10 places worth visiting in Athens
Athens is the heart of Greece and one of the key tourist highlights of the country. For a short visit – in order to diversify and enrich the experience – it is better not to scrimp and hire a guide. A lot of reviews and contacts for guides in Athens can be found here. If you decide to visit the city on your own, here is a list of the places that are definitely worth seeing. The Acropolis and the Parthenon, of course, are a good place to start.
The Acropolis and the Parthenon are the capital’s calling card and a must-see pilgrimage destination for millions of tourists from all over the world. Even if there were no Parthenon, the Acropolis is worth a visit just for the stunning views it offers of the city.
Grekoblog has devoted a separate article to the history of the Acropolis, how to get there, opening hours and ticket prices in more detail.
The Acropolis is the main tourist attraction of the city
If you decide to explore the Acropolis without a guide, we recommend downloading our audio guide for iPhone or for Android [link]. This is two ready-made audio tours of the most interesting routes in the city [one of them – with the Acropolis ascent] with a handy built-in walking map and GPS support, so that you don’t waste mobile traffic while roaming.
In the trial version of the audio guide, the first 5 points are free, and the full version will cost many times less than even the most budget group tours.
National Archaeological Museum
This world famous museum is located in the heart of the capital. It is difficult to drop in here for a minute – the exposition is so wide that it will take at least 2-3 hours to see it.
The Archaeological Museum is situated in the center of the capital
The halls, arranged in chronological order, begin with the exhibitions of Cycladic culture and Mycenaean period and cover the period from ancient times to the present.
The museum is located at 28is Oktovriou Street, 44. Opening hours from 01.01.2018: Mon: 13:00 to 20:00; Tues-Whs: 09:00-16:00
Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon
A romantic evening trip to Cape Sounion is equally popular with tourists and Greeks themselves.
Cape Sounion is only an hour’s drive from the center of the capital.
You usually come here to watch the sunset, and the well preserved ruins of Poseidon’s temple add a unique flavor to it. By the way, one of its columns has Lord Byron’s autograph.
The Sunion archaeological site is open to visitors every day from 09:30 am until sunset.
You can drive to Sunion on your own in a rented car, take a trip with a Russian-speaking guide [link], or take one of the group tours below.
Night Walking in the City
Athens is one of the safest capitals in the world. And while common sense is the best defender anywhere, statistics show that night outings here are quieter than in Paris, London, or Tokyo. Isn’t that an excuse to get some extra fun out of the rough Greek nightlife? Especially since in Athens, once the sun goes down, life is just beginning.
Didn’t get to go to the Greek islands first, or already miss one of them? Go to Piraeus. It’s easy to take the metro from the center and dine in one of the charming tavernas or fashionable restaurants by the Gulf of Microlimano. It’s not an island, of course, but the experience is similar in some ways.
Piraeus, one of the oldest and largest ports in the world
Take a little more time to visit the Archaeological Museum or the equally fascinating Maritime Museum of Greece. For details on how to get from Athens to Piraeus, we have written a separate article: How to get to Athens’ ports.
Plaka and Monastiraki
Plaka and Monastiraki are the oldest part of the city, located at the foot of the Acropolis. There are many souvenir shops, taverns and stores.
A distinctive feature of Plaka is a peculiar architecture, lots of intricate streets and pedestrian zones
The distinctive feature of Plaka is a peculiar architecture, countless intricate streets and pedestrian zones. Even though during the high season (01.04-31.10) there are a lot of tourists here, Plaka will not leave you indifferent.
Do you want to rise above everyone else? The highest hill of Likavitos is 277 meters above sea level. Likavitos and the Acropolis are like two great columns over the Greek capital.
From here you have a wonderful view of both the city and the Acropolis, beautifully illuminated by spotlights in the evening.
From Lycabetus you can take the best pictures of the Acropolis
At the top of the hill there is a white stone 19th century chapel of St. George. On a clear day you can even see Aegina from Lycabetus. One can get to the top by cab or by funicular. For more details about the latter, we explained in the video below.
