Searching for the best things to do in Athens? The former capital of Greece is brimming with unique landmarks, historic remnants, atmospheric neighborhoods, imposing structures, and breathtaking vistas. Having embarked on two trips to Athens, we gradually developed an affinity for this vibrant metropolis located in the southern part of Europe. Throughout our visits, we encountered the most exquisite attractions in Athens and also ventured into less familiar areas within the city. In this blog, we provide comprehensive insights about the Greek capital, including the top activities to partake in while in Athens.
How to get to Athens in Greece
Athens is situated in southeast mainland Greece, bordered by mountain ranges. It is one of Europe’s southernmost capitals, offering a warm climate and making it an ideal destination even during winter. Athens boasts its own international airport, providing direct flights from various European and intercontinental airports.
From Athens, you can easily reach other tourist destinations in Greece. The archaeological site of Delphi is just over 2 hours away, and you will find the famous monasteries of Meteora more than 5 hours away. Both are popular day tours from Athens for those who don’t have the time or transport to travel to these spots on their own. West of Athens is the Peloponnesos peninsula, the most beautiful part of the mainland, with famous sites like the Theater of Epidaurus, as well as idyllic beaches and picturesque coastal towns.
Combine Athens with island hopping in Greece by flying from Athens to various Greek islands or taking a ferry from Athens Piraeus port to multiple islands.
Why Athens is worth visiting
Athens, one of the world’s oldest cities, is brimming with history. The combination of ancient Greek ruins and the vibrant modern city make Athens a truly worthwhile destination.
A trip to Athens offers a unique cityscape compared to other European cities. Don’t expect a polished and picturesque city, as Athens can be raw, sometimes even neglected. However, the city center remains authentic, unaffected by tourism and inhabited by locals. Athens is a vibrant and raw city, unlike many others in Europe.
Scattered throughout this vibrant city are charming squares and atmospheric neighborhoods, adorned with archaeological sites, impressive monuments, and trendy hotspots. We indulged ourselves for days with the abundant sights of Athens, traversing numerous kilometers while exploring the expansive city center. Among the top attractions in Athens are renowned highlights like the Acropolis and the Parthenon, along with lesser-known gems such as quirky themed cafes and breathtaking viewpoints.
Where to stay in Athens
The best places to stay in Athens are the vibrant neighborhoods in the city center. Athens’ center comprises multiple districts, each with its own unique atmosphere and attractions. As these districts are all within walking distance of each other, there isn’t a definitive ideal location in Athens. Our favorite neighborhoods are undoubtedly Plaka, Monastiraki, Koukaki, and Psyri.
The finest hotels in Athens are:
- Electra Palace Athens is a remarkable hotel offering a multitude of amenities. After a day filled with sightseeing, indulge in relaxation at the rooftop pool, providing a tranquil oasis. Immerse yourself in the breathtaking view of the Acropolis from the swimming pool and the roof terrace, where you can enjoy a delightful breakfast each morning. For additional relaxation, take advantage of the indoor pool and spa facilities.
- AthensWas Design Hotel for a hotel offering a magnificent view of the Acropolis and boasting a prime location in the heart of Plaka. Situated directly across from the Acropolis and the New Acropolis Museum, this hotel is positioned on Dionysiou Areopagitou, which is renowned as Athens’ most picturesque pedestrian street. With its modern design featuring sleek lines and dark colors, as well as the option to enjoy breakfast with a view, AthensWas Design Hotel has become a highly sought-after choice among travelers seeking a stylish accommodation in Athens.
- Athens Hub Hostel is an exquisite hostel in Athens, conveniently situated in Psyri. Its captivating aesthetics, inviting communal spaces, and welcoming staff have made it a beloved choice for travelers. Unsurprisingly, this hotel boasts an exceptional rating on Booking.com.
- Moon & Stars Boutique Hotel is a trendy boutique hotel that offers contemporary and luminous rooms in a central Monastiraki location. The hotel experience is further enriched by a delectable breakfast served on the rooftop terrace. With excellent reviews from guests, it is one of the top-rated hotels in Athens on Booking.com.
- The Modernist Athens is situated in the stunning edifice of the former Canadian Embassy. It boasts a rooftop terrace affording breathtaking vistas of Athens. With a delectable breakfast, sophisticated and chic rooms, and an exceptional staff, this hotel ranks among the finest in the city.
- Urban Tales is a family-friendly aparthotel that offers stylish apartments with fully equipped kitchens. The appealing studios, convenient location, and welcoming owners have received positive reviews.
