A symbol of Western Civilization at its most magnificent, Athens' illustrious history stretches back more than 3,000 years. The city flourished during classical antiquity and was the birthplace of Socrates, Pericles, and Sophocles.Today Athens is a bustling and modern capital city and home to some of the country's most important tourist attractions. The Acropolis is one of the world's most breathtaking ancient ruins, and the city's exceptional museums display fascinating artifacts uncovered at local sites. Other hidden charms awaiting discovery are the dazzling Byzantine churches found all over the city and the village-like neighborhoods north of the Acropolis.When you think you've run out of things to do in Athens, spend some time getting lost in the Plaka district's narrow pedestrian streets, lined with quaint bougainvillea-draped houses and inviting restaurant terraces. A completely different vacation experience from the idyllic Greek islands, Athens can feel hectic and busy during the summer season, but in the spring and fall, you can still enjoy good weather and see far fewer tourists.
Few sights in the world compare to Athens' Acropolis, with its Parthenon temple perched high on a rocky crag keeping watch over 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 the Parthenon, the largest temple of the classical antiquity period dating from 447 BC to 338 BC. For beautiful views of the Acropolis from below, head to the north side of the hill. Streetside restaurants line the pedestrian street of Apostolou Pavlou and look up to the Acropolis. Some of these restaurants also have rooftop dining, with incredible views across to the Acropolis, showing the grand entrance, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Parthenon, all of which are lit up in the evenings.On hot days, it's best to visit the Acropolis in the morning and then head to the air-conditioned Acropolis Museum in the afternoon. Alternatively, head up to the Acropolis for sunset.
Another of Athens' top attractions, the Acropolis Museum contains one of the most valuable collections of ancient Greek art in the world. This huge facility of 25,000 square meters features 14,000 square meters of exhibition space. The unique layout incorporates an ancient Athenian neighborhood.This is one of the best things to do in Athens when temperatures are soaring at midday. Be aware, the entrance queue can be long. It's a good idea to pick up a skip-the-line ticket to the Acropolis Museum. Official site: http://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/en
Athens' National Archaeological Museum is the largest archaeological museum in Greece and one of the greatest antiquities museums 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 through the classical period to late antiquity.
Address: 44 Patission Street, AthensOfficial site: https://www.namuseum.gr/en/
Between the northern slopes of the Acropolis and Ermoú Street, the picturesque Pláka neighborhood is a tourist hot spot. The main attraction of this historic area is its charming village ambience. Narrow pedestrian streets and the cheerful little squares of the Pláka quarter are lined with lovely bougainvillea-trimmed pastel-painted houses, restaurants, and shops. Tucked away in peaceful corners of the neighborhood are historic churches, such as the Metamórfosis Church in the southwest and the Church of Kapnikaréa in the north. A leisurely stroll through the picturesque setting is the perfect thing to do when you've had your fill of ruins and museums.The Plaka quarter, along with neighboring Anafiotika nestled into the slopes north of the Acropolis, have an abundance of authentic Greek restaurants with inviting terrace seating. The winding medieval streets of Anafiotika are also a delight to explore in the evenings. This area is famous for its Restaurant Staircase on Mnisikleous Street. Nearby, quieter streets are hidden away on the hillside, which conceal cute little cafés and restaurants. The area boasts two important archaeological sites on Pepopida Street: the first-century BC Roman Agora and the second-century Library of Hadrian.
The ancient Agora was the marketplace and the center of everyday life in ancient Athens. For an impressive view of the Agora from afar, head to the north wall of the Acropolis or the roads from the Areopagus. The best place to enter the Agora is at the north gate off Adrianoú Street (near the Church of Saint Philip).The Greek word "Agora" means to "gather and orate," indicating that this site was a location of 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. Athletic events and theater performances were also held here.One of the most striking features of the Ancient Agora is the Stoa of Attalos, originally built by King Attalos II and reconstructed in the 1950s. The stoa may have been the scene of Socrates' trial in 399 BC. Another key site is the awe-inspiring Temple of Hephaistos. You can reach it on a pleasant walk along the footpath that leads up the Agora Hill (Kolonos Agoraios). This fifth-century BC Doric temple 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 be modeled on the Parthenon.
