Athens in Greece is where I live. Our bustling capital has tons to offer, from ancient history to modern art to interesting neighbourhoods. Here are the 30 best things to do in Athens.
Athens: A city with many faces
“Athens, the birthplace of western civilization and Greek philosophy“.
You’ve no doubt heard these words a thousand times! But that’s not all Athens has to offer. The Greek capital has many different faces.
The ancient side is important, but you can also visit modern museums, walk around quaint neighbourhoods, check out some cool shops and eat fantastic food.
Although the Greek capital is a big, chaotic city of just under 4 million people, the centre is fairly compact. It’s easy to get around on foot, by metro or taxi – I totally don’t recommend driving in Athens though!
Here are just a few of my favourite things to do in the Greek capital. I’ve clustered those things together in sections that make logical sense. So, if you are not overly interested in our ancient past, just scroll down to the next entries!
1. Climb up the Acropolis Hill and see the Parthenon
Stereotype or not, you simply can’t come to Athens and not visit the Acropolis. Well, you can, but you’ll be missing out.
The Acropolis is an ancient citadel up on a hill, right in the heart of Athens. The area was first inhabited around 3,500-3,000 BC.
The most important temple inside the Acropolis complex is the Parthenon, which was built in the 5th century BC to honour the goddess Athena. Here’s a cool story about how Athens got its name.
Apart from the Parthenon, there are more temples inside the sprawling complex. You can see the Erechtheion, with the replicas of the famous Caryatids statues, and the temple of Athena Nike.
How to visit the Acropolis
I would suggest taking a guided tour of the Parthenon and the Acropolis. You will learn a lot about life in Ancient Athens, and appreciate why the world-famous temple is so important.
Alternatively, you can watch this video, which explains the history of the Parthenon. It will help you understand why Ancient Greece is considered the birthplace of western civilization.
You can buy a ticket for the Acropolis online or at the site’s entrance. Choose between a single ticket to the Acropolis, or the combined ticket for all archaeological sites in Athens, which allows you to visit seven ancient sites.
You can also look out for these Acropolis free days.
Closest metro: Acropolis
2. Stroll around the Ancient Agora
Close to the Acropolis, you will find the archaeological site of Ancient Agora. This is one of my favourite places around Athens, not only due to its historical significance, but also because of its natural beauty.
The Agora was the most important place in ancient Athens. This is where everything happened – shopping, socializing, discussing. There were several temples, altars, statues, and many impressive buildings.
One of the highlights of the Ancient Agora is the temple of Hephaestus, the best preserved temple of Ancient Greece. Visitors can see more ancient ruins everywhere around the site.
Allow enough time for the excellent Ancient Agora museum, hosted inside the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos. There is a lot of information and artifacts shedding some light on life in Ancient Athens.
You can visit the Ancient Agora with the combined ticket to all the archaeological sites in Athens. Allow at least a couple of hours to see it properly.
Here is my complete visitor’s guide to the Ancient Agora.
Tip: There is also a Roman Agora. This is an entirely different archaeological site, and its most famous landmark is the Tower of the Winds.
Closest metro: Monastiraki / Thisseio
3. Visit the temple of Olympian Zeus
A short walk from the Acropolis metro station, across the busy avenue, you will see what’s left of the imposing temple of Olympian Zeus.
The temple of Zeus was dedicated to the king of the 12 Olympian gods. It was one of the largest temples in ancient Greece, consisting of 104 massive columns.
Today, only 15 columns remain, and they are undeniably impressive. You can even spot them when you are up on the Acropolis hill!
The combined ticket for the sites in Athens includes the Zeus temple, so don’t miss it.
On your way there (or back), check out the massive Hadrian’s Gate. It was built in 131-132 AD to honour the Roman Emperor Hadrian, a man who deeply admired the ancient Greek civilization.
Side note: During the time he lived in Athens, Hadrian had commissioned several ambitious works. Today, we can see the ruins of Hadrian’s Library and the innovative aqueduct.
Closest metro: Acropolis
4. Explore the National Archaeological Museum
If I only had time for one historical museum in Athens, I would visit the National Archaeological Museum.
This fantastic collection offers a great overview of Ancient Greece. Among others, you will see the statue of Zeus / Poseidon, the child on the horse, and the golden mask of Agamemnon, the mythical King of Mycenae.
