Explore the capital city of Greece with our complete breakdown of the best things to do in Athens. We love Athens, but there is so much to see that it can sometimes be overwhelming, especially for a first-time visitor. If you follow these recommendations you will see the best of Athens in a relatively short amount of time.
In order to bring you the most comprehensive information on what you should see in Athens, we partnered with local Athens resident Marisa Feyen. We combined our knowledge to put together an Athens guide with both the popular attractions, ancient ruins, and some local recommendations to take you off the beaten path. Are you ready to plan your trip to Athens? Let’s go!
The Best Things to do in Athens
The capital of Greece is the perfect place to get your dose of ancient history while taking in the vibrant Greek culture. These are the best things to do in Athens from visiting its ancient ruins to enjoying Greek food and taking in some of the city’s vibrant nightlife.
If you are looking for where to make a base for Athens sightseeing, we have an entire post on Where to Stay in Athens. For first-time visitors, we suggest Syntagma Square or the Plaka neighborhood. They are in the center of Athens walking distance to many of the top Athens Attractions. See the full post Where To Stay In Athens – A Guide To The Best Neighborhoods
To visit the best archeological sites, purchase this Athens Combo Ticket where you’ll enjoy skip-the-line access to major Athens Attractions. The combination ticket includes the Acropolis, Roman Agora, and Ancient Agora as well as Aristotle’s School and the Keramikos Ancient Cemetery. Plus access to Hadrian’s Library and Temple of Olympian Zeus. Details here.
Visit the Acropolis
You cannot come to Greece and not visit the Acropolis. Athens is one of the world’s oldest cities and the Acropolis has been standing high above Athens for more than 2500 years. The Acropolis is considered one of the greatest architectural wonders in the world. It is the historical center of Athens and is one of the most famous sites on earth. So naturally, a visit to the Acropolis is one of the most popular things to do in Athens. Therefore, we suggest going to see the Acropolis early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.
Purchase this combo package to see both the Acropolis and Museum. Skip-the-line tickets are highly recommended and this combination ticket gives you front-of–the-line entry to both the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum. Follow a field expert and licensed archaeologist through the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Details here
The Parthenon is the most famous of the ancient ruins of Acropolis. It is the symbol of democracy dominating the hill of the Acropolis and dates back to the 5th century BC. But the Acropolis is filled with archeological wonders besides the Parthenon. On the grounds, you will also see The Temple of Athena Nike, and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre.
The Temple of Athena Nike is my personal favorite. It is a temple dedicated to the Goddess Athena and Nike Goddess. Athena Nike may be the smallest of the temples of the Acropolis, but I love its location standing on the edge of a high cliff. Purchase skip the line tickets in advance to avoid queues.
Other temples to visit are the Propylea Temple of Nike, the Erechtheion Temple and you must see the Dionysus Theater. I learned of this theater while studying Greek Tragedies in theatre school and it was amazing to see this famous theater. Also, don’t miss seeing the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the sanctuary of Asclepius.
- Opening Hours: 8 am to 8 pm last admission 7:30
- The entrance fee to the Acropolis is €20.
- If you buy ahead of time with GetYourGuide it’s approximately €24 and includes skip the long line tickets and access to the Acropolis hill
To escape the crowds and heat, go to the Acropolis Museum. Athens is full of history and there is no better place to learn all about it than the Acropolis Museum. This highly rated guided tour takes you on a tour of the New Acropolis Museum with a local guide. The 1 hour 15 minute guided tour of the New Acropolis Museum goes through the modern building that houses 4000 ancient relics and artifacts from Ancient Greece.
This is a great compliment to an Acropolis visit and there is a good video that shows the history of the Parthenon. The new Acropolis Museum, located at 15 Dionysiou Areopagitou Promenade
Concert at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Odeon in ancient Greece was a building for singing and musical shows. In Athens, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus is the theatre that sits at the base of the Acropolis. To this day it hosts world-renowned artists, like the Foo Fighters in 2017 and Sting in 2018. See details of events at the Odeon here.
It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to watch a concert in the oldest of venues among ancient ruins. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is not only historic, intimate and every seat offers great views of the stage. As part of the Epidaurus Festival every summer, the Odeon hosts dozens of concerts. Don’t be afraid to attend theatre events! Unless noted specifically, theater shows will have English subtitles.
Ancient Agora And The Temple of Hephaestus
The Temple of Hephaestus is one of the best-preserved ancient ruins in Athens. Located within the walls of the Ancient Agora, some say this is even more impressive than the Parthenon. The intricate details and towering fluted columns make the Temple Of Hephaestus a great thing to see in Athens if you love greek architecture.
