What to see in Athens: from the Parthenon to the anarchists
A great and honest guide to Athens. What’s worth seeing and what can you safely skip? Find out! We’ll tell you about all the interesting sights from ancient ruins to anarchist neighborhoods.
Athens is seen by many tourists in a romantic veil: as if ancient ruins are found at every turn, and here you are no longer just a tourist, but a time traveler. In fact, well-preserved ancient monuments are not so much, they are scattered in the city center and overgrown with ordinary houses, stores and taverns, so the effect of a time machine, as in the Turkish Ephesus, does not occur. I was in this reality all the time, among the same tourists, gazing at the remnants of former greatness, and there was no way I could bring the ruins to life in my imagination. So don’t expect too much, lest you be disappointed.
But Athens is a very lively city. I find it interesting in terms of gentrification, the redevelopment of disadvantaged areas of the city. It’s fascinating to wander through the heavily tattered but colorful Exarchia and Psiri neighborhoods covered in graffiti and murals, but also to come across hipster cafes and fashionably dressed young people with tattoos. Athens has a contemporary art scene, a rebellious spirit, and a touch of adventurism, which is appealing. One minus is the hopelessly bleak architectural construction, which resembles a stone jungle, strongly spoils the impression of the city.
Standing in the Ancient Agora Museum in Athens
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Most of all in Athens we wanted to see the Acropolis, but it was a complete disappointment: the flow of tourists, even during the pandemic, does not allow to get into the moment, not much is preserved, you can not enter the buildings, and only connoisseurs and experts of the events of two and a half thousand years ago will be interested. I guess 99% of people go there purely for the tick, for it is a must see. Think about whether you need it, and feel free to ignore it if you have no interest. I liked the Erechtheion temple with its elegant caryatid maidens and the Parthenon, which is always under reconstruction, was not at all impressive.
Before visiting it be sure to read the book “An Amusing Greece” by Mikhail Gasparov or at least our note about the Acropolis in Athens. And if you want to immerse yourself in history, take this tour with a professional guide.
Crowds of tourists at the Acropolis. And it’s on a weekday in late October!
The Ancient Agora has a large area that is nice to walk around and many times less tourists than the Acropolis. Plus inside there is a small museum with a nice and quite illustrative collection of antiquities. But the most interesting thing in the agora is the towering temple of Hephaestus, which is surprisingly well preserved. In my opinion, it is the most beautiful ancient temple in Athens. You want to photograph it from all angles, it’s impossible to stop. Learn more about the Ancient Agora.
The Temple of Hephaestus in the Ancient Agora is very beautiful and perfectly preserved.
The Roman Agora is very close to the Ancient Agora. It was created in the days of Julius Caesar and Augustus. At that time the beautiful square was surrounded by slender columns and people entered it through the gate of Athena Archegetis. Today, there is little that has survived, and what attracts visitors to the square is the marble Tower of the Winds, an octagonal meteorological station with bas-reliefs of the gods of the winds. Also impressive is the level of the cultural layer – note how far below the agora is the modern city. The entire square and tower can be viewed for free around the perimeter (the view is even better than from it!), so there is no need to pay an entrance fee.
The Tower of the Winds at the Roman Agora in Athens.
Of the once huge and magnificent library building, only a small section of the wall now remains. It can be safely viewed through the bars and without having to pay an entrance fee.
The columns in the courtyard of the Hadrian’s Library.
Temple of Zeus the Olympic and Hadrian’s Arch
Check out the Temple of Zeus the Olympic (Olympion) in Athens, the largest sanctuary in Ancient Greece, which took 650 years to build! The historian Titus Livius wrote that it was the only temple worthy of Zeus himself. Although only one corner and a few columns are extant, the scale of the construction is impressive. It is a pity that temporarily it is under reconstruction. Learn more about the Temple of Zeus.
Very close to the temple stands the arch in honor of Emperor Hadrian. It is made of solid blocks of Pentelian marble, without the use of cement or other building mixes.
This is all that remains of the temple of Zeus the Olympic. Alas, this little piece during our trip, too, was covered by scaffolding due to reconstruction.