There is also an impressive section with Egyptian artifacts. Often, there are temporary exhibitions, so check in advance.
Most first-time visitors go to the New Acropolis Museum, which is also more conveniently located. Yet, the National Archaeological Museum will give you a much better understanding of Ancient Greece.
Allow for three or four hours if you want to see the whole museum. You can always take a break in the quiet café downstairs.
Closest metro: Omonoia / Victoria
5. Visit the Acropolis Museum
The Acropolis Museum opened in June 2009. Since then, it has been attracting millions of visitors who are interested in finding out more about the Acropolis.
The museum hosts artifacts, such as sculptures and statues, that were discovered in the wider area. Its most famous exhibits are the five original Caryatids statues, which were removed from the Erectheion in the Acropolis to be protected from pollution.
Located literally across the street from the Acropolis itself, the museum also has a fantastic cafe, which offers a unique view of the ancient citadel.
Athens has many more museums offering an insight to Greek history, such as the museum of Cycladic art or the Byzantine and Christian museum. Have a look at my article with 20 of the best museums in Athens, and you will definitely find a few more to visit.
Closest metro: Acropolis
6. Stop by the Panathenaic Stadium
Even if you aren’t really into ancient monuments, you will definitely be impressed by the massive Panathenaic Stadium in Athens.
The majestic stadium was originally built in the late 4th century BC to host the Great Panathenaia, a range of athletic games dedicated to goddess Athena.
During the Roman era, a lot of restoration and reconstruction took place, and the stadium’s capacity expanded to a whopping 50,000 people. When Christianity prevailed, however, the stadium fell into decline.
In the late 19th century, it was decided to revive the Ancient Olympic Games, that had been originally held in Ancient Olympia. For this purpose, the Panathenaic stadium was restored, and held the first modern Olympics in 1896.
Today, the stadium is open to visitors, and you will definitely be impressed by its size and geometry. There is also a small museum including memorabilia from previous Olympics. Occasionally, you may catch a concert here.
For more information about stadium Panathenaic, check this article.
Closest metro: Syntagma / Acropolis
7. Climb up Areopagus / Areios Pagos
If you want the best views of the Acropolis, the coolest place to go is Areopagus Hill. It is a small hill, or perhaps a large rock, very close to the ancient citadel.
In Ancient Athens, Areios Pagos was the city’s court. Cases of homicide, arson and sacrilege were taken here. The hill is also where the Apostle Paul delivered his famous speech in 51 AD.
The Rock can get busy on different times of the day, especially at sunset. It’s one of my favourite spots in the city, and I’ve seen several sunsets (and a couple of sunrises) here!
Here is some more information on the Areopagus Hill in Athens.
Closest metro: Acropolis / Thisseio
8. See a performance at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus
If you are visiting summer in late spring, summer or autumn, you should definitely check for any concerts or performances at the Herodes Atticus Odeon, or Herodion as we call it.
The grand odeon was commissioned in the 2nd century AD by a wealthy philosopher / orator, Herodes Atticus. He built the theater in memory of Regilla, his late wife.
Like other ancient buildings, Herodion fell into disuse for several centuries. It was restored in the 1950s, and since then it has been used for performances and concerts. Seeing a show here is really an experience!
Check out more ancient theatres in Greece in this article.
Closest metro: Acropolis
9. Watch a movie at a summer cinema
Athens is famous for its summer cinemas. Watching a movie at an outdoors cinema is a very traditional Greek thing to do in summer.
Two of the most iconic summer cinemas in Athens are “Thisseio“, on Apostolou Pavlou, and the iconic “Cine Paris” in Plaka. Where else in the world can you watch a movie within walking distance from the Acropolis?
10. Observe the Changing of the Guards
The image of the Greek Guards with their traditional uniforms is one of the symbols of Athens. The Evzones are guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a cenotaph dedicated to all the soldiers who lost their lives fighting for Greece.
Day and night, rain or sun, the Changing of the Guard happens 24/7, every hour, on the hour. People gather in front of the Greek Parliament building, right on Syntagma Square, to watch this popular event.
On Sundays, the ceremonial changing of the guards takes place at 11 am. Go early, to find a good spot.
Here is some more info: Changing of the Guards.
Closest metro: Syntagma
11. Visit the National Gardens
The National Gardens are right next door from the Parliament building, close to Syntagma Square. You can easily visit right after you’ve seen the Changing of the Guards.
