Athens Destination Guide
Athens, the capital of Greece, is a metropolitan city with a population of 3.7 million inhabitants. It was here that Classical Greece was born, so Athens can well be called the birthplace of Western civilization. Athens is a city steeped in history, and was the heart of much of ancient Greece's influence on the Western world. This influence can be particularly seen in aspects such as drama, art, literature, architecture and philosophy. Much evidence of these ancient roots can still be witnessed today, making Athens a fascinating city to visit.
Visit Athens, and let your imagination take you on a journey back thousands of years!
This Athens destination guide will help you plan your perfect holiday, listing many of the Athens highlights you should check out. More information about what there is to see and do in Athens can be found by visiting our Athens tours page. For general information about travelling in Greece, check out our Greece country guide.
Things to See & Do in Athens
The sprawling city of Athens is bounded on three sides by Mt Pendeli, Mt Parnitha and Mt Ymettos. There are twelve hills inside Athens, with the seven historical ones being Observatory Hill (Muses Hill), Tourkovounia (Anchesmus), Acropolis, Hill of Philopappus, Pnyx, Aeropagus and Lycabettus. Among these, Lykavittos and Acropolis are the most prominent. Besides providing refuge from the commotion and noise of the crowded streets of the city, these hills also provide amazing views of the Saronic Gulf, which marks the boundary with the Aegean Sea on its southern side. The Athens Street (marked by signposts in English and Greek) merges into the city's busy ancient port, Piraeus.
Travellers can find places of interest within the city centre, which is a small area surrounding the Syntagma Square (Plateia Syntagmatos). This centre is surrounded by Monastiraki to the west, Plaka to the south-west, Omonia to the north and Kolonaki to the east. A little further down is Piraeus, the port of Athens, and its small charming and picturesque ports of Microlimano and Pachalimano.
Follow the links to the right or scroll further down the page for details on some of the many interesting tourist attractions in Athens:
Archelon is a Sea Turtle Rescue Society, which is located near Athens in Glyfada. It can be reached in 50 minutes from the centre by tram. They welcome volunteers who can take care of injured sea turtles. However, volunteers are expected to bear their own costs, so go prepared.
You can attend an event at the Epidaurus and Athens Festival. Usually held in summer, the festival offers a wide range of events that cater to every taste. Seeing a performance at the ancient theatre of Epidaurus is an unforgettable experience.
A free bike tour of the old areas of Athens is organised every Saturday and Sunday. You need to call 2108838914 or get in touch with the NGO Anthropos if you are interested in taking part in this tour. If you are unable to call or contact them earlier, you can join the groups waiting for the tour outside the Thissio metro station at 10.40 am.
In good weather you can take the A2, B2 or E22 buses from the Sygrou metro station and head towards the beaches to the south of Athens. You can get off wherever you like along the seaside. There is also the tram that departs from Syntagma and takes you to Glyfada seashore.
Athens at first glance looks shabby, with four to six-storey concrete buildings in need of paint and lacking in style; but if you look beyond these you will find little treasures tucked in the midst of all the concrete. Plaka, Monastiraki, Thissio and Anafiotika located at the foot of the Acropolis have numerous traditional and trendy shops and cafes, incredible views of the Acropolis, neoclassical buildings and narrow winding streets. You will find little Greek Orthodox churches in the most unexpected places. These churches are decorated beautifully with brass fixtures and icons from inside. Dress conservatively if you want to enter the churches.
Housed in a neo-classical mansion, this museum showcases the private collection of Antonios Benakis (1873-1954). The son of a wealthy Greek from Egypt, Benakis' collection shows the development of Greek art, from its origins in the Stone Age up until modern times. Ceramics, paintings, sculpture, jewellery and costumes are all on show, and arranged in chronological order. The museum shop offers a number of copies of the various items on display throughout the museum.
Kifissia is one of the first elite suburbs of Athens and is situated at around one hour drive from Athens centre. Expensive apartments, villas and mansions are located in these suburbs. Along with Kolonaki, Kifissia has now become an expensive shopping district. Several cafes and luxurious hotels are located in the upper district of Kefalari and Kifissia.
The Lycabettus Hill, standing tall at 200 m, forms the border of the Kolonaki district. You can walk up the hill or buy a ticket and take the funicular railway to the hilltop. When you are about halfway up the hill, look towards the sea for breathtaking views of the Parthenon and a glimpse of the blue sea in between its columns. You can also relax at the sea-facing cafe and restaurant with refreshments and great views. At the top you can admire a panoramic view of Athens
Antiquity and the presence of several ancient relics have resulted in several galleries and museums. The important museums are the New Acropolis Museum by the Acropolis (not open yet), the Agora Museum near Monastiraki, the National Archaeological Museum near Omonia, Folk Art Museums in Plaka, the Cycladic and Benaki Art Museums in Kolonaki and the Kanellopoulos.