Unexpectedly Kerameikos turned out to be an interesting place in Athens, so I advise you to see it. It is a necropolis where noble citizens and warriors were buried. Two important roads passed through it, the Panathenician and Sacred roads. They were used in festive processions. Look at the tombstones and be sure to look under your feet, because you’ll see many ceramic shards in the ground, some even with black paint. Don’t forget the museum, which houses the finds and – most importantly – Kouros, a statue of a young athlete.
Tombstones in the Keramikos Cemetery.
As I wrote above, the neighborhoods in Athens are colorful, distinctive and very different from each other.
Plaka is super touristy, almost all filled with souvenir shops and noisy taverns. You can find quiet and pretty streets closer to the Anafiotica neighborhood, where it is nice to walk, but in general the area is overrated.
Street in the Plaka neighborhood.
Anafiotica is only a small part of the Plaka neighborhood, but it is its gem. The neighborhood consists of only two and a half streets, but what photogenic streets! There are colorful cozy little houses, blooming bougainvilleas, chubby seals, and stunning views of Athens. Learn more about the Plaka and Anafiotica neighborhoods.
We stroll through the quiet streets of Anafiotica. Lesha enjoys a great view of Athens from the observation deck in the Anafiotica neighborhood.
Psiri . A little dilapidated and covered in graffiti and murals, but a very cozy and colorful neighborhood. Lots of trendy bars, cafes, and coffee shops. In Psiri at 17 Karaiskaki Street, find Little Kook Café. It’s famous for its fantastic decorations, which change depending on the holidays and the time of year. For example, we caught the cafe’s Halloween decorations.
Don’t threaten southern Psyri by sipping juice in your apartment.
The exarchy is an unusual anarchist neighborhood covered in graffiti. Despite its fame and complete lack of police, it is quiet, peaceful, and safe. Exarchia is full of trendy establishments: cafes, bars, clubs, and galleries.
Exarchia is a neighborhood of leftists and informals.
Kolonaki is a small neighborhood for the rich. Beautiful houses, expensive stores and restaurants.
Monastiraki . When you look at the temples, Hadrian’s library, both agora, know this is all Monastiraki. A lively and diverse neighborhood with stores, bars, restaurants, a market and ancient ruins.
Gazi is an area for fun-loving partygoers. We did not visit it. In the former industrial quarter of the city there is a popular cultural complex “Technopolis”. It is a huge old factory, which has been converted into a museum and exhibition center with a stage.
You can get to know the neighborhoods on your own just by walking around them. Plaka, Anafiotica, Monastiraki and Psiri often offer tours – choose them on Tripster. I like this service above all because there you can always find sincerely passionate guides and unique programs.
Athens has many hills that offer beautiful views of the city: the Areopagus, Philopappus, Likavit, Pnyx, and Strefi. We climbed only the Areopagus and Philopappa. From the latter is the best view of the Acropolis at sunset. You can easily climb them on your own or you can take this tour where a guide will tell you the stories associated with these hills. Read also about the observation hills of Athens.
View of Athens from the observation deck on the Areopagus. The top of Philopappu offers the best view of the Acropolis.
Athens has many interesting museums and one wants to see them all. For starters we chose the Cycladic Art Museum and the Benaki Museum . There we spent a day and after that we did not go to any other museum because we risked getting an overdose of ancient Greek art. In Benaki you can see the development of Greek culture from the Neolithic Age until the end of the 19th century, and in the Cycladic Museum you can see unique idols up to five thousand years old, beautiful in their simplicity and sophistication. They are said to have influenced Modigliani’s work.
What other museums to see in Athens? Tourists really like the Acropolis Museum , they recommend visiting it before the Acropolis. There is a very rich collection at the Archaeological Museum, and many interesting paintings in the private gallery of Goulandris.
I advise to visit the souvenir stores at the museums. They sell not just Chinese trinkets, and works of local artists, designers and jewelers, inspired by museum collections. In the Benaki Museum store, for example, we bought a beautiful replica of an ancient ring.
Satyr on a donkey. A 510 BC cilicus from the collection of the Ancient Agora Museum, also worth a look while walking around Athens.
