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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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Additional images: Bigstock
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.