From ancient architecture to tasty street food, Europe’s hottest city has much to offer curious travelers. Here are some of the best activities and things to do in Athens, Greece!
Athens is the capital of Greece and dedicated to the goddess Athena. It’s often called the ‘birthplace of democracy’ and the ‘Cradle of Civilization’ because it was also home to the Platonic Academy and the Lyceum of Aristotle.
With a recorded history dating back 3400 years, Athens (also called Athenai) has many archaeological wonders worth visiting.
Replete with temples, ancient ruins, and statues of deities, Athens is now a mix of modern buildings along with older architectural marvels. It was also just named one of the best holiday destinations to visit in 2021.
Aside from the history and architecture the city is known for, there are many other fun things to do in Athens that most people miss…
If you’re planning to spend some time in Athens, I wanted to recommend some of my favorite fun and unusual things to do, no matter what time of year you visit.
My Athens itinerary is completely free! I’ve worked hard putting it together for you. If you find it useful, please use my affiliate links when you book hotels, rental cars or activities. I’ll get paid a small commission, at no extra cost to you! Thanks.
- Athens Highlights Map
- Greece Travel Restrictions 2021
- Best Things To Do In Athens Guide
- 1: The Acropolis
- 2: The Parthenon
- 3: Odeon Of Herodes Atticus
- 4: Acropolis Museum
- 5: Ancient Agora & Temple Of Hephaestus
- 6: The Roman Agora
- 7: Varvakios Central Market
- 8: Run Around The Panathenaic Stadium
- 9: Explore The Plaka Neighborhood
- 10: National Archaeological Museum
- 11: Hike Mount Lycabettus
- 12: Athens Stray Cat Spotting
- 13: Hadrian’s Arch
- 14: Hike Up Philopappou Hill
- 15: Temple Of Olympian Zeus
- 16: Panagia Kapnikarea Church
- 17: Stuff Yourself With Greek Food
- 18: Museum Of Cycladic Art
- 19: Monastiraki Square & Flea Market
- 20: Explore Athens’ Psiri Quarter
- 21: Sunset On Areopagus Hill
- 22: The Prison Of Socrates
- 23: Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens
- 24: Changing Of The Guard
- 25: Hadrian’s Library
- Transportation Around Athens
- Where To Stay In Athens
- Athens Travel Tips & Advice
Athens Highlights Map
HOW TO USE THIS MAP: Above you’ll find a map of highlights in Athens, Greece. Click on the top left of the map to find separate layers marking the route and points of interest. You can hide and show different layers, or click icons on the map to see the names of places I mention in this travel guide. “Star” the map to save it to your own Google Maps, or open the map in a new window for a larger version. Enjoy!
Greece Travel Restrictions 2021
Starting in May, Greece is allowing travelers to visit, including American tourists. You must either have proof of your COVID-19 vaccination(s), or present a negative PCR test within 72 hours of your flight.
Hotels, attractions, and private tours are open with new health & safety protocols in place, and you still have to follow certain guidelines (like wearing masks indoors).
You can find the latest updates on traveling to Greece here.
Best Things To Do In Athens Guide
1: The Acropolis
You can’t start a visit to Greece without hiking up to visit the Acropolis. As one of the most important Athens locations, as well as a World Heritage Site, this fortified citadel perched on a hill above the city stands out as a testament to Greek wisdom and culture.
The Acropolis holds many different ancient ruins, like the world-famous Parthenon temple, dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena.
The best way to visit the Acropolis (and save some money) is to purchase the Acropolis Combo Ticket which gives you access to multiple Greek ruins across the city over the course of 5-days.
Plan to spend at least a few hours exploring the Acropolis hill itself, maybe even a half-day. There is a lot to see, plenty of stair climbing, and worn-smooth slippery rocks. You’ll definitely get a workout!
2: The Parthenon
While part of the Acropolis complex, the Parthenon deserves a specific mention. Built in 447 BCE on the hill of the Acropolis, with Doric marble columns that thinned towards to top — showcasing the architectural marvels of ancient Greece.
Dedicated to goddess Athena, the Parthenon ruins are a must-visit attraction in Athens during the day; and seen from across the city the magnificent columns look spectacular lit up at night at night.
It can get crowded up there, so I recommend going first thing in the morning — right when the Acropolis opens, or during the last few hours before they close!
If you don’t want to hire a dedicated tour guide, but enjoy learning details about historic locations like this, there are also self-guided smartphone tours too.