Designed by Queen Amalia, the wife of King Otto, the National Garden is one of the loveliest green spaces in central Athens. It’s a great place to take a breakon a warm summer day.
Here is some more info: The National Garden in Athens
Closest metro: Syntagma
12. Walk on Dionysiou Areopagitou Street
This long, pedestrianized road is one of my favourite areas in Athens. If I only had a half day in Athens, I would visit the Acropolis and then walk this beautiful route.
Begin your walk at the Acropolis metro station, and follow Dionysiou Areopagitou street towards Thisseio. At some point, the name of the street changes into Apostolou Pavlou.
As you are walking, you will see the Acropolis, Areios Pagos and Ancient Agora to your right. The green hills to your left are Filopappou and Nymphs Hill. You can hike up for some great views of the Acropolis.
Along the route, you will see buskers, artists and local vendors, selling jewelry and souvenirs. Who knows, maybe you would see similar people in Ancient Athens!
You can read more here: Pedestrian-friendly Athens
Closest metro: Acropolis / Thisseio
13. Wander around Plaka neighbourhood
Few neighbourhoods in Athens are as well-known as the iconic Plaka. The tiny neighbourhood is located at the foot of the Acropolis, and is a popular place for visitors to stay.
Alongside cafes and restaurants, you will find beautiful neoclassical buildings, a few interesting museums and all sorts of shops.
Here is some more information: Plaka in Athens Greece
Closest metro: Acropolis / Syntagma / Monastiraki
14. Discover the quaint Anafiotika
Just above Plaka, and below the Acropolis, there is an even smaller neighbourhood called Anafiotika.
This is one of the strangest areas in central Athens. The houses look like they were built on the Greek islands! And rightly so, as the people who built them originally came from some of the Cyclades islands, like Anafi.
Allow for an hour to explore this quirky neighbourhood, and be prepared for some steep and uneven steps.
Here is some more information about Anafiotika and its fascinating history: Anafiotika in Athens
Closest metro: Acropolis
15. Explore the quirky neighbourhood of Psiri
Another tiny neighbourhood in central Athens is Psiri, just off Monastiraki square. It’s an all-day hangout for locals, and is full of shops, cafes and places to eat.
During the day, you will find plenty of traditional, old-fashioned shops selling all types of household goodies that you never knew you needed.
In the evenings, Psiri is a vibrant, lively little area, with plenty of tavernas and cool, relaxed bars.
Read more here: Psiri in Athens
Closest metro: Monastiraki
16. Experience the central food market
The Varvakios central food market in Athens is really quite unique. It is located on Athinas street and the side streets, just a five minute walk from Monastiraki square.
There are separate sections for meat, fish and fruit and vegetables. On top of that, there are numerous shops selling local goodies like cheese, Greek yoghurt, nuts, rusks and olive oil.
Unlike some other food markets in Europe, the central market in Athens is authentic, maybe even quite raw. This is where I do some of my own shopping, and I love it!
Read more here: Varvakios food market
Closest metro: Monastiraki
17. Explore the bustling Athens markets and shops
Apart from the Varvakios, Athens is home to many more markets. Most areas of the city are full of tiny shops selling everything possible. Moreover, there are many open-air markets.
People who are interested in antiques and all sorts of old stuff should head to Monastiraki flea market, on Ifestou street and the nearby side alleys.
Even though it’s a lot more commercial than it used to be, its a good place in central Athens to find all sorts of things, including some tourist souvenirs.
Nearby, you can find Ermou street and its side streets, which are good for mainstream shopping. This is also the best area in Athens for fabrics, beads and all sorts of art materials.
Note that commercial stores are closed on Sundays, but you will then find numerous other open-air markets at the outskirts of the city.
For more information, check out these other guides:
Closest metro: Monastiraki
18. Hike up Mount Lycabettus
If you haven’t had enough hills and viewpoints, you can go up Lycabettus hill, known in Greek as Likavitos. It’s a bit out of the tourist centre, but still a comfortable walking distance.
You can reach the top after a short hike, but you can also take a taxi or the cable car. The views from the chapel of Agios Georgios are pretty cool. I love visiting at sunset! Here’s some more information on Mount Lycabettus.
On your way down, stop at Kolonaki area to have a drink and watch the people go by.
