Top things to do in Athens - travel guide
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Top 10 Things To Do In Athens And Where To Stay

My Athens travel guide has the top things to do in Athens, where to stay, and top tips to help you make the most of your visit.

From world icons and rich history, to stunning architecture and delicious food, Athens is a great place and it’s no surprise that there are so many things to do and so many major attractions in Athens. Often hailed as the birthplace of Western civilisation, it has layers upon layers of history and culture to explore.

Travel writer, Shauna McCrudden, says when you visit Athens, you will discover a city that transcends its reputation as just an ancient site for sightseeing. Athens is not only filled with history, it is also a metropolis of the 21st century.

From its lively Plaka neighbourhood to the cutting-edge art in its galleries, Athens is a city where the past meets the present. In this travel guide, Shauna shares some of the top attractions and the best places as well as hidden gems in Athens, with tips to do the best things and help you fully delve into this timeless city.

Athens colourful neighbourhoods
Athens by Marco-Montero-Pisani-unsplash

About Athens:

Did you know that Athens, the historical Greek capital, is often referred to as the ‘Cradle of Western Civilisation’? This title is a testament to its immense influence on European culture and philosophy and why it is one of the most popular places to visit.

Athens has a landscape filled with ancient ruins as well as modern structures, and most are linked with myths and legends that date back thousands of years. The city is home to the iconic Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum, which stands as a symbol of ancient Greek architectural mastery, and the Parthenon, a giant figure of classical antiquity.

visit the Acropolis at sunset
Athens Sunset by Constantinos-Kollias-Unsplash

 

Athens is a city that ideally needs to be explored on foot, with its historical paths leading to hidden squares, traditional tavernas, and markets. But the city’s public transport system, including an always-on-the-go metro network, also offers an easy way to navigate the city – see more on this below.

But it’s the blend of ancient history and contemporary culture which makes Athens so unique. From the ancient Agora, where philosophers once debated the mysteries of life, to the busy streets of Monastiraki, filled with shops and cafes, Athens is a city where the past is always present.

Here are just some of the top things to do in Athens along with top tips to help you make the most of your visit.

 

1. Visit the Acropolis and Parthenon

No trip to Athens is complete without a visit to its most famous historical landmark, the Acropolis. This ancient citadel houses many significant buildings, but the most famous is the Parthenon.

one of the top things to do in Athens is visit the Acropolis

These ancient sites are a must-visit for any traveller. Standing at the Acropolis, particularly in front of the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, is like stepping back in time. You’re in the same place where philosophers, politicians, and the artists of ancient Greece once stood in the center of Athens.

The Parthenon is also groundbreaking. The columns and sculptures, even in their current state, show just how advanced the ancient Greeks were. Seeing it in person lets you appreciate the size and the sheer scale of ancient Greece. It also offers some of the best views of Athens. The city sprawls out below you, so it’s a perfect spot for photography enthusiasts and Instagrammers.

There are plenty of tours of this marvel which allows you to learn all about it, including this top-rated one for just €35, or choose a half-day private tour with hotel pick up included. Regardless of whether you book a tour or choose to go it alone, the Acropolis is a must see in Athens.

View Tour Here

View Private Tour

Top Tip: To avoid the crowds (and the heat in summer!), aim to visit early in the morning or later in the afternoon. The climb to the Acropolis is also pretty steep and takes approx 20 minutes. The marble pathways can be slippery too, so comfortable, sturdy shoes like a good pair of runners are a must!

Top Tip: Greeks are very proud of their heritage, so be respectful when visiting religious sites and ancient ruins. Modest clothing is appreciated in churches and monasteries.

 

2. Cruise to the islands

Staying in Athens doesn’t mean you have to stick to the city! Take a short cruise to the Saronic Gulf islands. The islands are worth visiting and a great option for a day trip from Athens, offering a serene escape from all the hustle and bustle of the city.

visit Aegina Island, on day trips from Athens

From the car-free streets of Hydra to the greenery of Poros and the historic sites of Aegina, there’s a whole world to explore on every island. You’ll find ancient temples, traditional villages, and local crafts that provide a glimpse into the Greek way of life.

