The heart of the Greek Capital is Syntagma Square (meaning “Constitution Square”). It is not only the geographical center of the city but also the center of local social, political, and cultural life, as well as a gathering place for leisure time, concerts and many events.
This square owes its name to a historical event that took place on September 3rd, 1843: on that day, Greek people rose up in protest and requested the King to release a new Constitution. The origins of the actual square are 10 years older: in 1834, King Otto chose Athens as the capital of the Country instead of Napflio, and, for this reason, he commissioned a huge square and a royal palace.
Syntagma Square has always witnessed the most important historical moments of Greece, like the first speech of the new Greek leader after the military government overthrow in 1974 or, more recently, the protests of the Aganaktismenoi (“Indignant Citizens”) belonging to the anti-austerity movement (2011-2012).
A guide to Syntagma Square and area
Map of Syntagma area in Athens
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Things to do in Syntagma Square
1. Join a tour of the Parliament
The headquarter of Greek politics overlooks the huge Syntagma square and this building marks the birth of the modern Country. The Parliament was once the Royal Palace and it was designed by the German architect Von Gartner in an elevated position above the square to underline the importance of the monarchy.
The members of the royal family lived in this neoclassical building until 1924 when the monarchy was finally abolished. Over the years, it was used as a hospital and a museum and it then became the headquarter of the Greek Parliament in 1929. Guided tours in English are available twice a week in summer (Monday and Friday at 3 p.m.). They are free and they last about 1h30. A reservation is required and you can book your tour by sending an email at [email protected]. For more information visit https://www.hellenicparliament.gr/en/.
2. Witness the changing of the guard in front of the Monument of the Unknown Soldier
The monument of the Unknown Soldier stands in front of the Parliament and it is dedicated to the Greek soldiers who died for their Country. It was inaugurated in 1932 and it is under 24h surveillance thanks to the Evzones, which is the Greek presidential guards. Here you can witness a real changing of the guard ceremony, like the one you can see in London!
This ritual always attracts large crowds of tourists thanks to the solemn movements and the traditional costumes of the guards (red hat with a long black tassel, shirt with wide sleeves, skirt and black shoes with big pom-poms). The best moment to watch this ceremony is on Sunday morning at 10 a.m., when there is a real parade with a marching band. As an alternative, you can see its shorter version every day on the hour, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
3. Sit on a bench and take some pictures of the square
Syntagma Square is lined with oleander, cypress, and citrus trees other than with many benches and statues. There is also a beautiful marble fountain in the middle of the lower part of the square, which is illuminated at night.
Sitting in Syntagma Square offers a beautiful view both during the day and night and there are always many people coming and going. Take some pictures of the Parliament from different perspectives and have a break there enjoying the free wi-fi too!
4. Watch the archeological findings exhibited in the Syntagma metro station
Syntagma Square is the city’s main transportation hub and its metro station is a daily fixed stop both for locals and tourists. You might not know that it is also a sort of museum that is worth spending a little more time: you can see some archeological remains exhibited in several display cases along the way!
These remains were discovered during the construction works and they span from the pre-Mycenean era to the Roman period. Art is everywhere down there: on the walls, you can see the works of some contemporary Greek artists like Georgios Zoggopoulos or Theodoros. Next time you step off the train, take a moment to have a tour of the station before getting to the surface!
5. Notice the elegant Grande Bretagne Hotel
One of the most striking buildings in Syntagma Square is the Grande Bretagne Hotel, which is a glamorous neoclassical landmark built in 1842. Over the years, many famous people (Winston Churchill, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, etc.) stayed there during their visit to Athens.
6. Catch the Happy Train
One of the coolest ways to go sightseeing in Athens is catching this red toy-like street train leaving from Syntagma Square and driving you around the city center. It is the perfect activity for the first day of your family trip so that you’ll be able to get an overview of the city and come back to visit your favorite attractions in the following days. A round-trip is about 40 minutes long, so it won’t take you too much time and you can do that first thing in the morning.
You can also choose the “hop-on/hop-off” option, meaning that you can get off at one stop and then catch the following train with the same ticket. This option is perfect for a 1day trip to Athens without having to catch other public transports since a Happy Train ticket is valid for 10 hours. Among the many stops of the train, you should definitely take a closer look at the Acropolis, the Zappeion, the Theater of Erodes Atticus, and the Hadrian Arch.
