Welcome to Athens. This is the historical capital of Europe, the birthplace of democracy, and a city sprinkled with 5th century BC landmarks. Soak in the rich history, climb the massive acropolis, walk in the footsteps of legends, and of course – eat the local greek food!
Here’s our top ten things you must do while in Athens!
1. Get orientated with a walking tour
The Athens Free Tour had a great overview of the city, was fast paced, and started near Temple of Zeus (which is cool to see). This would be something we suggest doing on your first day so you can get a sense of the area and good things to dive deeper into.
2. Acropolis, Parthenon, and Maidens
The Acropolis is a large 500ft tall limestone rock in the center of Athens. The Parthenon structure was built on top of this rock in 500 BC and was dedicated to the greek goddess Athena (Athen’s patron). Half the fun of the Parthenon are the great views as you the walk up the Acropolis. Also once at the top, look at the adjacent building to the Parthenon – the Erechtheion (with its Porch of the Caryatids). The highly detailed maiden pillars on this building are replicas with the real ones being kept safe from further weathering (see next tip). We recommend visiting this headliner sight early to avoid the crowds.
3. Acropolis Museum, original maidens
This must-see museum is located at the base of the Acropolis. It houses loads of great Athens history, sculptures found in the surrounding area, and many of the original pieces of the Parthenon. We recommend visiting the acropolis first, then going to the museum.
4. Changing of the guard (pompom shoes)
Every Sunday morning at 11 am, visitors gather in Syntagma Square to see the pompom-shoed soldiers march about. When standing at a post they must remain motionless for 1hr (that can’t be easy). The young king who helped create this soldier routine really liked horses – see if you notice the correlation when you watch this pageantry 🙂
5. The old Plaka district
One of the oldest neighborhoods in Athens is the Plaka District. There are a dozen or so bars and cafes that spill out onto a large stairway at the base of the acropolis. These pedestrian only paths are a perfect place for people watching and photos.
Bonus: The Anafiotika area. Just inside the Plaka, is a cute area with tiny white greek island style houses. Worth a walk through.
6. Become Indiana Jones
To feel like Indy, walk up the public backside of the acropolis and keep your eyes on the ground. We found dozens of pottery shards from when the Parthenon and other building were attacked during wartimes. Follow the catch and release policy, let someone else find them too! (Full history of the war on this site here). This is also a beautiful place to bring a picnic and watch the sun set over the city.
7. The Stoa of Attalos
This stoa is an impressive ancient building that was once a commercial center with 21 shops. It now houses a small museum that’s worth a stroll through. (Features such as the wood ceiling were added to bring it back to its glory days)
8. Eat Greek yogurt with spoon sweet fruit
Our favorite spot for this creamy treat was a place called Fresko. They had traditional Greek yogurt homemade in giant bowls, with non-pasteurized milk and topped off with homemade spoon sweet fruit jam. We went back a few times!
9. Panathinaiko Stadium (1st world olympics)
This site was once an ancient horse racing arena that was then redone in pure marble for the first modern Olympics in 1896. You can run the track, stand on the victors podium, and wander the interior rooms. There’s a small museum inside that has all the olympic torches from the past 100 years as well as other Olympic memorabilia. We recommend doing the audio guide which narrates as you walk around the entire site.
10. Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
Opposite of everything else on our list, this building highlights Greece’s new modern architecture. This center holds the National Library of Greece, but is worth a visit for its rooftop views of the city and a quick glance at the 1st olympic gold trophy on free display. (Skip this visit if limited on time)
- Lots of restaurants will give free appetizers or drinks to draw you in. When they’re pressuring you to have a seat, glance at the menu and ask if they have any specials, don’t feel pressured to stay.
- The safest part of Athens is in the touristy center around the acropolis – we recommend staying close to here. We stayed in Airbnbs both in and outside the center and it felt far less safe outside the shadows of the Acropolis.
- We love walking tours in general, but in this city we think they are needed to understand the ancient history of the buildings and ruins. Sometimes only a chunk of a pillar remains where a story waits to be told, have an expert help you. (If you’re not into group tours, grab an online audio guide.)