20 Things to do in Athens
Though our trip was brief, Audrey and I still made it our mission to see as many sights and attractions as possible around Athens. We set out to visit temples and ruins steeped in history, but along the way we also discovered that the Greek capital is a city with a pretty cool vibe, lots of art, and great food. This city guide showcases 20 things to do in Athens, Greece in the form of a travel guide, video & photo essay:
(Greek: Παρθενών – Παρθενώνας)
Our first stop was one of the most recognized sights in Athens – the Parthenon, which was dedicated to the goddess Athena who was seen as the patron of Athens. Completed in 436 BC it is generally considered to be the most important remaining building of Classical Greece and a symbol of western civilization.
(Greek: Ἐρέχθειον – Ερέχθειο)
From there we visited the Erechtheion, which is an ancient Greek temple on the north side of the Acropolis that was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon. Situated on a slope this impressive temple is entirely made of marble with elaborately carved windows and doorways.
3) Philopappos Monument
(Greek: Μνημείο Φιλοπάππου)
A nice quiet alternative after or before visiting the Acropolis is to visit the Philopappos Monument where you’ll get some incredible views of the Acropolis from a distance.
4) Traditional Greek Food
After spending time in Meteora and Athens it didn’t take us long to identify our favorite Greek dishes. For one of our last meals we found a little restaurant with live music ordering Greek salad, saganaki, Moussaka, bread and olives. Saganaki, our personal favorite, is basically cheese (Gruyère, Halloumi or Sheep’s milk feta) fried on a pan with lemon drizzled on top. Moussaka, common throughout the Mediterranean region, is a layered dish consisting of béchamel sauce, minced meat, potatoes and eggplant.
5) Mount Lycabettus
(Greek: Λυκαβηττός )
For one of the best views in all of Athens don’t miss out on climbing Mount Lycabettus. We took a taxi to the base of the hill and then hiked up from there. By the time we reached the top, golden hour had set in casting a beautiful light over the city below. Since it was kind of a windy day, we found shelter at a little cafe at the top where we enjoyed a nice meal during sunset.
6) Athens Night Views
After sunset we lingered atop Mount Lycabettus for some night views of the city before taking the funicular down to the bottom. Seeing the Acropolis all lit up at night was a pretty cool sight!
7) Temple of Zeus at Olympia
The Temple of Zeus, which once housed the statue of Zeus, was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Long forgotten due to flood siltation and landslips, the Temple of Zeus was excavated by a French team in 1829 with fragments taken to the Musée du Louvre.
8) Arch of Hadrian
Just a stone throw away from the Temple of Zeus is the Arch of Hadrian. It is believed this monumental gateway was built to celebrate the arrival of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the city. Through the arch you get a great vantage point of the Acropolis.
9) Monastiraki Flea Market
When it comes to shopping, there are a few different options. We made our way to Monastiraki, which is one of the principal shopping districts in Athens. Here we visited both the Flea Market and the antique shops in the area.
10) Greek Street Food
(Greek: σουβλάκι – γύρος)
If you’re looking for a quick bite to eat don’t leave Athens without trying some staple Greek street foods. We found a little joint serving up Pita souvlaki and Pita Gyro ordering one of each. Gyro, meaning to turn, is basically rotisserie-style meat that is cooked on a skewer and then shaved often featuring chicken, pork or lamb stuffed inside a pita. With tzatziki sauce (made with yogurt, garlic and cucumber), loads of onions and tomatoes it makes for filling snack. Only costing 1-2 Euros each, it makes for an affordable alternative to dining for those on a tighter budget.
11) Psirri Street Art
(Greek: Ψυρρή ή Ψυρή)
Psirri is known for its lively nightlife, but what caught our attention when visiting by day was the street art! Some of the pieces were quite elaborate, while others were bordering vandalism, but regardless it was a really interesting neighborhood to wander around.
12) Kerameikos Cemetery
(Greek: Νεκροταφείο Κεραμικού)
Kerameikos Cemetery, the largest and most ancient cemetery in the city, used to be the potter’s quarter which is where the word ceramics comes from.
13) Changing of the Guard
We also made time to go watch the changing of the guard in front of the Parliament building on Syntagma Square. The guards were dressed in their white kilts, red caps, and clogs with pompoms. It was fascinating watching the ceremonial steps be carried out in slow motion.
14) National Garden
(Greek: Εθνικός Κήπος)
The National Garden is located in the heart of Athens directly behind the Greek Parliament building. It is open to the public from sunrise to sunset and it’s a nice spot to decompress if the crowds are starting to get to you.
15) Athens Central Market
Athens Central Market features an overwhelming display of fish and meat and is busiest between 7am and 1pm. It takes a strong stomach to set foot inside, but as you’ll also find plenty of other items for sale.
(Greek: Ἀγορά Agorá)
The Agora was the central spot in ancient Greek city-states, and it is where people gathered. It was the heart of political, commercial, administrative, religious and cultural activity in the city.
17) Acropolis Museum
(Greek: Μουσείο Ακρόπολης)
Like the name suggests, the Acropolis Museum is located at the foot of the Acropolis and it’s mainly focused on the findings of the archaeological site of the Acropolis. It’s a cool spot to visit if you want to delve deeper into history.
Plaka is an old historical neighborhood located on the eastern slopes of the Acropolis. The place is a bit of a maze with zigzagging streets and a network of staircases that lead up down and around. The neighbourhood has plenty of charms, and there are also lots of restaurants and cafes if you do start feeling a little peckish.Â
19) Hadrian’s Library
(Italian: Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Milano)
Hadrian’s Library was built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian and it used to be his library. Back in its heyday they used to store Papyrus scrolls here and they also had reading rooms and lecture halls.
20) Greek Cooking Class
Lastly, if you want to take some Greek recipes back home to your kitchen, consider taking a cooking class where you’ll learn how to make all of your favorite Greek dishes.
Athens Travel Video
If you have trouble viewing this video click here: http://youtu.be/QastSumCCiI
Athens Photo Essay
To wrap things up Athens reminded us of some other cities we’ve visited in Europe and around the Mediterranean. In Athens you’ll find plenty of friendly stray dogs and cats that are well taken care of similar to Istanbul. In terms of vibe and artistic appeal Athens is a gritty up and coming city in a way that reminded us of Berlin and Warsaw. With a Mediterranean feel similar to Tel Aviv it is a city where you’ll enjoy quality Greek and International cuisine at an affordable price.
With Greece receiving a lot of bad press in the media lately it has scared off a lot of visitors which is a total shame. What we found is that locals went out of their way to be helpful and we had instances where we ate meals at a restaurant where many extras (appetizers, drinks and desserts) were brought to our table free of charge. With a mix of antiquity and urban Athens is one of my favorite cities in all of Europe and I highly recommend you visit NOW.
If you have any more suggestions of activities that travelers shouldn’t miss, feel free to share those in the comments below.