Top things to do in Athens: 12 beautiful sights to see [+ map]
Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world and delights with many beautiful sights. The Greek capital is a place that attracts and inspires many people since ancient times.
Even today, you can fall under its spell by following the footsteps of ancient Greece, which can be found on just about every corner.
Here I present to you my top sights in Athens as well as some excursion destinations. In addition, you will find many useful tips for your trip to the Greek metropolis.
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The most beautiful sights in Athens
For sightseeing in Athens, you should plan at least one weekend, so that you can see the most important sights at your leisure.
However, if you are particularly interested in history, want to take a day trip to the surrounding area, or just want to get to know the city better, I would recommend spending four days or more in Athens – it’s worth it!
- Acropolis Museum
- Philopappos Hill
- Ancient Agora
- Syntagma Square
- Parliament building with changing of the guard
- Panathinaiko Stadium
The Greek capital has much more facets than you think. That Athens is not only a great vacation destination for historians and art lovers, I want to show you in this article.
Video: Our Athens Highlights
Have a look at our highlights in Athens in our video – have fun!
Mightily it towers on the hill in Athens: the Acropolis. It is the landmark of Athens, one of the most important ancient archaeological sites in Greece.
Since 1986, the Acropolis has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Over 3 million people a year visit the collection of architectural masterpieces. From this you can already see: the Acropolis is one of the top attractions in Athens.
I have summarized everything about the Acropolis in an extra article and take you on a tour of this special sight. Among other things, we walk past the Dionysus Theater, the ancient theater Odeon of Herodes Atticus, and the impressive temple Erechtheion.
Finally, the most famous monument of the Acropolis cannot be missed: the Parthenon, a 70-meter-long temple made of marble.
As you can see, there is a lot to discover in the Acropolis. Therefore, I advise you to leave in the morning hours if possible. Otherwise, you will have to push your way through crowds of people. Moreover, it gets really hot at noon.
2. Acropolis Museum
Let’s have a look at another top sight to see in Athens: with five million visitors annually, the Acropolis Museum, located right at the foot of the Acropolis, is one of the most popular and worth seeing museums in Athens. The current building opened in 2009 and has four floors dedicated to different eras and exhibits.
If you want to have a more accurate idea of what the Acropolis and its monuments once looked like, this is the place to be. Also impressive are the glass panels on the floor, which provide a view of the ancient foundations uncovered by excavations.
Admission: from April to October, admission costs 10 euros (5 euros reduced); from November to March, admission costs 5 euros (3 euros reduced). Free admission is available on March 6, March 25, May 18, and October 28.
For more information on current exhibitions, visit the museum’s website.
3. Philopappos Hill
Nearby, more precisely to the southwest of the Acropolis, is the 147-meter-high Philopappos Hill, or Hill of the Muses, as it was called in ancient times. The shady trees here invite you to take a short breather.
On the east side of the hill, you will have to pass two rock caves, popularly known as Socrates’ prison. However, the actual purpose of the ancient rooms is unknown.
The climb to the top of the hill is worth it: from the top, you have an excellent view of the Acropolis and the rest of the city, as well as of the surrounding mountains and the sea. Believe me: you can’t miss this top sight.
This is also the site of the 12-meter-high Philopappos Monument, built by the Athenians for the Roman consul Gaius Iulius Antiochius Philoppapos. He distinguished himself as a benefactor of Athens during his term of office.
⭐ Recommended Athens Travel Guides
You are looking for a printed tip guide for your Athens trip? We can highly recommend some travel guides. The fist one ist popular by Rick Steves Pocket Athens (get it here*). You can also take Lonely Planet Pocket Athens (order now*). It’s also good.
Another hill with historical significance is the Aeropag. In ancient times it was the meeting place of the supreme council, which was also named Areopagus. Even today, the supreme court of Greece is called so but is no longer seated on the rock, but in the Palace of Justice.
Nevertheless, a visit to the rock – just for the view of the neighboring Acropolis – is recommended. Be careful when climbing up, though, because the slippery stones can be very slippery! The Aeropag is definitely one of the top sights of Athens.
5. Ancient Agora
Not far from the Acropolis or the Philapappo Hill is the Ancient Agora – not to be confused with the Roman Agora, which is very close by. The entire public life of the Athenians in ancient times took place in the 2500-year-old marketplace.
It was at the same time a place of trade, a meeting place for discussions and elections, and a social platform to meet fellow citizens and make new contacts.
Once the Agora housed more than 30 buildings, two of which are still preserved today: the Temple of Hephaestus, one of the best-preserved temples in Greece, and the Stoa of Attalus. The latter was reconstructed in 1955 and impresses with its 116 meters long porticoes.