While walking around Athens, I advise you to see several curious temples at once:
- The Panagia of Capnicare liked the most. Small, surrounded by a noisy crowd of tourists and locals shopping at H&M and Zara, it is a bastion of silence in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the world. Inside are beautiful and unusual frescoes.
- Agios Eleftherios is a tiny church in the shadow of the giant cathedral next door. Walk around its perimeter and admire the marble carvings.
- Aya Dinami is another tiny church sandwiched among modern buildings. It was closed the whole time.
Colorful changing of the guard
Every hour there is a ceremonial changing of the guard, which draws a crowd of tourists. The soldiers of the Presidential Guard, the eusons, are dressed very colorfully. Red hats, shoes with big pompoms, and white garter belts. This is not to be missed!
The eusons move very slowly and make unusual movements when changing the guard. I read that there are 60 nails hammered into each shoe sole and they weigh 3 pounds each! That’s probably why the eusons’ feet are so pumped up. And in the evening you can also see the Guardsmen sparks with their shoes. By the way, they write that their cute little pompoms on their shoes are designed either to hide little knives there, or to protect their toes from frostbite.
Brave Guardsmen marching during the changing of the guard. Look closely at the soles, you can see nails driven in there.
What to see near Athens
Lake Vouliagmeni . The lake with warm, salty water that has healing properties is a favorite vacation spot for Athens residents and tourists. Vouliagmeni is visited at any time of the year, as the water temperature remains from +20 ° C to +27 ° C. It is a favorite destination for Athens residents and tourists. Learn more about Lake Vouliagmeni.
Cape Sunion and the Temple of Poseidon . Everyone writes that the temple of Poseidon is a great place to meet the sunset. It’s true, but it’s better to come to the cape by rented car or with a tour, because late at night buses don’t go any more. The trip from Athens one way by bus takes two hours. Learn more about Cape Sounion and the temple.
Parnis Park in the mountains . There are many excursion routes in the park. People come here to enjoy nature, breathe the mountain air, drink spring water, see the cave of Pan, the fortress of Fili and the ancient chapel of Triada Parnito.
Delphi and Meteora . These places are quite far from Athens, so you have to go by rented car or on a tour for 2 days. We visited Meteora by car, it is a very beautiful and unusual place.
How many days you need to go to Athens?
Opinions here differ: especially enthusiastic about antiquity, people say that not even a week is not enough, while others believe that in Athens is enough and one day, and then it is better to rush to the islands. We found ourselves in the middle and allotted five full days of our Greek trip to Athens, and it was too much. Everything worthy of any attention we saw in four days, and the fifth was completely unnecessary. In addition, one of the four days was almost entirely devoted to visit two museums, and people who are less crazy can cross it out of the plan. In total, three or four days will be enough to get you acquainted with the Greek capital at a quiet pace.
Prices and working hours
In this article I did not write about the prices and working hours of all places, because the information often changes. All information about the archeological sites I looked at the official website. With museums it is different – each of them has its own website, and the actual information is better to look there.
Note that every Thursday from 6:00 pm to midnight you can get into the Benaki Museum for free. And then there are a few days when admission to museums and attractions in Athens is free: March 6, April 18, May 18, the last weekend of September, October 28 and every first Sunday from November 1 to March 31.
We always bought our tickets on the spot, but you can also buy them online. The only place where there were lines was the Acropolis. I recommend going in from the secondary entrance, which is next to the Acropolis Museum, because there are far fewer people. Almost all tour groups go in through the main entrance. Here are the coordinates for the best place to go in: 37.969692, 23.728994.
If you are very passionate about antiquity and want to visit all the major sites in Athens, I advise you to take a combo ticket for 30 €. We bought it at the Acropolis ticket office. On it you will see seven locations: Acropolis, Ancient Agora and Museum, Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, Temple of Zeus, Ceramicos, Lyceum. This ticket is advantageous because admission to the Acropolis alone costs 20 €!
However, if you come in low season, you can do without a combo ticket because all places have reduced prices by half.
Moreover, a number of attractions can be seen from the side without paying: the Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, the Temple of Zeus.
