There is a lot more than 20 things to do in Athens, because this is a city that has a lot to offer to its visitor. However, since time is limited for most visitors, a selection of the top things to do is rather necessary.
Athens is a remarkable city; while wondering in a commercial area with lots of colorful stores and restaurants, you enter all of a sudden the ancient part of the city. The effect of this dramatic contrast is quite emotive. Traditional Greek food, a walk in the archaeological sites, visiting museums, coffee in the most beautiful gardens of the capital, shopping in the flea markets are just a few of the things you can do in this bustling city.
The Acropolis and Parthenon
The trademark of the city is Acropolis and Parthenon. It is the number one attraction in Athens and definitely in the top of your things to do in Athens.
Entering the archaeological site of Acropolis, we see the complex of the Propylaea and on the right wing the small temple of Athena Nike.
The gaze of all, however, is drawn by the Parthenon, a temple made almost entirely of Pentelic marble, dedicated to Athena Virgo, inside of which was its golden-ivory statue.
Right across from the Parthenon, on the north side of the Acropolis stands the Erechtheion, the temple of the famous Caryatians, where six marble daughters replace the columns.
Experience the golden age of Pericles between the hills of the Acropolis and get to know the place that gave birth to Culture and Democracy.
Syntagma – The Parliament – Uknown Soldier
Syntagma Square is the center of political life in Athens. It is surrounded by luxury hotels, while the nearby Unknown Soldier’s monument and the Greek Parliament Building are just across the street.
If you find yourself on Sunday in Athens, it is worth watching the change of the guards at the Unknown Soldier’s Monument, which looks like a parade.
Syntagma square is also where the shopping center starts, with the central axis of Ermou street, which ends at the Kerameikos cemetery. The largest part of it is pedestrianized and, apart from shops, it gathers a lot of itinerant vendors and artists.
Monastiraki Flea Market
Monastiraki is another tourist area of Athens, close to Plaka and the Acropolis. Monastiraki Square, just in front of the electric train station, is the starting point for the big bazaar on Hephaestus Street, which was formerly known for its antiquities, but today it also has shops with modern street wear.
Next to the square is the Tzistarakis mosque, which houses today a collection of pottery, and the church of Panagia Pantanassa, also known as the “Church of the Great Monastery”, from which the square was named.
The famous flea market of Athens situated in the heart of the city and just meters away from Plaka, will give you an idea of how life in Greece has evolved throughout the years.
Ancient Agora (Market)
Entering the archaeological site of the Ancient Agora from the entrance of Adrianou Street, our attention draws on a building that is almost entirely preserved: Thissio or the temple of Hephaestus, which dominates the hill of Agoraios Kolonos. It is probably the best preserved ancient temple in Greece!A little lower, archaeologists have mapped out the so-called western route that runs past the most important monuments of the ancient political life of the Agora: the ruins of the Royal Lodge, the remnants of the Stoa of Eleutherios Zeus, the Registry, the Tholos and the Bouleuterion.
One of the most important monuments in the area is the restored Stoa of Attalos, which houses the Museum of the Ancient Agora.
* Agora means market in Greek
Next to the Ancient Agora, a new market, exclusively for commercial purposes, was created after a joint donation of both August and July Caesar, what we call today Roman Agora.
The most famous monument in the Roman Agora is the Tower of the Winds, the Clock of Andronikos Kyrstystos, or the “Aerides”, as it is also called in Greek. It is an octagonal tower made of Pentelic marble, which is kept in excellent condition. At the top there was a vane, which pointed to one of the eight winds depicted at the top of each side, hence its name.
Other important buildings of the area are the other side of the marble courtyard, the western propylon, or the Gate of the Athenian Master, and the Fetichie Mosque, or the Mosque of the Porter, built in 1456 AD.
Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch
Fifteen enormous Corinthian columns rise imposingly in the large park that sets the entrance to the center of Athens. These are the ruins of the temple of Olympian Zeus, also known as the B.
The history of its construction began in 515 BC, but it would remain unfinished for about 7 centuries, until it was completed by Hadrian between 125-130 AD.
Next to the Temple of Zeus stands one of the most recognizable monuments of the city, on Amalias Avenue, the honorary arch built in 131 BC by the Athenians in honor of the emperor-benefactor Hadrian.
The Arch of Hadrian has two inscriptions, the first on the Acropolis side says: “Here is Athens, the city of Theseus” and second towards the Olympion: “This is the city of Hadrian and not Theseus.”
The Acropolis Museum opened its gates in June 2009 in a modern building designed by the internationally renowned architect Bernard Tsoumi, overlooking the Acropolis, to house the 4,000 great findings of the Acropolis. The visit is a unique experience and you should definitely add it to your things-to-do-in-Athens list.