Inside you will find the Agora Museum, which exhibits finds from the Ancient Agora, such as pottery shards. Also, worth seeing is the Holy Apostle Church (Agii Apostoli), the only preserved building from the Middle Ages.
I can only recommend a visit to the Ancient Agora. Here you feel as if you have been transported to another time and can feel the everyday life in ancient Greece.
In addition, the Agora is much less busy than the Acropolis. This gives you the opportunity to admire the individual sights undisturbed and go on your own personal journey through time.
Monastiraki is a lively neighborhood in Athens that you should definitely pay a visit. In my eyes, the neighborhood is definitely an Athens sight you must see. The central square of the neighborhood is called Plateia Monastirakiou, where there is always hustle and bustle at the street stalls or cafes.
Here you can also find the 18th-century Tzistarakis Mosque, which shows the Ottoman influence in Athens. In addition, the square is a good starting point for drifting with the crowds in the adjacent alleys and buying bargains at the surrounding flea markets.
Important: Watch your things! There are a lot of pickpockets!
Shopping makes you hungry, but with the selection of cafes and restaurants here, there’s something for everyone. Right on one of the corners of the square is the tavern Bairaktaris, which has been serving many typical dishes from Greek cuisine since 1879.
On the other hand, things are a bit quieter in the old town district of Plaka. In the famous quarter of the gods, you can stroll through the picturesque alleys, buy a souvenir or two at an auction, or just sit down in one of the cute cafes and rest your legs.
Architecturally, you’ll come across remnants from antiquity as well as restored 19th-century townhouses. The Byzantine chapel Agios Nikolaos Ragavas is also worth seeing.
The next historical sight in Athens is the Olympieion. It is also called the Temple of Olympian Zeus and was one of the largest and most important temples in Greece. The construction began in 550 BC. However, the temple was not completed until the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD.
The imposing temple complex made of Pentelic marble was 110 meters long and 43 meters wide, dwarfing even the Parthenon on the Acropolis. It is believed that the temple was largely destroyed by an earthquake in the Middle Ages. Of the 104 massive columns, 15 columns remain today as a reminder of its former glory.
9. Syntagma Square
Syntagma Square (“Constitution Square”) is the central square of Athens and a popular meeting place for both tourists and locals. It also hosts various events, such as the Athens Christmas Market. As you can see, this is an absolutely popular place to visit.
The square got its name when King Otto announced his approval of the constitutional monarchy as a result of an uprising.
This is also the beginning of Ermou Street, one of the main shopping streets in Athens, where you can find many designer stores, but also more affordable stores. If you’re in a shopping mood, Ermou Street is the place to be. It’s a fun activity to do in Athens!
10. Parliament building with changing of the guard
On the opposite side of the square is the current Parliament Building, which served as the royal palace until 1910. In front of it is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is permanently guarded by members of the former Royal Guard, the famous Evzones.
The soldiers are dressed in a traditional uniform worn by the Greek revolutionaries in the War of Independence against the Turks from 1821 to 1830.
My tip: Watch the hourly changing of the guards or the parade of the guards. It takes place every Sunday at 11 am.
11. Panathinaiko Stadium
On the outskirts of the city center is the Panathinaiko Stadium. It is also one of the top sights of the city. The first Olympic Games of modern times were held here in 1896. It was built on the foundations of the ancient stadium and is made of white marble.
Since 1982, the athletes of the Athens Marathon have crossed the finish line here every year – cheered by thousands of people in the stands. Do you also want to feel this special feeling? Well, then just put on your sportswear and hit the track!
For all sports fans and early risers, there is the opportunity to run a lap or two in the morning from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. as part of the Morning Jogging and feel like an Olympian- a cool thing to do in Athens!
This neighborhood is absolutely hip, happening, and definitely worth a detour. Be sure to check out Psirri. Not only do you find incredibly delicious cafes and restaurants here. But you will discover here totally cool street art.
We would recommend a street art tour through Athens anyway. Believe me, you’ll love it.
What to do in Psirri? Anyway, in Psirri you should definitely check out the entrance to the neighborhood. Pittaki Street is probably the craziest street in all of Athens and therefore a sight in itself.
Because it is decorated year in, year out according to a motto. In the summer, for example, Alice in Wonderland, at Halloween the whole street becomes an incredible pumpkin empire and at Christmas, you won’t be able to save yourself from decorations.
