Though our trip was brief, Audrey and I still made it our mission to see as many sights and attractions as possible around Athens. First, 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.
History Of Athens, Greece
Athens, one of the world’s oldest cities, boasts a history that spans several millennia. As a traveler, you can delve into the city’s past and unravel the captivating story that is Athens.
In its infancy, Athens was established in the 5th century BCE and rapidly rose to prominence as one of ancient Greece’s most critical cities. Renowned philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle, called Athens home, and the city became a hub of intellectual and cultural advancement. Additionally, Athens is credited with inventing democracy as we know it today, cementing its position as a center of democratic thought.
The Golden Age of Athens, during the 5th century BCE, was characterized by unparalleled prosperity and cultural growth. Iconic landmarks, including the Parthenon and the Acropolis, were constructed, and the city emerged as a major hub of commerce and trade. Its navy was also one of the most powerful in the world.
However, Athens’ fortunes would soon change. In 146 BCE, the city fell under the Roman Empire’s control, leading to a loss of political and economic influence. The ensuing Roman occupation spanned several centuries, during which many of Athens’ ancient monuments were either destroyed or damaged.
In the 4th century CE, Athens became part of the Byzantine Empire, and its Christian culture and education flourished. Churches and monasteries were constructed, contributing to the city’s religious significance.
Subsequently, in 1458, Athens fell under Ottoman occupation. This period marked a significant transformation, with several ancient monuments being converted into mosques and other Islamic buildings. The Ottomans also constructed the famous Monastiraki flea market, amongst other notable structures.
Athens regained its independence in 1833 and became the capital of the newly independent Greek state. The city underwent a period of tremendous modernization and growth, resulting in new buildings and infrastructure projects.
Today, Athens is a bustling and modern metropolis that remains deeply rooted in its ancient history and culture. As a traveler, there are numerous opportunities to explore the city’s rich heritage, from visiting ancient landmarks like the Parthenon and the Acropolis to engaging in guided tours that offer a deeper understanding of Athens’ fascinating history and culture.
20 Things to Do in Athens, Greece
(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.
Hence, 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.
Consequently, 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.
Once, 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.
Moreover, 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.
Thus, 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 food. 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.
Moreover, 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!
Hence, 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.
Here, 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.
Furthermore, 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.
Here, the neighbourhood has plenty of charms. And there are also lots of restaurants and cafes if you do start feeling a little peckish.
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
Athens Photo Essay
List Of Foods To Try In Athens
Here is a list of 50 must-try foods in Athens, along with a brief description of each:
- Moussaka: A layered dish made with ground beef, eggplant, potatoes, and a creamy béchamel sauce.
- Souvlaki: Skewered and grilled meat, typically served in a pita with vegetables and tzatziki sauce.
- Gyro: Similar to souvlaki, but the meat is cooked on a vertical rotisserie and shaved off in thin strips.
- Greek salad: A simple salad made with tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, feta cheese, and olives.
- Spanakopita: A savory pie made with spinach and feta cheese wrapped in crispy phyllo pastry.
- Tyropita: A cheese pie made with feta cheese and phyllo pastry.
- Tzatziki: A refreshing yogurt and cucumber dip flavored with garlic and dill.
- Feta cheese: A crumbly, tangy cheese made from sheep’s milk.
- Kalamata olives: A type of Greek olive with a deep, rich flavor.
- Greek yogurt: A thick, creamy yogurt that is often served with honey and nuts.
- Loukoumades: Small, fried doughnuts that are drizzled with honey syrup and sprinkled with cinnamon.
- Baklava: A sweet pastry made with layers of phyllo dough, chopped nuts, and honey syrup.
- Galaktoboureko: A dessert made with semolina custard and phyllo pastry.
- Koulouri: A sesame bread ring that is often sold by street vendors.
- Stifado: A hearty beef stew that is flavored with cinnamon and red wine.
- Kokoretsi: A grilled dish made from organ meat that is wrapped in intestines.
- Fasolada: A simple bean soup that is often served with bread.
- Pastitsio: A baked pasta dish that is similar to lasagna, but with a creamy béchamel sauce instead of ricotta cheese.
- Taramasalata: A dip made from fish roe, olive oil, lemon juice, and bread crumbs.
- Melitzanosalata: A dip made from roasted eggplant, garlic, and lemon juice.
- Saganaki: Fried cheese that is often served as an appetizer.
- Dolmades: Stuffed grape leaves that are typically filled with rice and herbs.
- Soutzoukakia: Meatballs that are cooked in a tomato-based sauce with spices.
- Gigantes Plaki: Baked giant beans that are flavored with tomato sauce and herbs.
- Briam: A baked vegetable casserole that is typically made with tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and potatoes.
- Revithada: A chickpea stew that is often flavored with garlic and lemon juice.
- Psari Plaki: A baked fish dish that is typically made with cod or sea bass.
- Octopus: Grilled or fried octopus that is often served with lemon and olive oil.
- Calamari: Fried or grilled squid that is often served with tzatziki sauce.
- Grilled sardines: Small, oily fish that are typically grilled and served with lemon and olive oil.
