The Most Popular Experiences in Athens
The Most Popular Experiences in Athens: You are in Athens. Whether as a quick stop before you embark for an exotic Greek island, for a business conference, or just a brief holiday escape. There are so many exciting things to do in Athens, it can be hard to decide what to do. Athens is an iconic destination, steeped in ancient history and filled with delicious food options. Athens promises unforgettable experiences filled with history, culture and a thousand images that will excite your senses!
Top Athens Experiences to See
The Acropolis, the sacred rock of humanity
Centuries separate the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis from the city that pulsates at its feet, lively and vibrant. And yet, the timeless history of humanity and creation will unite Athens and the Acropolis forever. The iconic Parthenon, its silhouette forever defining the perpetually blue Attica skyline, is the place where it all began; philosophy, democracy, the sciences and the theater. The cluster of temples, shrines and ruins that you’ll encounter at the Acropolis, creations of the Golden Age of Pericles (5th century BC), form the cornerstone of European culture. It’s not surprising that the Acropolis has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.
Anafiotika: an island beneath the Acropolis
A microcosm, a window onto the Athens of a hundred years ago, is carved into the northeast side of the hill of the Acropolis and looks as if it has been borrowed from a postcard of the Cyclades. You’ll get lost in its labyrinthine pathways, wandering among the charming homes, quaint patios and whitewashed streets, barely wide enough for two. You’ll inhale the smell of jasmine and roses, as you take in the panoramic view of Athens this area offers you.
Explore Plaka: The district of ‘Old Athens’
Shaded squares, flower-filled patios and well-kept gardens, ornate cornices and neoclassical tiles. Plaka is like an open-air museum, with its monuments like Lysikrates, the Roman Agora, the Tower of the Winds and Byzantine churches. You’ll be overwhelmed by the plethora of souvenirs, works of art, traditional Greek products, clothing and handmade leather sandals. Cafes, restaurants with tables on their terraces, tavernas and mezedopolia hidden in the alleyways, are all jam-packed with tourists and locals alike, eating and drinking side by side. On the sidewalks of Plaka, it’s as if the clock stopped at the end of the 19th century, an ambience that charms thousands of visitors that fill its sloping streets. This diligently preserved settlement begins on the east side of the Acropolis and spreads north of the Sacred Rock, ending in the Roman Agora. For Athenians, it is the “district of the gods”.
Ancient Agora: The heart of the city
Scholars from the School of Fine Arts sit inside the Ancient Agora for hours trying to recapture a piece of antiquity. Classical, Hellenistic and Roman eras are all represented here. Walk upon the same pavement as that of the Panathenaic procession. Listen to the echoes of ancient Athenians that once voted against their political opponents, the roar of the fans at the athletic competitions, the sounds of ceremonies where gods and heroes were worshipped, the chisels sculpting some of the most important buildings in history, the footsteps of Romans and the concerts in the music conservatory.
Monastiraki: Where East meets West
A bustling crowd of young people of all backgrounds and cultures pours out from the metro station, with its neoclassical facade, into Monastiraki – one of the main meeting points in the city. This metro station has great archaeological significance. During the construction works, artefacts from the 8th century BC through to the 19th century AD were unearthed. Of particular interest is the brickwork tunnel covering the ancient Iridanos River – the glass pedestrian bridge allows you to admire it from above. Piece by piece you’ll put together the colorful puzzle that is this neighborhood. At the Pandrossou Street market, among the dozens of tourist shops, you’ll find some of the oldest jewelers in the city. Everyone stops for a souvlaki near the square. On Hefaistos Street, the city’s flea market, you’ll find leather sandals, hats, clothes, replicas of archaeological artefacts and musical instruments. In Avissinias Square, you’ll go antique hunting. The elegant pedestrian avenue of Adrianou is also full of surprises, featuring stores with designer clothes and accessories, vintage shoes and handbags, cafes and restaurants, all within sight of the Acropolis.