3: Odeon Of Herodes Atticus
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is an ancient theater perched on the South Western slope of the Acropolis in Athens. Frank Sinatra, Nana Mouskouri, Pavarotti, and Andrea Bocelli have all performed here!
Built by Herodes Atticus in 161 AD, in memory of his dead wife, the steep-sloped Odeon had a cedar roof and seated 5000 for music concerts till it was destroyed in 267 AD.
It has been used as a venue for many popular concerts since it was restored in the 1950s. If you happen to be visiting Athens when a concert is going on here, I highly recommend you go!
4: Acropolis Museum
Built to house ancient artifacts from the Acropolis ruins, the Acropolis Museum on the Southern slopes of the Acropolis opened in 2009. Just a short 400 meter walk from the Parthenon, a visit to the museum can be combined with a visit to the Acropolis.
The museum is home to over 4250 objects and replaces the older museum that was housed atop the Acropolis from 1874 to the 1950s. Walk under the museum to see the excavation site of an ancient Athens neighborhood with streets, houses, and shops dating back to 3000 B.C.
You can pre-book tickets to the Museum here.
5: Ancient Agora & Temple Of Hephaestus
The Central Square in ancient Greek cities, the Agora was a gathering place for citizens to discuss affairs of state, marriages, and partake in religious rituals. Over the course of time the Agora also came to be used a marketplace selling goods, food, pottery, and religious artifacts.
Next to the Athenian Agora, you’ll also find the Temple of Hephaestus which was very well-preserved compared to other Greek temples. This Doric temple was built by The Hephaisteion Master under the aegis of Pericles between 449 to 415 BC to honor Hephaestus, the god of craftsmanship, fire and metal work.
The Stoa, another good site nearby, houses the Museum of Ancient Agora, that is home to Athenian, Byzantine and Turkish artifacts.
6: The Roman Agora
Located to the East of the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora was built much later and encroached on the site of the older one. The entrance to it was through the still standing Gate of Athena Archegetis. The 17th century Fethiye Mosque is located in the Northern end of the agora.
The agora is also home to the 12-meter tall Horologion of Andronikos Kyrrhestes, also known as the Tower of the Winds, which was probably the first meteorological station in the world. Also called Areides, the tower features a water clock, different sundials, and once also included a Triton weather-vane.
7: Varvakios Central Market
The Varvakios Central Market in Athens (not to be confused with Central market where food trucks gather) is also called the Varvakios Agora or Dimotiki Agora. If you love public markets, this is where you’ll find fish, meat, produce, street food, souvenirs, and whole stores dedicated to olives or spices.
Because of the variety of goods, low prices, and freshness, this is where many local restaurants get their ingredients. The fish market alone serves up to 5,000 customers every day and employs more than 400 people!
HOURS: Varvakios market is open between 7am and 6pm every day but Sundays.
8: Run Around The Panathenaic Stadium
The Panathenaic Stadium was built to host the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, on the same site as an even older ancient stadium where nude male athletes competed in track events.
While the older stadium built in 335 BC could hold 60,000 spectators, the modern Olympic Stadium you see today can hold 45,000 spectators on 47 tiers.
We ran around the track with our son Dylan, pretending we were at the Olympics. You can climb to the top of the stadium for an even better view of how massive it is, and of course there is a tri-level medal podium where you can pose for photos.
You can also go inside the stadium to visit a little museum of Olympic history, complete with the torches used in past games.
9: Explore The Plaka Neighborhood
Lined with colorfully painted old houses, the Plaka quarter of Athens is home to small taverns where you can taste some authentic Greek food. Walk through the winding alleys and visit the Library of Hadrian, Kapnikaréa Church, Metamórfosis Church, or spend time shopping at popular stores on Ermou Street.
Visit the nearby Anafiotika quarter to take pictures, or enjoy a drink while soaking in the vibes at the famous Restaurant Staircase on Mnisikleous Street.
10: National Archaeological Museum
Greece’s largest archaeological museum, the National Archaeological Museum of Athens was set up in the 19th century. Housed in a Neo-classical building designed by L. Lange, it houses over 11,000 artifacts and 5 permanent collections.
Prehistoric antiquities from the Mycenaean, Neolithic, and Cycladic areas, Greek ceramics from 11th century BC, Egyptian antiquues dating back to 5000 BC, marble Cycladic figurines, gold artifacts from the Mycenaean period, there’s a lot to see here!