- Red mullet: A small, flavorful fish that is often grilled or fried.
- Lobster with spaghetti: A dish that is typically served in upscale seafood restaurants, with lobster and spaghetti in a tomato-based sauce.
- Greek coffee: A strong coffee that is brewed in a small pot and served in demitasse
Athens is a city rich in history and culture, and there are many tours available to help you explore all that it has to offer. Here are a few types of tours you can take in Athens:
- Ancient Athens Walking Tour: Take a guided walking tour through the historic center of Athens and explore the ancient monuments and landmarks such as the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Ancient Agora, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
- Food and Wine Tour: Athens is a food lover’s paradise with a rich and diverse culinary scene. Take a food and wine tour to sample some of the local delicacies, wines, and spirits at some of the city’s best restaurants, markets, and cafes.
- Athens by Night Tour: Explore Athens after dark on a guided tour that takes you to some of the city’s best nightlife spots, such as rooftop bars, trendy clubs, and live music venues.
- Athens Museums Tour: Athens is home to some of the world’s finest museums, including the National Archaeological Museum, the Benaki Museum, and the Acropolis Museum. Take a guided tour to explore these museums and learn about Greek art, history, and culture.
- Day Trips from Athens: There are many fascinating destinations within easy reach of Athens, such as Delphi, the ancient site of the Oracle of Apollo; the picturesque town of Nafplio; and the island of Hydra. Take a day trip from Athens to explore these places and more.
- Athens Segway Tour: If you want to see the sights of Athens in a fun and unique way, consider taking a Segway tour. Glide through the city’s streets and alleys, and explore its landmarks and hidden gems with a knowledgeable guide.
- Street Art Tour: Athens is known for its vibrant street art scene. Take a tour to explore the city’s colorful murals, graffiti, and installations, and learn about the artists and their work.
Whatever your interests may be, there is a tour available to help you discover the beauty and history of Athens.
Athens Day Trips
Athens, the capital of Greece, is surrounded by many fascinating destinations that are perfect for a day trip. Here are some of the best day trips you can take from Athens:
- Delphi: The ancient site of Delphi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was considered the center of the world in ancient times. Explore the ruins of the Temple of Apollo, the Theater, and the Stadium, and visit the Archaeological Museum to see the famous Charioteer of Delphi.
- Cape Sounion: Located on the southernmost tip of the Attica peninsula, Cape Sounion offers stunning views of the Aegean Sea and the Temple of Poseidon, one of the most iconic landmarks of Greece.
- Hydra Island: A beautiful and picturesque island, Hydra is a popular day trip destination from Athens. Explore the island’s charming town, swim in crystal-clear waters, and enjoy some of the island’s delicious seafood.
- Nafplio: This charming town is considered one of the most romantic destinations in Greece. With its beautiful architecture, scenic views, and delicious cuisine, it’s no wonder why it’s a popular day trip destination from Athens.
- Corinth Canal: The Corinth Canal is a man-made canal that connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf. It’s an engineering marvel and a popular destination for sightseeing and taking a boat tour.
- Ancient Mycenae: Mycenae was one of the most important cities in ancient Greece and is famous for its impressive fortifications, the Lion Gate, and the Tomb of Agamemnon.
- Meteora: While Meteora is not exactly a day trip from Athens, it’s worth the extra time and effort to visit this breathtaking site. Located in central Greece, Meteora is home to some of the most spectacular monasteries in the world, perched on top of towering rock formations.
These are just a few of the many day trips you can take from Athens. Each of these destinations offers a unique experience, and there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Athens offers a wide range of accommodations to suit all budgets and preferences. From luxurious hotels to budget-friendly hostels, you’ll find something that suits your needs. Here are some of the best accommodations in Athens:
- Hotel Grande Bretagne: This 5-star luxury hotel is located in the heart of Athens, just a stone’s throw away from the Parliament building and the famous Syntagma Square. It offers a rooftop restaurant with stunning views of the Acropolis and a luxurious spa.
- King George Hotel: Another 5-star luxury hotel, the King George Hotel is located in a historic building in Syntagma Square. It offers elegant rooms, a rooftop restaurant with panoramic views, and a fitness center.
- AthensWas Hotel: This boutique hotel is located in the historic district of Athens, just a few minutes away from the Acropolis. It offers modern and stylish rooms, a rooftop bar, and a restaurant with a Mediterranean-inspired menu.
- Airbnb: There are plenty of Airbnb options in Athens, ranging from cozy studios to luxurious apartments with stunning views. This is a great option if you’re looking for more privacy and the chance to live like a local.
- Hostels: Athens has a great selection of hostels, many of which are located in the city center and offer budget-friendly options for travelers. Some of the most popular hostels include Athens Backpackers, City Circus Athens, and Bedbox Hostel.
No matter what your budget or preferences are, you’ll find plenty of great accommodations in Athens. From luxurious hotels to budget-friendly hostels and everything in between, you’re sure to find the perfect place to stay during your visit.
Did Athens Remind Us Of Other Cities in Europe?
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.
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.
Things to do in Athens Final Thoughts
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.