If you’re planning a city break but are not sure what to do in Athens besides visiting the Acropolis don’t despair, in this blog post I’ve listed the top things to do in Athens on and off the tourist trail no matter whether you’re a culture vulture who wants to explore all the history, someone who enjoys getting out in nature, or a shopaholic stroke beach babe. That’s right, Athens has something for everyone so let me, a local Athenian, guide you on the top things to see and do in Athens.
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50 Things to Do in Athens
Top of the list when it comes to what to do in Athens, the Acropolis contains the famous Parthenon but so much more besides – As you climb the slopes of the Acropolis passing the various theatres from Ancient Greek and Roman times, you pass the Temple of Athena Nike and enter the Beule Gate to access the Temple of Athena (famous for the caryatids – the female sculptures that act as columns) and the iconic Parthenon from where you can look down upon Athens.
Click here for more information and to book a small group guided tour of the Acropolis with skip the line tickets. The reason I like this tour is that it is a small group one, it starts at 8:30 am, so you avoid the heat and the cruise ship passengers and it lasts for 2 hours.
2. Acropolis Museum
Here are some great options for visiting the Acropolis Museum:
– Skip the line ticket to the Acropolis museum including the ancient excavation.
– A small group tour to the Acropolis Museum with skip the line ticket.
Covering 4 floors, the award-winning Acropolis Museum has more than 4,000 artifacts on display that have been uncovered from the Acropolis and its surrounding slopes. Highlights include the Caryatids, the Horsemen, the Moschophotos (the first example of marble used in Greek architecture), and the 160m long frieze that tells the story of the Panathenaic Procession.
3. Watch a performance at Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Usually, only visible from the exterior, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, an open-air theater built in the 2nd century as a place for musical performances, can be accessed during the Summer months when special performances of opera, ballet, and Greek tragedies take place in the evening allowing visitors to sit on the marble seats just as people from the past once did.
4. Visit Hadrian’s Library
The Roman forum with its 100 columns and the central pool was built in 132AD to house the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s vast papyrus collection as well as containing lecture rooms and music halls. Today it stands in ruin but the West wall of the library has been restored allowing visitors to get a sense of this large structure.
5. Check out the Temple of Olympian Zeus (Olympieion)
Built to honor Zeus, the King of the Olympian Gods, this temple took 700 years to build, started in 174BC, and completed in the year 131 by Roman emperor Hadrian. It contained 107 Corinthian columns measuring 17 meters tall making it the largest temple of the ancient world. Today only 15 of the columns remain standing but it’s still a sight to admire.
6. Admire The Arch of Hadrian (Hadrian’s Gate)
Built in 131AD to honor the Roman Emperor Hadrian, this arch once spanned a road linking Ancient Athens with Roman Athens. Today it stands in the middle of the modern city, just off of one of the busiest modern roads in the city.
7. Visit the Ancient Agora (including the Stoa of Attalos and Temple of Hephaistus)
The hub of Ancient Athens was not just a market place but a place of politics, learning, religion, and social activities too. Built in the 6th century BC this was where Socrates would hold his lectures but today the Temple of Hephaistos is the most recognizable building along with the Attalos stoa – a two-story covered walkway that was once a sort of ancient department store that now contains the Ancient Agora Museum.
One of the less-visited archaeological sites in Athens, this tranquil site is an ancient cemetery that was used from the 9th century BC until Roman times. See the engraved marble tombstones and statues as you wander past the ruined temples before stepping inside the small onsite museum to see the burial offerings, urns, and other interesting items.
9. Visit the Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds
Built as an open-air market in the 1st century BC, the Roman Agora went on to become the administrative and commercial center of Athens from 267AD. These ruins can be explored today along with the 2nd century Tower of the Winds which stands to one side and is considered the first meteorological station in the world.
10. Check out the Athens Lysicrates Monument
The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates otherwise known as the Lamp of Diogenes dates back to 334BC. Though it could easily be overlooked, it is in fact the only surviving example of a circular monument that was used as a display base for a choral or athletic prize.
Another of the most memorable things to see in Athens, the Changing of the Guard ceremony that takes place every day on the hour with a longer ceremony at 11 am on Sunday. The guards, known as Evzones march from their barracks to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Syntagma Square kitted out in traditional dress which includes white woolen stockings, pom-pom slippers, a kilt, shirt and cap with black tuft – the dress combined with the slow-movements of the guards makes for a memorable experience quite like no other.
