The capital of Greece is the perfect place to get your dose of ancient history while taking in the vibrant Greek culture. Explore the city with our complete breakdown of the best things to do in Athens.
In order to bring you the most comprehensive information on what you should see in Athens, we partnered with local resident Marisa.
We combined our knowledge with hers to put together a guide with both the popular attractions and some off the beaten path things as well.
We love Athens, but there is so much to see that it can sometimes be overwhelming, especially for a first time visitor.
If you follow these recommendations you will see the best of Athens in a relatively short amount of time.
The Best Things to do in Athens
Table of Contents
Athens is home to one of the most famous sites in the world – the Acropolis. Standing high above Athens for more than 2500 years and considered one of the greatest architectural wonders in the world, you cannot come to Greece and not visit the historical centre of Athens.
The Acropolis is an ancient site that contains several ancient buildings including the Parthenon, The Temple of Athena, and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre.
To visit the Acropolis we suggest visiting early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.
To escape the crowds and heat, go to the Acropolis Museum to learn about the history of ancient Athens. There’s a good video that shows the history of the Parthenon.
Purchase skip the line tickets to avoid queues. Anything that helps you get into the site faster will help you have optimal time exploring.
- Opening Hours: 8 am to 8 pm last admission 7:30
- The entrance fee to the Acropolis is €20. If you buy ahead of time with GetYourGuide it’s approximately €24 and includes skip the long line tickets and access to the Acropolis hill
2. Lycabettus Hill
A prominent 277-meter hill that is visible from all over Athens is one of the best places to watch the sunset.
It is one of my favorite sites because you can see the entire city, including the Acropolis, all the way to the sea.
It also offers a cafe (open for breakfast and lunch) and an upscale restaurant, Orizontes (open for dinner).
There is a funicular that can take you to the top, or you can take the stairs if you’re looking for some extra exercise.
- Location: corner of Ploutarhiou and Aristippou Streets
- Cost: €7 return (€5 one-way)
- Hours: 9 am – 2:30 am (every 30 minutes)
3. Temple of Poseidon
Be Inspired at the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio.
If you’ve had enough of the city and want to get away to relax, Cape Sounio is a fantastic option.
Standing 60 meters above sea level, it is still the perfect location for a temple honoring Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea.
Take a tour of the marble temple, which dates from the 5th century B.C. and then have lunch or dinner at a taverna on the beach just below the temple.
Sounio is another fantastic spot in Athens to view the sunset.
Located on the sea about 70 kilometers from the city center, you’ll need a car hire to reach it but it is worth it as it is one of the coolest things to do in Athens.
You can book sunset tours from Athens to Sounio’s meeting at the Halandri Metro station where you’ll take a bus to the Poseidon Temple.
- For more information check out Odysseus Culture
- Hours: winter: 9:30 am – sunset, summer: 9 am – sunset
- Cost: €8/€4 reduced
4. Cool Off in the National Gardens
Did I mention that Athens is very hot in the summer?
You’ll appreciate the shade of the National Gardens! Commissioned by Queen Amalia in 1838 as the royal garden of the adjacent palace (which is now the Greek Parliament building).
It’s one of the few shady spots in the center and is great for a walk and spotting ancient ruins, like columns and Corinthian capitals.
The entrance of the park is on Leoforos Amalias (named after the queen) and is marked by the 12 palm trees that she planted.
5. The Temple of Hephaestus
This is one of the best-preserved ruins in Athens. Located within the walls of the Agora of Athens, some say this is even more impressive than the Parthenon.
The intricate details and towering fluted columns make this a great thing to see in Athens if you love greek architecture.
Like most of the temples in Athens, it is best to visit in the morning. The light is better, it is cooler and you will avoid the masses of tourists that show up later in the day.
6. Discover Cultural History at the Benaki Museum
The elegant Benaki Museum highlights the history of Greece throughout the ages.
The most unique items are gilded ceilings and wood paneling recovered from 18th-century Greek mansions and are displayed as reconstructed rooms in the museum.
The museum also has a fabulous gift shop. I visit the museum just to purchase high-quality reproductions and other gifts for family and friends.
- Hours: Closed Mon – Tue. Wed/Fri: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm. Thur/Sat: 10:00 am – 12:00 am. Sunday 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
- Cost: permanent exhibition €9 (free Thursdays), special exhibition €7
7. National Archaeological Museum
Established in 1829, it is the largest museum in Greece. Housing 11,000 exhibits of ancient Greek art from prehistory to the late antiquity.
It is also considered one of the world’s best museums for ancient Greek art.
If you are really into art history then this is a place you should visit. If you do, make sure not to miss Agamemnon’s gold death. It is worth the visit just to see this.
