The 16 essential things to do in Athens

by Destination(s) Europe
Published: Last Updated on

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Athens, the eternal city, the cradle of democracy and Western philosophy… Its ancient monuments, witnesses of its past grandeur, stand proudly on the Acropolis, dominating the restless city that stretches out at their feet. Here, the past and the present coexist harmoniously, giving life to a vibrant and cosmopolitan city. Whether you’re strolling the bustling streets of the Plaka district or admiring the panoramic views from the Acropolis, Athens offers you a unique journey through time and history. So, to be charmed by the magic of this mythical city, here are 16 essential things to do in Athens.

💶 What tip? At the end of a meal in Greece, or after a cab ride, you don’t know how much to tip? Then read our little guide.

🗒️ A few tips before your trip to Athens

Before we begin our list of must-do things in Athens, here are some tips for your next trip:

How to get around Athens?

You will find that with so many marvels to see in Athens, the question of how to get around in the heart of the Greek capital will quickly become a priority. Let’s do a check in :

  • By Metro: The Athens Metro is fast, efficient, and relatively inexpensive. There are three lines that cover much of the city and extend to the suburbs. The metro is an ideal choice for getting from one point to another quickly, especially if you are in a particular hurry or have difficulty walking. They run from 5 am until past midnight (2 am on weekends). Remember to check the official website.
  • By bus: there are over a hundred different bus lines that serve the whole city and its surroundings. Buses can be a convenient way to get around, but they can get crowded and take a while to get to your destination, depending on traffic. However, you will find day tickets for less than 5 euros.
  • By tram: There are three tram lines in Athens which follow a coastal route and two interior routes. The tram is generally less crowded than the buses and offers a panoramic view of the city, but it does not cover as much distance as the metro. They run until 1am on weekdays.
  • By car: If you prefer the flexibility of driving yourself, you can rent a car in Athens. However, be warned that traffic can be heavy and road signs are not always easy to follow. In addition, it can be difficult to find a parking space in the city centre. Taxis are another option and are inexpensive compared to other European capitals. Budget €3.20 for the base price, which includes the first 1 km of the journey.
  • On foot: Athens is a very walkable city, and it is a great way to discover the different neighbourhoods and immerse yourself in the local culture. Be careful though, it can get very hot in the summer, so make sure you have plenty of water and sunscreen with you.

How do you get from the centre of Athens to the beach?

The bus is a good option here: there are many lines that serve the most popular beaches, such as Glyfada, Voula, and Vouliagmeni. The tram line that runs along the coast also serves some beaches, such as Faliro and Alimo. Taxis, although more expensive, are another possibility: for example, Glyfada beach is about 15 km southwest of Athens city centre and can be reached in less than 30 minutes by car.

How do you get to Santorini from Athens?

First of all, this is a very good idea for a trip! There are two options to get from Athens to Santorini :

  • By plane: There are direct flights between Athens International Airport and Santorini Airport. These take just over 45 minutes and tickets can be purchased from various airlines.
  • By ferry: This is the most popular solution, and for good reason: there are many ferries that leave from the port of Piraeus, near Athens, to get to Santorini. The trip takes about eight hours. We advise you break up your trip with a stop on an island located halfway, such as Paros or Naxos – they really are worth the detour!

🥂 True luxury in Santorini. Want to treat yourself to a truly unforgettable trip? Discover our selection of hotels in Santorini with private swimming pool. You are sure to love them!

🔝 The 16 must-do things in Athens

Now, to the subject you are looking for. Here’s what to do in Athens for a successful stay.

Climb the Acropolis and enjoy the Parthenon

Coming to Athens without visiting the Acropolis is like going to Paris without visiting the Eiffel Tower. As you will have understood, the Acropolis is a must in this city, being its most-visited site. Located on a rocky hill 156 meters high, this archaeological plateau and its monuments are the symbol of a strong state in Antiquity, both militarily and intellectually.

Designed to house the gold and ivory statue of the Athena Parthenos, the Parthenon is among the most important monuments of the civilization of ancient Greece. Built in the 5th century BC, it was damaged during its long history by fire and was even used as a Byzantine church and then a mosque in the Middle Ages.

Visit the Acropolis Museum in Athens

The Acropolis Museum of Athens (official site) is the place to visit if you want to know the history of the city. Inaugurated on June 20, 2009, this museum is housed in an ultra-modern building made of steel, glass, and grey cement located right at the foot of the Acropolis. You will enjoy discovering the treasures and vestiges it houses as one of the most visited museum in the whole country.

Admire the Theatre of Dionysus

The Theatre of Dionysus is an ancient theatre located below the Acropolis. It was built in the 5th century BC and is considered one of the oldest theatres of antiquity. This building, now classified by UNESCO, was dedicated to Dionysus, god of the vine and wine, and was used for religious celebrations in his honour. It was also used for performances of Greek tragedies and comedies. The enclosure could accommodate up to 17,000 spectators.

Explore the Ancient Agora of Athens

Centre of the social, political, and commercial life of the city in Antiquity, the Agora was a public place where the affairs of the city were discussed. It is not very far from the Acropolis and is presented in a vast open space, surrounded by various public buildings. It once served as a centre of government, market, and sacred space.

Today, the Agora of Athens is no longer what it used to be and its buildings and monuments have fallen into disrepair. However, some of them have remained well preserved while others have undergone restoration work.