The Happy Train runs every day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in winter and until 11 p.m. in summer and you’ll find a ride every 30 minutes. The commentary is both in Greek and in English and a ticket costs 5 euro for adults and 3 euro for kids. For more information visit http://www.athenshappytrain.com
What to do near Syntagma Square
1. Relax in the National Gardens
The green lung of Athens is located close to the Parliament and it covers 160.000 square meters. This area was created by Queen Amalia in 1839 as a private royal garden and it is home to a large number of plants coming from all around the world. You shall definitely have a break there to experience some nature in the heart of this busy metropolis. It is also a great spot for kids: bring them to visit the botanical gardens and the zoo for some family fun!
It is a long and busy pedestrian shopping street connecting Syntagma Square to Kerameikos archeological site. Every shopping-addict should visit this place to see tons of shops of the most famous international brands and enjoy a break in one of the many bars and cafés nearby. To add a little bit of history to your leisure time, visit the byzantine church of Kapnikareas on the homonymous square located about halfway along the street.
Syntagma is a major transport hub
Syntagma metro station is a great start for your wanderings through the city, since metro line 2 and 3 converge there, as well as some surface tram lines.
From the airport to the city center: if you plan to get to Athens by plane, just catch the metro line number 3 to reach Syntagma Square in about 40 minutes. If you prefer to reach the city center by bus, search for the Express line X95 taking you to Syntagma Square in about 45 minutes at the cost of 6 euro. Have a look at all the stops of this line here.
To get to Piraeus: you can catch the metro or the X80 Express bus from Syntagma Square and reach the port in about 30 minutes either way.
See the metro map here
To reach the beaches: if you stay close to Syntagma Square, you’ll also be able to enjoy a day trip to the beach thanks to the Athens Coastal Tram serving the southern suburbs. Catch the T3 line heading to Voula and take some pictures of the coast dung the entire 1h ride. Of course, you can choose an earlier stop if you like the beach you see through the tram window! See the tram stops here (the tram line is the red one): http://www.urbanrail.net/eu/gr/athens/tram/athens-tram.htm
Tickets/ Tourist Cards
An urban ticket costs 1,20 euros, it is valid for 90 minutes and you can use it both on the metro trains and the local buses. You can also buy a Day Pass lasting 24h at the cost of 4,50 euros, but keep in mind that it does not include the airport rides. For a longer stay, it is best to choose a 5Days Ticket costing 9 euro (airport rides are not included). The most comprehensive ticket is the 3Days Tourist Ticket costing 22 euro but also including a round trip to and from the airport.
Where to eat near Syntagma Square
- McDonald (2, Ermou Street): the first Greek McDonald is always crowded with international tourists, but also with locals using it as a meeting point.
- Public Bookstore (1, Karageorgi Servias Street): have lunch there to enjoy a beautiful view of the square from its rooftop bar. This bookshop and multimedia store is also suitable for some shopping during your lunch break.
- Avocado (30, Nikis Street): if you are vegan, vegetarian or if you simply like healthy and seasonal food, you should try this small restaurant offering a creative and fresh menu. For more information https://www.avocadoathens.com/
- Tzitzikas & Mermigas (12, Mitropoleos Street): this restaurant is perfect to discover the best Greek recipes cooked with fresh and local ingredients. They also offer a wide selection of local beers. For more information visit http://www.tzitzikasmermigas.gr/en/
- Kiki de Grèce (4, Ipitou Street): a nice wine bar located on a side street and offering a wide selection of wine. You can go there after dinner to spend some time in a relaxed atmosphere but also choose it for a quick lunch break in the city center.
- Le Greche (16, Mitropoleos Street): an Italian-style ice cream parlor, but also a bakery and a café for your afternoon snack.
Where to stay near Syntagma Square
The whole area around Syntagma Square is very popular among tourists since there are a lot of public transports, shops, attractions, restaurants, and cafés. From there, you can also walk your way through the main districts of Athens, like Plaka and Monastiraki, and enjoy some local nightlife in the surrounding streets.
Hotel Grande Bretagne (1, Vasileos Georgiou Avenue): if you are not on a budget, try this luxurious 5star hotel offering an amazing view of the Acropolis from its balconies. You can also relax at the swimming pool outdoor and taste some gourmet dishes at its rooftop restaurant. – Click here for more information and to book your stay.
Hotel King George (3, Vasileos Georgiou Avenue): close to the Grande Bretagne, you’ll find another 5star hotel that is famous for its glamour and for being a popular convention center. It also has an elegant restaurant and a cocktail bar. – Click here for more information and to book your stay.
Niki Athens Hotel (27, Nikis Street): if you search for a simple and comfortable hotel in the city center, you can choose this accommodation located 100m away from the vibrant Syntagma Square. It is close to the center of local nightlife, but it is also convectively located on a side street that guarantees peace and silence at night! – Click here for more information and to book your stay.
For more information on where to stay in Athens: Check my post where to stay in Athens.