Athens might have an ancient history, but it’s not antiquated in fun, as the storied Greek capital flows with hidden surprises around every corner.
We went to Athens only a short time ago and everything is fresh in our memory! So, in this blog post, I share the absolute best things to do in Athens, from visiting the grand Acropolis to shopping at Plaka and Monastiraki Square, where the beating heart of Athens lies. Let’s get started!
Things to see and do in Athens
In the Greek capital, the amount of the Ionic and Doric temples, vases, or statues that travelers can experience before they get tired is endless. Here’s what my Athens itinerary consists of:
There’s nothing to tell that hasn’t been told already about this ancient citadel. The Acropolis is on the most renowned Classical landmarks, situated on the top of a rocky outcrop, overseeing the city of Athens. The pinnacle of these landmarks is the Parthenon, which is the grandest of them all.
But there are more temples to visit. So, when in the Acropolis area, make sure to visit the following, as well:
- Acropolis Museum: One of the most elegant and technologically advanced museums in Europe, the Acropolis Museum is a must-to-see. Located on the southeast slope, it presents thousands of Greek artifacts discovered around the city of Athens and the archaeological site of the Acropolis. Oriented to give you views of the Parthenon, the three-level museum is built above ancient ruins. Seeing the Acropolis Museum is definitely among the best things to do in Athens.
- Ancient Agora: The Ancient Agora was the center of Classical Athens and was reserved for public gatherings and trade among the Athenians. It’s a relatively large area with over 30 buildings cushioned inside. On top of that, there’s the Museum of Ancient Agora, exhibiting Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Geometric period weapons, figurines, and vases, recovered from nearby tombs.
- Temple of Hephaestus: On the northwest side of the Ancient Agora, there’s the Agoraios Kolonos Hill, atop of which stands the magnificent Temple of Hephaestus, the God of Fire, metalworking, and stone masonry. It’s a Doric temple in an excellent state of preservation. In fact, it looks brand-new!
- Roman Agora: Located just north of the Acropolis, the Roman Agora is a series of Roman ruins. Travelers will find the immense Gate of Athena Archegetis and the remnants of the Odeon of Agrippa, a large odeon donated to the people of Athens by a Roman statesman.
- Hadrian’s Library: Created by Roman Emperor Hadrian, this building was, as its name suggests, a library. There are three Eastern Roman Churches at the site, too, seemingly well-preserved.
- Temple of Olympian Zeus: This used to be a vast temple, but not much of it has been left standing today. Still, it’s impressive, and, for the record, it had a long construction period, spanning over many centuries.
- Areopagus Hill: For the best views on the Acropolis, visit this white outcrop amid pine and cypress trees. In addition, from there, you’ll be able to see the Piraeus Port and the Athens Northern quarters. So, don’t forget to note down in your Athens itinerary to visit this famous hill. There’s also a myth associated with this fascinating rock. It’s said that the trial of Ares, the God of War, took place there. Ares was charged for murdering the son of Poseidon, God of the Sea.
Spectacular tours you don’t want to miss out on
- Do a guided tour: By signing up for this tour, you explore Acropolis with a licensed guide on a 1.5-hour walking tour. Visit the famous monuments, such as the Temple of Athena Nike and the Parthenon, and get insights into Ancient Greece. Also, the guide should teach you facts about relatively unknown sites, including the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and Mars Hill.
- Virtual reality tour: Thanks to the help of modern technology, now it’s possible to go back in time and see Athens as it once was, a thousand years ago. Pretty cool, huh?
Shopping at Plaka & Monastiraki Square
Plaka and Monastiraki Square are the two main shopping centers in Athens, brimming with life.
Cushioned just under the Acropolis, Plaka is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited neighborhoods in the world. As you explore the narrow old stone and marble lanes, expect to find restored neoclassical buildings, as well as decaying buildings from various eras of Greece’s history.
As to Monastiraki Square, this is one of the busiest and oldest areas of Athens. There are some of the best things to do in Athens, from visiting high-class rooftop bars to taking in the ancient monuments or Roman-style Churches to shopping at the vast Monastiraki Flea Market. You’ll also find many boutique shops with handmade jewelry and Greek handicrafts, such as paintings, or antiques.