Athens on a budget
A city trip doesn’t always have to break the bank, and Athens is a great destination for a budget-friendly getaway. With its own international airport offering direct flights from various Dutch airports, finding affordable tickets to Athens is quite feasible, especially if you start your search early. And once you arrive in Athens, you’ll be glad to know that you don’t have to empty your pockets to enjoy the city.
Athens offers numerous attractions that are free to visit, including lively squares, charming neighborhoods, beautiful churches, and breathtaking viewpoints. While you may need to purchase entrance tickets for the museums and archaeological sites, we found the admission prices in Athens to be reasonable compared to other European cities.
But did you know that you can visit many museums and archaeological sites in Athens for free? If you’re an EU resident under the age of 25, you can enjoy free entry to several attractions in Athens. Additionally, certain days of the year, such as every first Sunday of the winter months, grant free access to archaeological sites like the Acropolis.
For those looking for practical budget tips in Athens, consider purchasing combination tickets. These provide affordable access to multiple sights. One of the most appealing combination tickets costs €30, granting you entry to the iconic Acropolis along with other attractions such as the Greek Agora, Hadrian’s Library, and the Roman Agora. There’s also a museum combination ticket available for €12, allowing you to visit the National Archaeological Museum, the Byzantine Museum, the Numismatic Museum, and the Epigraphic Museum.
Another budget-friendly option is to join a free walking tour in Athens. Several organizations offer these tours, during which you’ll walk with a knowledgeable guide to some of the city’s most beautiful spots. Not only will you gain an overview of Athens, but you’ll also learn fascinating insights about its history and landmarks. Although these tours are labeled as free, the intention is for participants to contribute based on their own evaluation of the tour’s value or what they can afford to give. You have the freedom to decide the amount you wish to pay for the tour.
The best things to do in Athens
#1 The Acropolis with the Partenon
The Acropolis, situated on a table mountain above the old city of Athens, is the most renowned and iconic landmark of the city. It houses the country’s most famous monuments and can be seen towering above the city from almost any vantage point. The Acropolis has served as the center of ancient Athens for centuries, hosting important religious ceremonies and serving as the political hub of the city. In ancient times, the rock plateau was also inhabited, and the city did not extend beyond the mountain’s limits.
The Parthenon, dedicated to Athena Parthenos, the city’s patron goddess, is the most famous monument on the Acropolis. Athena had various roles in Greek mythology and was revered as the holy virgin, the goddess of victory, wisdom, and strategic warfare. In addition to the Parthenon, which is dedicated to Athena Parthenos, there is also the Temple of Nike, dedicated to Athena Nike, the goddess of victory.
Exploring the Acropolis solely through information boards can be challenging as they focus primarily on the architecture, style, and dimensions of the buildings, without delving into their historical significance and use. Therefore, it is highly recommended to take a guided tour to fully appreciate the Acropolis as more than just a collection of ancient stones and columns.
#2 The museums of Athens
The best things to do in Athens when it rains? Spend your time by visiting the city’s museums, where you can immerse yourself in the history and culture of Athens and Greece. A recommended option is purchasing a combination ticket for the Athenian museums, which grants access to the National Archaeological Museum, the Byzantine Museum, the Numismatic Museum, and the Epigraphic Museum for €12.
The National Archaeological Museum is the most renowned museum in Athens, boasting one of the largest archaeological collections in Greece. It is a must-visit destination for many travelers. Among its highlights are the golden Mask of Agamemnon and the Antikythera mechanism, a device used for astronomical calculations.
Another favorite is the Acropolis Museum, which replaced the old museum in 2009. Here, you can discover the artifacts found on the Acropolis and gain deeper insights into its history and usage. The top floor features a reconstruction of the Parthenon’s decorations, offering a unique experience. Although much of the Parthenon frieze was taken from Greece and is now displayed in the British Museum in London, replicas have been placed in various locations to provide a comprehensive depiction of the impressive Partenon sculptures.
The Benaki Museum, founded in 1929 by Greek businessman and art collector Antonis Benakis, is also highly recommended. It houses an extensive collection of Greek and Asian artworks, as well as Islamic and Byzantine art objects. On Thursday evenings from 6 p.m., admission to the museum is free.
#3 The Plaka and Anafiotika Districts
The most charming neighborhood in Athens is undoubtedly the authentic Plaka. Nestled at the foot of the Acropolis, this cozy district features picturesque streets, steep alleys, and houses with white facades built against the slope of the mountain.