Closest metro: Evangelismos
19. Check out the cool street art in Athens
Did you know that the word “graffiti” comes from the Greek word “γράφω / grafo”, which means “to write”? It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that Athens is one of the best European capitals for street art.
Walk around Psiri, Kerameikos, Metaxourgio and Anafiotika meighbourhoods, and you will see some fantastic murals and smaller artworks. Venture into Exarchia, the area next to the National Archaeological Museum, and you will discover lots more.
If you are feeling adventurous, take the metro to Katechaki, on the blue line, and head into the University campus. You will find some of the best and less photographed street art in our city.
Here are a few photos: Street art in Athens
20. Visit the new National Gallery in Athens
The much awaited National Gallery is finally open to the public! It’s a must-see place to visit in Athens if you are interested in art.
This brand new modern building features hundreds of works by prominent Greek artists. Just a few of them – Fasianos, Tsarouchis, Parthenis, Engonopoulos, Kontoglou and my favourite, Hatzikyriakos-Ghika.
You will see a great selection of paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, and several installations by contemporary artists.
Some of the Gallery’s highlights include works related to the Greek Independence Day.
Closest metro: Evangelismos
21. Explore the temporary art exhibitions at Benaki Pireos museum
The Benaki Museum on Pireos street is my favourite art museum in Athens. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve visited! It hosts temporary art exhibitions, featuring Greek and international artists.
This museum is part of the Benaki foundation, which has several more museums around Athens and Greece. The main Benaki museum in Kolonaki area is a great place to visit if you want to get a glimpse of Greece’s very long history over the millennia.
You can find more information about the different Benaki collections and exhibitions on their official website.
Closest metro: Kerameikos
22. Taste the delicious Greek food
No visit to a foreign country is complete if you don’t taste all of the amazing food! And Greece has lots to offer in that respect.
From our rich meat dishes and hearty pies to our healthy salads and light grilled fish, the Greek cuisine is quite versatile.
Top that with various types of cheese and dozens of vegetarian dishes, and you will have an amazing experience!
Here are 50 popular Greek dishes for you to taste. Includes popular snacks like koulouri and spanakopita, the famous Greek salad, souvlaki and mousaka, and plenty of other traditional Greek dishes that you may not have heard of.
There are also numerous food tours you can take in Athens. This food tour gets some of the highest ratings, and it’s ideal if you want a local’s introduction to our rich and diverse cuisine.
23. Have a frappe and a Greek coffee
Visitors often joke that Greeks seem to be addicted to coffee. Well, it’s true. Having a coffee with a friend or ten is one of our most popular pastimes!
There are many types of coffee in Greece. Some of the most popular ones are served ice-cold. They are frappe, freddo espresso and freddo cappuccino.
When it comes to hot coffee, you will find the staples, like filter coffee, espresso, cappuccino and instant coffee. You should also try the Greek coffee, a somewhat thicker drink with an earthy flavour. Do not, I repeat do not, drink the sediment 🙂
When it comes to coffee drinking, my suggestion is to do it like the Greeks – take your time!
24. Taste our local drinks – ouzo, tsipouro and wine
Most people will have a drink or two when on holiday. And in that respect, Greece won’t disappoint!
Local drinks you could taste here include the famous ouzo, the strong tsipouro, or raki, and hundreds of types of wine and beer.
Tip: Ouzo is stronger than you may think at first. My best suggestion is to water it down, and combine it with food. After all, you don’t want to miss on tomorrow’s sightseeing! Here’s how best to enjoy Greek ouzo.
Here is some more information on Greek drinks.
25. Have a drink with a view of the Acropolis
Ten or fifteen years ago, bars with a view to the Acropolis were pretty hard to find. Crazy! Nowadays, there are plenty, especially if you include the rooftop bars of recently opened hotels.
Two of the my favourite rooftop bars with a view to the Acropolis are 360 and A for Athens near Monastiraki Square. Many hotel bars in Plaka, Monastiraki and Koukaki areas also offer great views.
Depending on where you are staying in Athens, you may even be able to see the Acropolis from your balcony!
26. Enjoy the nightlife in Athens
If a relaxed drink at a rooftop bar doesn’t exactly qualify as nightlife for you, don’t worry. Athens is a city that never sleeps!
Areas in the centre to go bar-hopping include Psiri, Syntagma, Kolokotroni street and the numerous pedestrian side alleys.