What you can miss
Panathenaic Stadium . A huge stadium built entirely of white marble on the site of an ancient stadium. The size is impressive, but nothing particularly interesting there. The 9€ admission price is too much.
Aristotle’s Lyceum . You can safely skip this place as there is nothing interesting left.
What to see in Athens: Top 20 places to see
Athens is an ancient cultural center of Greece and very beautiful and distinctive city. Today in our guide to Athens we will tell you about its most interesting places that will turn your Athens vacation into an unforgettable magical fairy tale when you visit the sights .
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Athens is an antique city, so start your acquaintance with the most “bearded” sights. One such place to visit is the Plaka district. The oldest historical district of the city rests under the shadow of the no less ancient hill – the Acropolis. The labyrinths of narrow, shady streets covered with greenery and flowers, weave into a bizarre pattern, taking you back in time, slowing down time. Wander amongst the old traditional Greek houses and then wander into one of the hospitable little tavernas to experience Grecian hospitality.
After a walk around Plaka, don’t be lazy to go up to the Acropolis. Everyone must know this flat-topped rock topped with a classic Greek temple. In the past it was decorated with many temples and sculptures, but today only the temple of Nika Apteros, the Erechtheion and the famous Parthenon remain of all this splendor.
The hill offers a beautiful view of the city, as if scattered below, and its temples are a great place to explore the culture and history of Ancient Greece.
The Acropolis is open daily from 08:00 to 15:00, the ticket costs €12 (full). For young people under 18 years old admission is free (proof of age required). The Acropolis is free to visit on March 6, June 5, April 18 and May 18 (public holidays), the last weekend in September and every first Sunday from November 1 to March 31.
And those who are ready to delve deeper into the history of ancient sites are sure to enjoy a tour of the historic center of Athens.
Do you want to see Athens from above? There’s nothing easier! Just climb the Areopagus Hill in the northwestern part of the Acropolis. Once the center of social life in Athens, the Areopagus Hill (as its name is translated) is now a tourist attraction because it offers spectacular views of the city!
The Areopagus can be reached by metro (Thissia station on line 1 and Monastiraki on line 3).
Athens Archaeological Museum
Greece in general and Athens in particular can rightly be considered one big open-air museum. Yet to explore the rich architectural and sculptural heritage of Hellas, you should visit the Archaeological Museum of Athens. There are more than 20,000 exhibits from different eras, from early civilizations to antiquity. Ancient ceramics, figurines, housewares, bronzes, jewelry – you can’t list everything. So take your time and go to the unexplored places!
The Archaeological Museum is located at 44 Patissión Street.
Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday from 08:00 to 15:00, Monday from 13:30 to 20:00. Tickets cost €7 (full), €3 for students and free for anyone under 19.
Your introduction to Greek culture and history is incomplete if you don’t include the Benaki Museum in your “tourist list”. Yes, it is dedicated to archaeology (why be surprised if Greece is famous for archaeological finds?). But its rich collection will not leave you indifferent, because the artifacts presented here cover a time period starting from the Paleolithic period!
And then, in the museum you can see not only the heritage of Greek culture, but also Andean, Islamic and Chinese. Sculptures, paintings, icons, jewelry and utensils will immerse you in a bygone era and reveal the charm of ancient times.
Museum works: Wed, Fri. – from 09:00 to 17:00; Thu. – from 09:00 to 24:00 and Sun. – From 09:00 to 15:00. The museum is closed on mondays, Tuesdays and holidays.
Fee for admission is €7. Every Thursday and May 18 (Museum Day) admission is free.
You can get to the museum by bus №022, 060, 200, 203, 204, 211, 222 – 224, 235. Or by trolleybus № 3, 7, 8, 13.
There is nothing more desirable for a tired tourist than to rest in peace and quiet. In Athens, the best place for this is the National Garden. To find it is easy: the garden is located near Syntagma Square, just behind the Parliament.
The shady alleys keep you cool while the pond keeps you cool. In addition there are ancient ruins, remnants of columns and ancient mosaics. There is a mini-zoo and a botanical museum, so you won’t be bored.