Hiking / City Walks
Athens is not only about monuments. But it’s a fantastic place for hiking or trail running, too. From climbing to Mount Lycabettus to journeying through the National Garden, there’s something for everyone!
Northeast of the Athens center, this limestone peak is the highest point in the Greek capital. The lower slopes are filled with pine trees, although, as you approach the rock summit, the trees become sparser. Every year, Athenians and tourists climb up to enjoy the view or dine in the restaurant that operates there. Remember, then, to add this activity to your Athens itinerary. You can visit Mount Lycabettus in two ways:
- Walk: Unlike Acropolis, Lycabettus is free to climb on foot. That said, the walk is a tough one, and it’s best to save it for the winter months when Athens is not searing hot as in summer.
- Take the cable car: Alternatively, there’s the option of the funicular. The length of the journey, which takes place in a tunnel, is about 3 minutes. A two-way ticket, including ascent and descent, will set you back €7.50.
Within walking distance from Plaka, just above the Syntagma Square, lies the National Garden, a dense thicket with an unbelievable variety of flora. Ordered by Queen Amalia in the 1830s, it used to be the Royal Garden of Greece’s royal family.
What’s more, the National Garden is beautiful and a welcoming green barrier between the concrete buildings and the Ancient Greek landmarks. Don’t hesitate to come here for repose. Frankly, visiting the National Garden is one of the best romantic things to do in Athens! There are unspoiled pergolas amidst the towering palm trees. And if you have children or feel one yourself, there’s also a great pond with free-roaming ducks and turtles.
Filopappou (Philopappos Hill)
Known as the Hill of the Muses, the Philopappos Hill is pine-clad, neighboring Acropolis to the southwest. It’s a fabulous place to be, as, while it’s within Athens, being there feels like an escapade away from the city’s sea of concrete.
The name derives from Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos, a prince of the Kingdom of Commagene. He was a prominent Roman, so it’s not surprising that his death caused grief to the Athenians, who, along with his sister Julia Balbilla raised a monument in his memory. This two-story memorial depicts Philopappos as a Roman consul on a chariot.
Visit a market
Visiting a local market is the best way to explore modern Greek culture. Without a second thought, hit the Varvakios Agora Market, which is an indoor and outdoor food market in the Monastiraki area. From 8 AM to 6 PM, merchants bellow out great deals in their effort to sell fresh fish, meat, fruit, and baking spices from all over Greece.
The atmosphere is distinctive, with travelers seeing hanged meat carcasses, fresh seafood, and stalls of Greece delicacies. In a way, it reminds the markets of the Middle East, India, or Southeast Asian countries, full of life!
Alternatively, visit Monastiraki’s Flea Market (8 AM to 6 PM) for gear from souvenirs to furniture, or the Pandrossou Street Market (10 AM to 10 PM) to find stores selling Greek crafts, gifts, and jewelry.
Guided market tours
There are also some guided tours available that give you a local’s perspective.
- Visit a market with food experience: Discover the Greek cuisine on this food and market tour. Mingle with the local population as they go for daily shopping, enjoy a lunch at a traditional taverna, taste Greek snacks, and sample Greek liquor at a well-preserved family-owned distillery. It’s a phenomenal experience and one of the most fun things to do in Athens, too.
The Panathenaic Stadium is the jewel of Athens and the pride of the Athenians. Erected for the 1896 Olympics, The Panathenaic Stadium is a reconstruction of the ancient stadium built for the original Panathenaic Games in 330 BC. It holds up to 45,000 spectators, and from its highest tiers, the Acropolis and the National Garden are viewed. In the 2004 Athens Olympics, the stadium staged the archery events and was the start and the finish line for the men’s and women’s marathons.
The Cathedral Church of Athens is the Cathedral Church of the Archbishopric of Athens and all of Greece. In the square in front of the Church stand the statues of Constantine XI, the last emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, and the Archbishop Damaskinos, who was Archbishop of Athens during World War II.
