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Best Things to do in Athens

Sunset Drinks Athens Greece

Many people fly into our out of Athens as part of the beginning or end of their vacation to the Greek islands. With most people only spending a day or two in Athens, how do you squeeze all of the best things to do in Athens into a short period of time? Planning ahead, and creating a Google map with pins of everything you want to do, see and eat will help maximize your trip to Athens. Some of the most popular things to do in Athens include walking up to the Acropolis and seeing the Parthenon, sunset drinks looking at the Acropolis, exploring Plaka, experiencing a Hamam and hiking up Lycabettus Hill.

Below, we’ve compiled the best things to do in Athens. Whether you really want to explore the historical significance and archeological sites of Athens, explore Plaka before you head to your next destination or do some of the best shopping in Greece, you can find all of the best things to do in Athens here.

Athens Quick Links

Athens Things to do: Tips and Advice

  • One or two days: visit the Acropolis and walk around Plaka
  • Three days: A more relaxed stay in Athens where you can see the Acropolis and other historical sites, walk around Plaka and Monastraki, spend a few hours at the spa and hike up Lybettus Hill.
  • Four or more days: Enjoy all of the sites in Athens plus plan a few day trips to surrounding areas.
  • The best tour / excursions: visiting the Acropolis (buy tickets ahead, do not need the tour) and exploring Plaka.
  • Unless you are really into exploring archaeological sites and love museums, stick to a self tour of the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum and pick a handful of other historic sites that interest you. Many of the archaeological sites are ruins, so unless you have an appreciation for every site, seeing a few sites will give you a good appreciation.
  • Pay attention to Greek holidays like Christmas and Easter as many things will be closed. Sundays also have limited hours, or places are closed.
  • If you need to hop in a taxi to get from place to place, find a taxi stand and then say where you are going, and ask how much it will be to get to that destination so that there are no surprises. Bring cash for the taxi just in case.
  • Most important tip: Plan ahead and create a Google Map with pins for the places you want to eat and see. That way, it’ll be easy to generally plan your path and squeeze all the sites in in the right order. As you get hungry, you’ll already know the best places to stop. If you stay in Plaka, you will be able to walk to the majority of things to do in Athens.

Best Things to Do in Athens

Explore Plaka

best things to do in Athens, explore Plaka

Exploring Plaka in Athens is like stepping back in time through charming narrow streets and neoclassical buildings. It is a great area to explore, shop and eat in Athens. Plaka is a historic neighborhood, at the food of the Acropolis and offers a great blend of ancient and modern. The cobblestone paths (make sure you bring flat shoes!) lead to picturesque squares, quaint cafes, amazing local gyros, and artisan boutiques. You’ll find incredible Greek handicrafts, jewelry and ceramics. In Plaka, you’ll also find landmarks like Ancient Agora, the Roman Forum and the Tower of the winds. Exploring Plaka is an essential part of visiting Athens. The amount of shops and places to eat can be overwhelming, so plan ahead of time the best places to shop and eat and pin them on Google Maps so it’s easy to spot when you walk around.

Shopping in Plaka

Remember Fashion Athens, Shopping in Plaka

We found a lot of great stores in Plaka, and bought the majority of our items from Greece here. This included perfumes at Naxos Apothecary, linen from Harris Cotton and Dmitris, hats from Giorgio Hat and then we also went into Remember Fashion though we didn’t buy anything.

Little Kook

Little Kook Athens, Alice in Wonderland Athens

As you’re wandering around downtown Athens, you may stumble upon a street with elaborate decorations and themed displays. This area is known as Little Kook and may remind you of Alice in Wonderland. Every corner feels like you’re in a fairytale and is adorned with intricate details. Little Kook is a fun area of Athens unlike any other.

