Athens local writer Marisa Feyen shares the best things to do in Athens.
Let me help you plan your Athens Vacation!
I love Athens. It oozes of ancient history, yet has a vibrant modern vibe. It’s also a place with tons of tourists and it can be difficult to really get a feeling for the city.
But I'm here to help. When you read this guide, you'll have a good idea of the top attractions, best tours and suggested itineraries.
The Best Things to do in Athens
What to do in Athens
Athens is home to one of the most famous sites in the world - the Acropolis. But there is so much more - the city is also known for its great food, natural beauty, and its cultural and religious history.
My favorite thing about Athens is the energy of the city, with the buzz of the laid-back coffee culture and spirited nightlife.
This guide will show you things to do in Athens besides visiting the Acropolis (which you also really must do).
So I will admit that one of the number one things to do in Athens is to visit the Acropolis. There's so much information out there though, that's really all I need to say.
Suggested Athens Tours
Livin' Lovin' - Looking for guides for archeological sites or museums? Want to know where the locals eat and shop? Or just need help finding tickets for a cultural event? Katerina from Livin' Lovin' knows everything about Athens and will create an affordable custom tour for your interests.
Alternative Athens - The Mythology Highlights Tour - Get a crash course in Greek mythology while you visit archeological sites like the Acropolis.
Make sure to plan ahead and don’t miss out on all the incredible experiences that Athens has to offer – find the best things to do and book them easily via GetYourGuide
Athens Walks - Acropolis and Acropolis Museum Tour - Get a guided experience of Athens' most important monuments - See the Parthenon, ancient Theater of Dionysus, Temple of Asclepius, and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.
A Taste of Athens Food Tour - Spend the day sampling some of Athens' finest food with a delectable 3-hour food tour. Visit the markets, learn about the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, and try many of the best foods Greece has to offer, all with a knowledgeable guide leading you.
Athens Private Tour - If you have limited time a full day private tour offers the fastest way to see Athens top sites. This 7-hour takes you to the Acropolis, Parthenon, Erectheion, Temple of Athena Nike, Propylaea, Acropolis Museum, and ancient Agora.
How to Visit the Acropolis
The Acropolis is an ancient Greek complex located above the city of Athens. It 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.
The Acropolis is a popular stop on the cruise ship circuit and they start arriving late morning. Visiting it before or after they arrive is the easiest way to make the most of your trip.
To escape the crowds and heat, go to the Acropolis Museum to learn about the history. 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
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.
It is the perfect location for a temple honoring Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea.
Take a tour of the 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 to view the sunset.
Located on the sea about 70 kilometers from the city center, you’ll need a car hire to reach it.
For more information check out Odysseus Culture
Hours: winter: 9:30 am - sunset, summer: 9 am - sunset
Cost: €8/€4 reduced
You can book sunset tours from Athens to Sounio meeting at the Halandri Metro station where you'll take a bus to the Poseidon Temple.
4. 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.
If you want assistance navigating the street art scene in Athens, try a Street Art Tour - Let a real street artist guide you through the active street art scene of Athens.
Decipher the hidden messages behind spectacular examples of urban art on a visit to 3 of the city's neighborhoods, where the immense richness of street art is concentrated.
5. 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)
6. Historic Grand Bretagne Hotel
The Hotel Grande Bretagne isn’t just the most luxurious hotel in the center, it is also one of the best places for a cocktail-with-a-view
The building played a key roll in history as, during WWII, it served as the headquarters of the Greek Armed Forces.
It was also headquarters for the Nazis while they occupied Greece from 1941 until 1944.
Now it is the official hotel for state dignitaries visiting Athens, as it has been since the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.
Even if you don’t stay there, grab a drink or have dinner in its rooftop restaurant while taking in astonishing views of the Acropolis.
Also of note is Alexander’s Bar which was voted Best Hotel Bar in the world by Forbes magazine.
For a romantic splurge in Athens, book a night or two for pure decadence. You can check out rates on Booking.com
7. 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
8. Lake Vouliagmeni
If you need a natural rejuvenation, Lake Vouliagmeni is the place for you.
A 30-min drive from the center of Athens, this lake surrounded by limestone caves.
It is supplied by an underground tunnel from the sea, which keeps the water quite warm all year. The warm mineral water of the natural springs has healed the ailments of the Greeks for centuries.
Take a relaxing swim in the lake and let the Garra rufa fish, the same fish at fish spas around the world, clean your skin.
The lake has many facilities including a restaurant, lockers and changing rooms, showers, access for people with disabilities, as well as sunbeds and umbrellas.
Hours: 8 am - 7:30 pm
Cost: €9 weekdays, €10 weekends
9. 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 are the wrinkly kind, which are sun-dried and dry salt cured.