8. Visit Ancient Agora
This is the most popular Agora (or meeting place) in Athens. Probably because Socrates used to lecture here.
Built back in the 6th century, this area is huge with over 30 buildings and ancient monuments and requires a lot of walking. It is a good way to spend a couple of hours after visiting the more main sites.
It is a great place to get lost and admire the beauty of the Agora itself. We recommend hiring a guide to learn a little more about the area as there is not a lot of information at the site itself.
9. Concert at the Odeon
“Odeon” in ancient Greece was a building for singing and musical shows.
In Athens, the Odeon is the theatre that sits at the base of the Acropolis and to this day it hosts world-renowned artists, like the Foo Fighters in 2017 and Sting in 2018.
It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to watch a concert in the oldest of venues.
It’s intimate and every seat offers great views of the stage. As part of the Epidaurus Festival every summer, the Odeon hosts dozens of concerts.
Don’t be afraid to attend theatre events! Unless noted specifically, theater shows will have English subtitles.
- See: Greek Festival For Details
- Cost: varies by show
10. Temple of Olympian Zeus
Compared to a lot of the other ruins in Athens, the Temple of Olympian Zeus may seem not to have a lot left of it.
That being said it is no less impressive. I found myself imagining just how grand and massive this temple would have been in its glory.
Started in the 6th century BC but not completed until 2nd Century AD this is probably one of the temples that took the longest to build.
One look at those columns and you will see why.
11. Stroll the Streets of Plaka
Plaka is the neighborhood located just below the Acropolis.
This is the oldest neighborhood of modern Athens and it feels like you have stepped back in time with the Neoclassical buildings, and balconies overflowing with all kinds of flowers.
We walked the tight, twisting alleys that are accented by 19th-century facades that burst with colors in the summer.
Plaka is all about family-run shops and restaurants and is a great place to check out some nightlife in Athens.
12. Experience the Outdoor Open Air Cinema
My favorite thing to do in Athens in the summer is going to the outdoor cinemas.
This is a summer tradition since the 1960s when there were over 600 outdoor cinemas. The summer heat in Athens keeps the temperature comfortable well past midnight.
For me, the best place to go is the cinema in Thissio because it has a great view of the Acropolis. Another great spot is the cinema in the Plaka, which also has a view of the Acropolis and is conveniently located.
Cine Paris is another popular outdoor cinema. It is one of about 90 outdoor cinemas in Athens
- Cost: €6 (Mon-Wed), otherwise €8
- Hours: generally open evenings late April – late October
- Check their website out for showtimes.
13. Hunt for Street Art
Athens is a great city to view street art and it rivals street art in Berlin and Paris.
On my first visit to Athens, I spent several days wandering the neighborhoods to find hidden gems.
I became curious after I spotted different versions of a black and white princess, always with her eyes closed and a sad expression on her red lips, painted throughout the center.
I learned that the artist, Sonke, painted them for an ex-girlfriend in places where she would see them.
Street art is more than streaks of paint on a wall. It tells a story about its surroundings and the people in it.
- Athens Neighborhoods for Street Art: Check out the neighborhoods of Anafiotika, on the hill just below the northeast side of the Acropolis, Psirri, and Metaxourgheio.
14. Take in the Neoclassical Architecture
Signs of ancient Greek history are evident throughout Athens, but there are also signs of its modern history as well.
This history begins when the capital of Greece was moved from the Peloponnese peninsula to Athens after Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Turks.
At that time, Athens was a village of 7,000 residents with very few real houses. Wanting to recreate a grand capital city, the new king of Greece commissioned a reconstruction. The remaining neoclassical structures are a result of this effort.
To see some examples of Neoclassical check out:
- Zappeion Hall, the first building in the world to serve the Olympic Games, the Athenian Triptych
- Three buildings near Panepestimio
- National Library of Greece
- The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
- The Academy of Athens
- The buildings that house both the Museum of Cycladic Art and the Benaki Museum
- The Hellenic Parliament Building that dominates Syntagma Square.
The guides at Livin’ Lovin’ give a fantastic tour that covers neoclassical buildings (or many other interesting fascinating details about Athens)
11. Escape With an Island Day Trip
No trip to Greece is complete without experiencing the island life, and Hydra is a great place for that.
Be transported back in time to an old-world village that has been preserved like it was when it was built in the 1800s. It doesn’t even allow cars.
This is the scene that attracted Leonard Cohen to live here in the 1960s in a house that his family still owns.
The restaurants along the harbor are a great place for people-watching. We especially enjoyed hiking on the well-marked trails.