11: Hike Mount Lycabettus
A cretaceous limestone hill towering over Athens, Lykavittos or Mount Lycabettus rises 300 m above sea level. Covered with pine trees, the hill is perfect for a hike to the top, and rewards the visitor with picture perfect views of Athens.
If you’re too lazy to hike, ride the Lycabettus Funicular to the top, and spend time at the restaurant after visiting the Chapel of St. George.
For a more in-depth experience, check out this guided tour.
12: Athens Stray Cat Spotting
Much like Istanbul in Turkey — Athens is full of stray cats. Local shop owners and other residents kind of “adopt” them by putting out food & water, but the cats are wild & free to roam the city.
As huge cat fans, this was a pleasant surprise! We were always keeping our eyes out for strays, and even bought some dry cat food to give them as we wandered around the city.
One of the best places to find stray cats is around the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in the Plaka neighborhood.
13: Hadrian’s Arch
Hadrian’s Arch is a beautiful structure located along one of Athens’ main roadways. It was constructed in 131 BC to celebrate the arrival of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and to thank him for his benefactions to the city.
Its architecture resembles Roman style arches, and is within walking distance from Syntagma Square — between the rock of the Acropolis and the temple of Olympian Zeus.
14: Hike Up Philopappou Hill
Declared an archaeological park in 1955-56, the 173 acre Philopappou Hill (or Filopappou Hill) is home to the Athenian owl, peregrine falcon and other indigenous birds. It also gives you great views of Athens from above! Probably why the birds like it so much.
The park includes the Hill of the Nymphs, the Pnyx, and the Mouseion Hill or Hill of the Muses where the Philopappou Mausoleum or Monument is located.
The Philopappou Mausoleum is dedicated to Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos, a prince of the Kingdom of Commagene who lived from 65 to 116 AD. His death caused grief to the citizens of Athens and the imperial family.
The 12th century Church of Demetrius Loumbardiaris hidden in wooded area of the park is perfect for a serene quiet visit.
15: Temple Of Olympian Zeus
The half-ruined Temple of Olympian Zeus is within walking distance from the city center of Athens. At its peak, the temple was composed of the temple had 104 columns, each 17 meters high.
But in 267 AD, the temple was damaged during an attack on Athens. Later the Byzantine emperor Theodosius II prohibited the “cult” of ancient Greek and Roman gods in the temple. Citizens slowly took apart the temple’s fine marble for construction of churches, homes, and other buildings.
16: Panagia Kapnikarea Church
Among the oldest churches in the capital city of Athens, the Panagia Kapnikarea Church is a Byzantine treasure. Built in the 11th century on the ruins of a Greek temple, the church on Ermou Street near Monastiraki is dedicated to the assumption of the Virgin.
Illuminated by lamps instead of chandeliers, the walls feature mosaics and religious works of art.
17: Stuff Yourself With Greek Food
If you asked a local to point you to the best restaurants in Athens, everyone would point you towards a different one. There are just so many good tavernas and places to eat in Athens.
Make sure to check out some of the places on the Mnisikleous Restaurant Staircase, or the many tavernas in Plaka or Psiri Quarter. Old Ithaki is a good lunch spot we visited a few times, next to the Athens Cathedral.
But if you want to eat somewhere luxurious with a view of the city, try the the rooftop bar at the Grand Bretagne Hotel. Enjoy a cocktail here while watching the sun go down over Athens!
18: Museum Of Cycladic Art
Established in 1986 by ship owner Nikolas Goulandris and his wife Dolly Goulandris, the Museum of Cycladic Art is located in the Kolonaki Quarter.
It houses over 3000 objects of art from the Cyclades, as well as Ancient Greek and Cypriot art. Most of these pieces are from Nikolas’ own collection and date back to the 4th to 6thcentury BC.
19: Monastiraki Square & Flea Market
This 19th-century neighborhood on the Northern side of the Acropolis is a vibrant shopping area. Street vendors and shops sell trinkets and souvenirs, clothes, and specialty items to tourists. When you need a break, grab a bite at one of the many casual restaurants.
Situated close to many popular sites, the Monastiraki Flea Market in Monastiraki Square is the perfect place to buy souvenirs, handmade footwear, and artisanal products.
For a cool overhead view of the square and the city, make sure to visit the rooftop bar A For Athens and grab a cocktail!
20: Explore Athens’ Psiri Quarter
The Psiri Quarter (also spelled Psyrri or Psirri) is a hip and creative little neighborhood in Athens where all the happening nightlife is. You’ll find restaurants, bars, cafes, tavernas, and colorful street-art. One of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, it used to have a reputation for crime, but the area has since been gentrified.
