Athens is above all a city you need to feel and experience!
There are tons of ruins, ancient findings and historic places to see. But which are the top things to do and visit to get the best of the athenian treasures?
Visiting Athens, especially for the first time, can be a real challenge. The city is a living myth! There’s a lot to see, visit, taste and enjoy.
I know that every single visitor of any place in the world, wishes to make the best out of her short or long stay. Time is most important to everyone. So little time…so many expectations!
I have been a traveler multiple times in the past (I still am). With only a couple of exceptions, the available time I had to experience a new place was always shorter than I hoped.
So, I’ve gathered here the top 20 experiences you should have in Athens during your stay. As I don’t have a clue of how long this will be, it’s totally up to you to choose some of the recommendations that follow.
You know yourself better than anyone. Choose guilt-free, what suits you best this period of your life! If you;re not interested in spending time among ancient ruins, it’s totally fine!
Remember to always travel for you!
Having all the above in mind, here’s the list.
Top 20 experiences in Athens.
1. Explore the Acropolis & the Acropolis Museum
This is the most iconic place in Greece. Don’t leave Athens without visiting Acropolis. It’s more than worth the heat, the money and the time you’ll spend.
Climb on that sacred rock and do this one thing before anything else. Take a look at the view! By the way, it’s one of the most instagrammable spots in Athens. Now you’re ready to dive into the historic and architectural wonders of Acropolis.
Across the street it’s the Acropolis museum. Its doors opened back in 2009. Apart from the findings from the excavation of the Acropolis and the surrounding areas, you’ll get one of the best Athenian views! The Acropolis itself!
2. Visit the Odeon of Herodes Atticus
This a great sample of how significant was theatre in ancient Athens. Herodion is a roman era odeon that after being restored is still in use today. Many performances of the Athens & Epidaurus festival are held every summer in Herodion. Book your tickets early. The most popular performances are usually sold out in just days or even hours!
3. Panathenaic Stadium
The only marble stadium in today’s’ world. Otherwise named Kallimarmaro (kali+marmaro = beautiful marble in greek).
- Built in 329 BC
- Renovated and fully marbleized in 140 AD by the Athenian Roman senator Herodes Atticus
- Second renovation in 1869. The stadium got back its glory by hosting the opening/closing ceremony of the first modern Olympics in 1896.
Today this is the place where:
- The Olympic Flame starts from its international travel to the next country hosting the Olympics and
- The final point of the Athens Classic Marathon
4. Walk through the National Gardens & Zappeio Mansion
The National Gardens is the green oasis in the center of Athens. You can imagine how important this is in a city where summer temperatures can climb up to 40 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit).
Visit the gardens and enjoy the calmness. Athens is a very loud and busy city and the gardens is an easy getaway.
Zappeion Mansion and exhibition center is next to the National Gardens and close to the Panathenaic stadium. Walk around the alleys and maybe stop for a coffee at “ Aigli” coffee-restaurant. If you find yourself in this part of the city later in a summer evening, you may also enjoy a film at Aigli open air cinema.
Which brings me to my next suggestion
5. Watch a movie in an open air cinema
There are lots of great cinemas in the city since the weather is an ally. In most of them you can have a snack if you get hungry and certainly a cold beer while enjoying the film under the night sky. Your real time scenery, while watching your film, could also be the Acropolis and the Parthenon itself!
Cine Paris has the most impressive view.
6. Attend the “Changing of Guard” ceremony
It takes place at the tomb of the “Unknown Soldier” in front of the Hellenic Parliament building. The same building that was the first palace of modern times.
The Evzones (this specific soldier troupe) change their guard every single hour 24/7. However, the complete ceremony of the “Guard Change” takes place every Sunday at 11:00 o’clock.
Don’t be fooled by the Evzones’ short skirts! They belong to a highly trained and uber-disciplined, elite infantry unit. They NEVER move while on guard! Ever!
Be there on Sunday morning – 11 o’clock!
7. Walk down Ermou str.
That’s a pedestrian and very popular commercial street in Athens. It combines great shops for every taste and need. I’d say it’s one of the middle class commercial streets of the city.
Don’t expect to find high-end fashion names here. This street “belongs” to the Historic Commercial Triangle of Athens and it’s definitely worth walking.
You can find greek delicacies like koulouri, ice-cream and pites (greek pies). Enter the narrow alleys on the left and right of Ermou and you’ll discover a hidden tasteful world.
Best reason, if you’re not a classic consumer, to walk down this street, is that it leads you to Monastiraki Square.
8. Wander in Monastiraki
Part of the heart of old “commercial Athens”. The square is the less interesting part of Monastiraki area, but from there you can:
- have a great view to the Acropolis,
- you can literally touch the ruins of Hadrian’s Library and
- you can eat delicious greek souvlaki and other treats.
Shopping is “a must” in Monastiraki, at least “window shopping”. The only thing is that there are no windows. All the shops in Hephaestus str. (and around) have immediate access to the street. No glass involved! This creates a warm and old fashion shopping experience.
The Monastiraki flea market is a must see and its most glorious moment is on Sunday morning!
9. Visit Psiri neighborhood
Very touristic spot across Monastiraki. One of the oldest neighborhoods in Athens. It was the notorious night life attraction area of Athens, since the 19th century.
Today, Psiri is still a nightlife hotspot but also a great market of leather goods and vintage clothing and furniture. Don’t forget to taste the Koulouri of Psiri. A traditional greek baked snack with lots of sesame that you should definitely try in Athens.
10. Shop in Varvakeios Market
The largest central market of the city. You can buy meat, fish, sea food, herbs, oil and olives, wine…practically anything your heart desires. In the streets around Varvakeios you can also find many interesting gastronomy corners. Ethnic delicacies from around the “eastern world” are everywhere!
