoy the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It takes place every hour and on Sunday it’s done with added pomp and circumstance.
The Evzones are dressed in ceremonial national garb which has special significance. While you should not try to interact or engage with them, there is always a third Evzone dressed in regular army uniform nearby who is more than happy to answer your questions.
He is also there to make sure nobody disturbs his fellows, so make sure to be respectful and follow instructions.
After you’ve taken your obligatory photos of the Evzones and the Tomb, walk across the square, away from the Parliament House, and past the great fountain. Depending on when you visit, there may be happenings and other open-air events taking place as Syntagma square is the heart of Athens and Athenians often congregate there for everything, from cultural events to demonstrations!
Crossing the avenue away from the square you will get to the beginning of Ermou street, which is the most iconic and central commercial street of Athens. Athenians consider this the hub of every shopping streak, and you will get to browse the windows of several international and local boutiques and retail franchises. There are also tiny shops selling refreshments and street food, so look out for those!
Ermou street ends at the landmark chapel of Kapnikarea, one of the oldest churches of Athens, built around 1050! You can often go in and pay your respects or look around, or take a breather at its very popular church yard ledges.
Finally, go past Kapnikarea chapel, and a little further down you will find yourself at the famous Monastiraki square, where you will see several important monuments, such as the Library of Hadrian, the Monastery of Pantanassa, and the Tzistarakis Mosque.
Monastiraki square is the hub of Athenian activity, from street performances to assorted landmark street food eateries to the beginning of Athens’ famous Flea Market where you get to buy a wide assortment of unique, not just touristy, souvenirs. There are also a few good roof garden bars and cafés, where you can enjoy your refreshments with a view so look out for those!
Route 5: Plaka’s neighborhood to Areopagus (Ares’ Hill)
Another walk you must experience is the one through Plaka’s many streets and stairs. Plaka is the neighborhood that is also called “the historical center” of Athens. And it really is!
The moment you walk on the first of Plaka’s streets as you move from Monastiraki square, you know you’ve arrived. It feels like you have suddenly stepped back a century in time to the 1910s, 30s, and 40s, as all the buildings in Plaka are historical and protected by law so they remain preserved in their original condition.
Some of Plaka’s areas are perfectly preserved and date as far back as the first governor of Greece’s time, that of Ioannis Kapodistrias in the late 1800s.
Plaka is literally sprawled on the hill leading up to the Acropolis, so you will get to explore it in various levels, all connected by wide staircases that are also paved and flat. That’s where many cafés and tavernas are, all very much in the style of Plaka.
A lot have live music and almost everywhere the food is extremely tasty! The cafés manage to combine the historical and modern elements perfectly, so having your coffee in any of them is an experience.
Walking up Plaka, you will get to the famous Anafiotika region of it, a cluster of houses built in traditional Cycladic style and architecture. If you don’t have time to hit the islands, Anafiotika is the best simulation you can have, with sugar cube houses and vibrantly colored blue or crimson shutters and fences.
Continue going upwards until you reach the top level of Plaka, which is a wider street right under the Acropolis. This is a beautiful place to enjoy yet another great view of Athens. The street is verdant, full of lush vegetation and crawling plants like jasmine and vines. Continue along the street towards the Acropolis until you reach the Areopagus (Ares’ Hill).
The Areopagus is a large rock outcropping right opposite the Acropolis, and it was the location of the ancient Athenian highest judicial council. It is also the location where the Apostle Paul addressed the Athenians, first introducing Christianity to Athens in a famous sermon.
You can go up the Areopagus as there are stairs installed, but you must be very careful as the top is extremely slippery and there is little in terms of protection except for your common sense. Many Athenians climb up there to enjoy the sunset or a relaxing beer in the evening, so make sure you follow their example and stay away from the edges while you enjoy the gorgeous view and the cool breeze.