What to Do in Athens

At the heart of ancient Greece, Athens has a recorded history that spans more than 3,400 years as one of the world’s oldest cities. While it may be an iconic destination for history and archaeology enthusiasts, there are plenty of surprises in this place where spectacular nature, ancient and modern all mingle. There are busy roadways that disguise enticing cobbled alleyways with bougainvillea-draped cafes and outstanding restaurants, while cutting-edge galleries are housed in neoclassical buildings.

In just about any direction you turn, your eyes will meet the Parthenon on Acropolis hill, yet the nightlife is sophisticated having evolved into a world-class affair that meets the famous food scene. It draws big crowds of locals and visitors alike, with celebrity DJs, live tunes, and plenty of creative cocktails. 

There are so many things to do in Athens, you’ll probably have to narrow down your list by choosing from the best options.

Climb Acropolis Hill

Climb Acropolis Hill

If there is any one thing you must do, it’s to climb Acropolis hill, tracing the footsteps of ancient greats like Socrates to marvel at the 5th-century BC that stand atop it. The Parthenon is its crown jewel, the iconic landmark that you can see from just about anywhere in the city. The large temple from classical antiquity has kept watch over centuries of civilization, but it’s not the only monument here. The “hill” is also home to the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erectheion, the Theater of Dionysus, and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.  As the most popular attraction in Athens, if you hope to visit without the big tourist crowds, you’ll want to come just before it opens or during the last couple of hours before closing. 

Acropolis Museum

Explore the Acropolis Museum

After visiting the Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum will put it all into perspective. Consistently ranked as one of the world’s top museums, it’s devoted to the Acropolis hill, Parthenon and the surrounding temples. It was built to hold all of the artifacts uncovered on the hill and surrounded slopes which date from the Greek Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece while successfully deconstructing how the Parthenon sculptures once looked to the citizens who lived here so many centuries ago. The permanent exhibition reveals three layers of history, including the Gallery of the Slopes of the Acropolis, Archaic Acropolis Gallery, and the Parthenon Gallery. The museum is propped up by concrete pillars that reveal the site’s archaeological excavations below, including the ruins of an ancient, once thriving neighborhood, complete with mosaics, bathhouses, and a drainage system.

Lycabettus Hill

Take in a Sweeping View from Lycabettus Hill

Lycabettus Hill is one of the highest peaks in Athens at nearly 909 feet above sea level, and from the top it offers one of the most sweeping views over the city and beyond, out to the Aegean. Arrive just before dusk to enjoy it under daylight followed by an incredible sunset. Then watch as the twinkling lights of the Acropolis, ancient Agora, and Panathenaic Stadium come on. You can get to it by making the climb up a forested slope with the initial ascent easy followed by a more challenging set of zig-zagging stairs. If you don’t have the energy, it can be accessed by taking the cable car up. In addition to the view, there’s a gourmet restaurant with one of the most scenic terraces in the city, a café, a whitewashed church, and an open-air theater that hosts summertime concerts.

Monastiraki flea market

Shop for Bargains and Enjoy Ancient Sights

One of the oldest and busiest neighborhoods in Athens, Monastiraki is best known for its market. The Monastiraki flea market is really a street lined mostly with souvenir shops along with those selling handcrafted Greek items, handmade jewelry, and antiques. For a true “flea,” head to Plateai Avyssinias and the small surrounding streets where you’ll find lots of old treasures among the bric-a-brac. Just across the railroad tracks is the site where the Agora, the ancient Athens market that’s been a market here since the 6th-century BC with the original foundations of shops still visible. It’s easy to envision the scene back in the day just as it is now, with locals and visitors checking the quality of produce and searching for a bargain. Vendors bellow out their best deals early in the morning, selling their fresh fish, meats, spices, fruits, and other products from around the country.

National Archaeological Museum Greece

National Archaeological Museum

The largest museum of its kind in Greece, and one of the world’s greatest antiquities museums, the National Archaeological Museum sits within a majestic neoclassical building with nearly 90,000 square feet of space. It includes more than 11,000 exhibits includes a remarkable collection of ancient Greek sculptures and many other fascinating displays for a comprehensive overview of civilization here between prehistoric times through late antiquity. The Sculpture Collection holds ancient Greek sculptures from the 6th– to the 5th-centuries BC, including some rare masterpieces. In the Vase and Decorative Objects Collection you’ll see ancient Greek pottery from the 11th-century BC through the classical Roman era. Another highlight is the remarkable Antikythira Device. It’s a 2,000-year-old computer that was found in a shipwreck off Antikithira Island, revealing that today’s technology dates back a lot further than most people realize.

Temple of Zeus at Sunset

Visit the Temple of Zeus at Sunset

For fans of Greek mythology and sunsets, the Temple of Zeus on nearby Cape Sounio is a must-visit. Built during the same period as the monuments on the Acropolis, the 5th-century BC, to honor the god of the sea and help guide sailors safely home, the palace stands nearly 197 feet above sea level. It was made entirely of white marble and if you look closely, you’ll see the “Lord Byron” carved into one of the iconic pillars as the epic poet was one of many who fell under its spell, although who actually carved it is debatable. What isn’t, is the chance to step back into mythological time into the kingdom of Poseidon and enjoy one of the best vantage points for a jaw-dropping sunset, a mesmerizing blanket or oranges and reds that engulf the temple as the sun descends into the sea. 

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