Acropolis and Parthenon

Acropolis, Parthenon Athens Greece

The Acropolis is one of the most famous sites in Athens. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a symbol of ancient Greece’s culture and architectural achievements. It is perched atop a rocky outcrop that overlooks the city and is lit up at night. Here you can find several structures including the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaea monumental gateway and the Temple of Athena Nike. These structures date back over 2,500 years. Today, it symbolizes the birthplace of democracy and is one of the most visited archaeological sites in the world. It draws millions of visitors each year, so make sure to buy skip the line tickets ahead of time. You do not need a tour to purchase tickets ahead of time, but it’s highly recommended to get tickets in advance so you don’t have to wait in long lines. The earlier in the day you go, the better to avoid the cruise ship traffic.

Acropolis Museum

Acropolis Museum Athens Greece, best things to do in Athens

If you do a tour of the Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum is included in the tour and could be 3-4 hours of the half day tour. So, if you’d rather spent an hour or so at the museum it’d be best to do a self-guided tour and pay for the audio w/ headphones. The Acropolis Museum in Athens is dedicated to showcasing the rich history and heritage of ancient Greece. Here, you will find thousands of artifacts and sculptures from the Acropolis. The highlights of the museum’s collection include the Parthenon Marbles, which once adorned the Parthenon, models of what the Parthenon used to look like over the last few thousand years, and Caryatid statues from the Erchthelon.

Olympic Stadium

First Olympic Stadium Athens Greece

The Olympic Stadium in Athens is iconic as it is the venue that hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.It’s located in the Athens suburb of Marousi, which is a quick taxi ride from the base of the Acroplis or you can take a leisurely walk. The stadium can seat almost 70,000 spectators. While you can pay for entry into the Olympic Stadium and really immerse yourself in the stadium, you can also take pictures behind the [low]  gates for free and still get a great experience.

Temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus Athens Greece

The Temple of Zeus, which can be visited after you visit the Olympic Stadium as you walk back to downtown Athens, is a temple dedicated to Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods. It was once one of the largest temples in ancient Greece, though only a few Corinthian columns remain today. The Temple of Zeus in Athens was under construction when we visited, so we didn’t pay to go in and explore the area. Instead, we walked by the Temple of Zeus and took pictures from outside of the gate.

Old City Hamam

If you enjoy visiting unique spas when you travel, make sure to check out the Old City Hamam. The Old City Hamam, which is located in the heart of Athens and an easy walk from Plaka, offers traditional Turkish Hamams (baths), as well as facials and massages. We did the Royal Hamam and Facial, which was approx. 1 hour and 30 minutes. We thought this was a cool, unique experience that fluctuated between hot and cold water, different scrubs and hair conditioning. The facial was pretty quick so we’re not sure if we would do that again, but it was cool to try a Hamam for the first time. Wear a bikini / bathing suit for the Hamam.

Hike Lycabettus Hill and Enjoy Panoramic Views of Athens

Lycabettus Hill is a prominent landmark in Athens. From Lycabettus Hill, you can see panoramic views of Athens and the Aegean Sea. It is the highest point in Athens and is a great place for watching the sunset or taking in the city. Lycabettus Hill is a 30 to 90 min hike up and then you can take a cable car down. If you don’t feel like hiking, you can also take the cable car up, or have a taxi take you to the top. Up at the top, you can enjoy refreshments from the hilltop café and also explore the Chapel of St. George. Unfortunately we didn’t get to do this hike because our group tour of the Acropolis Museum went way over, but this is on our list for next trip!

Shop in Monastraki Square

Monastiraki is a vibrant neighborhood in the heart of Athens, and is known for the area that you can find luxury shopping in Athens. Here, you can also find the Monastiraki Flea Market and numerous street vendors selling local delicacies. From traditional souvenirs and handmade crafts to vintage clothing, luxury goods and unique treasures, Monastiraki offers something for every shopper.

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) in Athens is a sprawling complex dedicated to the arts, education and sustainability. It houses the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera. The SNFCC offers cultural programming including concerts, exhibitions, performances and educational initiatives. It was established by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which is one of the leading philanthropic organizations.