- This Ancient Agora Guided Tour takes you through the Hephaestus Temple from the 5th century BC including the 12 Apostles, the Temple of Apollo Patroos, the Stoa of Zeus, the Altar of Zeus and more.
The surrounding Agora was founded back in the 6th century BC when the Ancient Agora of Athens was originally used as a meeting place or a place to congregate. Like most of the temples in Athens, the Temple of Hephaestus is best to visit in the morning. The light is better, it is cooler and you will avoid the masses of tourists that show up later in the day.
Stoa of Attalos was restored in 1953 – 1956 and today it is a museum that houses sculptures and exhibits of Ancient Agora. There are also remnants from the ancient ruins of Temple of Hephaestus.
A guided tour of Ancient Agora is one of the best ways to visit the Temple of Hephaestus. You’ll visit the Greek temple as well as the church of the 12 Apostles, the Temple of Apollo Patroos, the Stoa of Zeus, the Altar of Zeus. The tour ends at the Attalos Museum to tour its ancient artifacts.
The Roman Agora
This is the most popular Agora (or meeting place) in Athens. Probably because Socrates used to lecture here. The Roman Agora was built between 19 and 11 BC, this area is huge with over 30 buildings and ancient monuments and requires a lot of walking. It is a good way to spend a couple of hours after visiting the more main sites.
Cultural History at the Benaki Museum
The elegant Benaki Museum highlights the history of Greece throughout the ages. The most unique items are gilded ceilings and wood paneling recovered from 18th-century Greek mansions and are displayed as reconstructed rooms in the museum. The museum also has a fabulous gift shop. I visit the museum just to purchase high-quality reproductions and other gifts for family and friends.
- Hours: Closed Mon – Tue. Wed/Fri: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm. Thur/Sat: 10:00 am – 12:00 am. Sunday 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
- Cost: permanent exhibition €9 (free Thursdays), special exhibition €7
National Archaeological Museum
Established in 1829, the National Archaeological Museum is the largest museum in Greece. Housing 11,000 exhibits of ancient Greek art from prehistory to late antiquity. It is also considered one of the world’s best museums for ancient Greek art. If you are really into art history then this is a place you should visit. If you do, make sure not to miss Agamemnon’s gold death. It is worth the visit just to see this.
Ancient Greek Temple of Olympian Zeus
Compared to a lot of the other ancient ruins in Athens, the Temple of Olympian Zeus may seem not to have a lot left of it. That being said it is no less impressive. I found myself imagining just how grand and massive this temple would have been in its glory. In its prime, there were 104 17 meters tall (55 feet) columns housing statues of Gods. Today only 15 remain, but the grounds are very impressive to visit. Started in the 6th century BC but was not completed until the 2nd Century AD this is probably one of the temples that took the longest to build.
One look at those columns and you will see why. A good way to visit the Temple of Olympian Zeus is to book this audio tour that you can listen to on your phone. It includes skip the line tickets to Acropolis Hill, Temple of Zeus and the Ancient Agora. Enjoy a full attraction experience with three separate e-tickets and audio tours on your phone
Stroll the Streets of Plaka
Plaka is a neighborhood located just below the Acropolis and stretches to Syntagma Square. This is the oldest neighborhood of modern Athens and it feels like you have stepped back in time with the Neoclassical buildings, and balconies overflowing with all kinds of flowers. We walked the tight, twisting alleys that are accented by 19th-century facades that burst with colors in the summer. Plaka is all about family-run shops and restaurants and is a great place to check out some nightlife in Athens.
For a fun tour of Plaka and other Athens neighborhoods, take this ebiking tour through the streets and side streets of Athens without the crowds. Climb the Hill of Nymphs for views of the Acropolis and Mount Lycabettus. Plus, discover the site of the first modern Olympic Games at the Panathenaic Stadium which is a modern reconstruction of the stadium built for the Panathenaic Games.
Monastiraki Square is a bustling meeting place located in the heart of Athens. Located beneath the Acropolis, Monastiraki Square is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Athens. With walking streets, cafes and patios it is a great place to relax and take a stroll for an afternoon. In Monastiraki, you’ll find the archeological site of Ancient Agora.
Hadrian’s Library is located next to Monastiraki Square. It was built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 132 AD. It’s an impressive set of columns in the heart of the city center. The site was used for exactly what you would think, to house books. It was also a place for philosophical walks and teaching.