12. Tour the Parliament
Step inside the 19th century pink building in Syntagma Square and take a tour of the Greek Houses of Parliament, formerly the first Royal Palace of modern Greece. Learn the history of Modern Greece and the parliamentary procedures in Greece as you see the Assembly Hall, the Debating Chamber and more. Tours in English take place Monday and Friday in June, July, and September.
13. Check out the Panathenaic Stadium (Kallimarmaro)
The modern Olympic Games were revived here in 1896, and each year since has been the place where the Olympic Flame begins its journey. Built in the 6th century BC, when it was used as a venue for male-only track events, it’s the only stadium made entirely from marble in the world. In the 2004 Olympic Games, the stadium was used for the archery competition and became the finishing point for the women’s and the men’s marathon.
14. Have a picnic in the National Gardens
Escape the heat and the hustle and bustle of the city streets in the 15.5 hectare National Gardens. The ideal place to enjoy a picnic beneath the shade of the trees, the gardens contain 6 lakes and are home to turtles, peacocks, monk parakeets but it isn’t just a place to enjoy nature as it also contains the Zappeio Hall, Roman floor excavations, a sundial, and many statues.
15. Visit the National Archaeological Museum
Containing the richest collection of artifacts from Greek antiquity in the world, the National Archaeological Museum contains 11,000 exhibits dating from the 7th century BC to the 5th century BC. Themes include Minoan Frescoes, Egyptian mummies, sculptures, vases, jewelry, funerary masks and so much more.
16. Check out the Ottoman Monuments
The Ottoman rule on Athens is still visible today with the iconic 18th century Tzisterakis Mosque standing in Monastiraki Square and the Fethiye Mosque Museum, housed in a 17th century restored mosque, helping visitors to learn more about the Ottoman rule in Athens.
17. Check Out More Museums
Athens boasts more than 50 museums with something for everyone no matter what your interests. The Benaki Museum of Greek Culture is housed in a beautiful neo-classical mansion and contains the collections from prehistory to the 20th century.
The Cycladic Art Museum introduces you to the history of Cycladic Society through its sculptures and artworks. The Byzantine and Christian Museum has 25,000 collections containing pottery, fabrics, artwork, and more dating from the 3rd century to the Middle Ages.
There’s also a musical instrument museum, contemporary art museum, jewelry museum, motor museum, Museum of Greek Children’s Art, and Children’s Museum to name just a few, see what takes your fancy!
18. Check out the Neoclassical Architecture of the Athenian Trilogy
Panepistimou Street contains 3 jewels of neoclassical architecture that make up the city’s academic heart. Marvel at the facades and grounds of The National Library, the University of Athens, and the Academy, all built between 1864-1890 and designed by the Danish Hansen Brothers.
19. Stavros Niarchos Foundation
Check out what’s on at the Cultural Centre (home of the Greek National Opera) and wander around the 21 hectares landscaped space that makes up the Stavros Niarchos Park with its manmade canal where you can rent kayaks and sailboats in the Summer or enjoy ice skating in the winter, follow the trails on foot or bike, make use of the outdoor gym, and generally kick back and relax amongst the locals.
20. Admire the Byzantine Churches
From the vast size of Athens Cathedral, better known as the Metropolis, to the tiny Church of Panagia Kapnikarea (one of the oldest churches in Athens) which sits next to the Cathedral, the city is full of Byzantine Churches that you can admire with the picturesque Church of Agios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris also worth checking out. Be sure to step inside each of them to take in the icons on the walls and the smell of incense!
21. See a Performance at Dora’s Stratou Theatre
See a traditional folk dance performance during the Summer months at the Dora Stratou open-air theatre. Each performance represents a different province or island and features 75 dancers, musicians, and folk singers.
22. Watch an Ancient Drama
Head to the Fimonoi Theatre to watch a classic Greek tragedy, poetry, or musical performance played out by a group of professional artists. On-demand overtitles are available in English or French – click here for more information.
23. Climb Philopappou Hill
Climb this 147 meter (480ft) hill and admire the views from the top with the Acropolis in one direction and the Saronic Gulf in the other – Truly breathtaking at sunset! The pine-covered hill has numerous trails up/down with a monument to honor the Roman consul Julius Antiochus Filopappos which dates back to AD114 at its peak.