 

There are plenty of day cruises to the islands, but make sure the trip includes visiting Aegina. Famous for its pistachios (the cultivation of pistachios on Aegina began in the 19th century and today are considered some of the best in the world!), you can visit the Temple of Aphaia and explore the amazing fish market.

 

This top-rated all-day cruise includes visits to Agistri, Moni, and Aegina with free time on each to explore. Swim and snorkel right off the boat, and enjoy complimentary drinks and Greek lunch onboard.  

View Cruise Here

Top Tip: A few days in Athens is the ideal launchpad for a trip to Greece’s Cycladic Islands. I visited Paros, Milos and Santorini from Athens. Check out my top tips here:

Read: 20 Top tips for island hopping in Greece

 

3. Walk the Agora

Right below the Acropolis, the Agora is like a portal to ancient Greek civilisation.  This used to be the heart of ancient Athens, a place of political gatherings, commerce, and socialising. The sense of history here is incredible.

A visit to Temple of Hephaestus, Agora is one of the top things to do in Athens

The Temple of Hephaestus, one of the best-preserved ancient Greek temples, is a highlight. Also, don’t miss the Stoa of Attalos, a reconstructed ancient shopping arcade, which now houses a museum with fascinating artefacts from the Agora.

 

And, unlike the usually overcrowded Acropolis, the Agora is usually a much more peaceful experience. I never felt rushed when exploring here. This is one of the top things to see in Athens, and when you visit you will see why.

Top Tip; A segway tour is a great way to visit many of Athens attractions including Agora, Pnyka Hill, Monastiraki Square and the Flea Market.

View Segway Tour
 

4. Climb the magnificent Mount Lycabettus

Climbing Mount Lycabettus is a must do in Athens for active travellers. This limestone hill, rising 277 metres above sea level, offers not just a great climb, but also some of the most breathtaking views of Athens. 

Mount Lycabettus, Athens

Reaching the summit of Mount Lycabettus is a feat in itself, but you also get a stunning 360-degree view of Athens as your reward. From here, you can spot famous landmarks like the Acropolis, the Panathenaic Stadium, and even Piraeus and the Saronic Gulf on clear days. This is one of the most unique things to do in Athens. 

For all photographers (and even the romantics hoping to pop a specific question!), catching a sunrise or sunset from Mount Lycabettus is truly unforgettable. At the top, you’ll even find the small Chapel of St. George, a whitewashed church. Sometimes, it’s open for visitors throughout the year, so you get a peek into Greek Orthodox traditions. 

And now is the perfect time to visit as the open-air theatre, Lycabettus Hill Theater, has just reopened after a 15-year hiatus, so check the local listings for any performances during your visit!

 

5. Step into the Panathenaic Stadium

From the moment you step into the Panathenaic Stadium, you will be transported back to ancient Greece. This is an iconic venue and stands as a reminder of the Greek legacy of the Olympic spirit, as this is where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896. Being the only stadium in the world built entirely out of marble, it’s a memorable sight for sure! 

Panathenaic Stadium, Athens

Ascend to the highest row of the stadium and stroll along each side to enjoy stunning views of Mt Lycabettus on one side and the Acropolis on the opposite side.

Top Tip: Take the audio tour available at the entrance. Also, while the main areas are accessible, some parts can be challenging for those with mobility issues due to the uneven marble steps, so be aware of that when planning your trip.

6. Explore the wonders of the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch

As you walk towards the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, the sheer scale of the ruins will take your breath away. It will come as no surprise that it is one of Athens top attractions.

temple-of-zeus-athens

This temple was once the largest temple in Greece, and a reminder of ancient Greece’s architectural expertise. The gigantic columns that remain upright after thousands of years offer you a small glimpse into the temple’s original facade.

 

And just a short walk from the temple, is Hadrian’s Arch. This gateway marks the boundary between the old and new cities of Athens. The arch is intended to symbolise the Roman influence during Emperor Hadrian’s reign.