While Plaka still retains its small-scale and authentic atmosphere, it has largely become a tourist hub and is no longer a typical residential area. Nevertheless, the neighborhood’s appealing character endures, inviting visitors to explore its narrow streets, steep staircases, and Byzantine churches. Plaka is filled with restaurants and terraces, although finding truly authentic eateries might be a bit challenging, and prices tend to be slightly higher.
Plaka was originally constructed by skilled stonemasons from the island of Anafi, who were brought to Athens by King Otto of Bavaria, the first Greek king, to build a new district. During their stay, they built Anafiotika, a small village perched steeply against the Acropolis. Anafiotika exudes the ambiance of the Greek islands, making it one of the most remarkable places to visit in Athens.
#4 The Ancient Agora of Athens
The ancient Agora was the political, economic, and religious center of ancient Athens. Located in the heart of the city, it provides insight into the daily life of ancient Greeks.
The most renowned structure within the Agora is the Temple of Hephaestus, which stands as the best-preserved building. Erected in the fifth century BC, this temple remains remarkably intact due to its later use as a church. The Stoa of Attalos, featuring a double row of columns, is also a captivating sight. This structure served as a two-story shopping center during ancient times.
#5 The Tower of the Winds at the Roman Agora
To the east of the Ancient Agora, the Romans constructed a new marketplace between 19 and 11 BC. Known as the Roman Agora, this monumental site was funded by Julius Caesar, Augustus, and later paved with marble by Emperor Hadrian.
While not much remains of the Roman Agora’s former grandeur, the Tower of the Winds stands out as an impressive structure. Although it is often described as the best-preserved building of the agora, it is technically located just outside the archaeological site. Dating back to the first or second century BC, this octagonal tower showcases beautiful reliefs depicting the wind gods, giving it its name. Originally, the tower functioned as a water-powered clock.
We recommend to view the reliefs on the Tower of the Winds from outside the excavation site. Along the archaeological area, a path runs at a height that allows you to observe the reliefs at eye level.
#6 Themed Cafés: Little Kook & Fairytale Cafe
For one of the more quirky things to do in Athens, visiting one of the city’s themed cafés is a must. Two notable options are Little Kook and Fairytale Cafe, both located in the Psyri district, where you can marvel at the extravagant decorations.
Little Kook has become one of Athens’ most extraordinary attractions. What began as a café with a whimsical theme has grown into a sprawling landmark, spanning multiple buildings and half a street. Little Kook undergoes ever-changing transformations throughout the year, often inspired by fairy tales like Alice in Wonderland, Halloween atmospheres, and festive Christmas decorations. The café’s interior and exterior are lavishly adorned, creating a truly surreal spectacle. Keep in mind that prices for food and drinks at Little Kook are slightly higher than average, but the unique experience is well worth it.
Fairytale Cafe is another popular themed café in Athens. While its atmosphere may be less extravagant than that of Little Kook, the café delights visitors with its candy-pink decor both inside and outside. The menu complements the vibrant ambiance, offering a variety of sweet treats, making it an ideal spot for those with a sweet tooth.
#7 Monastiraki Square
Located between the main shopping streets of Athens, Monastiraki Square is a central hub of the city. It shares its name with the Monastiraki district and derives its name from the small monastery (monastiraki) that once occupied the square. The square is home to the Byzantine church Pantánassa, the only remaining structure from the former monastery. The old Tzami Mosque, dating back to the eighteenth century, is another eye-catching building on the square. While it no longer serves a religious purpose, the building now functions as a museum and houses various shops on its lower level.
Monastiraki Square is particularly vibrant on Sundays when the Monastiraki flea market takes place. Although you may not find high-quality items at the market, it is a pleasant place to explore and soak up the atmosphere. Whether you are searching for a bargain or simply wish to take a leisurely stroll, Monastiraki Square offers a lively experience.
#8 The cable car to Lykavittos Hill
In addition to the Acropolis, Athens boasts several hills within its city center, each providing a magnificent view of the city. The most popular hill is Lycabettus Hill, also known as Lykavittos Hill, which stands at nearly 300 meters, making it the highest peak in Athens.
Lycabettus Hill’s popularity stems from the presence of a cable car alongside a hiking trail. Even if you lack the energy or the weather is too hot for a climb, you can still enjoy the breathtaking view of Athens by taking the cable car. Riding to the top and then descending on foot is also a good option.