On the first floor of the Acropolis Museum there is a collection of archaic sculptures, as well as exhibits from the Erechtheion and Temple of Athena Nike.
On the second floor there is a shop (as on the ground floor) and the museum restaurant overlooking the Acropolis, while the last floor of the building is dedicated to the Parthenon sculptures, original and copies of those located abroad. The sloping construction of the floor has been made to create a sense of climb, similar to that felt by the ancient pilgrims when they ascended to the Acropolis.
The museum is, in principle, open from 8am to 8pm, but there are expanded hours as well, to satisfy those who want to enjoy the exhibits and a view of the Acropolis overnight.
National Archaeological Museum
The largest archaeological museum in the country, as well as one of the most important of its kind in the world, is located on Patision Street. The rich collections of the National Archaeological Museum, which list more than 11,000 exhibits, offer the visitor a panorama of ancient Greek culture from the prehistory to the late antiquity.
Among the exhibits are the bronze statue of Poseidon, the tombstone of Egesos, the teenager of Antikythera and the objects from the excavations of Mycenae. It also has an important Egyptian collection, as well as a collection of Cypriot antiquities.
The museum hosts five large permanent collections, including a rich photographic archive, a library with many rare publications, modern objects maintenance workshops, casting workshops and a photographic workshop. There are no periodic exhibitions, while you will find one of the largest collections of the Archaeological Resources Fund and a cafe in the atmospheric atrium with the statues.
The old quarter of Athens with its neoclassic houses and its narrow cobbled streets, is one of the most touristic because of its proximity to the Acropolis.
Adrianou Street, the main street in Plaka, as well as the surrounding pedestrian streets are full of tourist shops, cafes, traditional tavernas and restaurants. The area also has many old churches, some of which are Byzantine, such as the Transfiguration of the Savior dating back to the 11th century.
One of the most picturesque neighborhoods of Plaka, at the northeastern foothills of the Acropolis is Anafiotika. It was named by migratory builders from Anafi, who defied the 1841 ban on building in the archaeological zone of the Acropolis and built the first houses there. Thus, the architectural style is Cycladic and reminiscent of an island, with its white, whitewashed houses in narrow streets. It is a definite must see if you stroll around Plaka.
The hill of Lycabettus, one of the most characteristic parts of the city, offers a unique view across Athens. According to mythology, the hill of Lycabettus was created when a rock carried by the goddess Athena fell from her hands when she heard bad news brought to her by a crow.
You can climb either by using the cable car, by car or by foot, passing through the forest covering the hill slopes. At the top there are two churches (Agios Isidoros and Agios Georgios) as well as the open theater of Lycabettus.
The best time to visit the hill is in the afternoon when the sunset will surely amaze you.
Sounion – Temple of Poseidon
The Temple of Poseidon, the spectacular sunset at the backdrop, the best beach of the entire Attica coastline, a secret gorge – joy of the hiker, and one of the best and most economical fish-taverns-side-by-waves in Attica; this is pretty much the scenario of a perfect one-day excursion to Sounio.
The imposing Doric temple of Poseidon is near the sea, while the archaeological site that hosts it (which operates every day from 9.00 am to the sunset) also includes the remnants of its small temple Athena Souniados, the fortress with the walls and the small settlement inside it, and the harbor under the temple of Poseidon.
Herod Atticus Odeon
A must see, just beneath the Acropolis. At the expense of Herodes Atticus, the Odeon was quickly built in the 2nd century AD to honor his wife Aspasia Anna Rigill, who died in 160 AD. The extensive rebuilding of the concave during the 50s facilitated the events, giving theater again to the Athenians.
Restored in the spirit of Hellenism, the rebuilt Herodion became the seat of the Athens Festival in 1955 and since then the scene of Herodion has hosted top names of the international and domestic music scene, dance and theater.
The Herodes Atticus Odeon was recently listed second best among the locations where theatrical, dance and musical performances can be attended world-wide.
The theater of Dionysus is located on the southern slope of the Acropolis in Athens, and is an integral part of the sanctuary of Dionysus, directly connected with the myths and worship of the god. The theater was probably founded in the 6th century BC in the period of the Peisistrates dynasty, which at that time is considered a gigantic technical work.
Dionysos Theater or Dionysus Eleutheros Theater is the most famous outdoor theater in ancient Athens and is considered the first theater in the world. It was the center of theatrical performances that were held in ancient Athens. In Megala Dionysia, which was celebrated in late March and early April, all citizens attended theatrical performances organized by the state funded by affluent citizens (sponsors).
The monument is not used for theatrical performances or other cultural events today and its only authorized use is the visit of the archaeological site.
