Athens is your quintessential Greek city. Buildings that date back several centuries still stand tall as a testimony of Greek excellence in architecture. Today, they relay stories of traditional beliefs and happenings from long ago. People from all over the world visit the capital of Greece to see for themselves the things they’ve read about in history books! This list of things to do in Athens covers the past and present and everything in between.
1. Walk up the must-see Acropolis
If you had time to visit just one place in Athens, the Acropolis it should be! Acropolis is an ancient fortress that holds some of the most recognizable structures of classic Greece. It stands on a tall rock for all of Athens to see or for you to visit and see all of Athens from 490 ft. above sea level.
Within this famous age-old citadel are some temples, a museum and several architectural specimens which will tell you so much about ancient Greece. The three major temples that grace Acropolis are: the Parthenon, Temple of Nike and Erechteion, each dedicated to different aspects of goddess Athena.
The Southwestern slope of the Acropolis is where all the public buildings that hosted religious, artistic and social events were housed. The structures to be seen here include the Theatre of Dionysos, Temple of Thrasyllos, Theatre of Herodes Atticus, Asklepieion & Stoa of Eumenes.
Made of marble and stone, these structures with tall columns and friezes depicting mythology and historical events characterize Greek architecture.
2. View Athens from the hills that landmark the city
Now, Acropolis isn’t the only vantage point for views of this historical city. Athens is said to have been built around seven hills in the area. Lycabettus Hill is one the most popular hill-attractions of Athens. This one offers you a great view of the Acropolis and a bird’s eye view of Athens. Other POIs here include St. George’s Church, an open-air theater, a cafe, and a restaurant. You can walk or drive up the hill. Or you can take the funicular railway to the top!
The other hills of the city are: Philopapou Hill (also a hill with a good view of the Acropolis), Pnyx, Areopagus, Hill of the Nymphs & Tourkovounia.
3. Dig deeper into Greece’s Golden Age
To get a better look into the country’s glory days, one of the things you should do in Athens is explore the historic structures of the land (beyond the ones in Acropolis) and peruse the information available in the museums.
You could visit the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which is now in ruins but still bears proof of what an architectural wonder it once was. With tall pillars and a large statue, this temple that dates back to 174 BCE used to be the biggest temple of Greece.
- The Arch of Hadrian – a gateway of the 130s (AD) that was erected as a triumphal arch.
- The Tower of Winds – an octagonal building that was looked up to for the time and for wind conditions.
- The Ancient Agora of Athens is a reminder of the pillared structure where the people gathered for public announcements and discussions.
The museums of Athens tell stories of Greece’s History in terms of not just architecture but archaeology of the area and even technology of another era.
4. Undertake a Mythological Tour
A mythological tour is another way to make the most of your trip to the oldest city of Greece. This tour can be found at the Acropolis. On this tour, an expert takes you through the temples of the Acropolis, Theatre of Dionysus, even the Acropolis Museum & the Temple of Zeus, relaying stories of bravery, adversity & sacrifice.
5. Take a walk through Plaka
When it’s time to return to the present, turn to Plaka. Strolling though Plaka bridges the gap between the past and the present. It lies just down the hill from the Acropolis. This is a neighborhood that has been continuously inhabited since the early days of Athens. It has an old world charm with traditional architecture and narrow cobble-stoned streets. You will also find cafes, gift shops and churches here.
Several of the landmarks mentioned earlier, like the Arch of Hadrian and the Tower of Winds stand here. However, the stroll recommended for a tourist-friendly-Greek-village feel is through these two streets of the Plaka: Adrianou & Kydathineon.
If you’re in the city in the summer, you might also want to watch a movie on an outdoor, roof-top screen at Cine Paris for another great modern-day Greek experience. The movies played here are usually English (with Greek subtitles). And while you watch the movie you can steal glances at the Acropolis, which is a pretty sight in the evening light.
6. Treat your senses at Central Market
Athen’s Central Market is the place to head to for a slice of everyday life in Athens. This colorful market sells everything from farm produce to fresh seafood and is a showcase of the sights and sounds of present-day Athens. This is your place to sample Greek Olives & you should definitely try to get a taste of the patsa – Greece’s own pork soup. Experiencing the food of is one of the best things to do in Athens! Note: the market is open from morning to late afternoon and it stays closed on Sundays.
7. Delight yourself at Athen’s Flea Market
Talking of markets, another one you might want to check out is the Monastiraki Flea Market. The Flea Market is only open on Sundays. On other days, it is regular business for the small shops along the streets, selling interesting objects & books, vinyls & CDs, jewelry, and antiques & trinkets you can take home as gifts from Athens.
8. Wind down at Psiri
Psiri is where you go after your day of tours and museum visits. Actually, it’s where locals sit down to enjoy some drink & dinner, but tourists are also welcome to sit down for Ouzo and Meze or heavier dishes. You’ll find graffiti on the walls and tables and chairs laid out on the streets. There are even a few shops here. The area stays open way into the night with conversations and music in the air.
9. Delve into Athen’s Olympic History
Athens proudly wears the medal for being chosen to host the first International Olympic Games, the Summer Olympics of 1896. And there’s proof of it. Like many of the edifices of Athens, the Zappeion — the first building to be constructed for sake of reviving the international sporting event — has also stood the test of time. It was first used as an indoor venue for fencing. This is one of the things to do in Athens that can bring you back in time.
Then there’s Panathenaic Stadium, which was one of the main venues of the Games. And it went on to being used for the Olympics of 2004. It has been rebuilt a few times but it still stands as the only marble stadium in the world.
Both these places are situated side by side in the heart of the city. Another venue for the historic Olympics was the Neo Phaliron Velodrome, which used to be where present day Karaiskakis Stadium is. It lies around 10 miles away from Panathenaic Stadium.
10. Trip to the Greek Coast
If you’d like to make a trip to the coast before you leave Athens, Piraeus is less than 30 miles from the city. From there you can also take ferries to the Greek islands south of Athens. There are also several beaches on the Saronic Gulf and the Aegean Sea, reachable within an hour and a half. The ones on the Southwestern coast are very tourist-friendly. There are quieter beaches and coves here. Some beaches you might want to consider visiting: Vouliagmeni, Anavissos, Legrena, Schinias or Cape Sounion. And while you are at Sounion, pay respects to the Temple of Poseidon for a perfect ending to your Athens trip.