- Check out Ferry times at OpenSeas
- Ferry Cost: €28 one-way
- Ferry Duration: 1hour, 35 minutes
16. Explore Athens Central Market
Every day except Sunday, you can experience the buzz of the largest market in Athens.
It extends to both sides of Athinas Street, with vegetables and olives sold on one side, and meat and fish on the other.
This is not a place for those with a queasy stomach – animal heads and carcasses hang from hooks in front of passersby and butchers carve the meat in open stalls.
Even if you do have a sensitive stomach, head to the vegetable side of the market and try the olives on display. My favorite is the wrinkly kind, which is sun-dried and dry salt-cured.
I recommend making a stop by Miran for a glimpse into old-Athens and sample their excellent cured meats.
- Hours: daily, except Sunday 7 am – 6 pm
- Location: Athinas 42
17. Visit the Metro Station Mini-Museums
During preparation for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, the metro system was expanded, including a brand new line connecting the new airport to the center (the blue line).
Parts of this line had to be dug essentially by hand to preserve artifacts that were buried beneath the current city.
These metro stops now serve as mini-museums displaying some of the ancient statuary, gravestones, oil lamps, and vases from the 5th century BC that were found during the dig.
The most interesting stations to check out are Syntagma, also home to the tomb of the unknown soldier, and Monastiraki stations.
- Hours: 5:30 am – 12:30 am
- Location: Syntagma and Monastiraki metro stations
- Cost: free
18. Experience the Chatty Coffee Culture
For me, the best place to experience the coffee culture is the square of Agia Irini.
It’s a short walk from Monastiraki on a pedestrian street (Aeolou Street).
You’ll know you’ve found it when you see the cathedral, which was the main cathedral of Athens until the new one was built. Take a peek inside the cathedral for a fantastic example of the Byzantine style.
Tailor made and Rooster are cafes that are full day and night. Kostas, a tiny shop that serves the best souvlaki in Athens (in my humble opinion) is also located in the square.
19. Mars Hill
Greece has strong ties to early Christianity.
The Apostle Paul wrote to early Christians in the Greek cities of Corinth and Thessaloniki and made a famous sermon about the identity of “the Unknown God” on the Areopagus (also known as Mars Hill) next to the Acropolis.
It is referenced in Acts 17 of the New Testament. The location is marked by a plaque (in Greek).
Climb up the stairs and admire the fabulous view where Paul had stood preaching to the people of Athens.
20. Epidaurus Festival
Every summer, Athens presents dozens of theater, music and dance events throughout June, July, and August.
The artists come from all over the world, but promoting Greek artists is the primary focus of the festival.
The venues are several sites in Athens (including the Odeon) and two sites in the ancient Epidaurus on the Peloponnese peninsula, including the magnificent ancient theater.
The theater events typically include English subtitles but check the event information to confirm.
- Where: various venues around Athens & Epidaurus
- When: June 4 – August 15 (2020)
22. Transcend Ancient History to Modern Art
State of Concept is a non-profit organization that serves as a bridge between Greek contemporary art and the international art scene.
They feature up-and-coming artists via solo or group shows.
Their aim, “has been asking questions that relate to the notion of the State and its contemporary condition in the West and beyond.”
They also offer free consultations to advise local artists.
It’s known for its high-quality curation that feels like the Tate Modern but in a small and intimate setting. They have showcased everything from virtual reality to films and traditional mediums.
- Hours: Wednesday – Friday 4:30-8:30pm, Saturday 12pm – 5pm
23. Taste the Meze
Traditional Greek food is very simple and relies on high-quality fresh ingredients.
Greeks eat family style, with a large number of small dishes, called meze, that is shared by everyone at the table. “Meze” means taste or small bite.
Like the food itself, eating Meze is a casual affair.
Greeks are not shy about grabbing food from the shared plates with a fork, or with their fingers.
It starts with salads like the Greek salad (tomatoes, feta, cucumber, onion, peppers, olives) and dips (fava, tzatziki) and then leads to meat and fish dishes, and side dishes like wild greens and fried potatoes.
Don’t neglect to add a squeeze of lemon to almost everything nor the traditional drinks – raki, ouzo, or house wine.
Barbounaki in Kolonaki or Seychelles in Metaxourgheio are modern takes on the traditional meze, but any taverna will offer these small dishes.
24. Stavros Niarchos Center
This cultural center was fully funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (€617-million) and was donated to the Greek state.
The building is designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and the 43-acre parks were designed via a partnership between New York and Greece-based landscape designers.
The building is modern with angular glass walls and the park’s indigenous Mediterranean plants bring much needed green space to the neighborhood.
The site houses the Greek National Library and the Greek National Opera House.
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