It is the birthplace of democracy, the cradle of Western theater art, and used to be known as the city of gods. I am, of course, talking about Athens, the capital of Greece. With over 3000 years of civilization, it is one of the oldest cities in the world. But make no mistake, today’s Athens is so much more than an echo from a distant past. The eccentric city has the metropolitan character of a modern European capital, mixed with an age-old historical appeal. Street musicians sing loudly about love and, in the evening, the bustling bars are full of energetic students. Yet, most travellers that make it to Greece seem to skip right over this fascinating city. Trust me, Athens is a place that you’ll want to see with your own eyes. To help guide your trip, check out the 10 best things to do in Athens, Greece.
What are the best things to do in Athens, Greece?
1. Visit the Legendary Acropolis: Symbol of the City
Will this be your first time in Athens? Then a visit to the legendary Acropolis is almost inevitable. The hill is located in the middle of the old center and is still the symbol of the Greek capital. Wherever you are in Athens, the Acropolis is always in sight. In ancient times, it was the religious city center, dedicated to the goddess Athena. Thankfully, some of the original buildings have survived the centuries: the Parthenon (temple of Athens), the Propylene (monumental entrance), the Temple of Nikè (second temple of Athene) and the Erechtheion (temple of Athene and Poseidon).
The monuments are clearly worth a visit. Moreover, you’ll have access to breathtaking views of the entire city and the beautiful blue coast in the distance. Adults pay € 20 and a reduced ticket costs € 10. Do keep in mind that the prices are changed regularly. Are you under 18 or a student in Europe? Good news: your visit to the Acropolis will be absolutely free! This also applies to most monuments and museums in the center of the city.
2. Spend Some Time in the Acropolis Museum Too
The monuments on top of the Acropolis are still gorgeous, but most of the archaeological finds are now in the Acropolis Museum. Here you will find everyday objects, mythological sculptures and religious works of art from all periods. Although the Acropolis is an impressive sight you can only truly understand the story behind the Acropolis after you have visited the museum. That’s why I would advise you to visit the Acropolis and the museum on the same day.
A ticket usually only costs 5 to 10 euros in summer; a small price for a beautifully decorated museum! Conveniently, low season winter fees are even lower. You’ll find the museum at the foot of the Acropolis, a few minutes away from the Acropolis. You can also easily reach the Acropolis Museum by metro if you’re coming from somewhere else in the city. in this case, Akropoli station is your best bet.
3. Explore the Historic Plaka Neighbourhood
The Plaka neighbourhood feels like a little village inside the city of Athens. The original ‘polis’ continued to expand through the centuries and eventually the population grew. This is how the first Athenian neighborhoods appeared around the foot of the mountain. One of those old neighborhoods is Plaka, built on the eastern side of the Acropolis. With its colorful houses and sunny streets, Plaka still qualifies as the most picturesque neighborhood in Athens, and rightfully so. Walk around, enjoy the pleasant atmosphere, and then choose a charming little terrace with a view of the Acropolis for a refreshing drink.
4. Make Sure to Taste the Typical Street Foods
Ever heard of gyros, moussaka or delicious baklava? Most of us are somewhat familiar with Greek cuisine, but there is much more to discover, even when you’re on a budget. There are plenty of great restaurants to expand your culinary portfolio, but you should also leave some room for a few typical snacks! Like the koulouri, a kind of a pretzel or bagel. The koulouri has become the ultimate street food snack in Athens. In summer, some stalls even sell koulouris with a vanilla ice cream filling! I went for the classic and chocolate version myself. Normally, they will cost you not more than €3 max, although a classic version sometimes only costs 50 cents. Just know that the koulouri is a popular ‘medicine’ for hangovers, so they are usually only available in the mornings.
5. Climb Mount Lycabettus for the Mind-Blowing Views
Out of all things to do in Athens, I could never get enough of exploring all the cityscape views. The number of panorama spots in Athens is unbelievable: you can see the city from all angles from the top of the Acropolis, Mount Lycabettus, Mars Hill, and Philipappos Hill. But I’ll be honest, I can’t even decide which is better: the iconic views from the Acropolis or the mind-blowing cityscape and ocean view from Mount Lycabettus. Ancient Athentians believed that Athena created Mount Lycabettus, the goddess of wisdom, craft, and war. There’s a cable car that will take you to the top (handy if you’re not fully mobile), but I definitely recommend climbing up. It’s a really cool experience to slowly rise above the city.
6. Check Out the Greek Changing of the Guards
The historic building where the Greek Parliament now works used to be the Old Palace. It’s right across Syntagma Square, which is also worth a visit, and the most interesting time to see it is during the changing of the guards. These ceremonial guards are called Evzones in Greek. Interestingly, they guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Presidential Mansion while still wearing the traditional uniform. Each of these guards have had to follow strict training to fulfil this honourable position and their disciplined concentration is always visible on their faces. The changing of the guards happens every hour, so time your visit appropriately. The changing every Sunday morning at 11 am is most detailed. Accordingly, every guard is dressed in a traditional white kilt and the performance is most impressive.
7. Head to Monastiraki Square for the Lively Urban Vibes
The Monastiraki neighbourhood and surrounding flea market areas form the most vibrant district in Athens. If you’re planning to go shopping, want to have a morning coffee, or just wishh to enjoy the lively urban atmosphere, head to Monastiraki Square and go from there. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most touristy areas (so expect lots of cliché souvenirs). But the Sunday morning street market is still a wonderful time to hunt for interesting finds. Just make sure to watch your belongings, since the crowds attract pickpockets. Monastiraki is also a great starting point to navigate to the ruins of Hadrian’s Library, the Ancient Agora and more.
8. Plan a Photo Session at the Top of Filopappou Hill
Another beautiful green area that is particularly interesting for photographers is Filopappou Hill. The whole area is a park with a network of paths and pine trees, perfect for a picnic or reading a book in peace. From the top of this ancient hill, the views of the Acropolis and city beyond are ideal, especially around sunset. The hill takes its name from the Monument of Filopappos. This centuries-old monument at the top of the hill is a mausoleum that was created in honour of Julius Antiochus Filopappo. He was an important Roman consul.
9. Go on a Green Escape in the National Garden of Athens
Queen Amalia commissioned the National Garden of Athens in 1838, at the time the Royal Garden. Today, it is a lovely public park that deserves a visit, although the garden was already open for the public in the afternoons in the 19th century. Now, you are free to explore the garden whenever you want. You’ll find this calm and green oasis right next to the Greek Parliament. Also be sure to check out the Zappeion building in the National Garden of Athens. This is where Greece’s official entry into the European Community took place in 1979 and the architecture is quite cool.
10. Enjoy the Sunset Sessions at Mars Hill
Sunset sessions at Areopagus or ‘Mars Hill’ are just the best. Locals and travelers alike will gather in the evening hours to relax and watch the city fall into a drowsy slumber. Mars Hill is an ancient rock named after Ares, the Greek god of war. According to Greek mythology, this is where Ares was judged for the murder of Poseidon’s son. As a result, the Aeropagus became the real-life court for trying murder suspects in classical times as well. Thankfully, the vibe is much more chilled out nowadays.