Best things to do in Athens
Find out more about those top places in Athens
Athens is a city of juxtapositions: awe-inspiring ancient monuments stand side-by-side with the worst of post-war architecture; graceful opera houses are just a stone throw from anarchist squats and grungy dive bars; and Ottoman-era mosques have become symbols of Greek nationhood. While the ever-impressive 5th century BC Acropolis may be the most visible legacy of Ancient Greece, Athens is peppered with other relics of antiquity from the Agora, which was the marketplace of the ancient city, to the towering Corinthian columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Despite its fascinating history, Athens is very much a city rooted in the present. Beyond the ruins, the hidden gem neighbourhoods of Pláka, Monastiráki and Psyrri are hotbeds of local creativity, political discussion and buzzing nightlife.
Towering over downtown Athens is the Acropolis, one of the world’s most evocative remnants of antiquity. Capping the rocky plateau is the iconic colonnaded Parthenon, which was built around 400 BC and has undergone decades of restoration work after centuries of neglect and damage inflicted by Ottoman Turks, Venetians and Germans. Beyond the Parthenon, the Acropolis also plays host to a series of smaller marble clad temples and monuments that are equally enchanting.
After exploring the Acropolis, a visit to the futuristic Acropolis Museum is a must. The museum showcases artifacts found during archaeological digs in and around the ancient ruins, including the Parthenon’s original 160 meter long frieze that once dominated the Athenian skyline. The museum is made all the more remarkable by the glass floors that allow you to gaze down into an ancient Athenian neighborhood that was discovered during construction.
Jutting out of the vibrant and modern neighborhoods of Syntagma and Plaka, the colonnaded Temple of Olympian Zeus is the most impressive ancient attraction in Athens beyond the Acropolis. Despite being begun in the 6th century BC, the temple was not completed until the 2nd century AD and once finished the structure had over 100 Corinthian columns and two gargantuan statues of Zeus and Hadrian. Only a handful of gigantic columns remain upright but audio guide tours allow visitors to imagine the vast scale of the original complex.
First developed as a public site in the 6th century BC, the Agora quickly developed into the beating commercial heart of ancient Athens. Spread over a vast area west of Monastiraki, the ruins encompass the standout Temple of Hephaistos, an excellent museum and even an ornate 10th century Byzantine Church. To make the most of the Agora guides are highly recommended, as they will help you walk in the footsteps of the ancient Greeks who once lived and worked in the area, including Socrates and Plato.
With its narrow cobbled lanes that climb precipitously towards the Acropolis and colorful traditional window shutters, Plaka is undoubtedly Athens’ most immediately charming neighborhood. Although lacking in major attractions beyond the Roman Forum, the district is packed with traditional Greek tavernas where visitors can sample some of the city’s best spanakopita, dolmades, moussaka and more.
In the heyday of ancient Athens, the Erechtheion was the city’s busiest temple. Built on the steep hillside of the Acropolis, the temple was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon and is spread over multiple levels that are bedecked in an amazing array of ancient statuary. Sadly, besides the much smaller Temple of Rome and Augustus, the Erechtheion was the last building erected on the Acropolis in the ancient period.
With a clutch of blockbuster ancient attractions ranging from the Agora to Hadrian’s Library and the rebuilt Stoa of Attalos, Monastiraki is one of Athens’ most popular neighborhoods. While the area’s history is thrillingly palpable, the district is also one of the city’s most vibrant areas with a flea market selling everything from antiques to artisanal olive soap and souvenirs. The surrounding streets are jammed with converted Ottoman mosques, traditional tavernas and lively bars, especially in the sub-district of Psyrri.
In the 6th century BC the Athenian ruler Peisistratos inaugurated the annual Festival of the Dionysia by opening the world’s very first theater beneath the Acropolis. While the original theater was made of wood, it was reconstructed in marble in the 3rd century BC with much of the elegant tiered seating remaining intact until now.
Standing on the precipitous Cape Sounion high above the sparkling Aegean Sea, the Temple of Poseidon is one of Greece’s most iconic sites. Just a one-hour drive from downtown Athens, this remote spot makes an ideal tour from the nearby metropolis where visitors can marvel at the gleaming white 4th century BC columns, visit the nearby Temple of Athena and sample delicious Greek cuisine at beachside tavernas.
In the center of modern Corinth are the ruins of what was once one of the wealthiest cities in the ancient world. Most of what can be seen today dates from the Roman era with visitors free to explore the enigmatic ruins of the Agora and the theater. The exception to the Roman rule is the startlingly large Temple of Apollo, which dates from the 6th century BC.