Let’s explore the best things to do in Athens.
Beautiful beaches, ancient ruins, and rich history come together in this Greek wonder. Welcome to the birthplace of democracy. One of the first places you will see upon entering the city is the magnificent Acropolis. A blend of BCE and modern architectural styles line the water in a way unique to Greece alone. This temple, built in the 5th century, serves as a constant reminder of the country’s rich heritage and dramatic transformation over its millennia of existence. Terracotta rooftops and chalk-white buildings angle their way towards the landmark, framing the fantastic block of marble atop the steep hill. Grab your favorite travel camera, keep a journal on hand, and get ready to explore the best things to do in Athens.
Here Are Our Picks for the Best Things to Do in Athens
1. Go See the Acropolis
Our introduction may have given it away. The first place you should have on your list to visit is the Acropolis. Why? Even those of you who aren’t history buffs know the value of this edifice. This ancient Greek settlement contains several famous and culturally significant buildings, the most prominent of which is the Parthenon. Today, the Acropolis and its monuments are recognized as symbols of classical antiquity; this spirit and civilization became one of the greatest achieved in the world.
Following the defeat of the Persians and the establishment of democracy, Athens moved to greater security in the latter half of the 5th century BCE and took the seat as one of the leading city-states in the ancient world. The age that followed produced a flourishing artistic culture, paving the way for the prominent statesman to rise and an outpouring of new thought. Ictinus built the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, Propylaea, and the Temple Nike rose as well.
Visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site will bring you back to the time of the greats. If you want to dig a little deeper into the history of ancient Greek and the Acropolis, pay a visit to its museum. The Acropolis Museum houses every artifact found here. Thanks to Bernard Tschumi, you can take a chronological trek through the rich facets of local history, allowing for a deep and holistic understanding of life millennia ago.
Upon entering, the sloped hall slowly leads you up towards the Acropolis. The middle level of the museum is home to findings from all the temples, whereas the top layer is home to only that found in the Parthenon. Since the museum was constructed on the archaeological site, you can look down through the glass floor to see what has been uncovered. This is one of the best things to do in Athens.
2. Pay Special Attention to the Parthenon
Perhaps the most well-known site in all of Athens is the majestic Parthenon, dedicated to the Athenian goddess of war. Those who love Greek mythology will know why it was built. Do you? Legend has it that it was meant to serve not only as a house to Athena but also as the city’s new treasury. Today, it is one of the most-frequented archaeological sites in all of the country. There are so many things to see and do in Greece.
3. Take a Day Trip to Delphi
Okay, so Delphi is really about two and a half hours outside of Athens. But who doesn’t enjoy a little day trip during their travels? Mythology fans, this is your paradise. Besides the fantastic views of pristine white sand beaches and vibrant turquoise waters, it once served as an important Greek religious sanctuary. This is where the famous Oracle of Apollo was given to the gods regarding decisions to be made in the ancient classical world. It’s easily one of the top sights to see in Greece.
In terms of archaeological value, it is ranked just behind the Acropolis and its Parthenon in Athens. Overlooking the coastal plain, you’ll see the valley of Phocis in the distance on a clear day. This is yet another noteworthy mythological site. Due to its impact on the ancient world, Delphi has also been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
4. Explore the Streets of Plaka
Are you looking for the best things to do in Athens? Grab your windbreaker and get ready to roam the breezy streets of Plaka. This delightful 19th-century village is teeming with crafty boutiques, charming cafes, and cozy pit stops along the waterfront. Stare out at cobalt blue sea and take it all in. Hidden under the shadow of the Acropolis and its ancient temples, it is often overlooked. Sure this isn’t the first place that comes up on most travelers’ radars when they think of the best things to do in Athens but it should be. Here, the tavernas stay open until late, classic films are screened al fresco and the whitewashed homes of the neighborhood give off all the desired Greek-island vibes.
5. Learn about the Fascinating History of Erechtheion
While the Parthenon is the most famous building on the Acropolis, another takes the name its rituals among the temples. Have you ever heard of the Erechtheion? Construction began around 420 BCE when the Peace of Nikias ended the Peloponnesian War. Athenians witnesses the brutal defeat at Syracuse and consequently, the unraveling of their civilization through successive revolts. Democracy was briefly replaced by an oligarchy.
Construction of the Erechtheion concluded around 406 BCE and three years later, Athens fell to the Spartans. It’s fascinating to see just how the fall of Athens played into the development of the elegant Ionic lines. Its intricate design aimed to accommodate the uneven terrain upon which it was built as well as avoiding various sites of sacred altars. The delicate and intricate structure stands in stark contrast to that of the Parthenon.