The Athens Riviera
There are few European capitals bordering the sea. Even fewer are the European capitals bordered by … swimming sea. That’s why the Athenian Riviera is one of the must see points for your Athenian walks. You will get extra points if you decide to stroll down the coast during the greyish autumn afternoons, when the colors of the sea and sky blend.
The extensive Athenian coastline in the Saronic Gulf, which starts from Faliro and reaches the Cape of Sounion, impresses with its idyllic natural beauty. Organized beaches and coves with rocks, turquoise waters, lush landscapes and archaeological monuments.
The infrastructure is excellent with five hotels, great coffee bars, numerous activities and water sports, shopping in modern shopping centers and gourmet restaurants by the sea.
In the heart of Athens, the National Garden is a small oasis of green for the sunny Sunday walks, a quiet place with nature to dominate, not the exhausting of the cars that star in the center of Athens.
This public park hosts ancient ruins, columns, mosaics, busts, and a crowd of people every day, since it is open from sunrise to sunset. It is located next to the Hellenic Parliament and extends to the south where the Zappeion Palace is located.
This small oasis, this small green paradise is right in the center of Athens and just a few minutes from the Syntagma Metro. Whatever day you will find its open gates, allowing you to explore a different world in the city’s dungeon. But especially on Sundays you will meet a crowd, from athletes to families with young children!
Rare – if not the only one – is a case of Athenian neighborhood that was sown, abandoned and eventually upgraded; the paved alleys of Psyri or Psirri are ideal for lunchtime … offering you an experience full of the colors and scents of old Athens.
Psiri is very close to Monastiraki. With the charm of old Athens in its imagination and a key position on the Athenian map, Psiri’s neighborhood, despite all its economic ups and downs, has remained in artistic consciousness as a point of encounter, exchange and creation.
A number of tavernas or small food shops for a quick meze, pizza to go, or simple Mediterranean flavours await for you in every corner.
Pedestrian area of Dionysiou Areopagitou and Thisseio
Thissio or Thisseio leads to the pedestrian walkway of Dionysiou Areopagitou and the pedestrian walkway of Dionysiou Areopagitou leads to Thisseio. Wherever you choose to start your ride, the route is just as magical.
Starting from the pedestrian zone, you will meet neoclassical buildings that still preserve their imposing and aristocratic style, while continuing the north side offers a unique view of the Acropolis archaeological site.
Arriving at Thisseio you will be enticed by the various cafes of the area that each one offers and a different approach to the view. Especially if it’s a sunny Sunday day, do not hesitate to pick one of them and enjoy whatever you want with a view of one of the most beautiful monuments in the Greek history.
On this route you will find calm cafes up to the Acropolis Museum and the stairs that ascend to Herodion Odeon. At the same time, street musicians who sing or play guitar every afternoon will give you a companion and give you a ton of relaxation in the bustling Athens.
Stavros Niarchos Foundation
The masterpiece park designed by Renzo Piano (architect, among others, and the Pompidou Center in Paris), stretches over 210,000 square meters – and that is not the most striking feature.
The Mediterranean Garden, with magnificent olive trees in the evening, dirt trails and flower beds, starts virtually from the roofs of the buildings and gradually descends so smoothly that you do not see where you are.
You will see a lot of people, riding or running on both sides of the river, going on a picnic under the trees of the esplanade, music playing around them.
The two buildings already house the National Library and the Opera House.
The Park is open every day from 6.00 am to midnight.
The Estate Gardens of Tatoi
The former Royal Estate of Tatoi is open to the public from the Sun’s East to the West. Lush greenery, rare trees that were planted here in the late 19th century to create a forest almost out of nothing, the tranquility is impressive, and just a few kilometres away from the city center.
The architecture of most unexpected buildings – from the stables to the winery, and from the guard building to the hostel will most definitely catch your attention. “Tatoi” is not only the palace, but forty buildings as a whole, of which twenty-nine have been rightfully preserved.
In the gardens of Tatoi you will meet mothers with trolleys, bicycles, couples strolling, friends stretching out tablecloths for picnics under the trees, children running with their dogs and bikes, and an overall sense of relaxation.
Taste Souvlaki, Gyros and Kebab in Athens
It is clear that souvlaki is the great love of people of Athens! If you are up for meat in a skewer (souvlaki), you need to visit Elvis in Pagrati, which offers a unique skewer of pork and chicken.
Perhaps the most delicious gyros in Athens is found in a beautiful corner of Kypseli area in Agios Georgios Square and has hosted at its tables all the great names of the artistic and political world. Meat of very good quality – excellently marinated -with a secret recipe from the uncle of the owner, Andreas.
Although it is super tourist now, the taste of Thanassis’ kebab in downtown Athens is unsurpassed: handmade, in individual spits – a truly timeless value!