Syntagma, also known as Constitution Square in Athens, is the heart of Greece in many ways. It is home to the Parliament building and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, at which Greek soldiers, the eusones, dressed in colorful national costumes, carry a guard of honor.
Syntagma, also known as Constitution Square, the heart of Athens
Here you will find Athens’ most famous hotel, the Grand Brittany, and right next to it, the famous Ermou shopping street with its many brand stores. Which ones to visit first is up to you.
If you come down the Acropolis from the north side of the hill, be sure to visit the Agora. This is the third most important place for those interested in the history of the city.
The Agora was once a market square and was therefore considered one of the main centers of social life in ancient Athens. The well-preserved Temple of Hephaestus (also called Hephaestion) and the Attalus Gallery deserve special attention.
Looking at the Hephaestion, it’s hard to believe the temple was built several thousand years ago
The Archaeological Site of the Ancient Agora in high season is open to the public daily from 8:30 to 7:30 p.m., except on Mondays. On Mondays, the site is accessible from 11:00 a.m. In low season, the Ancient Agora is open on a reduced schedule: from 08:00 to 15:00 daily.
Note that there are two Agora in Athens – the second is called the Roman Agora. It is more compact in size and has fewer attractions. The most interesting of them is the Tower of the Winds – one of the oldest meteorological structures in the world.
When we wrote this article for Grekoblog, this section was dedicated to Omonia Square. But times change, and since then Athens has had another great site that displaced Omonia from the list – the New Acropolis Museum.
The history of the building deserves a separate story. One of the reasons for its erection was the continuation of years of attempts by Greece to reclaim its artifacts stored in the British Museum and once removed to England by Lord Elgin.
The Acropolis Museum seems to be floating in the air
Among the arguments of the British against the return was, in particular, that there were no specialized rooms in Greece capable of providing decent conditions for the display of artifacts. In response, the Greeks built a museum equipped with the latest technology, but “that’s about it.
Meanwhile, even without these artifacts the Acropolis Museum is rich in finds, which have the most direct relation to the main man-made attraction in Greece. The collection is definitely worth the time and place in your schedule.
Pay attention to the building itself as well. Its construction was deliberately designed to “float in the air” so as not to damage the ancient tombs beneath it.
The museum is located at 15, Dionysiou Areopagitou, and tickets can be purchased at the ticket office on site or online [link] to reduce the time in line.
10 things to do in Athens
There are many Acropolises in Greece, but the one in Athens is the most popular and most visited. The Acropolis is the main symbol not only of the Greek capital, but of the entire country. It is a citadel, preserved from ancient times, when myths and legends were born and the people were ruled by the gods of Olympus. The Acropolis is located in the center of Athens and represents an ensemble of buildings, the most famous of which are the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaeum, and the Odeon of Herodes the Attic.
2. Walking in Plaka
The Plaka neighborhood in Athens is one of the oldest in the city, with many buildings built on the foundations of ancient times. This area is located at the foot of the Acropolis, which from any point has a stunning view. Plaka is a true paradise for lovers of walking: colorful facades of houses harmoniously complement the appearance of the streets, it is pleasant to come here and walk along the winding cobbled streets, enjoy live musical performances, sit in a tavern or buy souvenirs.
3. Watch the sunset at Cape Sounion
It’s a long drive from downtown Athens to Cape Sounion, but it’s well worth it. The sunsets at Cape Sounion are especially delightful. There is an omen that wishes made at the moment when the sun goes into the sea, will certainly come true. The legend says that the mythical king Aegeus, the father of Greek hero Theseus, conqueror of the Minotaur, threw himself into the abyss of the sea as soon as he saw the black sails on his son’s schooner on the horizon.
Near the cape stands the temple of Poseidon, built in 444 BC and well preserved to this day. Even in former centuries, these outstanding sites of Attica attracted the attention of European tourists. Thus, the famous Lord Byron was here and left a mark of his stay on the walls of the temple of Poseidon. Try to find it!