 

Before visiting, it might be worthwhile to read up on the history of these sites. Or you can take a guided tour, either private or public, for expert insights into the history and architecture of these sites. 

View Small Group Tour View Private Tour

Top Tip: The area around the temple is a lovely green space. After your tour, it’s perfect for a relaxing stroll or even a picnic.

 

7. Enjoy Greek cuisine

No matter where you travel, you always have to try the local cuisine, and luckily in Athens, you are spoiled with Greek food and its intensely rich flavours. Whether it’s street food or great restaurants, Athens is a paradise for food lovers.

Greek Salad

The Plaka and Monastiraki areas are great for street food and casual dining, while Kolonaki offers more upscale dining experiences. For authentic Greek dining, visit a traditional taverna. These family-run establishments offer a wide range of home-cooked dishes in a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

For a quick bite, you can’t go wrong with all the street food classics like souvlaki and gyros. These grilled meat delicacies are a staple of Greek fast food. Try a gyro wrapped in a fluffy pitta, filled with tzatziki, tomato, and perfectly seasoned meat. It’s the ideal fuel for your days of exploration!

No visit to the home of Feta cheese would be complete without trying a Greek salad, but don’t miss traditional Greek specialities such as moussaka, a layered eggplant and meat casserole, fresh fish dishes straight from the Aegean sea, and dolmades, grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs too.

Greek desserts like baklava, a sweet pastry made of layers of filo filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey, are the perfect way to end a meal.

Greek cuisine pairs wonderfully with local wines, try a glass of Retsina or Assyrtiko with your meal.

Top Tip: Why not try out an Athens food tour of so you can try as many dishes as possible, this one receives great reviews:

View Food Tour
 

8. Stroll through Anafiotika

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Turi Galbraith (@turigaltravels)

Tucked under the northeastern side of the Acropolis is Anafiotika, a small quirky neighbourhood that looks exactly like a Greek island village. This neighbourhood feels like you just stumbled into a secret world away from bustling central Athens.

With its whitewashed houses and maze-like pathways, it feels like you’re on one of the Greek islands without having to leave the capital.

Bring your camera as the area provides stunning views of Athens, stretching out to the Saronic Gulf, and it is one of Athens top Instagram locations. Let yourself wander through the narrow streets and look out for small shops selling handmade crafts and art, perfect for unique souvenirs.

9. Check out Athens’ most eclectic marketplace

The Monastiraki Flea Market has so many unique finds from antiques to crafts, from delicious street food and rare books to vintage jewellery and quirky souvenirs. Whether you’re a serious collector or a casual browser, the market has something for everyone, and it is one of the many free things to do in Athens.

Monastiraki Flea Market, Athens,
Image by Victor-Ajayi-Unsplash

As you walk through, the scent of grilling meat mixes with the aroma of strong Greek coffee, so you feel like a real Athenian.

On Sundays, the market can be incredibly crowded as that’s when the street musicians arrive to serenade all the shoppers, so arrive early to beat the queues! And don’t hesitate to haggle. It’s part of the fun and can lead to some great deals.

Top Tip: Walk off the main paths to discover hidden shops and stalls where some of the best pieces can be found. Many vendors prefer cash, so have some on hand for an easier time.

 

10. Journey through Greek history at the National Archaeological Museum

National Archeological Museum, Athens

Athens has one of the world’s greatest museums, the National Archaeological Museum, so you can’t pass up the opportunity to visit there. The museum’s extensive collection spans the Neolithic era to the Classical and Hellenistic periods.

 

This museum has some of the most famous ancient Greek artefacts, including the Mask of Agamemnon (a gold funeral mask), the statue of Zeus or Poseidon, and the Antikythera Mechanism. These iconic pieces are a must-see.

There is so much to see here, so I’d recommend taking a break halfway through the exhibits at the café and recharging for the next section.

Top Tip: Now is the best time to go as admission is only €6 until March 31st.

 

Where to stay in Athens

Athens has a huge range of accommodation options. For a luxurious stay, consider hotels in the Syntagma or Kolonaki areas. Budget travellers can find good value in hostels and affordable hotels in areas like Psiri or Exarchia.