24. Climb Lycabettus Hill
Otherwise known as Mount Lycabettus, this is the highest point in Athens at just under 300 meters above sea level. Pine trees are at the base of the mountain with the 19th century Chapel of St. George, theatre, and taverna at the top. The views out to Pireas and out across the Acropolis and the rest of Athens are superb, especially at sunset – get there on foot, by taxi, or by using the funicular.
25. Check the View from Areopagus Hill
Located just below the Parthenon, to the side of the entrance/exit, this rocky outcrop once served as the high court of appeal for judicial cases in Ancient Athens. Today it offers great views of the Ancient Agora which is located below and is another great place to watch the sunset from.
26. Do a Mythology Tour of Athens
Learn all about Greek Mythology on this guided tour that takes you to see the city’s most important and iconic landmarks on a 4-hour walking tour. See the Temple of Zeus, the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora and Temple of Hephaestus, and many hidden ancient corners as you learn the myths behind these places and their connection with the Greek gods and goddesses.
27. Visit the UNESCO Daphni Monastery
This 11th-century Byzantine monastery has layers of history to uncover as it stands on the site of an older 6th-century monastery which was originally the ancient sanctuary of Apollo Daphnaios of which 1 Ionic column still remains. The monastery is located almost halfway along the ancient Sacred Way to Eleusis close to a forest of the same name. The interior features incredible mosaics from the 11th century as well as a unique display of sculptures.
28. Walk the Alleyways of Anafiotika
When you climb the steps up through the winding streets of Anafiotika you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported out of Athens to a quaint island village. Whitewashed buildings, sleeping cats, and blooming bougainvillea all add to the village feel of Athens’ oldest neighborhood yet high above you is the Acropolis.
29. Stroll through Plaka
Another of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, bustling yet picturesque Plaka is lined with neo-classical mansions containing boutiques, souvenir shops, cafes, tavernas, and bars along its cobblestone streets. Together with Monastiraki, this is a gateway to the temples of Ancient Athens.
30. Visit the Vibrant Monastiraki Square
Bustling with locals and tourists, Monastiraki Square is a key meeting point in Athens with its fountain in the center, 18th century Ottoman mosque, metro station, eateries, and street artists. It’s a gateway to shopping with the famous flea market entrance located here but also to the Ancient Greek temples with the Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library just seconds from here.
31. Check out Monastiraki Flea Market
This so-called ‘flea market’ is actually a warren of eclectic shops selling books, CDs and records, clothes, furniture, antiques, painted icons, jewelry, leather goods, and cheap and cheerful souvenirs. During the week, it’s not truly a market but if you visit on a Sunday morning before 11 am you’ll find locals selling their wares from tables set up along the street.
32. Check out the Street Art
Whether you check out the wealth of street art on your own or on a guided tour, there are 2 neighborhoods known for their street art – Psiri and Gazi. Psiri was once considered the most dangerous neighborhood in the city but today it’s a fashionably quirky area filled with art galleries, craft workshops, and bars, and clubs. Similarly, Gazi is a converted gasworks that houses contemporary art spaces, a concert venue, and bars and clubs. Both neighborhoods have streets filled with murals both big and small that raise awareness of everyday problems through art.
33. Taste Greek Wine in a Trendy Wine Bar
The wine bar scene has flourished in Athens in recent years, the city now boasting numerous trendy wine bars where you can watch the world go by whilst sipping on local or international wine and soaking up the city views. Vintage Wine Bar & Bistro boasts 850 Greek and international wines to choose from.
34. Have a Drink or a Coffee in a Rooftop Bars with Acropolis Views
In the Monastiraki neighborhood, you’ll find numerous rooftop bars such as City Zen or 360 Degrees where you can relax with a drink, snack, ice cream, etc whilst taking in the vibe and the panoramic views of the Acropolis.
35. Take a Cooking Class
Learn how to cook traditional Greek dishes so that you can recreate the taste of Greece at home. On this 4-hour cooking class not only do you learn all about the herbs you’ll be using in the recipes but at the end of the day, you get to feast on your creations too.
36. Explore the Central Market of Athens (Varvakeios Agora)
Athens Central Market aka Varvakeios Agora is a bustling indoor market with a glass roof where you can wander between the many stalls selling meat, fish, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, spices, and more. The market also contains cafes and restaurants – the perfect place to people watch.