Athens is only about ancient marvels, as it encompasses a vibrant urban culture, too. Sign up for this tour, and visit the best murals and the work of the most famous Athenian street artists. By getting to know the best graffiti in Athens, you’re getting off the beaten path and seeing Athens from a unique perspective. It’s such a breath of fresh air! Another incredible thing to add to your Athens itinerary.
Greek Parliament Building & Changing of the Guards
The Greek Parliament building is impressive and has a history interwoven with the history of the modern Greek state. Once upon a time, it served as the Royal Palace of Kings Otto and George I.
Outside, there’s a cenotaph for the Greek soldiers who have fallen during wars. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as it’s called, was sculpted in the 1930s. The tomb is guarded by elite infantry (Evzones) of the Presidential Guard. In addition, there’s a changing of the guard ceremony every hour.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
This is a Roman-era theatre raised on the orders of the Athenian Magnate Herodes Atticus. It was an effort to commemorate the memory of his wife Appia Annia Regilla. During that time, the concert hall had a cedar wood roof and could seat up to 5,000 people. In the 1950s the theatre was restored, as the stone tiers were rebuilt utilizing the same marble from Mount Pentelicus. Just being there, feeling the energy of Ancient Greece, is some of the top things to do in Athens.
Meteora day tour
Booking a trip to Athens doesn’t mean that you have to spend your whole time in the cosmopolitan capital. Opt to visit the Meteora rock formation, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Kalambaka in Central Greece. Meteora is renowned for the six monasteries perched atop natural rock pillars and giant boulders.
With this tour you’ll see all six of them and visit the inside of three of them. You’ll learn about the fascinating history surrounding this ancient site where Greek monks lived in isolation for centuries. It is incredible to see how these monastries are built on top of the rock formations and the view from the viewpoints is absolutely incredible, as nature is stunning!
Visit a museum
Some of the best things to do in Athens is, what else, to visit museums! Here’s the best:
- National Archaeological Museum: Packed with ancient art, the National Archaeological Museum intrigues scholars. Inside, there’s the Antikythera Mechanism, the world’s oldest analog computer dating back to the 4th Century BC. Additionally, you may admire the Mask of Agamemnon, a glittering gold funerary mask made for Mycenaean royalty. And there are Bronze Age frescoes from Santorini island, too.
- Benaki Museum: A spacious three-floor museum offering a near-complete chronology of Greek history, the Benaki Museum is one of the grandest buildings in Athens. By journeying through it, you follow the course of Greek art from prehistoric times to the modern-day.
- Museum of Cycladic Art: At the Museum of Cycladic Art, visitors have the opportunity to see the world’s largest collection of prehistoric artifacts from the Cycladic Islands in the Aegean. There are more than 3,000 pieces of Ancient Greek, Cycladic, and Cypriot art at this museum. The most notable exhibits are the Cycladic marble figurines.
- Museum of Illusions: This is one of the most innovative spaces in Athens. Discover a world of illusions via interactive installations and enjoy a memorable experience. There are over 60 visual and interactive illusions to be found, including the inverted room, infinity room, or holograms. Visit it to challenge your imagination!
Psiri is arguably the best nightlife zone in Athens (although Kolonaki Square is fantastic, too, albeit more expensive), with streets packed with young adults until daybreak. There are countless music cafés, bars, taverns, restaurants, and nightclubs in the area suitable for all tastes. Being in Psiri, dancing to your heart’s content while taking in the Greek atmosphere, is definitely some of the most fun things to do in Athens at night! Hands-down.
From the famous souvlaki to the tzatziki sauce and horiatiki salad, the Greek cuisine is so vast that we’d need another blog post to examine it! As expected, therefore, street food is part of Greek culture. It’s similar to what you’d find in Eastern Asian or North African countries, such as Turkey, Armenia, Morocco, and Iran, although not so elaborate.
- Cooking class: The best way to discover the flavors of Greece is by trying to cook your own Greek food. In this 4-hour cooking class, you explore the Varvakios Agora along with a cook, shopping for fresh Greek ingredients, which you’ll later use as you learn the secrets of Greek cooking. Yummy!