One place you need to stop here is called Little Kook Magic Cafe. This quirky coffee & cake place is decorated like a children’s fairy tale book, featuring all manner of animals, storybook characters, colorful flowers, dragons, fairies, and an umbrella covered side-street. The perfect Instagram photo location!
21: Sunset On Areopagus Hill
Areopagus Hill, also known as “Mars Hill”, is a large rock outcrop located close to the entrance of the Acropolis. Take the stairs up to the top of the rock for some awesome views of the Acropolis from a different perspective, as well as Athens itself.
The hill was an ancient meeting place where philosophy and law were discussed, as well as the location of a famous speech by St. Paul the Apostle. Sunset is a popular time to hang out up here!
22: The Prison Of Socrates
A cave-like structure cut into the Hill of Muses has long thought to have been the jail used to hold the ancient philosopher Socrates before he was executed. No one knows for sure.
The teachings of Socrates were thought of as dangerous in Athens, leading to the decline of morality in the population of Greece. A new Athenian democracy was afraid that citizens would stop obeying the established laws and rules or fulfilling their civic duty, which would lead to overthrowing of the new political system.
So Socrates was imprisoned, and eventually executed in 399 BC by poison hemlock. This structure was also used as a place to hide antiquities from the Acropolis and the National Archaeological Museum during World War II.
23: Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens is kind of the “official” church of the city. It was constructed with materials from over 70 abandoned or ruined churches, and the interior includes notable frescoes and icons plus a 24-metre-high dome.
Right next to the big church is a smaller one, the Church of St. Eleftherios also called the “Little Mitropoli.” Dedicated to Agios Eleftherios, this 12th-century church is decorated with 90 relief scenes.
24: Changing Of The Guard
Dedicated to all lost Greek soldiers in past wars, Greece’s Tomb of the Unknown Solider sits in front of the Greek Parliament Building. Every hour, on the hour, you can watch the changing of the presidential honor guard.
This is a free thing to do in Athens, so it’s pretty popular and there’s often a large crowd watching. The Tomb, called a cenotaph, is empty and was made according to Ancient Greek custom.
A much more impressive ceremony takes place at 11am on Sundays, where a large group of Evzones (presidential guards) gather in front of the Parliament.
25: Hadrian’s Library
Hadrian’s Library isn’t just a library, but a building that housed music and lecture rooms too. It was organized as a typical Roman forum with a pool in the center of a courtyard and bordered by 100 columns.
It essentially functioned as Athens’ civic center in Roman times, while the nearby Roman Agora was the central market. Hadrian was Roman emperor from 117 to 138, however he had a particular fondness for the city of Athens and constructed all manner of big projects here — like the library.
Transportation Around Athens
The best site to book your car is with Discover Cars. They search both local and international car rental companies to help you find the best possible price. This is the easiest way to rent a car and drive in Greece.
Taxi Or Uber
You’ll find taxis everywhere in Athens. Don’t go with drivers that bargain for prices. Make sure you catch a licensed taxi that has a meter and it’s switched on. You can choose from radio taxis, Uber, Taxibeat, or Taxiplon.
The Athens Metro System is very easy to use, and has lines running from 5 AM to midnight. On Fridays and Saturdays, Lines 2 and 3 run till 2 AM.
Standard metro tickets worth €1.50 are valid on most trains, buses, and trams for a 90-minute journey. Day passes worth €4.50 and 3-day tourist tickets worth €22 are also available.
For more information on Athens’ public transportation system, check out this great guide.
Where To Stay In Athens
Accommodation in Athens can range from budget to luxurious. The best areas to stay are those close to the City Center, buses, restaurants and shops. Look for hotels or hostels located in Syntagma, Plaka, Monastiraki, or Koukaki.
Athens Travel Tips & Advice
- We spent 3-days exploring Athens, and I feel like that was the perfect amount of time to see a lot of stuff. Spend at least 2-days if you can.
- The best time to visit Athens (and Greece in general) is between March and May or September to November. The summer months are busier, and much hotter!
- Check out the Athens Free Walking Tour offered by the city. Available at tourist information booths, it’s a great way to get a feel for the city of Athens.
- Buy the Athens City Pass! With varying price options, the city pass gives you discounted access to multiple locations with or without transport included.
|Travel Planning Resources For Athens|
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I hope you enjoyed my guide on the best things to do in Athens, Greece! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:
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Have any questions about things to do in Athens, Greece? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!