Ermou: the commercial face of Athens
The most famous pedestrian avenue in the center of the city is a shopper’s paradise. Families, groups of friends, mothers and daughters, young professionals and international tourists of all ages, weave in and out of the shops on Ermou that sell anything you need, but are especially known for their clothing and shoes. About midway is the church of Panagia Kapnikarea, which was built around 1060-1070, street performers and vendors gather to entertain passersby. Choose one of the stylish coffee houses in the arcades to take a break between shopping.
Syntagma Square: Where history is made
This square is the central hub of the historic center. Walking in front of the monument of the Unknown Soldier, built in 1932, you’ll feed the pigeons like everyone else and wait patiently for the kilted Evzones to perform the changing of the guard, which happens on the hour. Behind them is the imposing Hellenic Parliament building. Built as a palace by the architect Friedrich von Gaertner for the first kings of early modern Greece who began their period of sovereignty in 1843, it has been home to the Greek Parliament since 1935
Visit the Benaki Museum
Visiting the Benaki Museum is one of the best cultural things to do in Athens. The Benaki Museum is the museum of Greek culture ranging from prehistory to the 20th century. The collection offers rooms from houses, large sculptures and smaller items like swords and historic documents. The museum is a short walk from Syntagma Square. It’s located in a beautiful Neo-classic building and you can enjoy a coffee and the view from the cafe. Admission to the museum is €9
The Monastiraki area’s indoor and outdoor food market delights the senses. Starting in the wee hours, Greek vendors bellow out their best deals in an attempt to sell fresh meat, fish, fruit, spices and products from around the country. The atmosphere is unlike any other as travelers and locals traverse the narrow aisles lined with hanging meat carcasses, stalls of Greek deli delights and fresh seafood iced down in vibrant displays.
Museum of Cycladic Art
A lavish museum that’s home to more than 3,000 artefacts of Cycladic, ancient Greek and Cypriot origin. To see the distinctly shaped slender marble figurines and statues that date back to the Bronze Age. Or one of the 150 objects from the ancient Greek art collections, including vases, figurines and weapons grouped by the themes ‘Gods and heroes’, ‘Eros’, ‘the world of women’ and ‘the Underworld’
Top Athens Experiences to Do
Picnic on Filopappou Hill
Athens has a number of hills which provide great panoramas over the city and out to sea. Filopappou Hill is both my favourite and the easiest to reach: it’s gentle and central but great for photographing the Acropolis. Take a picnic or cold beers up for sunset.
Open air cinema
Athens is a memorable place to catch a movie thanks to its many open-air cinemas. In the summer you’ll find everything from modern family films to arty classics across the city. For ambience though, Cine Paris and Cine Thesion both have Acropolis views which pair perfectly with a cold beer.
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC)
This is an oasis of Mediterranean greenery. 170,000 square metres of parkland, complete with playgrounds, gardens, cafés, a striking eco-friendly glass complex (also home to the Greek National Opera), a manmade river, and a new National Library of Greece. Plus, there’s a great view of the Acropolis
Take a street art tour
A walking Athens street art tour is a great way to learn about the complex modern history of Athens as well as take in some of the city’s amazing street art and alternative neighborhoods. If you don’t want to take a tour then wander around Psyrri, one of Athens’ most picturesque neighborhoods with its mix of cobbles, cafes, abandoned buildings, and street art.
Hit the beach
No need to wait until you’re in the islands for a beach day! Many tourists don’t know about the Athens Riveria and but simply take the tram down the coast and hop off at one of Athen’s swanky beach clubs (Bolivar and Balux are good) for a day in the sun.
Watch the Changing of The Guard
This is one of the best things to do in Athens. To catch this weekly event, you must be in Athens on a Sunday. The Changing of the Guard takes place at the Parliament Building at Syntagma. It takes place at 11:00am and is free to watch. While the guards do change hourly, on Sundays at 11:00 there are more guards than usual, they’re dressed in the traditional Greek uniform and the ceremony is more complex. Sundays are the best day to see the changing of the guards in Athens. And while they may look a little unusual, they are highly trained soldiers called the Evezone.