Museum of Greek Folk Art
Greece is not only a place of ancient statues and temples, as it may seem. To get to know this country better, you should visit the Museum of Greek Folk Art. That’s where all the color of folk crafts are collected! Here you will find products of wood, metal and clay, richly decorated with carvings and incrustations, and a hall devoted to traditional carnival costumes. There is also an exhibition of silverware and weapons, and you can see puppets of the national theater Karagiosis, depicting scenes from everyday life in Athens.
The museum is located at Kydathinaion Str., 17, Plaka. Opening hours are from 08:00 to 15:00. The ticket costs €2.
Please note: due to the fact that the museum plans to move the exhibition to a new building, it is possible to change the opening times / days.
Theater of Dionysus
Many people have probably heard about the famous Greek amphitheaters, but few know that the oldest of them is located in Athens. The theater of Dionysus emerged as early as the 5th century B.C.! Here the productions of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Aristophanes were staged, and the theater could seat 17 thousand spectators.
Today the favorite entertainment of tourists is to check the fantastic acoustics of the theater: if one person stays in the orchestra and speaks, and the other person goes up to the top row, he will hear every single word. Don’t be lazy to check it out for yourself!
The theater is located on Arepagitu Street. You can get here by metro (red line, Acropolis station). The theater is open daily from 08:30 to 18:00.
Agios Elefterios Cathedral
The Agios Eleftherios Cathedral can be overlooked. And you should. This little church of XII century is considered one of the most beautiful in the city. The exquisite marble construction with intricate carvings on the walls evokes a feeling of amazing peace and tranquility.
From Syntagma Square take bus no. 025-027 (from Syntagma stop to the Metropolis stop). The church will be directly across the street.
Museum of Cycladic Art
Another must-visit for those who can’t imagine their life without new knowledge. At the Museum of Cycladic Art you will learn about the life and culture of the civilizations that inhabited the Aegean coast and Cyprus. Especially interesting is the collection of figures depicting scenes of ancient life: hunting, family scenes, everyday activities, etc. You can also see the rarest Cypriot antiques: works of gold and silver, bronze and glass of amazing work.
The main collection is located at 4 Neophytou Douka, while temporary exhibitions take place at the Stafatos Mansion (Vassilissis Sophias/Herodotou 1).
Tower of the Winds.
In fact, the tower with such a romantic name has a quite prosaic purpose – today it houses a meteorological station. But it is still worth a visit: the tower has a hydraulic clock that tells the time according to the sun, and the structure itself is a living monument of architecture (built in the I century BC). Particularly interesting are the friezes of the tower, depicting the gods of wind. Under their figures you can see the markings of the dial, as the tower was used as a giant clock.
It is located in the Plaka area, not far from the Agora square. A ticket to see the tower together with the Agora costs €3.
You can get to Plaka from Athens center by bus #025 or by metro (Monastiraki station).
Museum of the Kerameikos area
The Kerameik Museum is called so for a reason. Potters and sculptors have lived and worked in the neighborhood of the same name since ancient times, and many interesting finds were later made here.
The museum has the largest collection of statues, sculpture groups and compositions from the ancient period. And in the museum’s courtyard you’ll find the gem of the collection – a statue of Dionysius the Bull (340 BC). And of course – an abundance of ancient pottery, jewelry and household items.
The museum is located on Ermu Street 148. In winter the museum is open from 08:30 to 15:00, in summer from 08:00 to 19:30. Ticket price – €2.
Odeon of Herodes the Attic.
Greece has long been famous for its love of music: that’s why the famous amphitheaters were so popular in Hellas. One of them is still in operation.
The Odeon, the amphitheater on the southern slope of the Agora, is an ancient venue for musical events that has retained its functions to this day. This majestic structure is beautifully preserved, and today serves as the central cultural scene of Athens and . Festivals, concerts, and theatrical productions take place here (for example, the annual Athens Festival is held from May to October).
You can get to the amphitheater on foot along Dionysios Areopagitus Street or by bus #230 (the stop is right in front of the Odeon). You can visit the Odeon only if a concert or festival is held there, so you have to buy a ticket to the event itself at the Odeon ticket office or the official Athens Festival offices.
