Athens, the capital of Greece, was the heart of ancient Greek civilization, and people from around the world still come here to visit early Greek landmarks such as the Acropolis and the Parthenon. Meanwhile, the Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum preserve sculptures, vases, jewelry, and more from Ancient Greece, offering guests a chance to step back in time.
However, these ancient structures and museums aren't the only must-see attractions in Athens. Diving into the nightlife in the Psiri neighborhood and shopping in the Plaka are favorite pastimes for tourists and residents alike.
The Acropolis and the Parthenon dominate the skyline of Athens. These hilltop sights are stunning, and the view from the Acropolis of the city and the surrounding temples is one that will stay with you forever.
The Acropolis is an ancient citadel located on a rocky hilltop overlooking Athens; it's also the site of a number of ancient buildings like the Parthenon, which is one of the most significant symbols of early western civilization that have made it to modern times. Constructed between 447 and 438 B.C. and co-designed by Ictinus and Callicrates, the Parthenon was dedicated to the goddess Athena at the height of the Athenian Empire.
At the Acropolis, join a tour group organized by language—though there may be a short wait while a full group is gathered. These tours are led by licensed guides and take guests through the structures still standing in the Acropolis.
The New Acropolis Museum nearby is also an attraction worth seeing; discounted tickets are available for access to both. Alternatively, book an organized tour ahead of time, which will generally include transportation from your hotel.
With artifacts dating back to 6000 B.C. and covering everything from prehistory to Greek antiquity, The National Archaeological Museum in Athens is considered one of the greatest museums in the world. While even a brief stop at the museum will impress, first-time visitors should allow at least two to three hours for a full tour of the exhibits and artifacts.
However, you could easily spend an entire day learning about the history of the region here, since the museum covers millennia of Greek culture—starting with the Cycladic Island civilization, the Minoans, and the Mycenaeans and continuing through the Greco-Roman world.
A great afternoon trip from Athens, Cape Sounion is one of those destinations that is as much a favorite with locals as it is with tourists, mainly for the breathtaking views you'll find here. A highlight of the cape is the Temple of Poseidon, a 5th Century temple with Doric columns that's become a favorite sunset-viewing spot for visitors.
While it is possible to visit Sounion by public bus from Athens, most visitors prefer to drive or to take an organized tour. You can book one directly ahead of your trip through your hotel or by visiting a travel agency in Athens.
To enjoy the seaside atmosphere of Athens, slip away to Piraeus, easily reachable by the Metro, and have dinner at one of the pricey but charming seaside taverns of Microlimano.
Piraeus, the port city of Athens, is not quite a Greek island but is reminiscent of the Greek island vibe. Allow yourself some extra time and stop by the excellent Piraeus Archaeological Museum or the equally-fascinating Nautical Museum.
You can also take an open-topped bus tour between Athens and Piraeus, making it an easy and interesting way to get back and forth between the two cities.
For an escape from the heat of Athens in summer, the wooded top of Lycabettus Hill provides plenty of breeze and shade as well as a few great attractions including the 19th century Chapel of St. George, a theatre, and a restaurant.
Visitors can access Lycabettus Hill via a three-minute cable car ride or by taking a circular hiking trail up the 277 meters to the top. While the cable car ride is quick, you won't get a view of the city on the way up or down, but while the hiking trail may be more scenic, it can be a grueling climb in the heat of the summer in the city.
Also known as "Constitution Square," Syntagma Square is the heart of Athens in many ways. Not only is it a large public square that often hosts holiday events, but it's also the location of several of Athens' most renowned luxury hotels and is an intense public transportation hub.
Additionally, Syntagma Square has the Parliament Building along one side, and the daily "Changing of the Guard" here provides a colorful photo opportunity on your trip—as well as a chance to experience an active part of the current government of Greece.
Once you're done touring the sites on the square, head down pedestrian-only Ermou Street for access to some of Athens' better upscale shopping.
The Plaka is the area of winding streets around the Acropolis. It's renowned for its small shops, restaurants, and local architecture. While it's touristy, you'll still find the area charming for its selection of Athenian crafts, Greecian food, and local art.
Stop somewhere for a frappe (iced instant coffee), especially during the summer, and watch passersby. It's also nice to visit at night with the tavernas staying open until late, and Cine Paris often shows classic movies outdoors. The whitewashed homes of the adjacent Anafiotika neighborhood give the area a Greek-island feel.
