In Athens, every corner has a story to tell. From philosophers to trendy bars to ancient monuments, Athens is the epitome of old meets new. I often hear people say Athens was not what they expected, or that they would not go back. Athens is a hidden gem. Don’t go to Athens expecting it will reveal herself to you. I grew up in Greece, and have gone to Athens hundreds of times. To truly understand and experience the city you need to see and do both tourist and non-touristy activities. Below is a list of my top 10 things to see and do in Athens, Greece.
Top 10 Things in Athens, You Can’t Miss
#1 Take The Happy Train Tour In Downtown Athens
I loved taking the Happy Train Tour. It’s cute, convenient and it reminds me of Thomas the Train. Happy Train takes a 40 minute tour around the most famous ancient sites and monuments in downtown Athens. It’s a great way to get a quick overview of the city and you can hop-on-hop-off from different points in the city and explore Athens at your own pace. Also a fun activity to do in Athens regardless of your age and especially if you have kids.
#2 Experience History by Visiting Acropolis and Parthenon
Acropolis is an ancient citadel located on a hill above the city of Athens which is home to the remains of several ancient buildings like the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheum, Propylaea, and of course the most famous one the Parthenon. The Parthenon was constructed between 447 and 438 BC and was dedicated to goddess Athena. It is a glorious masterpiece you need to see.
PRO TIP: Entrance to the archaeological site is 20€. If you love history I also recommend visiting the Acropolis Museum and a purchasing a combined ticket which includes entrance to all of Athen’s major archaeological sites. Get your tickets in advance here (official Greek Ministry Site)
Go early to avoid the crowds and the awful heat if you are going in the summer. Bring water with you as well as it is bit of a hike.
# 3 Lose Yourself in the Colourful Alleyways of Plaka
Right underneath the Acropolis, Plaka is a must-see. With its colourful neoclassical houses, little cobblestone alleyways, and artisan shops, you will instantly fall in love with this neighborhood. Charming, vibrant and fun, Plaka feels like a little village. Here you will also find family-run restaurants and taverns to stop and grab a bite, or refresh with a cold glass of frappe. Nearby, you will find the whitewashed homes of the Anafiotika neighborhood, that will make you feel like you teleported to a Greek island.
#4 Go Souvenir Shopping in Monastiraki Square
Right under Plaka you will find Monastiraki Square. This busy and lively square is filled with all sorts of shops you can get your souvenirs from, modern cafes, taverns with a live band for a romantic dinner, and of course lots of spots to grab souvlaki from. When you are strolling through Monastiraki, you will also see other iconic landmarks like the Ancient Agora, the pillars of Hadrian’s Library, built in the 2nd century A.D, and Stoa of Attalos. Another characteristic of Monastiraki is the antique market found in the streets between Ermou and Ifestou and on Abyssinia Square. Chances are most of the items are too big to bring back home, but I love browsing the antique shops because it gives a glimpse back to the lives of locals.
#5 Enjoy the Athens Night Life from a Rooftop Bar
One of the top things to see in Athens is a bird’s eye view of the city. One of my favourite spots is A is for Athens located in Monastaraki Square. This place gets packed really quick before sunset, so come a bit early to get a good spot or make a reservation.
#6 Treat Yourself in Little Kook In Psirri
On the north side of Monastiraki Square, don’t miss Psirri; a vibrant neighbourhood with amazing wine bards and taverns. My favourite spot here is Little KooK in Pittaki Street. Located in a small side street of the Psirri neighborhood, Little KooK is hard to miss. It’s a Mary Poppins themed cafe serving delicious desserts and drinks, and the decor is so colourful makes you feel like you are in a storybook.
# 7 Visit The Academy of Athens and National Library
Designed by Danish architect Theophil Hansen, the Academy of Athens is one of the three buildings of the “Neoclassical Trilogy”. The three buildings forming the architectural trilogy are the Academy, National University of Athens and the old building of the National Library. Situated in the heart of Athens, these three beautiful neoclassical buildings are hard to miss with their detailed winding staircases, Pentelic marble, and empowering structures. The National Library building dates back to 1903 and is home to over 2 million books, newspapers, ancient manuscripts, and historic documents. Currently, part of the library’s extensive collection has been relocated to a beautiful new location in Phaleron Bay.
#8 Watch the Change of Guards at Syntagma Square
The changing of the guard takes place in front of the Greek Parliament and Presidential Mansion across from Syntagma Square. Dating back to 1842, the Parliament building is considered the heart of the city and a meeting point for many locals. In front of the Parliament is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; a war memorial which is guarded by the evzones (members of the presidential guard). Dressed in the traditional Greek Foustanella, the evzones guard the building 24/7 and every soldier stands still for one hour until it is time for them to change with another guard. The Evzones are considered a group of elite Greek soldiers. They have to be a minimum of 1.87 meters tall, be physically strong and mentally well, as well as of good moral standing. It is considered a great honour for a Greek soldier to be chosen to be part of the Evzones. The changing of the guard happens every hour on the hour for 24 hours per day.
Bonus Tip: Arrive at least 10 minutes early to secure a good spot.
#9 Hike Up To Mount Lycabettus
When you are looking for things to do in Athens, just remember rour visit is incomplete if you don’t see a panoramic view of the city from Mount Lycabettus. At 745 ft. Mount Lycabettus stands high above Athens with stellar views of the city and the Aegean sea. I recommend going about an hour before the sun sets, so you can watch the city slowly light up for the night as well as the Acropolis. There is also a little chapel of Agios Georgios with a huge platform where you can sit to take in all the beauty. There is also a lovely restaurant, which may be a bit pricey if you have a set budget, but it is totally worth it for the view you are getting.
How To Get There: There are a few options how to get up to Mount Lycabettus.
- Hike up the path that starts at the end of Aristippou Street in Kolonaki and winds upwards.
- Take the cable car ($8.20), which leaves from Ploutarchou and Aristippou Streets.
- Take a taxi or drive if you are renting a car.
#10 Catch The Sunset at Temple of Poseidon in Sounio
If you feel like exploring outside of Athens take a day trip to Sounio. Not only is the scenic drive therapeutic, but the views of the Aegean sea are perfection. About a 70 km away from Athens, Cape Sounio is one of my favourite places to visit. Remote and away from the busy streets of Athens, here you will find the beautiful Temple of Poseidon sitting on Cape Sounio overlooking the sea. Constructed in the 5th century BC to honour Poseidon, the god of the sea, this is the perfect spot to destress and find tranquillity by watching a mesmerizing sunset.
That is my list of top 10 things to see and do in Athens. I created a list that has a good mix or touristy and non-touristy activities. Also, some great options of activities when it is hot in Athens because we all know how hot Greece gets in the summer. Also, don’t forget to check out my favourite place Meteora Travel Guide, Greece