Learn at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

We cannot talk about museums in Athens without mentioning the prestigious National Archaeological Museum (official site). This splendid 8,000m² building houses many important pieces, including the finest collection of Greek antiquities in the world. In fact, the objects found there cover a period ranging from prehistory to the Byzantine period. One of the jewels of the museum’s collection is the golden mask of Agamemnon, discovered in Mycenae and considered one of the most important archaeological treasures of ancient Greece.

Wander the Alleys of Plaka

Plaka is a mythical district of the city of Athens which looks like it came straight off a postcard, located at the foot of the Acropolis. It is both the historical and tourist centre of the city – it is here that the Acropolis Museum, the Theatre of Dionysus, and the Sanctuary of Asklepios are located. There’s nothing like strolling through its small, narrow stairways and taking full advantage of the charm it offers. You will find low houses decorated with flowers, as well as many cafes and restaurants. Plaka is also a quiet area, with few cars.

Escape to Anafiotika

If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre in favour of a calm and relaxing setting, take a short trip to Anafiotika. It is a small neighbourhood with narrow and colourful streets resembling a Cycladic island. Indeed, this district is very much like a small Greek island in the Cyclades archipelago called Anafi. It was its inhabitants who came to settle in Athens in the 19th century and built its houses, replicating the architecture of their island of origin. A warning for those who have difficulty getting around: the alleys are narrow and the stairs steep. But that also adds to the charm of the place.

Walk around the Panathenaic Stadium

Built in the year 330 BC. J.-C. to host sports competitions that took place during the Panathenaic (religious festivities), this stadium has undergone many changes during its history, but retains the name of these celebrations. Between 1869 and 1870, it was replaced by an architectural work built in white marble. It was this stadium that hosted the first Olympic Games of our era in 1896.

It is always a pleasure to stroll along the enclosure and soak up the history of the athletes, both from ancient Greece and abroad, who distinguished themselves there.

Explore Monastiraki Square and its surroundings

Monastiraki Square is a popular meeting place for locals and tourists alike. It is surrounded by historic buildings and is the starting point for many guided tours. The area is also close to many important sites such as the Acropolis, Parthenon, Ancient Agora, and the Plaka district. Monastiraki is also famous for its flea market, where visitors can buy antiques, jewellery, clothing, and other handicrafts.

Admire the Greek Parliament in Syntagma Square, and watch the changing of the guard

Also known as “Constitution Square” in Greek, Syntagma Square is located opposite the current National Parliament building. It is the gathering place for many important events in Greece, such as military parades and political demonstrations.

Another important attraction in Syntagma Square is the Evzone Guard, a group of soldiers who stand guard in front of the Greek Parliament. Evzone guards are known for their traditional uniform, which includes a kilt and red pom-pom shoes. They perform the changing of the guard ceremony every hour, a popular moment for tourists and photographers.

Marvel at the National Garden of Athens

Located near the Parliament and a few museums, the National Garden of Athens is a place that seduces with its beauty and calm. Covering more than 15 hectares, it extends to the presidential palace and the residence of the Prime Minister. It thus connects the three most important buildings of the Greek state. It’s a real piece of countryside in the city. Built in 1839-1840 by Queen Amalia, it was opened to the public in 1923 and renamed the National Garden in 1974.

Work up an appetite at the Central Market

The Athens Central Market, also known as “Varvakios Agora”, is a lively and colourful place located in the historic district of Monastiraki. This is a traditional market where you can find a wide variety of fresh products, such as fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and spices. A must-see during a visit to Athens, the central market gives the city all its energy, joy, and authenticity.

Climb Philopappos Hill

The Hill of Philopappos, also known as the “Hill of the Muses”, overlooks the city of Athens, southwest of the Acropolis –of which it offers a beautiful view. It is named after Philopappos, a prince of the Ptolemaic dynasty, who had a funerary monument built on the hill in the early first century AD. It is also one of the few monuments from the Roman period still present in Athens. It consists of a tomb and a temple dedicated to Dionysus, the god of the vine and pleasures.

Explore Kerameikos 

Kerameikos is a district of the city of Athens which was named after the Greek word “keramos” which means “pottery”. It is also the name of the famous cemetery of the city which is in this district. Kerameikos cemetery – the necropolis itself – is one of the oldest and most important in Athens. It was used to bury the dead of the city for many centuries and it was discovered during archaeological excavations in the 1860s. You can thus see many tombs and funerary steles dating from antiquity. Kerameikos is also known for its agora (read above), one of the largest in the capital.

Visit the Academy of Athens

Founded on March 18, 1926, the Academy of Athens was originally known as the Academy of Sciences, Humanities, and Fine Arts. It is a place dedicated to science and art, as its name suggests. It is recognized as one of the most prestigious academies in Greece and plays an important role in the cultural life of the country. It is open to the public, hosting exhibitions, conferences, and concerts. Science lovers of all kinds, this is the place for you!

Relax on the Beach

Finally, after hours or even days of exploring, do you need a little rest? Athens also has the perfect thing for this. The beaches are indeed not far from the city centre (see at the beginning of the article ☝️). Glyfada beach, for example, is located about 20 minutes away by car. It is very busy in summer and is lined with bars and restaurants. At an equivalent distance, but perhaps a little quieter, you will find the beach of Voula and, a little further, those of Varkiza and Vouliagmeni, with their crystal-clear waters. In short, as you can see, there are plenty of choices.

Well, we hope this selection of the best things to do in Athens has helped you plan your next trip. Any other ideas? Tell us everything in comments.

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