Keep your eyes out for the temple’s distinguishing features, Caryatids. Each stands and seems to support the weight of the roof on their heads. Built as a replacement for the Old Temple, the Erechtheion housed all of the local shrines and rituals of its time. The east end was dedicated to Athena Polias, the left to Poseidon Erechtheus. When it comes to the interior, we know very little. While modern plans depict it with one to two rooms, it is highly probable that there was more than one level before. Throughout the centuries, it has undergone various phases of renovation and reconstruction. Thus, the depicted interior is something of conjecture.
6. Check off the Temple of Olympian Zeus from Your Bucket List
Credit: Kevin Poh
This location is a must on your list of the best things to do in Athens. While only a few columns remain, the Temple of Olympian Zeus offers enough to spark the imagination. Construction started in 174 BCE under Antiochus IV Epiphanes, King of Syria. However, it wasn’t completed until some seven hundred years later in 131 CE. Its ambitious layout and tall pillars make it one of the largest temples ever built in the ancient world. Historical evidence shows inhabitation from the Neolithic period. This is contradicted by Pausanias’ claim that the first ancient sanctuary to Zeus was built at the site of the mythological figure Deukalion.
7. Stroll Through Monastiraki
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Famous for its many iconic landmarks including the ruins of Hadrians Library, visiting Monastiraki is one of the best things to do in Athens. You’ll also find the Ancient Agora as well as the rebuilt Stoa of Attolos, with a museum of local artifacts. If you’re looking to get some shopping in and pick up a few cool souvenirs, this is the place to be. Every Sunday, some of the stores close and locals bring tables with woven carpets, textiles, and handcrafted goods to sell to eager travelers. Honestly, it seems more like a scene pulled out of Istanbul than somewhere in Greece.
8. Marvel at the Wonder of the Ancient Agora
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Located on the northwest side of the Acropolis is the Ancient Agora. Did you know that just about every ancient and modern city has a place for an Agora? This dwelling place served as a marketplace and a common gathering site for some 5,000 years. It is one of the few archaeological sites in the world that has a running train through it. While the word agora means “marketplace,” this locale is far from developed these days.
Scattered piles of rocks mark where the sturdy walls once were. Crumbles of shrines mark the center of life where Plato, Sophocles, and Pericles once stood. If you plan on coming after the Acropolis, your ticket will gain you entry. Just make sure you give yourself plenty of time and don’t rush your visit. There are plenty of interesting things that you just won’t want to miss.
9. Soak Up the Sun at Some of the Best Local Beaches
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Lapped by the Aegean, some of the most stunning beaches are only a short drive away. After a few days of sightseeing in the city, it’s time to explore some of nature. These refreshing blue seas are the places of postcard pictures and Instagram envy. It’s time to go see them yourself. In the summer, follow the locals to find the best pristine white sand and cool waters. Around the coast of Attica, you will find dozens of beaches and swimming spots. From organized boutique options to empty stretches of sand, your options span a wide gamut.
One of our favorite spots is Vouliagmeni Lake. Technically, this rock formation isn’t part of a beach. The waters are fed by a rare geological formation by the sea via underground currents. While the waters are quite shallow near the sunbeds, towards the middle of the lake, it drops off to an unknown depth. Since the waters here are much warmer than the sea earlier in the season, it is a popular spot among locals and travelers alike. Even so, the atmosphere is still somehow peaceful and quiet. You’ll be able to enjoy plenty of space and amenities to yourself without party-goers and the pounding beat of a nearby beach bar.
For those curious about the facilities, you will be happy to find that it includes an all-day restaurant, showers on-site, changing rooms, and wheelchair access. If you can, stay past the day and into the evening. When the sun begins to tuck behind the clouds, the scene transforms entirely. The rock walls are lit up, soft music floats through the air, and the waters dance with the reflections from shore. It’s entirely magical.
Book Your Trip and Explore the Best Things to Do in Athens
Now that we’ve given you a head start, it’s time to start planning your epic trip to enjoy the best things to do in Athens. There is simply no way to travel this continent without being in constant awe by the diversity of culture, history, natural beauty, and culinary scenes.This unimaginable wealth of attractions offers so much. As the birthplace of democracy, this city offers such a fascinating history and rich cultural legacy. We could go on forever. But we won’t. The time is yours. Seize the day and book the vacation of your dreams. It's time to visit Athens.
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