Around the market, there are many shops that sell traditional Greek products. 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
10. 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 and Monastiraki stations.
Hours: 5:30 am - 12:30 am
Location: Syntagma and Monastiraki metro stations
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 the hiking on the well-marked trails.
Check out Ferry times at OpenSeas
Ferry Cost: €28 one-way
Ferry Duration: 1hour, 35 minutes
12. 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.
Cost: varies by show
13. Relive the Athens Marathon
Athens is home to the legend of the marathon.
According to legend, Phiedippides ran to Athens to bring news of the phenomenal underdog victory of the Greeks at the battle of Marathonos.
The Persians had landed there with an overwhelming army that should have obliterated the Greeks. The battle at Marathonos prompted another battle between the Greeks and the Persians that was depicted in the famous 2006 film 300.
The course route is believed to be the same route that Phiedippides ran 2,500 years ago. Every year the race occurs in early November.
When: November 10th, 2019
14. 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.
Hours: sunrise to sunset
Location: behind the Hellenic Parliament
15. 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.
Because the square and cathedral were such a prominent location, there were many impressive surrounding buildings that had served as hotels.
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.
16. Mars Hill
Greece has strong ties to early Christianity.
Draw From the Spirituality of Mars Hill
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.
17. 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
Other Athens Museums
National Archaeological Museum - Established in 1829, it is the largest museum in Greece. Housing 11,000 exhibits of ancient Greek culture from prehistory to the late antiquity.
Acropolis Museum - Housing antiquities found on the Acropolis from the Mycenaean times up to the Roman and Early Christian era.
18. 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 5 - August 10 (2019)
19. 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
20. 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 are 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, tzaziki) 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.
21. 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 was 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.
Check out the views from several lookout points from the park.
Since 2016, Stavros Niarchos Center (SNC) has hosted dozens of events every month from free music concerts and exhibitions to tai chi and free classes for kids, adults and seniors.
Most of the events are geared toward local residents, if you find a music event or exhibition that appeals to you, it would be worth your time to check it out.
The site houses the Greek National Library and the Greek National Opera House.
Location: Evripidou & Doiranis St, Kallithea
Hours: Park: 6 am - 12 am, Visitor’s Center: 9 am - 10 pm
Where to Stay in Athens
Wondering where to stay in Athens, Marissa wrote an excellent guide to the Best Athens Neighborhoods and Accommodation.
Click on the links below to go directly to the neighborhood of your choice or the link above for the entire post.
When is the best time to Visit Athens?
With its Mediterranean climate, there really isn’t a bad time to visit Athens. Like most of Europe, Athens is extremely busy in the summer, so you should expect lines at the major sights.
It’s also extremely hot, and Athens doesn’t have much shade to protect you from the heat.
But the shoulder season is fantastic because the weather is still warm and there are fewer crowds.
Most Greeks head to the Greek islands during their vacation in August. While all the major sites will remain open, some restaurants may be closed.
The Greek national holidays where major sites will be closed are January 1st, March 25th (Greek Independence Day) Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday (varies and is different than Roman Catholic Easter), May 1st, December 25/26th.
Getting Around Athens
Athens metro is affordable and very easy to use.
Purchase tickets at all Metro, Tram, and Suburban Railway stations. Many news kiosks will also sell tickets. The same ticket is used for all forms of public transportation.
A five-day pass for all modes of public transportation only €9.
- This excludes transfers on bus or metro to the airport: A one-way metro ticket to/from the airport is €10. A one-way Express Bus ticket to/from the airport is €6.
- A 3-day tourist pass for all modes of public transportation AND roundtrip airport transport is only €22
The Athens Hop-on-hop-off bus can be booked in advance and has easy cancellation with 24-hours notice.
You can purchase 24hr or 72hr tickets and it gives you transportation along three different routes to explore Athens most famous tourist attractions.
Plan Your Athens Trip
Athens is on the Euro - $1USD = .89 Euro - For up to date conversions get the XE Currency Converter App
Dress in layers and pack mix and match clothing. Athens can be extremely hot with intense sunshine. Bring sunscreen and a hat to protect your skin.
How to pack for a European vacation - We give our best tips for packing for Europe from what to bring and how to pack it. With video too!
Eagle Creek Plug Adapter - This all in one adapter is all your need for Athens and other European and world travels.
Find Cheap Flights to Athens with Skyscanner
Marisa Feyen runs the travel blog One Single Step inspiring people to step outside their comfort zone with one single step at a time. "It doesn't matter how slowyou go as long as you do not stop." ~ Confucius.
Fast Facts about Marisa
Will run for gelato.
Speaks basic Greek like a robot.
Also dances like a robot (the malfunctioning kind).
Boasts learning to swim properly at the tender age of 33.
Had an affair with a Kindle, but crawled back to paper books.