With many tourist shops open until 10 p.m. and a number of nightclubs, tavernas, and bars open until dawn across the city, the nightlife culture of Athens is thriving—even for tourists.
While Plaka may be popular for shopping, eating a casual dinner, or having an early drink, consider heading to Psiri for parties that go all night, dance clubs featuring international DJs, and bars that serve until dawn.
The Ancient Agora of Classical Athens is the best-known example of an ancient Greek agora (marketplace) in the country. You'll find it northwest of the Acropolis, bounded on the south by the hill of the Areopagus and on the west by the hill of Agoraios Kolonos.
This spot offers plenty of things to see and explore—all of which can be seen in a few hours. Visit the temple of Hephaestus—a rebuilt colonnade that houses the Agora Museum—and check out a number of small monuments throughout the Agora itself. A multiple-site combo ticket makes it a particularly good bargain to combine a visit here with the Acropolis and other nearby sites.
Stroll Through the National Garden
Located in the heart of the city between the Kolonaki and Pangrati neighborhoods near the Plaka and the Acropolis, the National Garden is a public park that's home to 15.5 hectares of landscaped gardens and trails that are open from sunrise to sunset.
The National Garden is also home to a number of ancient ruins and mosaics as well as a duck pond, a Botanical Museum, a cafe, a playground, and a children's library.
Take a Seat at the Theatre of Dionysus
The Theatre of Dionysus is located at the foot of the Acropolis and is considered the oldest theater in the world. Poets and playwrights like Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, and Sophocles premiered their works on this stage in the 5th century B.C., and the first drama was presented here by Thespis in about 530 B.C.
Whether you're a fan of modern theater or not, the views and historical significance of this site makes adding it to your itinerary worth it—especially if you're already visiting the Acropolis nearby.
Climb to the Philopappos Monument
Dedicated to Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos, a prince from the Kingdom of Commagene in the 1st and 2nd centuries, the Philopappos Monument is an ancient Greek mausoleum located southwest of the Acropolis on Mouseion Hill.
Easily accessible via a walking trail and staircase through lush greenery, the Philopappos Monument is open to all—day or night—but is best around sunset for spectacular views of the southern part of the city.
Attend a Concert at Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Located on the southwest slope of the Acropolis, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a stone theatre structure originally completed in 161 A.D. and reconstructed in 1950 that still hosts concerts to this day. While free tours of the site are available throughout the daytime, nighttime concerts require tickets to attend.
Take a Trip Through Time at the Benaki Museum
The Benaki Museum is a three-floor art and history museum dedicated to Greek culture throughout the ages. Founded by art collector Antonis Benakis in 1930, the museum traces Greek history from prehistoric times to the present.
Exhibits in the museum include Neolithic vases, Archaic ceramics, Classical sculpture, Byzantine and Ottoman artifacts, and a variety of paintings, documents, and weapons from the Greek War of Independence from 1821 to 1829.
Run Around the Panathenaic Stadium
Built for the 1896 Olympics, the Panathenaic Stadium is an almost-exact replica of the stadium built for the Panathenaic Games in 330 B.C. and served as the site of several games for the 2004 Summer Olympics. Built to hold 45,000 spectators and tall enough to see the National Garden and Acropolis from its highest seats, the Panathenaic Stadium makes a great stop on your tour of Athens.
Pray at the Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea
The Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea is one of the oldest churches in Athens, originally constructed in 1050, dedicated to the Greek Orthodox faith. Located on Ermou Street at the edge of the Plaka, this small church offers a reprieve from the busy shopping district outside its walls. However, the interior is only open for viewings on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Tour the Byzantine and Christian Museum
Located on Vassilissis Sofias Avenue, this unique museum is home to over 25,000 artifacts from the 3rd Century A.D. to the Late Middle Ages. Founded in 1914, the Byzantine and Christian Museum houses pictures, scriptures, frescoes, pottery, fabrics, manuscripts, and copies of artifacts from the height of the Byzantine and Christian Empires in Greece.
Marvel at the Temple of Olympian Zeus
Although not much of this structure remains standing, the 15 surviving columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus have scrolls and acanthus patterns that harken back to the temple's original significance.
Construction on the temple started in the 6th century B.C. but wasn't completed until the 2nd century A.D. under the rule of Emperor Hadrian. However, it fell less than a century later in 267 when the Herulian invasion sacked the city and the stone from many of the 104 original columns was quarried to rebuild other structures around Athens.