37. Check out the Street Food
When you come to Athens, forget ordering burgers and hotdogs, you need to get involved in the Greek fast food scene with souvlaki and gyros. Souvlaki are skewers of grilled meat, usually pork or chicken, whilst gyros is pork or chicken sliced off of a rotisserie and served in a pitta bread stuffed with fries and salad – If you don’t try these Greek staples you’re missing out!
38. Taste Greek Delicacies on a Food Tour
Taste your way around the city on a 4-hour food tour. Start at a 100-year-old cafe for an authentic Greek breakfast, visit the Athens Central Market, feast on Greek fast food with souvlaki or gyros, and enjoy a meze lunch.
39. See Sunset from the Temple of Poseidon in Sounio
Travel to the most Southern point of Attica along scenic coastal roads to admire the views across Cape Sounio at sunset from the 5th century Temple of Poseidon. On clear days you’ll be able to see the islands of Kea, Kythnos, Serifos, and Aegina.
The easiest way to get to Sounio is by a guided tour. I personally recommend this half-day Sounio sunset tour from Athens
40. Visit 3 Islands on a 1 Day Cruise
If you have enough time, get out of the city and visit the islands of Aegina, Hydra, and Poros on a 1-day cruise. Your guide will show you the highlights of each idyllic island and there is lunch and entertainment onboard.
41. Swim in Lake Vouliagmeni
A hidden treasure of the Attica region, Lake Vouliagmeni is a rare natural phenomenon beloved for its healing properties. Swim in the brackish water of the thermal springs and dry off on the surrounding sunbeds as you enjoy your spa treatment courtesy of Mother Nature.
42. Relax at the Hammam Baths
Go for a cleansing dip just as the Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Ottomans did, the city having a range of Hammam and Turkish Baths to choose from. These traditional treatments will leave you feeling refreshed and relaxed after completing all the top things to see in Athens.
43. Watch a Movie at an Open-Air Cinema (Summer)
With the balmy night air tickling your face, sit back and relax a blockbuster movie at one of the city’s open-air cinemas. Kids’ movies will be dubbed in Greek but other films are shown in their original language with Greek subtitles.
44. Visit The Beach (Summer)
A beach holiday doesn’t automatically spring to mind when you think of Athens but head to the South and Northeastern side of Attica (between Glyfada and Cape Sounion) and you’ll find a coastline made up of quiet coves as well as larger organized beaches.
45. Explore the Athenian Riviera by Bike
Cycle along the coastal path on a half-day tour whether you’re on a regular mountain bike or an electric bike and admire the views of the Athens Riviera as you pass by small picturesque fishing ports, luxury marinas, and ride through the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Centre Park. It only takes 30minutes to leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind and to feel the breeze of the Saronic Gulf on your face.
46. Sail Along the Coast
Take a half-day boat tour on a yacht, whether in the morning or late afternoon/evening in time for sunset and admire the idyllic azure-colored water of the Athenian Riviera. Onboard you can enjoy fishing and sunbathing whilst soaking up the views with time for snorkeling and swimming too.
47. Outlet Shopping in Spata
Shop til you drop at the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet located 30minutes from the city center in Spata, easily accessible by metro. Browse 100 brands at shops including Tommy Hilfiger, Versace, Diesel, Levi’s, Polo Ralph Lauren, and more and save with up to 70% off.
48. Buy Traditional Greek Products and Souvenirs from Monastiraki and Plaka
When shopping for things to take home whether for yourself or friends and family, the neighborhoods of Monastiraki and Plaka are the places to head with shop after shop of cheap and cheerful souvenirs and traditional Greek products including honey, olive oil, religious icons, jewelry and so much more.
This 1.5km long pedestrianized street stretches from Kerameikos archaeological site to Syntagma Square. The main shopping street of Athens, it’s a vibrant place with street performers and a wealth of shops including Greek and international chain stores, quirky indie stores along with bakeries, street cafes, and fast food places.
50. Explore Piraeus
When planning what to see in Athens, don’t treat Piraeus as just an arrival or departure point and nothing more! It has ruins, museums (the Hellenic Maritime Museum is a must!), a vibrant waterfront lined with cafes and Michelin-star restaurants, and a maze of picturesque streets behind the train station. Zea Harbour aka Pasalimani, the old Athenian War Port, is truly picturesque with its quaint fishing boats but for added glamour, just head to the round harbor of Mikrolimano.
I hope you have found this list of what to do in Athens helpful – No doubt you now have more you want to do than time available but that’s ok – It just means you’ll be planning a return trip to this historical yet cosmopolitan city.
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