Top things to do in Athens

Nothing can quite prepare you for your first view of the Parthenon perched atop the ancient Acropolis in Athens. Civilisation as we know it began here, and the evidence is on display across what is one of the oldest urban centres in the world. Francesca Muir checks in with ten moments not to miss on your first visit to the captivating Greek capital…

Things to do in Athens

Things to do in Athens: Explore the beauty of Ancient Greece on the Acropolis. Image: Bigstock

Top things to do in Athens


Athens is sometimes unfairly passed over in favour of the jewels in Greece’s crown – the Greek islands.

But don’t underestimate this city of contradictions. On one hand it can be chaotic, hot and not always pretty; but on the other, arty, sophisticated and laden with culture and history. After all, Athens lies at the heart of the cradle of civilisation!

Here are ten top things to do in Athens during your visit.

Climb the Acropolis

The Acropolis is synonymous with Athens and the hill must be climbed! Here you’ll find the city’s most famous temple, the Parthenon, dedicated to the goddess Athena, protector of the city. Save time and money visiting this and several other historical sites, including the Ancient Agora, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s Library and the Roman Agora, with an Athens City Pass. A hop on/hop off city tour is also included.

Things to do in Athens

Things to do in Athens: The Parthenon is dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, protector of the city. Image: Bigstock

Choose a museum, any museum

With more than 60 museums and galleries Athens has something for everyone, from archaeology, folklore, science, art and music, to maritime and military history, and activities for children.

One of the top things to do in Athens is pay a visit to the Acropolis Museum, an architectural marvel of steel, concrete and marble, with glass floors and facades. Purpose-built to house the history of the Acropolis and its archaeological treasures, it includes a restaurant and café with stunning views.

Check opening times for all museums as many are closed on Sundays and/or Mondays.

Things to do in Athens

Things to do in Athens. Image courtesy of Acropolis Museum

Get lost in the Plaka

The Plaka is a historical neighbourhood at the foot of the Acropolis; a maze of little streets, laneways and stairs leading up, down and around about. Renowned for its small artisan shops and al fresco dining, the Plaka is a great place to people watch. And remember, if an eatery is full of locals, it’s bound to be good.

Things to do in Athens

Things to do in Athens: Experience the magic of the Plaka. Image: Bigstock

Follow your nose with Culinary Backstreets

Discover the city’s edible delights on a five and a half hour walking tour with Culinary Backstreets. ‘Culinary Secrets of Downtown Athens’ shows you where the locals shop and eat. It’s a fascinating insight into what is known locally as ‘the stomach of the city’, and a cultural and historical experience to boot. Go hungry!

Things to do in Athens

For delicious things to do in Athens join Culinary Backstreets on a guided walking tour. Image courtesy of Culinary Backstreets

To market, to market

The Athens Central Market (Varvakios Agora) bursts with colour, noise and smells from 8am to 6pm every day. It’s where locals buy their produce, from super fresh fish, chicken and meat, to Greek herbs and spices, cheeses, olives, sweets, honey and fruit and vegetables. You’ll also find some of the best local eateries. They’re strictly no frills, fresh and delicious.

Things to do in Athens

Image: Francesca Muir

Bag a bargain

Open every day, the Monastiraki Flea Market is an open-air market that’s known for souvenirs and antique shopping. On Sundays it’s bigger and takes on a different flavour, with itinerant sellers spreading their wares out on the ground.

While you’re there, look out Melissinos, maker of Ancient Greek-style leather sandals in Aghias Theklas Street, opposite Monastiraki Square.

Things to do in Athens

Things to do in Athens: Go treasure hunting at Monastiraki Flea Market. Image: Francesca Muir

Eat on the street

Eating street food is a way of life in Athens. Start the day with koulouri – bread rings sprinkled with sesame seeds – or enormous doughnuts, which you’ll find on sale on most street corners.

Next, head to Ariston Bakery near Syntagma Square for a huge selection of amazing pies. O Kostas in Pentelis Street, Syntagma serves up the best souvlaki in Athens, but go before midday to avoid the queues.

Falafellas near Monastiraki Square offers delicious chickpea falafels.

Things to do in Athens

Image: Francesca Muir

Head for the hill for sunset

During the golden hour the only place to be is at the top of Mount Lycabettus, another hill in the heart of the city. Access the peak by car, on foot (the path starts in Kolonaki), or by taking the funicular. The surrounding views of Athens, Pireaus and the Aegean Sea are exceptional.

At the top you’ll find the chapel of Agios Georgios and a great little café (where the prices match the heady heights!).

Things to do in Athens

Things to do in Athens: Enjoy a sunset from the top of Lycabettus Hill. Image: Bigstock

See the changing of the guard

The changing of the guard every Sunday at 11am is a grand and must-see spectacle of synchronised slow-motion moves that takes place outside the Hellenic Parliament on Syntagma Square. Known as Evzones, the guards are an elite infantry unit which protect the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Presidential mansion. On Sundays they wear the traditional white kilts, red and black caps and clogs with pom-poms.

Things to do in Athens

Things to do in Athens. Image: Bigstock

Stop and smell the flowers

Situated in the heart of Athens behind the Greek Parliament, the National Gardens are a welcome escape from the heat, dust and noise of the city. There’s a small zoo, botanical museum, cafe, children’s library and playground.

Do you have anything to add to our list of ten top things to do in Athens? We would love to hear from you. Please leave us a

Additional images: Bigstock

 

francesca-muir

About the writer

Sydney-based journalist Francesca Muir fell into photography while living on the island of Crete in the late 1980s. Living with that Greek blue is a writer and photographer’s dream, so it came naturally to combine the two. Francesca has written and photographed for Living Postcards, Crete Travel, Politismosmuseum, Stigmez, Athens News, TV Soap, Soap World, Gourmet Traveller, Vogue Entertaining, Vogue Living, ITA, Way to Go, Travel Abroad, Sun-Herald & Sunday Age magazines. She lives to breathe Mediterranean air, peppered with wild thyme and oregano, swim in azure seas and bathe in that Greek light which has mesmerised so many for so long. In 2018 Francesca is joining The Cape Club and taking small groups to Crete (and other islands) to show them why she calls it her spiritual home.

  1. Fabulous article Frannie.. well written, with so much inside info.. you’re a legend.. I can’t wait for you to share your Crete with our #GlamGirlsLuxTravels group. June 2018.. we’ll live like locals.. and only because you know Crete like the back of your hand.. salute..

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