Housed in a sleek modern building with a facade of marble and glass, the museum's permanent collection includes more than 3,000 objects. The collection represents ancient Greek art, ancient art of the Cyclades (the islands in the Aegean Sea encircling the Island of Delos near Mykonos), and Cypriot art (from the island of Cyprus) dating from the fourth century BC to the sixth century AD. Temporary exhibits are held at the elegant 19th-century Stathatos Mansion, accessible from the main building by a passageway from the atrium.Address: 4 Neophytou Douka Street, Athens Official site: https://cycladic.gr/en
Dedicated to Zeus, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, also called the Olympieion, was the largest temple in ancient Greece. Though the Parthenon is better preserved, the Temple of Olympian Zeus was an even more monumental structure in its day. The temple dates to the sixth century BC but was not completed until the second century AD by the Emperor Hadrian. In front of the Olympieion, not far from the entrance, stands Hadrian's Arch at the end of Dionysiou Areopagitou.It's easy to imagine the grand impression this temple made in its complete form. More than a hundred enormous marble columns once supported the grandiose sanctuary. Only 15 columns remain standing, and another surviving column lies on the ground, but the ruins' monumental presence gives a sense of the massive size of the original building. The gigantic structure was a befitting shrine to Zeus, the ancient Greeks' most all-powerful God, known as the King of Gods.
Ancient Athens's largest building, the Panathenaic Stadium, has a capacity for 60,000 spectators. Constructed around 335 BC during the era of Herodes Atticus, the venue hosted the Panathenaic Games where runners competed in races around the track. The 204-meter-long track was designed with four double herms, where runners would turn in the races. Around AD 140, the stadium was updated with new marble seating by Herodes Atticus.The structure that tourists see today is a replica of the original stadium, which was rebuilt for the Olympic Games of 1896. This modern-era Olympic Stadium was created in the identical fashion as the Panathenaic Stadium, with 47 tiers of seating and a rounded southeast end. The facility hosts concerts and other events during the summer. Attending a show can be a nice way to spend an evening in Athens. Location: Ardettos Hill, Athens
Narrow streets lined with shops selling everything from jewelry and trinkets to clothing and everyday goods is what you'll find in the Athens Flea Market in Monastiraki. This is one of the neighborhood's main draws, but this area has a very unique vibe and is a nice place to just relax at an outdoor patio or wander about.Monastiraki has no shortage of restaurants, and this is a good place to come for lunch if you want to grab a gyros or any type of traditional Greek dish. Unlike the more upscale 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 marks the street to the Flea Market. From the square, you can see the Acropolis up high in the distance, and a short walk from the square takes you to Hadrian's Library.
Gracing a little square that opens onto a pedestrian-only section of busy Ermoú Street, the Panaghia Kapnikaréa Church is a delightful place to visit and a site you are likely to walk past. This church is a splendid example of architecture from the 11th-century Byzantine era and a stark contrast to the modern architecture that surrounds it. It was saved from demolition in the 19th century by the intervention of King Ludwig I of Bavaria.When it was built, domed cruciform churches such as this one were typical. In the 12th century, the church was enhanced with a graceful entrance portico and a narthex featuring four pediments (built onto the western 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 Street, Athens
For many tourists, watching the Changing of the Guard at Syntagma Square is an exciting and memorable experience. The Soldiers of the Presidential Guard stand in front of the Hellenic Parliament on Syntagma Square 24 hours a day, year-round. The guards wear traditional costumes complete with pleated skirts, leg tassels, and pompom shoes.The Changing of the Guards takes place in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier monument at 11am daily. This monument honors anonymous soldiers who died fighting for the country. The monument features a marble relief that imitates a warrior grave stele of ancient times.
Located next to the Greek parliament, the National Garden is a large green space behind the Temple of Olympian Zeus and home to the Zappeion. If you have had enough sun during your day of sightseeing, this is a quiet, shady place to relax and cool off. Inviting trails lead through tall trees and offer a reprieve from the busy streets. It's also a free attraction in Athens. On the edge of the garden is the Zappeion Hall, which you can enter for a peek inside if it is not in use. It was built in the 1870s and is used for events. Inside the main entrance is an impressive round, open-air hall, lined by columns.
If you are looking for things to do at night in Athens, head over to the Mnisikleous Street stairs. Restaurants line this set of stairs on the top end of Mnisikleous Street, drawing a crowd in the evenings. The restaurants vary in quality, although some are quite good, but the atmosphere here is hard to beat. It's extremely casual and relaxed. In fact, when the tables are full, people take to sitting on cushions on the stone stairs, and small knee-high wooden benches are brought out and placed on the stairs, creating an impromptu table. People are often tightly packed in, making for an intimate and friendly experience.