We Greeks, find great proud in being on the crossroad of “the West and the East” and believe me, when it comes to food that’s a delicious combination!
Visit the market preferably in daylight. Be careful…pickpockets next to the fishes 😜!
11. Visit the Trilogy of Panepistimiou str
Three historic buildings in a row:
- The National Library (old building – the actual library moved at Niarchos Cultural Foundation
- The University of Athens
- The Athens Academy
These are three neo-classical buildings of the 19th century. Back then, the newly established Greek kingdom was ruled by the Bavarian Prince Otto.
You can enjoy some great public art in front of these buildings. Mostly sculptures created by great Greek artists.
You can enjoy some great public art in front of these buildings, mostly sculptures created by great Greek artists.
12. Walk, eat or drink in Plaka & Anafiotika
That’s the old Athens. The neighborhoods below and around Acropolis remind us how Athens used to be. Anafiotika, looks and feels like you are suddenly transferred to a cycladic island. The alleys are narrow, the houses are small and white. Everything is “minion,” as a French would say. Very instagrammable!
Lots of wall art, restaurants, memorabilia shops, cafes and traditional product shops everywhere!
13. See the “high-end” side of Athens in Kolonaki
The high class athenian neighborhood. If you’re a big spender, that’s your place to be! Shopping at its best, but not only! You can find amazing cafes, bars and restaurants to eat, drink or take a coffee brake. A walk in Kolonaki area is time (and money) always well spent!
14. Relax in the City Link – Spiromilliou Arcade
The largest shopping mall in the heart of the city. “City Link” finds itself to be placed in one of the most beautiful and historic old buildings in Athens! Hundreds of well known brands have shops in this mall and around it. It’s a great one-stop shopping experience. Even if you don’t want to shop, you must visit this place. Spend some relaxed and “tasteful” time in the Spiromillios Arcade. You don’t want to miss this classy, high-end spot in Athens, trust me.
15. Get high in Lycabettus Hill
Everything looks better from above! This is a universal truth.
Lycabettus is one of the most popular hills in the center of Athens. It will offer you the most impressive, inexpensive and almost 360 view of Athens and its suburbs.
Take the Cable Car to climb at the top of the hill. If you have a rented car, drive up and enjoy the view. Got hungry or thirsty? There is a canteen at the terrace of the hill, as well as a restaurant-cafe. There is also a open air theater where lots of concerts used to take place. It stopped operating for safety reasons some years ago! It’s being renovated.
16. Visit the National Archeological Museum
If there is one museum you should visit in Athens, this is it! No doubt. You’ll get an aspect almost every historic era in this “cultural treasury”. Neolithic findings, cycladic art, Mycenaean antiquities, jewelry collections, cypriot antiquities, collections of findings… Exhibits from the “metal era”, classic period sculptures, hellenistic and roman period artwork, egyptian collection…. You name it, you see it!
One of the most important museums of the world! Don’t miss it!
17. Open your mind in Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
This cultural hot spot, with free entrance to all visitors, is exactly what it says. It’s a place full of culture and much much more!
Take the tram from the center of Athens and head to Phaliro. SNF now hosts the Greek National Library, the Greek National Opera and an amazing biodiverse green park full of endemic plants…Most of them smell like Greek nature night and day! Don’t miss the relaxed atmosphere and the great sea view! Top instagrammable spot!
- please check the center’s program before visiting Athens, as you may want to attend an event.
- I strongly suggest you take a tour in the premisses. It’s free but you have to pre-book it if you’re not time flexible.
18. Experience a natural spa in Lake Vouliagmeni
Never heard about this unique lake?
Well friends, now that you know about it do yourself the favor and pay a visit! Explore this unique natural spa experience at this breathtaking location of the Athenian Riviera.
It’s a site of Outstanding Natural Beauty and belongs to the NATURA 2000 list of Ministry of Culture.
Swim, do aqua aerobics, snorkeling or even climb at Faskomilia Hill, where you can walk,cycle or hike. In a few words a natural wellness experience like no other with a view to the attica coastline!
19. Visit at least one beach (for summer visitors)
If you’ve made it to Vouliagmeni Lake, you’re already very close to most of the athenian paradise beaches!
Clear blue waters, golden sands under the clear blue athenian sky. Take a swim if you’re visiting during the summer. There are plenty of beaches in less than 50 min” slow tram distance” from the center of Athens (aka Syntagma Sq).
Most of them are perfectly organized, some to the point that you can literally buy even a new bathing suite or a towel in there. You can eat, drink, snack, do water sports and absolutely enjoy the sun or the see view under a rented umbrella.
20. Athens Riviera
Take the tram or a taxi and head to the south suburbs of Athens. From Piraeus until Sounio, there are many kilometers of coastline.
This is a beautiful drive in any season of the year. You will enjoy it more, of course, when the weather is warmer and the beaches are open and ready to host their clients.
In any case you can walk on the sand, even at the free entrance beaches, any time of the year. Have something to drink or eat in a cafe or restaurant next to the sea and enjoy the big, deep blue!
So, friends that’s it! Although I could be talking all day about things you could (and should) do in Athens, I think I’d better stop now! The goal of this post was to offer you a “ready to use” solution, so that your stay in “my city” turns out to be the happiest and most unforgettable days of your life!
If you haven’t been to Athens yet here are some useful Q&As. It’s a great start on your journey to designing the perfect trip to Greece!
Your question isn’t answered? Let me know in the comments below. The Q&A section will be constantly revised, to assist you the best way possible.
Enjoy life NOW!