4. Climb the Wolf Mountain
The name of the highest hill in Athens, Likavitos, translates from Greek as “Wolf Mountain. This hill rises above Athens and is visible from any part of the city. Its height is 277 meters, surpassing the Acropolis. The view from the hill is wonderful: you can see the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the port, and all of Athens. Artists, photographers, tourists and locals try to climb the hill before sunset to see and capture the moment when the last rays of sunlight gild the Acropolis walls.
5. Feel the pulse of ancient Athens
Once upon a time, life was in full swing at the foot of the Acropolis. The Acropolis was the center of political, social and cultural life. Here you can find the most important decisions, athletic competitions, brilliant orators, meetings of Athenian public. Today it is a popular tourist site and one of the largest ruins in the city. The best preserved one is the Temple of Hephaestus, thought to have been built in 449 B.C. The Stoa Attalos is home to the Agora Museum, where you can explore the history of Greek culture and its transformation over time. A visit to the museum is included in the ticket price.
6. See the changing of the guard of honor
Syntagma Square is located next to the Royal Palace. The most striking sight here is the changing of the guard of honor, which takes place every hour at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The honor guard is represented by the Euzzons, presidential guardsmen who belong to the elite unit of the Greek army. In translation, the word “euzon” means “well girded.” These soldiers look very colorful, always delighting the assembled public with their solemn passage. The most eye-catching detail of their costume is their “tzaruhi” shoes. These are wooden clogs with pompons, lined with nails, and each shoe weighs about 3 kilograms. After seeing the eusons, take a stroll in the Royal Garden behind the presidential palace. Even on the hottest day you can enjoy the coolness and relax in the shade there.
7. Wander through museums
The Athens Archaeological Museum has the largest collection of ancient artifacts in Greece, so don’t expect to see them all in a couple of hours. Particularly interesting here is the Maritime Hall, which contains unique finds from the seabed. The museum’s collection includes exhibits collected from all regions of Greece, from the Peloponnese and ancient Cyclades to the island of Santorini. The golden burial mask of Agamemnon and the Horseman’s statue, raised from the bottom of the sea, are some of the most interesting objects.
- Museum of Cycladic Art;
- Museum of Numismatics (with a rich collection of ancient coins);
- Byzantine Museum (with a collection of the oldest Byzantine icons and other Christian relics);
- Museum of Greek musical instruments.
8. Experience the flavor of an oriental bazaar
Monastiraki, Athens’ main market, is located in the square of the same name and is the living embodiment of the popular phrase that “Greece has it all”. Typical oriental bazaars and distinctive southern Mediterranean markets blend effortlessly together. Sunday afternoons are the busiest time for the flea market. Cheap junk goods sit alongside unique antiques and memorabilia. There are also jewelry stores and souvenir shops. If you choose to bring back a souvenir or a keepsake from Greece, you’ll find no better place to do so in Athens. Do not be afraid to haggle and carefully check the goods.
In Monastiraki Square there is also a museum of ceramics with a rather interesting collection. It is located in the building of the former mosque, which was built during the Ottoman period from marble blown up by the Turks of the Temple of Zeus.
9. Port of Piraeus
Piraeus, where the largest Greek port is located, is considered an independent city, but it is so closely adjacent to Athens that it is often mistaken for one of the districts of the Greek capital. In addition, it is easily accessible from the center of Athens by subway.
The port of Piraeus is very old, it existed during antiquity, but then it was not as big as it is now. The area of the modern port is huge – there are several terminals, which are located from each other at a decent distance, and between them buses run. Large cruise ships sail from the port.
10. Take a boat trip to the islands
Once in the port, take a boat trip to the Greek islands. Some of the Saronic Islands are quite close to Athens, and you can get to them on your own or with a guided tour. Athens’ tour agencies offer ready-made itineraries to the three Saronic islands – Poros, Idra and Aegina. The trip will take you all day.
The island of Aegina is interesting because of the monastery of St. Nektarios and the excellent beaches, where the citizens of the Greek capital like to spend their vacation. To get there you can take a ferry or a speedboat. The island closest to Athens is Salamina, which is visible even from the coast. The distance to Salamina is only 20 minutes by ferry from Piraeus and Perama.