Athens is regarded as the birthplace of Western Democracy and the Greek capital is full of historic sites that fascinate travellers. Whether your stopping by on your way to the Greek islands or spending a bit longer there’s much to admire.
Greek culture has left a lasting impression on the Western World. With so many things to do in Athens it makes a great starting place to learn about it. Through Roman occupation, Ottoman conquest and beyond, the city has endured. 7000 years of inhabitation has created a pretty amazing city! Whether you’re a hardcore history fan or a casual traveller, there’s plenty to interest you. Europe is full of interesting cities and for me this definitely ranks as one of the greatest.
Here’s my Top Ten Things To Do In Athens!
1. The Parthenon (Acropolis)
Sitting at the top of the Acropolis, the Pantheon is one of the most famous historic structures in the World. Construction began during 447 BCE and it has dominated the Athens landscape since it’s completion in 438 BCE. It has had many functions in its time. Originally a temple dedicated to the Greek Goddess Athena it has also served as a Christian Church and an Islamic Mosque. Unfortunately it has been damaged by war, it was hit by a cannon in 1687 which ignited an Ottoman ammunition dump. When I visited it was undergoing long-term construction work by the Greek government to partially restore it and secure its structural integrity.
Whilst you’re visiting the Parthenon be sure to gaze upon the Temple Of Athena and the other buildings at the top of the Acropolis too.
Not only does the Acropolis get very busy as the day goes on but if you are visiting in the summer it also gets very hot! I went up to the Pantheon in late August at 8:30am and was sweating like crazy. But it was great time as I only had a couple of tour groups to contend with. Glances up at the Acropolis later in the day revealed hoards of tourists covering it. So i’d recommend you either visit early morning or towards closing so you get more room to see it. It is also less busy during midday as the tour groups go for lunch – if you willing to brave the scorching sun.
2. The Theatre of Dionysus
On your way down from the Acropolis be sure to stop to admire the ancient site of the Theatre of Dionysus. Up to 17,000 people could be seated here back in 5th Century BCE, when they watched plays and great works. You can walk around the site and take a seat yourself and image what it would have been like all those years ago to see performers there.
3. The Temple of Olympian Zeus
Dedicated to the head of the Greek Gods Zeus, construction lasted over 638 years from 6th Century BCE to 2nd Century CE. Also known as the Olympieion, it was pillaged by a barbarian invasion 100 years after completion and never repaired. Now 16 columns remain and it is an important archaeological site.
4. The Ancient Agora
Agora means “gathering place” or “assembly” and was the central spot in Ancient Greek settlements. The one in Athens is regarded as the best example of such a spot so if you have any interest in Greek history you should allocate some time to have a wander around its structures.
Amongst it’s grounds you can find a museum full of ancient Greek art and pottery. The highlight for me is the Temple of Hephaestus (pictured), which was constructed between 449 BCE and 415 BCE.
Make sure you see the Areopagus as well whilst you’re in the area, an ancient rock which served as the chief homicide court in ancient Athens.
When I visited Athens in 2013 you could purchase a combined ticket for several of the cities historical sites, including the Acropolis, Theatre of Dionysus, Temple Of Zeus and Ancient Agora. Whilst the economic problems in Greece make it hard to find up to date tourist information online this seems to still be the case, so make sure you enquire when you first enter any of the attractions.
5. Philopappos Hill
Whilst Mount Lycabettus (see next entry) is the most popular hill to climb in Athens, i’d personally recommend Philopappos Hill. Not only does it have the great view as shown above but it also connected with Pnyx hill which was fundamental in the establishment of democracy. This is where Athenians hosted popular assemblies as early as 507 BCE. You can also find Philopappos Monument, an ancient Greek monument dedicated to Philopappos himself. The area itself is a pleasant woodland making for a nice respite from the busy city streets.
6. Mount Lycabettus
A great spot for looking over the city of Athens, Mount Lycabettus is a popular tourist spot with many choosing to climb up its steps to cast their gaze across the landscape around.
One for anyone who enjoys a good view, though if your pressed for time I’d advise to skip it in favour of Philopappos Hill.
7. Panathenaic stadium
This stadium, constructed entirely from marble, is built on the site of a race track used in the Panathenaic Games in 330 BCE. Host to the 1st Modern Olympic Games in 1896 CE, with the opening and closing ceremonies and 4 of the 9 events being held here, it is an important site in sporting history. In the 2004 Olympics games it hosted the Archery competition and served as the end point for the marathon.
8. National Archaeological Museum
From Minoan figures to Mycenaean pottery, Egyptian art to Hellenistic statues, the National Archaeological museum is full of fascinating historical artefacts. If you are interested in learning more about Ancient Greek history you can easily spend a few hours here. Established in 1829, it’s the largest archaeological museum in Greece.
9. The Roman Forum
Built to serve as a marketplace, this was constructed during the Roman occupation of Athens under the reigns of Julius Caesar and Augustus. Look out for The Tower Of Winds, the best preserved of the buildings that occupy its grounds.
10. Syntagma Square
The central square in Athens, it was the site of a mass popular and military uprising in 1843 that led to King Otto granting the 1st Constitution Of Greece. It’s also been the site of more recent protests during the Greek financial crisis. You can find the Greek Parliament there and every hour can watch the changing of the guard. 11:00am on Sundays is particularity special as soldiers accompanied by a military band march from a nearby barracks.
Athens has a good underground system so you can reach the city from the airport quickly and easily. Once in the city itself all of the above sites are within walking distance of each other.
If you want to party then the ‘Gazi district’ is full of bars and clubs. Take a taxi from the centre, it’s about 10 minutes ride.
Located behind the Parliament, the National Gardens are a good place to relax and chill out.
There are also numerous rooftop bars in and around the city centre with great views.
Hostel wise i’d recommend Athens Backpackers and Athens Studios. They are under the same ownership and both are located really near the Acropolis. The former has a sports bar, the latter a rooftop bar. This makes it really easy to socialize and meet people.