Temple of Hephaestus
Athens is firmly associated with graceful ancient temples, but it’s a mistake to think they all look the same. Each temple is unique in its own way, and you can verify this only by visiting it yourself.
For that we recommend you to visit the Temple of Hephaestus, one of the best preserved temples of Ancient Greece. To enter the ancient shrine you can buy a comprehensive Acropolis ticket (€12) which includes other sights such as the Agora, the Temple of Zeus or the Hadrian Library. But you can also get in for free: from November to March, entrance to the temple is free every Sunday.
The temple can be reached by bus number 227 or by metro (stop St. Thisiou). The temple is open daily from 08:00 to 18:00.
Port of Piraeus
Greece would not be Greece without the sea because the whole history of the country is tightly bound up with this powerful element. So don’t deny yourself the pleasure of a walk to Athens’ port of Piraeus. Take a walking tour of the port of Piraeus and it shares not only the sea air and magnificent views, but also its interesting history and notes on modern life. The view from the promenade is magical: scatterings of white houses against a background of blue sky and azure sea will enchant you at first sight!
To get here you can take the metro (green line ends right by the port) or bus (from Omonia Square take #049 or from Syntagma take #040 and get off at Kotzia Square).
If you want to experience the vibrant atmosphere of Athens, don’t you? Be sure to visit the Monastiraki Market, the oldest marketplace in the city. Today it is a vast flea market where everyone can find something to their liking and find something to do while visiting Athens. Every day from 8:00 a.m. a colorful act called “Greek trade” unfolds here. Even if you’re not planning to buy anything, be sure to wander among the vendors, watching the lively haggling, soaking up the atmosphere of real Athenian life.
The Monastiraki Market is located at 28 Hephaesta Street. It is open every day: antiques from 08:00 to 15:00, the whole market till late evening.
Temple of Erechtheion
While on the Acropolis, don’t miss your chance to visit the temple of the Erechtheion, where the ancients worshipped Poseidon and Athena. Today there is not much left of its former splendor, but the temple still retains its grandeur and beauty and is worth a visit. Especially worth seeing are the statues of the caryatid maidens that adorn one of the porticoes.
The temple is located on the Acropolis, so you can get here by the same route, for example, by taking the metro to Monastiraki station. And if you buy a comprehensive 4-day ticket to visit the Acropolis grounds, you can see the neighboring sights as well. And on May 18 (Museum Day), admission here, like in the museums of Athens, is free.
Buy your Acropolis Museum ticket online here.
If you are a romantic “by vocation,” we know an interesting place in Athens that is sure to please! We’re talking about Cape Sounion. What’s the point of driving a whole hour from Athens for a cape?
Well, you can meet the inexpressible beauty of sunsets at the ruins of the temple of Poseidon, the access to which is open every day without restrictions. And before you return to Athens, make your deepest wish, they say it will come true.
You can get to Cape Sunion by bus. From Athens, find the Victoria metro station and from there walk along 28 October Street to the intersection of Avenida Patission and Alexandras. There find the Attica area stop (KTEL Attikis). You want the beige and orange bus that runs in the southern Attica area.
Perhaps the most colorful and expansive panorama of Athens can be seen from here, the Likavitos (or Likabet) Hill, the highest point on the outskirts of the city. In addition to the impressive view, the top is home to St. George’s Chapel and the open-air theater, which hosts music performances and concerts.
The funicular railway (open from 08:45 to 00:45 in summer and from 08:45 to 00:15 in winter) takes you up the hill. You can get to the hill itself by metro, line 3, station Megaro Moussikis.
Ilias Lalounis Jewelry Museum
Do you want to know what jewelry was in fashion in Greece at different times? Nothing could be easier! Check out the Ilias Lalounis Jewellery Museum and see for yourself.
There are over 4000 pieces in the museum’s collection: jewelry, decorative objects made of precious metals and small sculptures. This is not all that you can see there: the permanent exhibition includes works by Ilias Lalaunis, the founder of the museum, while the temporary exhibition presents the history of jewellery making around the world.
Museum address: 12 Kallisperi Street. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 09:00 to 15:00. On Sunday from 11:00 to 16:00. Tickets cost €5. For students, seniors and groups (more than 10 people) €4.