The Plaka area is one of the best areas to stay in Athens for a traditional stay – you might even get some beautiful views of the Acropolis.

Plaka, Athens
Plaka, Athens

I’ve listed a choice of three, four and five star hotels in Athens as well as self catering accommodation for families and groups. I also have hotels with swimming pools and hotels with rooftop bars in Athens.

 

City Circus Athens is one of my top picks for anyone looking for cheap hotels in Athens. Located in the Psiri neighbourhood, this chic hostel has a mix of dormitory-style and private rooms, so it’s a great choice for travellers looking to save money without sacrificing style and comfort.

Check Prices Here
 

3-Star Hotel Plaka has a prestigious location in Athens’ historic centre. It is just a 5-minute walk from Syntagma Square and two blocks from Monastiraki Metro Station.

Plaka Hotel, Athens has a rooftop bar with view of the Acropolis

It is one of the best hotels in Athens with rooftop views of the Acropolis, and is top-rated on TripAdvisor.

Check Prices Here
 

4-Star The Athens Gate Hotel is well-regarded for offering a great balance of quality and affordability. It’s located near the Temple of Olympian Zeus and offers rooms with excellent views of the city. Known for its rooftop restaurant and its proximity to major sites, it’s a good value-for-money choice.

Check Prices Here
 

5-Star The Hotel Grande Bretagne is a historic luxury hotel located in Syntagma Square. It has opulent interiors and stunning views of the Acropolis from its outdoor pool.

hotels in Athens with an outdoor pool

If you’re looking to stay in one of the best 5 star hotels in Athens, then this is the place for you.

Check Prices Here
 

The Rastoni Athens Suites are a great choice for families or friends looking for a self catering accommodation in Athens.

Rastoni Athens Suites self catering accommodation in Athens

Located near the Acropolis and just 200 metres from Syntagma Square, these apartments are furnished in contemporary style and some have balconies or terraces.

Check Prices Here
 

The Athens Morum City Apartments are a great option for large families or groups looking for self catering apartments to rent in Athens. These two- and three-bedroom apartments are located on the outskirts of the city, 2.6km from the Acropolis but are well priced and receive great reviews from guests.

Check Prices Here
 

How to get to Athens

The flight between Dublin and Athens typically takes about 4 hours and 10 minutes. There are several airlines flying the route including Aer Lingus, Aegean Airlines and Ryanair.

 

Travelling around Athens

Athens’ public transportation system, including metro, buses, and trams, is very efficient and covers most tourist attractions, important sites, and archaeological sites. You can use all means of public transport using the same Ath.ena ticket (a single ticket costs €1.20 and is valid for 90 minutes).

Athens Square
Image by Hert-Niks-Unsplash

You can purchase tickets and passes at ticket booths and automated machines found in all metro and tram stations across the city. Tickets come in three forms: a paper ticket, a rechargeable anonymous card, and a personalised card.

 

Taxis are easy to find and relatively inexpensive too, but to really experience Athens, I recommend exploring the city on foot, or rent a bike.

Top Tip: A multi-site ticket provides access to several ancient sites, including the Acropolis. For example, the Athens City Pass gets you a free hop-on-hop-off bus tour and an optional day cruise and can be booked for 1-6 days.

 

When is the best time to visit Athens?

Athens

Athens is beautiful in spring and early summer (April to June) as well as autumn (September to November). This is the time when the weather is just right and there are fewer crowds. Summers can be extremely hot, especially in July and August, so it might be best to avoid those times.

I hope my travel guide to Athens, highlighting some of my favorite things to do, will help you plan a trip there soon where you can see all the main attractions. If you are first-time visitors or have been before, follow these top things to do in Athens you should have an incredibly enjoyable experience in one of Europe’s oldest cities. 

Shauna Mc Crudden

While every effort is made to ensure accuracy, attractions, hotels and tour details are subject to change. Note some of the links in this post contain affiliate links where I make a small commission if a booking is made, but at no additional cost to you. 

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