Tips for money-savers
As an EU student, you hit the jackpot in Athens: Just about all museums, archaeological sites, and other attractions are free for you if you show a student ID. However, there are also a few ways in which you can get your money’s worth in the Greek metropolis as a non-student with low expenses.
For example, there is a combined ticket for 30 euros that gives access to the Acropolis and the following six archaeological sites in Athens: Greek Agora, Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, Temple of Olympian Zeus (Olympieion), Kerameikos and Lyceum of Aristotle (Lykeion). It is valid for five days after the first entry.
For all museum lovers, there is also a 3-day ticket that costs 15 euros (8 euros reduced) and grants admission to the National Archaeological Museum, Epigraphic Museum, Numismatic Museum in the Schliemann House, and the Byzantine Museum. Especially the National Archaeological Museum is worth a visit when it rains, for example – a rarity in Athens, but it can happen, especially in winter.
Some sights, such as the Olympic Stadium or the Panathinaiko Stadium, give you a good view of the monuments from the outside and can save you a few euros.
What else to see in Athens? Day trips around Athens
Athens is located in the Greek region of Attica and is an excellent starting point for one or two-day trips. Two of my favorite destinations I would like to introduce to you here.
Day trip 1: Cape Sounion
Cape Sounion is the cape at the southernmost tip of Attica and a great day trip destination. It is also home to the Temple of Poseidon, a marble temple dedicated to the god of the sea, built in the 5th century BC on a rocky hill.
In the past, sailors could ask at this place for the sea god’s favor for a voyage. On the well-maintained paths you can learn more about the ancient site and at the same time have a spectacular view of the glittering blue sea. Even the English poet Lord Byron is said to have raved wistfully about the gorgeous sunsets here.
On the way back, you can take the national road 91 (Leoforos Athinon Souniou), which leads directly past the Saronic Gulf. Just pull over and enjoy the view from one of the many beautiful bays. Of course, a short cool down in the sea is also very tempting, especially in summer.
My tip: On the way, about 24 kilometers before Athens, is the picturesque Lake Vouliagmeni. It is a natural lake located at the foot of a hill. Its waters are believed to have healing properties and are constantly renewed by both the sea and underground thermal springs.
Since the entrance fee is a steep 12 euros, you can instead sit in the neighboring cafe or simply marvel at its beauty from the parking lot.
Day trip 2: Boat trip to Agistri island
If you want to get out of the city and see the beautiful nature of Greece, a boat trip to Agistri Island is the right thing for you. From the port of Piraeus, which is easily accessible from Athens by public transport, you can either take Saronic Ferries or Aegean Flying Dolphins.
Both ships depart from Gate 8 several times a day. I recommend you get there early as the port is huge. With the ferry, the trip takes about an hour and 40 minutes and costs 11.50 euros. With the Flying Dolphin, it takes just under an hour but costs 14.50 euros.
On the website of the ferries, you can research the specific travel times and buy your tickets online. Quick note: The ships make a stopover in the port of Aegina, the larger neighboring island of Agistri. The onward journey takes about 10 minutes.
As soon as you arrive on the island you feel like in the movie Mamma Mia: turquoise, crystal clear water, small bays, sleepy blue and white houses. From the port, you can either explore the island on foot or take the bus further to Aponisos. In my opinion, this is the most beautiful place on the whole island and a top sight.
Apart from a small beach with sunbeds, some yachts and a fish taverna, which by the way serves excellent fresh fish, it is very natural here. So, you can relax under the pine trees and enjoy this idyll.
A highlight is of course swimming in the beautiful water. But watch out for the sea urchins on the rocks!
By bus, we went back to Skala, where it is a lot more touristy and livelier. On the harbor promenade, there are many cafes, taverns, and stores. Here is also the church of Agioi Anargyroi, which impresses especially from the outside.
Where to stay in Athens – the best hotel tips
If your budget is a bit tighter, I can recommend the Bedbox Hostel (check prizes here*). It convinces with its central location and is modernly furnished. An alternative would be the Nubian Hostel (check prizes here*), where the breakfast buffet is included in the price.
If you prefer a hotel, the Kimon Hotel Athens (check prizes here*) is a good choice. It is located in the beautiful old town district of Plaka and offers both affordable rooms and a roof terrace with a view of the Acropolis. Other central hotels include the Arethusa Hotel (check prizes here*) near Syntagma Square and the Acropolis View Hotel (check prizes here*), which – as the name suggests – offers great views of the Acropolis.
