In my opinion, Athens is a city that gets a bit of a bad rep. When I was planning to go, a lot of people told me not to waste time in Athens, but instead focus my time in the islands. After visiting, I definitely disagree with that sentiment and actually loved my time in Athens.
I think the origin for those feelings is that many people are expecting Athens to be similar to Rome, with planned city squares and the like. But Athens has its own unique qualities that make it a great place to visit. From amazing mountain top views, to the busy markets and impressive ruins, there is so much to see here. In this post I’ll walk you through ten of the best things to do in Athens so you can understand all the city has to offer!
You can’t start of list of things to do in Athens without first mentioning the crown jewel of the city – the Acropolis. Before visiting this site, I really had no idea how large the complex was at the top of the hill. There are ruins for several different buildings, and a (still) awe-inspiring entrance. What most amazed me about the Acropolis is the condition of the Parthenon, a temple that is over 2500 years old. While there I learned that it still even had the roofing until the 16th century when a bomb was detonated inside of the building – incredible!
Other worthy sites include the following:
- Odeon of Herodes Atticus: An ancient concert hall said to have perfect acoustics
- Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus: An ancient play house, if you will. If you’ve seen Roman theaters, this theater style will be familiar to you
- Erectheion: An ancient temple dedicated to Athena and Poseidon that features the Caryatids
If you don’t do anything else while you are in Athens, you MUST visit the Acropolis!
2| New Acropolis Museum
This museum is located near the bottom of the hill below the Acropolis. It houses artifacts found at the Acropolis and around it as well. The building was constructed over ruins of the ancient town, and has a glass floor so you can look down to the excavations happening below. It’s here you can see items such as Greek statues that still have paint on them! (Most statues are only white today because of paint erosion). Visit this museum to get a better understanding of life in Ancient Greece.
3| Temple of Olympian Zeus
There is not a lot left of this temple, including the statue of Zeus himself, but what remains is breathtaking. The sheer size of the columns used to construct this temple is amazing! I’ve yet to see anything on this scale in any other ancient Greek or Roman sites.
Some interesting history about this temple is that construction began in the 6th century B.C., but not completed until 2nd century A.D. by Roman Emperor Hadrian. Construction was halted this time as the tyrants who began the project were overthrown. Hadrian completed the project as he adored Greece and wanted to leave his mark in Athens.
4| Hadrian’s Arch
This arch is a great place for a photo opp! Historians believe that it was created to celebrate the arrival of Hadrian to the city of Athens in 132 A.D. It is situated close by to the Temple of Olympian Zeus and once spanned an ancient road from the Temple of Zeus to the city’s center.
5| Changing of the Guard
I’ve seen changing of the guard ceremonies in several places around the world, including the U.K. and Thailand, and still enjoy watching them. I always try to imagine myself having to stand in a single place for hours on end, and I just couldn’t do it. I think that’s why these ceremonies are fascinating to watch. The discipline required to maintain form, even when leaving one’s post is quite admirable. This ceremony takes place each Sunday at 11:00AM outside of the Presidential Mansion and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
If you like shopping in the slightest, you’ll love the Plaka area! Stop here to visit a variety of shops – most are catered towards tourists, but you can find pretty unique items here. For example, I left here with artisanal honeys – each flavored by the type of flowers the bees pollinate! The shops go on for a few blocks, and you can also find great places to grab a bite to eat in this area too. And finally, you can also find ruins of Hadrian’s Library in this district. It’s the perfect place to spend a leisurely afternoon on your visit to Athens.
7| Stavros Melissinos: The Poet Sandal Maker
The Poet Sandal Maker is a world-renown shoe-maker based in Athens. He has even made shoes for celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker. You can visit this shop to get your very own tailor-made sandals! The service is quick, which means that you can get your new shoes back in the same day if you visit early enough. (Which is what I did!). The sandals are of excellent quality and craftsmanship. If you want something that you can only get in Athens, go get some shoes made :).
8| Zappeion Hall
Zappeion Hall is a beautiful building located in the National Garden of Athens. It is currently used for official and public ceremonies. This hall was named for its benefactor – Evangelis Zappas – whose head is buried beneath his statue on this site. After a quick tour of this building, stop in the gardens to get a little tranquility and greenery before you continue sightseeing! I recommend that you stop here for a break between tours or after a meal to soak in the view and rest your feet.
Anafiotika is definitely one of Athens’s hidden gems. It is an “island town” that is found near the Acropolis. If you are looking for white washed walls and colorful doorways, journey up the hill behind the Plaka to get to this little city within a city. This is another great place to find some tranquility in the businesses of the city. While on your way up, take a stop to get an amazing view of the entire city.
10| Dinner with Acropolis Views
If you can’t tell from this post, or any other of my guides, I love a great view! I recommend that you spend at least one night dining in a restaurant that offers views of the entire city. I spent my birthday in Athens last year, so my friend and I spent our last night dining at the Athens Gate Hotel. The food and the view were both unforgettable :). Don’t forget to make a reservation for any place that you decide to eat a few weeks in advance, as you can expect space to fill quickly.
Final Thoughts | The Best Things to do in Athens
And there you have it – my list of the best things to do in Athens! If you are interested in doing everything on the list, but are short on time I recommend seeing the city with the help of a tour guide. We took the Athens, Acropolis, and Acropolis Museum Sightseeing Tour on our visit. We had an excellent guide who explained the city’s culture and history over the 5-hour duration of the tour. Check it out if you don’t want to do all the planning yourself :).
As always, let me know if you have questions. And if you’ve been to Athens before, let me know of your favorite things to do in the city below!