No visit to Athens is complete without checking out the plethora of historical sites that run throughout the city. While the hill of the Acropolis is home to many of these, there are hidden gems throughout the city. Read on for Culture Trip’s guide to the must-see historical sites in Athens.
One of the most overlooked temples in Athens, the Temple of Hephaestus, designed by Ictinus (or Iktinos) and built in the 5th century BC with marble from Mount Penteli, stands near the Agora of Athens. One of the best-preserved Greek temples in the world, it was dedicated to Hephaestus, god of metalworking and fire. It served as an Orthodox church from the 7th century until 1834.
It goes almost without saying that a visit to the Parthenon in Athens is essential. The historic ruin was created in 447 BC. The temple was built in homage to Athena and the original saw the Parthenon as a solid building rather than the airy ruins that are left today. A visit to the whole Acropolis area is one of the more expensive things to do in Athens and the hike up the hill demands serious commitment (as well as sensible shoes and plenty of water). However once you reach the top you’ll be delighted that you made the journey. You can’t help but feel inspired and moved by the weight of so much beauty and history, while enjoying striking views down to the sea.
Dedicated to the goddess of victory, the Temple of Athena Nike is a smaller temple on the Acropolis and was built in 420 BC. Built in the Ionic order, the elegant columns with fluted grooves in homage to the feminine elements of the goddess. An continuous frieze around the Temple depicts victorious narratives. It was designed by the architect Kallikrates and is a beautiful example of designs from the High Classical Period.
The Erechtheion (or Erechtheum) was built between 421 and 407 BC and is nestled on the northern side of the Acropolis in Athens. The temple was named after a shrine dedicated to Athenian hero Erichthonius and was built by architect Mnesicles. On its creation it was dedicated to both the god Poseidon Erechtheus and goddess Athena Polias, defender of the city. The temple is one of the most famous thanks to its southern porch which features six caryatids – sculpted female figures that serve as columns.
Located in downtown Athens, a short walk away from larger attractions such as the Acropolis, Kerameikos cemetery is a must-visit historical site. The area was named after the potters who originally lived there thousands of years ago, yet the ancient site was only discovered in 1861 when archeologists were excavating around the area. The site includes the remains of a city wall built in 479 BC and the ruins of a road which once was used in the Panathenaic Procession.
Perched on top of the Lycabettus Hill, the whitewashed chapel of Agios Georgios can be seen from much of central Athens and from it visitors can survey the whole city. Built in the 18th century, the church’s location is first thought to have been a temple of the Akraios Zeus and was a Christian church during the Ottoman occupation, before becoming the Greek Orthodox chapel that it is today. The chapel is accessible either by foot or funicular.
Built in 1837, the First Cemetery of Athens is the final resting place of revolutionary heroes, actors, poets, politicians, and important figures of society and the church. Located behind the Panathenaic Stadium, the cemetery is open to the public and a spectacular place for visitors to admire sculpture. At night, however, the place takes on a creepier vibe. Many report encounters with the resident ghost of Nikolas Batsaris (a wreath bearer who worked in the cemetery until his death) who is oblivious to human presence and seen sitting by a wreath. Logginos, the next-door hill overlooking the cemetery, is known to be a spooky place as well due to the remains of German soldiers supposedly buried here.
Known as the largest temple in Greece, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, or the Olympeion, was built in the 6th century BC, though it was completed roughly 640 years after in the 2nd century AD, thanks to Emperor Hadrian. During the Roman era, the temple included 104 grand columns, of which 16 still stand today. The temple is located approximately 500 meters (1,640 feet) southeast of the Acropolis and is part of an important archaeological site, enclosed by Hadrian’s Gate.
Situated in the heart of Athens, this historical treasure is easy to miss. However it is worth stopping by as you make your way to more iconic historical monuments, if only for a few minutes. This Byzantine-era creation sits next to its more imposing neighbour, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens. The Little Metropolis (also known as Agios Eleftherios Church) is only 25 feet by 40 feet and its walls are built entirely of marble. Only one of the original frescos inside has survived. This is an image of the Panagia over the entrance space.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a theatre built in 161 AD which was then fully restored again in the 1950s. The design was once said by Marcus Arelius to be the finest of its kind, reflecting the traditional style of open air theatres of the time. Operating a no-heels policy, the staggeringly steep and majestic space continues to host captivating performances to this day.
The Panathenaic Stadium is a marble-only arena that has hosted athletic competitions as early as 566/565 BC. Located behind the National Gardens, the stadium was first used for ancient Greeks to compete in the Panathenaia festival and importantly hosted the first revival of the Olympic Games in the 1870s. In 2004, it also hosted various events, providing the ultimate homecoming for Greek athletes. The stadium is hard to miss, and open to visitors throughout the year. Beware of soaring temperatures and slippery surfaces in summer.