Hadrian’s Library

Hadrian's Library Athens Greece

Hadrian’s Library, which you can stumble upon while exploring Plaka, is an archaeological site that was once a grand library complex that once housed countless scrolls and manuscripts. Today, visitors can explore the remnants of the library’s façade. The library itself no longer stands, as it was built in the 2nd century AD, but the ruins can provide a glimpse of what was once there.

Roman Agora

The Roman Agora is an archaeological site that was build during the 1st century BC. It served as a commercial and administrative center during the Roman era. Here, you can explore the remains of ancient structures including the Tower of the Winds, the Gate of Athena Archegetis and Fethiye Mosque.

Ancient Agora

The Ancient Agora is an archaeological site that served as the political, commercial and social hub of the city for over 5,000 years. It is right next to the Acropolis of Athens, making it easy to do both in one morning or afternoon. You can walk through the ruins of ancient structures including the stoa, temples and administrative buildings. Here, you can also find the Temple of Hephaestus, which is one of the best preserved ancient Greek temples, and the Stoa of Attalos, which is a reconstructed colonnade that houses the Museum of the Ancient Agora.

Temple of Hephaestus

If you want to see one of the better preserved ancient Greek structures, visit the Temple of Hephaestus. The Temple of Hephaestus is located atop the Agoraios Kolonos hill in Athens. Despite being built in the 5th century BC, the temple is largely intact and you can still see the intricate carvings. It stands as a symbol of ancient Greece’s architecture and religious devotion. The Temple of Hephaestus is dedicated to Hephaestus, who is the ancient Greek god of fire.

Watch the Sunset from the Areopagus Hill

The Areopagus Hill, which is located northwest of the Acropolis, is a popular destination for visitors seeking breathtaking views of the city and the Acropolis. At the top, you can see panoramic views, and is particularly stunning at sunset. There is also historical significance at the Areopagus Hill. It was a prominent site for Athenian law and governance in ancient times.

Things to Skip in Athens

Many lists talk about the best things to do in Athens, but very few talk about what things ended up being a waste of time. Here are a few things we did in Athens that we recommend skipping

Central Market of Athens

Central Market Athens Greece

When we’ve visited the main markets in other cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Tel Aviv they have all been some of the best places in the city to grab a bite to eat and do some shopping. At the Central Market of Athens though, we found it to be much more of a market that caters to locals, and is more for shopping that you’d do to cook a meal at home. We saw more dead animals and dead fish than take and go food. Many of the shops around the meat and fish had nuts and fruits to buy, not takeaway food. We found much better food options walking around Plaka and the surrounding areas compared to this market.

Walking Tour of the Acropolis and Museum

Whenever we explore a new city, we like to do at least one local tour to give better context of what we’re seeing. We knew the walking tour of the Acropolis and Museum was a group tour, and we tend to prefer the smaller group tours because you’re able to get great information but also wander around a bit on your own. But, with this often comes some waiting around at the beginning and as people move around. This one felt like it had almost an hour to even get going, and then we thought we’d spend the majority of the morning at the Acropolis but after 3 hours in the Acropolis Museum (on top of the 1 hour waiting to start) we realized we would run out of time to even see the Acropolis before we had to head to our afternoon Hamam appointment. This was our only full day in Athens, so it was a disappointment to us to waste 4 hours on something that should have been no more than an hour and a half when we had so many things we want to squeeze into the day. If we could do it over, we would have bought skip the line tickets, purchased an audio guide at the Acropolis Museum and spent 2 hours between the museum and the Acropolis.

Best Things to do in Athens Conclusion

In conclusion, there are many things do to in Athens, filled with history, culture and modern vibrancy. Even a short trip can experience both the monuments of the Acropolis and the charming streets of Plaka. You can experience the ancient past at archeological sites like the Temple of Zeus, the original Olympic Stadium and the Ancient Agora. Or, you can shop around Plaka and Monastiraki Square. Athens offers great things to do whether you’re a history enthusiast, a food lover, or a shopper. It is a destination not to be missed during your travels to Greece.

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