This 3-hour private walking tour is an excellent way to explore the area. Take a walk along the walking street of Mitropoleos Street to the Metropolis Athens Cathedral. See the Roman Forum, the Tower of the Winds, and Hadrian’s Library. You’ll cover a lot of ground to see Monastiraki Square and its Flea Market, Ancient Agora, Temple of Hephaestus, and much more.
Athens Food Tour
A great way to visit the Monastiraki area of Athens is to take a food tour. This food tour takes you through Monastiraki and its famous Greek tavernas and restaurants plus its archeological attractions and ancient ruins of the city center including Hadrian’s Library, the Ancient Agora, and the Monastiraki Flea Market. This market is famous for its indoor artisanal shops selling handmade sandals and souvenirs plus its outdoor food market. This tour will take you to cafés, markets, delicatessens where you’ll also sample some great street food haunts. More details here.
Changing of the Guard -Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The first time we visited Athens, we stayed at Syntagma Square and had the privilege of watching the changing of the guard without even knowing they did it! The Hellenic Parliament building dominates the area and is a popular place to visit in Athens. The guards stand guard over the Tomb of the Uknown Soldier and each day the guards change, however, on Sundays at 11:00 am, the official ceremony takes place.
This city tour not only includes stops at Athens’s top attractions to visit the Acropolis, Parthenon, Nike Temple and more, but you’ll also see other lesser-known sites. Meet in the city center at the House of Parliament and see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the National Garden, Zeus Temple and Hadrians’s Arch while you learn of the first Olympic Games and ancient Greek History.
Lycabettus Hill (Mount Lycabettus)
The acropolis may be the high hill in Athens that everyone knows, but Lycabettus Hill is the highest point in Athens. The prominent 277-meter hill that is visible from all over Athens is one of the best views of the Acropolis. It is one of my favorite sites because you can see the entire city, including the Acropolis, all the way to the sea. It’s also one of the best places to watch the sunset in Athens.
There is a funicular that can take you to the top of Mount Lycabettus, or you can take the stairs if you’re looking for some extra exercise. At the top, you’ll find Agios Georgios (St. George Church) and there is a cafe. If you want to do something decadent, book dinner at Orizontes for views of the Acropolis to Piraeus and the Saronic Gulf
- Mount Lycabettus funicular information
Another good place for sunset in Athens is Philopappos Hill. Take a hike through this park filled with pine trees and walking paths for views of the Acropolis, city center, and the Saronic Gulf.
Take in the Neoclassical Architecture
Signs of ancient Greek history are evident throughout Athens, but there are also signs of its modern history as well. This history begins when the capital of Greece was moved from the Peloponnese peninsula to Athens after Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Turks.
At that time, Athens was a village of 7,000 residents with very few real houses. Wanting to recreate a grand capital city, the new king of Greece commissioned a reconstruction. The remaining neoclassical structures are a result of this effort.
- To see some examples of Neoclassical check out:
- Zappeion Hall, the first building in the world to serve the Olympic Games, the Athenian Triptych
- Three buildings near Panepestimio
- National Library of Greece
- The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
- The Academy of Athens
- The buildings that house both the Museum of Cycladic Art and the Benaki Museum
- The Hellenic Parliament Building that dominates Syntagma Square.
The guides at Livin’ Lovin’ give a fantastic tour that covers neoclassical buildings (or many other interesting fascinating details about Athens)
Museum of Cycladic Art
The Museum of Cycladic Art is not only a fine example of Neoclassical Art, it also houses one of the finest collections of Cycladic art. Here you’ll see vases, tools, weapons, pottery, and marble figurines from the bronze age (3000 BC). If you plan on visiting the Greek Islands, the Museum of Cycladic Art is a great compliment as The Cycladic culture flourished in the Aegean Sea in such places as Santorini and Mykonos.
Explore Athens Central Market
Every day except Sunday, you can experience the buzz of the largest market in Athens. Athens Central Market extends to both sides of Athinas Street, with vegetables and olives sold on one side, and meat and fish on the other.
This is not a place for those with a queasy stomach – animal heads and carcasses hang from hooks in front of passersby and butchers carve the meat in open stalls. Even if you do have a sensitive stomach, head to the vegetable side of the market and try the olives on display. My favorite is the wrinkly kind, which is sun-dried and dry salt-cured. I recommend making a stop by Miran for a glimpse into old Athens and sample their excellent cured meats.