Sail to the spectaculair Greece islands
If you stay in the Greek capital for more than 3 days, sailing the Argosaronic Gulp and exploring the two islands of Aegina and Agistri is, by far, one of the best things to do in Athens. In Aegina, you have the chance to taste the famed pistachio nuts and visit the Temple of Apollo, the God of Beauty. Agistri, on the other hand, is all about romanticism and emerald waters.
Day tour to Néa Mákri
Just 30 minutes away from the Athens center is the Néa Mákri municipality. The major tourist spot is the St. Ephraim Monastery. The St. Ephraim Monastery is a pilgrimage site, one of the most important in Greece and Southeastern Europe. The remains of the Saint are there as also the tree where he was martyred.
- Go by yourself: You can visit Néa Mákri by yourself, as there are 4 transportation methods: subway, bus, car, or taxi. Taking a taxi will cost around €35 while taking the subway and taxi costs about €25. A bus ticket, however, is €5. It’s the most affordable option.
- Snorkel tour: Greece is all about the sea and beautiful waters. As such, this snorkeling tour is a prime opportunity to explore the hidden bays of Marathon Cape as you enjoy the warm waters of the historical Marathon area. And it’s one of the most fun things to do in Athens, too. Afterward, unwind on the Schinias Bay or sunbathe on the boat.
How to get around in Athens
Getting around in Athens is not challenging. On the contrary, thanks to the mass transit system, the Greek capital has plenty of modern modes of transportation, including city buses, tram, metro, and a suburban electric railway.
In Athens, there’s a combo ticket pass for museums and the hop-on-hop-off bus at 55€ per person, valid for 3 days. With this, you can visit up to 16 Athenian museums, galleries, and attractions and get to know the best places of the city, as you learn everything you need to know about ancient and modern-day Athens.
Alternatively, you could opt for the monthly pass at €27 per person, giving you unlimited access to every public transport available, including the metro. For me, that’s the better deal since most tourist spots are next to a metro or bus station.
How many days to spend
Athens is really a large city, for sure, but it’s not massive. You don’t need to spend too many days to see the most popular attractions in the city. A maximum of 1-2 days suffice. That said, if you want to take your time while exploring or go on a day trip, you would have to stay for 4-5 days, instead. As such, aim for a stay between 2-4 days. In this way, you have ample time to enjoy the top things to do in Athens!
Where to stay
Like most capitals, Athens has safe and less safe areas. Ideally, you’d want to stay at Syntagma Square, one of the two central squares of the city. However, the accommodation options in Syntagma are expensive, and thus, off-putting for travelers on a budget. For this reason, I’d recommend staying close to Omonia Square. Although many may not recommend it, it’s still the most affordable option and has been completely revamped by the Athens Municipality last year. Plus, it’s close to any museum you might desire to visit. Here are some budget accommodation choices:
- Semeli Hotel: Located in Amerikis Square, near a metro station, Semeli Hotel is a fantastic base camp for exploring the heart of Athens. It has amenities, such as free WiFi, air conditioning, breakfast, and even room service, if you’re feeling too tired to go outside to visit the local restaurants. The best things about Semeli Hotel are how clean it is and that it’s across from a police station. After all, a bit of extra safety in the center of Athens doesn’t harm.
- AthiNN Residence: The AthiNN Residence is one of the most affordable places to stay when in Athens. From €10 per day, you’re within walking distance from famous landmarks, including the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Acropolis, and the Monastiraki Flea Market.
- Hotel Jason Inn: This one is a more expensive accommodation choice, perfect for families or couples. Apart from the classic amenities, there’s a high-class restaurant available that offers a spectacular view of the Parthenon. Also, even if you don’t reside at the Hotel Jason Inn, you can still book a table and eat at the restaurant. The hotel is a few minutes of walking distance away from the Temple of Hephaestus and the Roman Market. Awesome!
Tip: Book your stays with hotels.com and get a free night for every 10 nights you stay!
It’s time to bid you adieu now. Thank you for reading this blog post about the best things to do in Athens. I hope you’re planning to visit the Greek capital this summer, as it’s going to be fabulous! If Athens is an upcoming destination of yours, drop a comment below to let me know!
Are you ready to explore more of Greece? Check out our Greece page to find more tips, things to do and more.