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.
In the post I’ll show you my top 10 things to do in Athens. I’ll also share a suggested Athens itinerary to help you plan a trip. And lastly I’ll finish with an Athens FAQ, dealing with some common queries. This is all based on my own visit to the city, showing you what I liked and using my experiences to help you decide if you want to visit. As always I advise checking official information before you go, such as visa’s and so forth. In terms of getting to the city, I flew into the Athens international airport and then took the metro into the centre. I visited right at the end of August, start of September, when it was nice and hot and sunny.
My Top Ten Things To Do In Athens
1. The Parthenon
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. The towers really are imposing and t’s interesting to imagine how the area would have looked in those times.
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. Its an interesting area with plenty to admire. The highlight for me is the Temple of Hephaestus (pictured), which was constructed between 449 BCE and 415 BCE. Amongst it’s grounds you can find a museum full of ancient Greek art and pottery.
When I visited Athens 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. You can check out their website here to see opening times and further visitor information.
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.
Other things to do in Athens
So whilst these sights didn’t quite make the top ten, I feel they are worth mentioning. They are good extras to do if you have time, and want to explore the city further.
Firstly the Areopagus is an interesting rocky area near to the Acropolis and Ancient Agora. It means ‘The Hill of Ares’ who was apparently tried there in Greek Mythology. It actually served as the chief homicide court in ancient Athens. Next up is the Acropolis Museum which has a decent collection and helps you learn more about the history of the area.
If you’ve been enjoying the views Strefi Hill is another you can climb, which is near-ish to the National Archaeological Museum. Lastly I’ll mention the National Gardens, which are a recommended place to relax and chill out. Find it behind the Greek parliament.
A Recommended Athens Itinerary
As you can see from the above list, Athens really does have a lot of great things to do. I advise you spend at least 4 nights here, taking into account the first night will be when you fly in. That night I’d say its good to get your bearings, relax with some food and drink. In fact that’s recommend for every night, as Athens is a great place for chilled out evenings. So with that in mind here’s a 3 day Athens Itinerary you can use as a guide.
I would get up early visit the Acropolis, taking in the The Parthenon and The Theatre of Dionysus. As I mentioned earlier I got there around 8:30am, and I could see that later on the crowds really picked up. Afterwards you could stop by the Acropolis Museum if you feel like it. After grabbing some lunch pay a visit to the Areopagus before heading to the Agora to explore that site. To end a busy day visit the Philopappos Hill and have a good walk round, taking in all the views.
Start the day with The Temple of Olympian Zeus before heading to the National Archaeological Museum. This is going to take up a large chunk of your day, so if your tired then don’t worry about going anywhere else.
On your last day it’s time to cover the rest of the Athens attractions. I’d start with Mount Lycabettus before it gets too hot or busy. Then head onto the Panathenaic stadium. After lunch you can visit the Roman Forum and then onto Syntagma Square, before having a stroll around the National Gardens to finish. And perhaps a sit down, as it would have been a busy 3 days!
Athens has a good underground system so you can reach the city from the airport quickly and easily. You can then use it to quickly get between stations as required. Once in the city centre many of the tourist sites are within walking distance of each other.
There are numerous rooftop bars in and around the city centre with great views. So you have plenty of options for a drink. 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.
One of the great things about Athens is that there are loads of restaurants, catering both for tourists and locals. You can find plenty of traditional Greek food and also pizza is popular too. Try looking around side streets as well as in the main areas, as there really is a lot of choice of great food.
By European standards I would say Athens is reasonably priced. Its cheaper than other capitals like London or Berlin, but noticeably more expensive than other parts of the Balkans.
They are a problem but not so much that you can’t enjoy your tip. Its all about being alert to the danger and taking simple precautions. For example don’t leave your phone or bag on table whilst eating, as it represents a snatch target. Instead make sure they are secure in fashion that can’t be grabbed.
Thanks for reading
I hope you have found this post useful and inspiring. If your interested in more European cities you may like to check out my things to do in Rome and Berlin too. You can also connect with me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.