Housed in a late 19th-century building, the National Archaeological Museum recently underwent extensive renovations, and reopened in the summer of 2004. A world-famous museum, it houses one of the world's best collection of ancient and classical Greek artefacts. Among the highlights are the Mycenaen Collection, a literal treasure trove of intricately crafted gold work from the 16th to 11th centuries BC, and the Bronze Collection, which features the magnificent bronze statue of Poseidon, dated from 460 BC.
The Panathianiko Stadium hosted the first modern day Olympic Games in 1896. It is a huge stadium built with white marble and is shaped like a horseshoe. Today some events and concerts take place.
Located at the foot of the Acropolis, these charming historic districts have streets for pedestrians, restored neoclassical homes dating back to the 19th century, and restaurants, shops and picturesque ruins from the Roman era. Plaka, located in the northern part of the Acropolis, is the historic heart of Athens. Thissio has been transformed into a pedestrian way where you can enjoy a walk and have a café with a view to the Acropolis. Monastiraki, is the flea market of Athens. The two districts are situated next to Plaka, and are popular with both Athenians and tourists.
Tourists will find the newly-restored Grande Bretagne Hotel and the Parliament building visit worthy. The hourly changing of guards that happens in front of the Parliament is an interesting sight. The big change takes place every Sunday at 11:00. It is fun to see their walking style and uniforms. Do try to get a vantage point if you want to click photographs.
One of the largest temples in the ancient world, this temple was dedicated to the god of all gods, Zeus. Located near the National Gardens and Plaka. The temple took almost 700 years to complete, and although work started in 515 BC, it was only in AD 131, under the Roman Emperor Hadrian, that the temple was finished. Of the original 104 marble columns, 16 survive. Also still standing is a triumphal arch called Hadrian's Arch.
The Acropolis, an ancient fortified town, dates back to the late Bronze Age. As Greece's best known landmark, it should be one of the first stops on any visit to Athens. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site that has excellent relics of the Greek Classical age, like the Temple of Athena Nike, the Parthenon and the Erectheion. For an entry fee of 12 Euros you can visit the Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Ancient Agora, the Kerameikos, the theatre of Dionysus and the Roman Agora.
Easily the most famous of all the monuments in the Acropolis is the Parthenon. Built between 447 and 438 BC, the Parthenon was dedicated to Athenas Parthenon, the patron goddess of Athens. Originally including friezes, mesotes and pediments, these were all stolen at the beginning of the 19th century by the British, and are now exhibited in the British Museum. Other monuments on Acropolis Hill include the Erechtheion, the Temple of Athena Nike and the Propylaea, a massive gateway to the complex.
Storing many of the ancient treasures of the Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum is located in the south-east corner of the complex. Objects from the four Acropolis buildings are housed in nine rooms throughout the museum. A New Acropolis Museum is currently being built at the foot of Acropolis Hill, which will be a new home for the statues, and also possibly convince the British Museum to return a number of ancient Greek items, such as the controversial Elgin Marbles.
The Ancient Agora, with its splendid green cover, gives a beautiful view of the Acropolis. One of the best ancient Greek temples, the Temple of Hephaestus, is preserved here along with the Attalos Stoa, the museum of the Agora – an ancient building that has been reconstructed.
Lying in a valley under the Acropolis, the Agora was the heart of ancient Athens. This is where Plato and Socrates taught and espoused their philosophies thousands of years ago. Indeed, throughout the city's history, the site has been continually occupied, and it was first used as a residential and burial ground as early as 3000 BC Some of the major monuments in the Agora include the Temple of Hephaistos, the most prominent and probably best preserved of the Agora monuments, the Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios, the Temple of Apollo Patroos and the Monument of the Eponymous Heroes.
The Kerameikos is the site of an ancient cemetery. The Dipylon Gate, from where the Panathenaic procession begins, is also located here. It has a museum which showcases numerous archaeological items and grave stele found in the cemetery grounds from 338 B.C. to the 6th century A.D.
The Theatre of Dionysus (Théatro Dionysou) is a stone auditorium situated on the southern slopes of the Acropolis Hill. Built in the fourth century BC, it was home to the original tragedies of Sophocles and Euripedes, and the comedies of Aristophanes. The theatre held about 17,000 spectators, and is definitely one of the more popular of Athens' ancient sites.
To get a good view of Athens, the island of Aegina, the city and the port of Piraeus from the top of the Lycavittos Hill, take the funicular railway from the top of Ploutarchou Street in Kolonaki. It is advisable to carry plenty of water and wear flat shoes for the trip. After a drink at the café at the top of the hill you can visit the chapel of St George. If you visit Athens during the Easter weekend, you can see a spectacular sight – hundreds of people carrying candles as part of the Easter Vigil procession, coming downhill on the night of Easter Sunday.