Kerameikos area also gets very lively – though mature people might find it too lively for their taste. This is a euphemism so hopefully you can read between the lines!
It’s important to know that, sadly, dancing is not so common over here. Yet, you will find venues where people dance. You can ask for parties in this FB group.
27. Check out some live music
Athens is a paradise for live music lovers. You can find all types of live music, including the traditional Greek rebetika, contemporary Greek musicians and international artists.
You can often catch bigger concerts at the following venues:
- Megaron – The Athens concert hall
- Athens Technopolis
- Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre
- Gazarte Athens Cultural Hub
- Gagarin live music space
- Kyttaro live club
- Fuzz Club
For small, intimate gigs, watch out for any posters close to where you are staying. You can also check Facebook events, though they are likely to be in Greek.
28. Go for a swim at the Athens Riviera
People planning to visit Athens in summer, will soon realize that the weather over here gets hot! If you have time, you can escape to the coast for a few hours.
Areas like Faliro, Alimos, Glyfada and Voula are easy to reach on the tram, by bus or taxi. You will find plenty of urban beaches and seaside cafes where you can take a break from all this sightseeing.
There are also more beaches on the other side of the coast, close to the port of Rafina, Nea Makri and Marathon. Some of them are wild, with no facilities.
Tip: Marathon is the starting point of the Athens Classic Marathon race, which happens every November. It is just over 42 kms away from central Athens.
29. Take a half-day trip to the Temple of Poseidon
If you’ve had enough of our busy city, you can take a half day trip to Sounio area, about 70 kms from central Athens. Here, you can visit the majestic temple of Poseidon.
The temple is built right on the edge of the Attica peninsula, and views towards the Aegean sea are really stunning. Try to go for sunset if you can.
30. Go to Piraeus port and take a ferry to the Greek islands
Close to Athens, you will find the port of Piraeus. Here is where ferries depart for most of the Greek island groups.
The islands closest to the Greek capital are the Saronic islands, like Hydra or Aegina, which you can easily visit on a day trip from Athens.
Here are three guides that will help you plan your trip independently:
Unless you are travelling in low season, I suggest that you book your ferry tickets in advance. Ferryscanner is a great platform where you can compare routes and prices, and book your tickets.
FAQs about Athens
Here are some questions asked by people who take a trip to Athens:
What should I avoid in Athens?
Like everywhere, be mindful of pickpockets, especially when you are in crowded areas, including the metro and airport metro. Take pre-booked taxis wherever possible, as sadly the old overcharging habit is still in place. Last but not least, never leave your mobile phone or other valuable item on the table as you are having a coffee, as it might disappear out of thin air.
Is 2 days in Athens enough?
Two days in Athens is nowhere near enough to see everything. Still, you will get an idea of our city. You can visit the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, the Acropolis Museum, the National Gardens and the Panathenaic stadium. You can also see the Changing of the Guards, explore a few neighbourhoods like Plaka and Anafiotika, and taste many of our local food and drink.
Is Athens worth visiting?
As I’m an Athenian, I’m biased! Yes, Athens is totally worth visiting. Where else can you experience this mix of ancient and byzantine history, combined with modern art, funky nightlife, lovely food and a lively coastline?
Is Athens a walkable city?
People who like walking will not really need to use any public transportation in Athens. The centre is quite compact, and you can pretty much walk everywhere. Just bring comfortable walking shoes.
Which area of Athens is best to stay in?
The best areas to stay in Athens city center include Plaka, Monastiraki, Psiri, Thisseio, Syntagma and Koukaki. If you are happy to walk, these areas are walking distance from each other and you will be able to explore the city on foot.
Do they speak English in Athens?
English is widely spoken in Athens, especially in the more popular areas. Still, it doesn’t hurt to learn a few words in Greek!
Best things to do in Athens
These are just a few of the best things to do in Athens. As you see, the city has lots to offer, which is why you could consider spending more than a couple of days!
Here are a few more Athens guides that you will find useful:
- 2 days in Athens itinerary
- Itinerary for 3 days in Athens
- 15 free things to do in Athens
- The best day trips from Athens
- Celebrations in Greece
Hi! I am Vanessa, and I was born and raised in Athens. I love my city’s many different faces! The above list should help you plan your time in Athens, especially if it’s your first time here. Feel free to ask any questions right below, or get in touch on my FB page.