- Hours: daily, except Sunday 7 am – 6 pm
- Location: Athinas 42
Temple of Poseidon
Be Inspired at the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio. If you’ve had enough of the city and want to get away to relax, Cape Sounio is a fantastic option. Standing 60 meters above sea level, it is still the perfect location for a temple honoring Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. The Temple of Poseidon was constructed in 444–440 BC and is 70 km outside of the city.
Take a tour of the marble temple, which dates from the 5th century B.C., and then have lunch or dinner at a taverna on the beach just below the temple. You can book day tours to Poseiden here.
Sounio for Sunset
Sounio is another fantastic spot in Athens to view the sunset. Located on the sea about 70 kilometers from the city center, you’ll need a car hire to reach it but it is worth it as it is one of the coolest things to do in Athens. You can book sunset tours from Athens to Sounio’s meeting at the Halandri Metro station where you’ll take a bus to the Poseidon Temple.
- For more information check out Odysseus Culture
- Hours: winter: 9:30 am – sunset, summer: 9 am – sunset
- Cost: €8/€4 reduced
Visit the Metro Station Mini-Museums
During preparation for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, the metro system was expanded, including a brand new line connecting the new airport to the center (the blue line). Parts of this line had to be dug essentially by hand to preserve artifacts that were buried beneath the current city.
These metro stops now serve as mini-museums displaying some of the ancient statuary, gravestones, oil lamps, and vases from the 5th century BC that were found during the dig. The most interesting stations to check out are Syntagma, also home to the tomb of the unknown soldier, and Monastiraki stations.
- Hours: 5:30 am – 12:30 am
- Location: Syntagma and Monastiraki metro stations
- Cost: free
Aeropagus Hill (Mars Hill)
Greece has strong ties to early Christianity. The Apostle Paul wrote to early Christians in the Greek cities of Corinth and Thessaloniki and made a famous sermon about the identity of “the Unknown God” on the Aeropagus Hill (also known as Mars Hill) next to the Acropolis.
It is referenced in Acts 17 of the New Testament. The location is marked by a plaque (in Greek). Climb up the stairs and admire the fabulous view where Paul had stood preaching to the people of Athens.
Every summer, Athens presents dozens of theater, music and dance events throughout June, July, and August. The artists come from all over the world, but promoting Greek artists is the primary focus of the festival.
The venues are several sites in Athens (including the Odeon) and two sites in the ancient Epidaurus on the Peloponnese peninsula, including the magnificent ancient theater. The theater events typically include English subtitles but check the event information to confirm.
- Where: various venues around Athens & Epidaurus
- When: June 4 – August 15 (2020)
Transcend Ancient History to Modern Art
State of Concept is a non-profit organization that serves as a bridge between Greek contemporary art and the international art scene. They feature up-and-coming artists via solo or group shows. Their aim, “has been asking questions that relate to the notion of the State and its contemporary condition in the West and beyond.”They also offer free consultations to advise local artists.
State of Concept is also known for its high-quality curation that feels like the Tate Modern but in a small and intimate setting. They have showcased everything from virtual reality to films and traditional mediums.
- Hours: Wednesday – Friday 4:30-8:30pm, Saturday 12pm – 5pm
Experience the Chatty Coffee Culture
For me, the best place to experience the coffee culture is the square of Agia Irini. It’s a short walk from Monastiraki on a pedestrian street (Aeolou Street). You’ll know you’ve found it when you see the cathedral, which was the main cathedral of Athens until the new one was built. Take a peek inside the cathedral for a fantastic example of the Byzantine style.
Tailor-made and Rooster are cafes that are full day and night. Kostas, a tiny shop that serves the best souvlaki in Athens (in my humble opinion) is also located in the square.
Taste the Meze
Traditional Greek food is very simple and relies on high-quality fresh ingredients. Greeks eat family style, with a large number of small dishes, called meze, that is shared by everyone at the table. “Meze” means taste or small bite. Like the food itself, eating Meze is a casual affair. Greeks are not shy about grabbing food from the shared plates with a fork, or with their fingers. It starts with salads like the Greek salad (tomatoes, feta, cucumber, onion, peppers, olives) and dips (fava, tzatziki) and then leads to meat and fish dishes, and side dishes like wild greens and fried potatoes.
Don’t neglect to add a squeeze of lemon to almost everything nor the traditional drinks – raki, ouzo, or house wine. Barbounaki in Kolonaki or Seychelles in Metaxourgheio are modern takes on the traditional meze, but any taverna will offer these small dishes. Read this Greek Food Guide – Traditional Dishes to Eat in Greece
Stavros Niarchos Center
This cultural center was fully funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (€617-million) and was donated to the Greek state. The building is designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and the 43-acre parks were designed via a partnership between New York and Greece-based landscape designers.
