Athens is a lively and interesting city. The Acropolis provides a scenic backdrop to the city, but in truth Athens is not as focused on its past as other places (like Rome).
There are many different places to explore, the Plaka with its traditional streets, Meliartos with its cool cafes and bars. But Athens is not a place for doing lots – it’s a place to slow down with a cup of coffee and cake, preferably with a view of the Parthenon.
Athens’ most famous attraction is the Acropolis. Hosting the Parthenon and other temples, it really is an impressive sight. To get there you need to go up a hill, and along the way you already get great views over Athens.
Tickets cost only 10€ during the winter (November to March), and you also avoid most of the crowds.
There are a few different things to see at the Acropolis, the Temple of Athena, the Theatre of Dionysus and, of course, the Parthenon.
The Parthenon itself has been going through a big renovation project over many years, so inevitably there are cranes around it. You still get a feel for the scale of it though.
Near the Acropolis is the interesting Acropolis Museum (tickets 5€). It hosts all sort of objects from the Acropolis, from statues from the Parthenon to vases and household objects.
It is a new museum which opened in 2009, and there are lots of explanations and videos, many of them highlighting the pillaging of key features of the Parthenon (British Museum, I’m looking at you).
It is a great place to visit right after you see the Acropolis as the two really complement each other – and you even get views of the Acropolis from the museum.
Plaka is a pedestrianised area of Athens at the bottom of the Acropolis. It is full of pedestrianised streets with little souvenir shops and taverns, and it looks like what you’d imagine Greece to look like. Even though it’s at the heart of the city, it feels like you’re in a small town – it reminded me a bit of the Old Town in Dubrovnik.
You can definitely spend a few hours wandering around and exploring the little streets during the day, or stopping for drinks in the evening. It’s also a great place to stay as it’s very centrally located and close to many of Athens’ attractions.
TEMPLE OF OLYMPIAN ZEUS AND HADRIAN’S ARCH
Very close to the Plaka you can find the Temple of Olympian Zeus (ticket 3€) and Hadrian’s Arch (free of charge). These are impressive ruins which are conveniently located with the Acropolis in the background.
The most interesting thing about these is the scale. They are definitely worth a visit but you don’t need more than 20 minutes to see both.
The ancient Agora of Athens (tickets 4€) is a large archaeological site not far from the Acropolis. The site has lots of columns, a museum and marble statues. The main highlight of this site is the temple of Hephaestus, which is the best preserved temple of its kind, and it does look really nice.
Just a few hundred metres from the Ancient Agora is the Roman Agora (tickets 3€) which is a smaller but interesting site, with a range of ruins. It includes the Tower of the Winds, an octagonal clock tower with a really nice design
OTHER ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES
Hadrian’s Library and the Kerameikos Cemetery are two other sites to visit in central Athens. I chose not to go into either as you can get a good view of what they offer from the outside. I also thought that the other sites in Athens didn’t offer much in way of explanation, so once you have a look at the ruins you already got all the value from the site.
Located behind Syntagma square, the National Garden is a beautiful urban park, full of gardens, lively birds and people running around. When I visited it was autumn, so you got a beautiful effect with the leaves falling. A great place to check out for a couple of relaxing hours.
Athens is rightly proud of its Olympic past, and you get a glimpse of that at the Panathenaic Stadium, which was built for the first modern Olympic Games. You can pay to go in (tickets 5€), but in reality you can see the whole stadium from the outside which is what most people do.
SYNTAGMA SQUARE, MONASTIRAKI AND PSYRI
Syntagma Square is the central square of Athens. It is close to the Plaka and it leads to Ermou street, which is full of the high street shops you see anywhere in Europe. But the area around it, Monastiraki, is also full of really cool bars and cafes, always busy with people having a drink and eating some cake.
Nearby Psyri is home to lots of traditional tavernas and cafes, busy with people and live music.
The best view of Athens, and particularly the Acropolis, is from Mount Lycabettus. You need to climb up some steps, but the hike up is really nice with great views and – weirdly – the odd tortoise passing by. From the top you see the Parthenon, all the main ruins scattered around Athens, the Panathenaic Stadium and all the way to the sea.
It is a lovely place to visit on a sunny day!
Filopappou Hill, or Hill of the Muses, is another great place to get a good view of Athens and the Acropolis. The hill itself is not that high, but it’s located right across from the Acropolis, so you see the ruins on one side and the sea on the other.
A good thing about this place is that it’s right next to the Acropolis Museum, so it’s easily accessible on a day of sightseeing.
NATIONAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM
The National Archaeological Museum (tickets 5€) is a bit further from most other attractions in Greece, but it does have an impressive collection. It is home to lots of ancient statues and all the amphorae you may need.
The display itself could use a few more explanations of the context of the objects, but it’s still worth a visit.
MUSEUM OF CYCLADIC ART
The Museum of Cycladic Art (ticket 7€) is famous for the figurines of white marble on display. These are interesting and they do have a nice collection, but they also have an interesting display of classic Greek household objects, with interesting explanations bringing it all to life.
The Benaki Museum (tickets usually 9€, but when I visited it was free for some reason) also has a good collection of Greek artefacts, from the antiquity to the XIX century. The museum is located in a beautiful building not far from Syntagma square and it’s worth a visit if you’re in Athens for a good amount of time.