#9 Changing of the Guard
One of the quintessential attractions in Athens is the Changing of the Guard ceremony. Located near Syntagma Square, the Guard of Honor can be found at the Presidential Palace and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The ceremonial changing of the guard occurs hourly and is a captivating sight. The guards, dressed in their distinctive uniforms adorned with pom-poms on their shoes, present a remarkable display. The most impressive ceremony takes place on Sunday mornings at 11:00 a.m., featuring grand costumes and a full band.
#10 Panagia Kapnikarea Church
Situated amidst Athens’ bustling modern shopping streets, the Panagia Kapnikarea Church is one of the city’s oldest churches, boasting a rich historical character. Located on Ermou Street, known for its shops such as H&M, the church stands as a remarkable sight.
Built in the eleventh century, the Byzantine church exhibits beautiful architecture with domes, red roof tiles, and gold-colored mosaics. It was constructed upon the remains of an ancient Greek temple, a common practice during that era. The Kapnikarea Church narrowly escaped destruction during the city’s redevelopment under King Otto I of Bavaria, thanks to intervention by the king’s father. As a result, the church is situated slightly below the current street level, providing a glimpse into the gradual elevation of Athens’ streets over the centuries.
#11 Academy of Athens
Considered one of the most magnificent buildings in Athens, the Academy of Athens stands at the edge of the city center alongside the imposing structures of the National Library and University. Collectively known as the Trilogy, these three buildings were designed by architect Theophil Hansen. While all three structures possess their own beauty, the Academy of Athens is particularly striking.
The building, constructed in 1885, features a classical style with references to the Parthenon on the Acropolis. Similar to the Parthenon, the front of the Academy of Athens is adorned with a colonnade topped by a triangular frieze. This frieze depicts the birth of Athena through statues of significant height, reminiscent of those once found on the Parthenon. Athena, a fully-grown woman equipped with a spear and shield, emerges from the head of her father Zeus. To relieve his agonizing headaches, Zeus sought assistance from the god Hephaestus, who split his head open. Positioned in the center is Zeus, flanked by Hephaestus on the right and Athena on the left. Adjacent to the stairs leading to the academy building are statues of the Greek philosophers Plato and Socrates. Additionally, grand pillars housing colossal statues of Athena and Apollo grace the sides of the structure.
#12 The Panathenaic Stadium
The Panathenaic Stadium, also known as the Stadium Panathinaiko or Kallimarmaro, is a magnificent marble stadium of both historical and modern significance. It has been a site of sporting events since ancient times and continues to play a role in contemporary sports. The original stadium, built entirely of marble, hosted the Panathenaic Games in ancient Greece.
In 1895, the stadium was rebuilt, and the current Panathinaiko Stadium emerged. This reconstruction aimed to revive the ancient Olympic Games in a format recognizable to modern times. The stadium held the first modern Olympic Games and can now accommodate up to 80,000 spectators. However, due to its elongated and narrow shape, it is unsuitable for certain types of competitions, such as football and running. The stadium is often used as the finishing point for the annual marathon and is open for visitors to explore.
#13 Great and Little Metropolitan
The Great and Little Metropolitans are among the most captivating sights in Athens. While the city boasts many churches scattered throughout its streets, these two contrasting structures stand out. The Great Metropolitan, officially known as the Annunciation of the Mother of God Cathedral, is a monumental cathedral of the Archdiocese of Athens. Constructed in 1842 by King Otto I, the cathedral’s design was entrusted to Theophil Hansen, the Danish architect responsible for several neoclassical buildings in Athens, including the Academy of Athens.
Adjacent to the Great Metropolitan is the Little Metropolitan, a small historic church that stands in stark contrast to its grand counterpart. Despite its modest size, the Little Metropolitan has been one of Athens’ most significant churches for centuries. Today, it stands as a fine example of Byzantine architecture and serves as a beautiful counterpart to the Great Metropolitan.
#14 Hadrian’s Library
Hadrian’s Library is located between the Roman Agora and Monastiraki Square. The building complex was commissioned by the Roman emperor Hadrian and has been named after him since the nineteenth century. Although it had various purposes, it is primarily known for being a library. Over the years, the building suffered damage, underwent adjustments, and was later restored.
While Hadrian’s Library is a significant attraction in Athens, it is not essential to purchase a separate ticket for the archaeological site. Simply passing by the Library occasionally will provide a satisfactory impression from the exterior. If you already possess a combined ticket for the Acropolis and other archaeological sites, you have admission to the Library and can freely explore the premises.