The building is modern with angular glass walls and the park’s indigenous Mediterranean plants bring much-needed green space to the neighborhood. The site houses the Greek National Library and the Greek National Opera House.
Did I mention that Athens is very hot in the summer? You’ll appreciate the shade of the National Gardens! Commissioned by Queen Amalia in 1838 as the royal garden of the adjacent palace (which is now the Greek Parliament building), the National Garden is a picturesque respite from the busy city.
It’s one of the few shady spots in the center and is great for a walk and spotting ruins, like columns and Corinthian capitals. The entrance of the park is on Leoforos Amalias (named after the queen) just a short walk from Syntagma Square and is marked by the 12 palm trees that she planted.
Open Air Cinema
My favorite thing to do in Athens in the summer is going to the outdoor cinemas. This is a summer tradition since the 1960s when there were over 600 outdoor cinemas. The summer heat in Athens keeps the temperature comfortable well past midnight.
For me, the best place to go is the cinema in Thissio because it has a great view of the Acropolis. Another great spot is the cinema in the Plaka, which also has a view of the Acropolis and is conveniently located. Cine Paris is another popular outdoor cinema. It is one of about 90 outdoor cinemas in Athens.
One of the best things to do in Athens is to sit back and relax while taking in the views of the Acropolis and city lights. Athens has some incredible rooftop bars and we had the luxury to visit a few for outstanding evenings in the city.
Looking for unique things to do in Athens? This Athens wine tasting experience under the Acropolis takes you to a rooftop restaurant with beautiful views of the Acropolis where you enjoy a wine tasting with tapas as you enjoy delicious Greek Wine.
Some of the best rooftop bars in Athens include The Terrace Floor at Syntagma Square, Novotel Athens with a rooftop pool bar, Couleur Locale in Monastiraki, The Sky Lounge at Melia in the city center, and the Air Lounge Roof bar in Kotzia Square. I have to admit, we can’t readily remember which rooftop bars we visited in Athens, but we always made sure to pop into one at night.
Hunt for Street Art
I became curious after I spotted different versions of a black and white princess, always with her eyes closed and a sad expression on her red lips, painted throughout the center. I learned that the artist, Sonke, painted them for an ex-girlfriend in places where she would see them. Street art is more than streaks of paint on a wall. It tells a story about its surroundings and the people in it.
Athens Neighborhoods for Street Art: Check out the neighborhoods of Anafiotika, Psirri, and Metaxourgheio, and on the hill just below the northeast side of the Acropolis.
Escape With an Island Day Trip
No trip to Greece is complete without experiencing the island life, and Hydra is a great place for that. Be transported back in time to an old-world village that has been preserved like it was when it was built in the 1800s. It doesn’t even allow cars. This is the scene that attracted Leonard Cohen to live here in the 1960s in a house that his family still owns. The restaurants along the harbor are a great place for people-watching. We especially enjoyed hiking on the well-marked trails.
How to Get Around Athens
From the airport to downtown Athens
- You can take the bus from the airport to downtown Athens. That is what we did our first time in the city. The bus is 6€
- The metro also goes from the airport to the city center and is the Metro is 10€. We took this when coming back from our trip to Crete in the Greek Islands.
- There are taxis from the airport as well.
- If you are flying into Athens for the first time on an international flight, we recommend a private pick up. When visiting a new city, we always love seeing our name at arrivals and knowing we have no hassels ahead of us getting to our hotel. Book this affordable private airport transfer here.
Athens is a walkable city and we walked to most major attractions in Athens. Making a base in the city center, it was an easy walk to the ancient ruins like the Acropolis, The Temple of Hephaestus, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and more.
The Metro is a great way to get around to limit walking. It stops at most ancient ruins, museums and attractions. We use Google Maps to get around cities and follow the transportation recommendations. See 32 Best Travel Apps
For an overview of Athens, a hop on hop off bus tour is a good way to see the city and this combination tour gives you access to the museums and 48 hours of access to the hop on hop off bus around the city.
A visit to Athens is a trip you’ll never forget. To see the Acropolis for the first time, walk in the footsteps of Gods, and discover the ancient ruins of an ancient city will stay with you for a lifetime. So, these are the best things to do in Athens. Have you visited this ancient city? What do you recommend visitors do when they visit Athens?
- Check out more about Greece Travels