Athens Top 10 Things to Do
Athens is a treasure trove for history buffs, from its hilltop Acropolis to the wealth of artifacts in the Acropolis Museum. But Athens has so much more than ancient sites, it’s home to enchanting neighbourhoods, thought provoking street art and great shopping and dining. Here are my top 10 things to do and see in Athens, Greece.
Note: If you plan on visiting a few of the ancient sites in Athens consider purchasing a Athens Archeological Pass to save money. You can purchase the pass at any of the sites and it allows entry into 6 of the following sites over the course of 4 days for the low price of €12 (as of summer of 2015); the Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s Library and Kerameikos.
The Acropolis is seen by many as the symbol of Athens, if not Greece. Set in the heart of the city atop a hill, standing center stage is the Acropolis – a monument to ancient civilization. The Acropolis is actually not one monument but many that make up the Acropolis complex. These include; the Parthenon – built in the 5th century B.C., the Theatre of Dionysus – from the 4th century B.C., and the Theatre of Herodes Atticus – built in the 2nd century B.C. The Acropolis is one of Greece’s many UNESCO sites and is on many travellers must see lists. A visit to this ancient site allows you to step back in time and be wowed by its fantastic 360º views over Athens.
Located in the centre of Athens, the National Gardens covers 38 acres (15.5 hectares) and is home to beautiful, shaded trails, ancient ruins, a café, duck and turtle ponds, a small zoo, the Botanical Museum and over 500 species of plants and trees. Completed in 1840 and opened to the public in 1920 the National Gardens are a great place to unwind from the hustle of the city and cool down in the heat of the summer.
At the base of the Acropolis, in the Plaka district, you’ll find the Museum of the Acropolis. Within you’ll discover over 4000 sculptures, pediments, friezes and other objects from the Acropolis site. The building is also built on top of an archeological site with ruins from the Roman and early Byzantine era that can be seen from below a glass floor.
By far my favourite archeological site in Athens, a visit to Ancient Agora will allow you a more relaxed and peaceful experience away from the large crowds of the Acropolis. Back in its heyday Ancient Agora was the heart of public life in Greece for over 1000 years, with temples, a large shopping center – the Stoa of Atallos, public offices, shaded trails and even ancient roads and so much more. The Stoa of Atallos now houses a museum with objects from the 5th – 7th century B.C. And atop its own small hill stands possibly one of the best preserved temples in Greece – the beautiful Temple of Hephaestus, dating back to the 4th century B.C.
Hike Mount Lycabethus
At over 700′ above sea level Mount Lycabettus stands north-east of Athens’s downtown. From atop you’ll be rewarded with breath-taking views across Athens and beyond. If you’re up for a hike take the path that starts at the end of Aristippou Street or if you’re looking for an easier option you can take the funicular. While taking in the view you can stop and have a refreshing beverage at the café or go explore the 18th century Chapel of St. George
Temple of Olympian Zeus
The Temple of Olympian Zeus was the largest temple in Greece, at approximately 315′ long and 130′ wide. Today it is a sad fraction of its old grandeur with only 15 of the original 104 columns remaining – but don’t let this fool you, it still commands attention and is an astounding sight. Just south of the National Gardens the temple is encircled by trees but once beyond lies a wide open space with these massive columns in the center and scattered around are ruins of various archeological sites like Roman baths and classical houses.
Also known as the “Neighbourhood of the Gods“, Plaka is in the heart of Athens, in the shadow of the Acropolis and is the oldest continually inhabited area in the city. This charming neighbourhood is home to plenty of restaurants, shops filled with everything from typical souvenirs to great jewellery at fantastic prices and delightful cafes with seats spilling out into the pedestrian only streets.
Located just north of the Acropolis lies the neighbourhood of Monastiraki – home to eclectic cafes, interesting street art and tons of shops with everything from souvenirs to books to jewellery. It’s also where you’ll find the Monastiraki Market where tourists and Greeks browse the stalls and tables shoulder to shoulder. You’ll find a wide variety of wares at the market, everything from hand made crafts to jewellery and antiques to plain ol’ stuff. There’s something for everyone and it’s a great place to people watch.
Greece, and particularly Athens, is home to some great dishes, from gyros to Greek salads there is something for everyone’s palette. Athens is home to some fabulous restaurants, many of which can be found in the Plaka neighbourhood. A few dishes that are a must for any visitor included; souvlaki – small pieces of meat and vegetables grilled and served on a skewer, moussaka – a sautéed eggplant dish with minced meat, onion, potato, tomato and layered with cheese, authentic Greek salad tossed with rich feta cheese and for dessert baklava – a sweet pastry made of layers of filo filled with honey and chopped nuts.
Athens has some of the best street art in all of Europe. Subject matter is as varied as the neighbourhoods you find it in, from pieces on love to political statements and everything in between. Some of the neighbourhoods to explore for street art are; Plaka, Monastiraki, Psiri, Exarchina, Gazi, Metaxourgeio and Anafiotika.
What’s your favourite thing to do in Athens?