#15 The port of Piraeus
Situated 12 kilometers from the city center, the port of Athens, commonly known as the Port of Piraeus, has long been a significant maritime hub in Greece. It serves as a departure point for ferries to the Greek islands and offers a vibrant town atmosphere, making it an enjoyable addition to your Athens itinerary. The port features shops, restaurants, and picturesque yachts, and is easily accessible via the metro.
Piraeus encompasses three ports: Sea Marina, which accommodates beautiful sailing boats and yachts; Mikrolimano, which caters to fishing boats; and the central port, from which ferries depart for the islands. Sea Marina offers a splendid opportunity to admire impressive boats, while Microlimano boasts a pleasant pedestrian promenade and a more idyllic ambiance. Both ports are semicircular bays surrounded by buildings, providing a picturesque view. Visiting Piraeus is incomplete without capturing a memorable photograph of these charming sights.
#16 The National Garden
For a serene retreat in bustling Athens, a visit to the National Garden is highly recommended. Spanning over 15 hectares, this expansive green space lies east of Plaka and is surrounded by renowned landmarks such as Syntagma Square, Panathenaic Stadium, Benaki Museum, the Presidential Palace, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The 15-hectare green oasis was originally a Royal Garden, created as part of the royal palace of the first Greek king, Otto I. Alongside his wife Amalia, Otto I commissioned a German architect to design a stunning landscape garden. Today, this garden is open to the public, offering a delightful walk through ruins, columns, statues, and old city walls. Notably, the Zappeion, constructed by renowned architect Theophil Hansen, stands out among the neoclassical buildings in Athens. The Zappeion is often used for exhibitions and fairs and previously hosted events during the first modern Olympic Games.
#17 Philopappos Hill
For one of the most breathtaking views of Athens, head to Philopappos Hill, also known as Filopappos or Philopappou, and referred to as the Hill of the Muses. Situated west of the Acropolis, this verdant hill offers an unrivaled viewpoint. Although not the tallest of Athens’ hills, its proximity to the Acropolis makes it a prime location for admiring the cityscape without an arduous climb.
Philopappos Hill features a green park with numerous paths and benches, providing a picturesque and tranquil setting amidst the vibrant city. Scattered throughout the hill, you’ll find monuments, statues, and ruins, but the highlight is undoubtedly the stunning panoramic view from the summit.
#18 Theater of Dionyssos and Odeion
Located on the southern slope of the Acropolis, the Theater of Dionysus and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus are two magnificent ancient theaters. The Theater of Dionysus, considered the oldest theater in the world, once accommodated approximately 15,000 spectators during theatrical performances dedicated to the god Dionysus. Over the centuries, it underwent numerous expansions before reaching its final form.
Slightly east of the Theater of Dionysus stands the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Constructed in the second century AD, this theater was commissioned by the wealthy Herodes Atticus in honor of his late wife. Primarily used for musical performances, it underwent restoration in the past century and remains a functioning venue today. During the summer months, open-air performances are held, continuing the ancient tradition.
#19 A free walking tour or bike tour inAthens
When exploring Athens, embarking on a guided tour is highly recommended to truly immerse yourself in the city’s history and raw charm. With its vast size and rich historical background, Athens comes to life with the help of local guides who provide insightful information.
A free walking tour is an excellent way to discover the historic city on foot. Several organizations offer these tours, each with its unique focus, such as street art or history. Accompanied by a knowledgeable guide, you’ll visit many of Athens’ most beautiful sites, gaining an overview of the city while delving into its historical background. Although these tours are referred to as free, it is customary to offer payment based on your satisfaction and ability to contribute, allowing you to determine the value of the tour.
Due to Athens’ extensive city center, a bike tour offers a comprehensive introduction to the city in a shorter span of time. It provides the opportunity to see and learn about various landmarks efficiently, allowing you to cover more ground. Highly recommended is the Athens Highlights Bike Tour by the renowned Baja Bikes. In just three hours, you’ll visit all the famous sights and explore the most charming neighborhoods in the city center.
#20 Christmas in Athens: The Christmas Factory
Although Athens may not be renowned as a Christmas destination, we loved visiting the Greek capital in December. The Greeks make significant efforts to adorn their streets, restaurants, and shops with extravagant Christmas decorations. Little Kook, a popular theme café, is a notable example of this festive atmosphere.
For a Christmas market in Athens, head to The Christmas Factory on the outskirts of the city center. This small Christmas village offers various activities and stalls, creating a lively market atmosphere. While it may not rival the free Christmas village in Trikala, The Christmas Factory still adds a touch of holiday spirit. Please note that there is an entrance fee of €7 for two adults.