Eating and drinking in Athens
The Greek cuisine is very diverse and so I present you only a small selection of dishes that you should definitely try in Athens, respectively Greece. Apart from the ever-popular Pita Gyros, there are many other specialties from the grill: Souvlaki (literally translated “little skewers”; also available as Pita Souvlaki), Bifteki (a kind of meatballs), but also fish like Dorade or grilled sardines are often eaten.
A popular appetizer is dolmadakia, which are vine leaves stuffed with rice. Also, very tasty are moussaka, an eggplant and minced meat casserole, and pastitsio, a casserole dish with pasta and my personal favorite. Of course, vegetarians don’t have to go hungry either: Here, for example, Gemista (vegetables stuffed with rice, typically tomatoes or peppers) and Briam (oven vegetables served with feta) are recommended.
On the streets, there is another delicacy. The popular sesame rings. They are called koulouri. You should definitely try them.
One of the favorite pastimes of Greeks is to meet with family and friends in the café. Of course, a Greek coffee (kafé ellinikó) is a must. This is a mocha in which the water is boiled together with the coffee powder and sugar.
The anise schnapps Ouzo is the national drink of Greece and you can get it in every tavern. A typical Greek wine, of which not only Udo Jürgens is very fond, is Retsina, a white wine blended with the resin of the Aleppo pine.
Especially when visiting Athens in summer, it is of course important to drink enough – ideally not only ouzo. Water is very cheap in Athens, the 0.5-liter bottle costs only 50 cents in any supermarket or kiosk. But if you want to avoid plastic waste for the sake of the environment, you can fill up your bottle with cold water at one of the numerous drinking water dispensers instead. Don’t worry: the water is safe to drink.
Good restaurants in Athens
- Bairaktaris Tavern has been serving many typical dishes from Greek cuisine since 1879. Ask for the incredibly delicious pita gyros, which are not on the menu but are much cheaper than the big dishes and still more than the filling (cost around 3 euros). Traditional Greek music is often played inside. Maybe you’d like to be taught a dance step or two? Address: Kirikiou 6, Athina 105 55
- At Ama Lachei you dine in a great courtyard. By the way, the courtyard belonged to a former school. Address: Kallidromiou 69, Athina 106 83
- Oi Filoi is a popular café, or ouzeri, with delicious food. Address: Kerameikou 84 & Salaminos, Athina 104 35
- Fish tavern on Aponisos – you’ll find excellent fresh fish there. Address: Agkistri 180 10, Greece
Arrival by plane
Athens is easy to reach by plane from Germany. The airlines Ryanair, EasyJet, and Aegean Airlines offer cheap direct flights from Düsseldorf, Berlin, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, and Munich.
The International Airport Eleftherios Venizelos is about 27 kilometers away from Athens. To get from the airport to the center, you can take the M3 line of the metro for 10 euros, which will take you to Athens in about 40 minutes. The metro stop is directly opposite the exit hall.
Alternatively, you can take the Airport Express Bus X95 towards Syntagma Square for around 6 euros, although the bus is by no means faster due to traffic.
Means of transportation in Athens
Since most of the sights are located in the old town, you can easily get around on foot. If your legs are tired from walking, you can take the bus, streetcar, or metro.
A one-way ticket, valid for 90 minutes after validation, costs 1.40 euros: a 24-hour ticket is available for 4.50 euros. Cabs are also quite cheap in Athens and are another alternative to get from one sight to the next – but not necessarily faster due to the heavy traffic!
If you also want to see the surroundings of Athens, I would recommend renting a car, as it is the fastest and usually cheapest option: This way you are also independent of irregularly running buses.
With a camper van to Athens
In Athens, many vans, campers, and buses like to be broken into. Therefore, it is not so easy to find a parking space here with a camper. However, we can recommend the following parking lot: 39-43 Rovertou Galli (Google Maps).
Here you pay 30 euros for 24 hours, but the parking lot is monitored during the day. So, nothing stands in the way of your stroll through Athens.
Things to know about Athens
- According to legend, the city was named after the goddess Athena.
- The settlement history of the area of the city of Athens goes back about 7500 years – to the Neolithic Age
- The city is considered the cradle of democracy and has been an important cultural center since ancient times
- In 1985 Athens was elected the first European Capital of Culture
- The Athens metropolitan area has about 3.9 million inhabitants today
- Mountain ranges surround Athens on three sides, making it hotter and drier than anywhere else in Greece.
- In summer, temperatures reach up to 45 degrees during the day. Therefore, it is recommended to avoid the months of July and August for a visit to the city
I hope I could inspire you about Athens and its many impressive sights. A vacation in this city full of history, culture and life, I can only warmly recommend to everyone and I’m already looking forward to seeing you again soon.