Lovers of architecture will find themselves at home in Athens, where the rich array of ancient and modern design is unique to the city. Whether you’re interested in experiencing the best historical monuments or engaging with contemporary Athens, Culture Trip’s architecture guide to the Greek capital will ensure you see the best.
Dedicated to the goddess of victory, the Temple of Athena Nike, constructed in 420 BC, is a smaller temple on the Acropolis. Built in the Ionic order, the elegant columns with fluted grooves pay homage to the feminine elements of the goddess. A 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.
Perhaps the most famous of Athens’ ancient temples, The Parthenon on the Acropolis is one of the earliest designs that remains today. A tribute to the goddess Athena, the architecture is majestic and imposing. The 46 Doric columns are perhaps one of the best examples of this kind and feature a slight narrowing as they move towards the top.
Dedicated to the goddess Athena and the god Poseidon, the Erechtheion was one of the temples commissioned by Pericles after the Persian Wars and completed in 406 BC. Key features include the six women on the southern portico. In front of the temple is the famous olive tree that was said to have appeared during Athena’s fight with Poseidon. The original tree was destroyed during the Second World War but a cutting was preserved and a new tree planted in 1952.
The Panathenaic Stadium, constructed in 338 BC, remains the only stadium in the world to be built entirely from marble. The Panathenaic Stadium is most famous for its association with the Olympics. In 1896, the stadium hosted the first Olympiad and played historic host to games in Athens in 2004.
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 Aurelius to be the finest of its kind, reflecting the traditional style of open-air theatres of the time. The staggeringly steep and majestic space, which operates a no-heels policy, continues to host captivating performances to this day.
Neo-classical architecture abounds in the centre of Athens, but in areas such as Koukaki, the contrast between the 18th century and 20th century is especially exciting. Apartments reflect Bauhaus and modernist influences, with geometric design, box balconies and brightly coloured façades. Other areas such as Neapoli and Kolonaki also offer this unique hybrid between more contemporary styles and traditional Athenian buildings.
Created by the founder of Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, the American Embassy in Athens is an iconic modern building. The glass and concrete structure was designed to reflect that of the Parthenon. Although more heavily barricaded today, it’s worth heading to Leof. Vasilissis Sofias to enjoy a peek at its design.
Created by Bernard Tschumi and Michael Photiadis, the new Acropolis Museum is a testament to the dream of modern Athens. The space is engineered to optimise natural light, with wrap-around glass windows that allow the light to stream in and illuminate the top floor. The design concept pays tribute to Ancient Greek values, with a precise and futuristic space rendered in glass, concrete and marble.
The Hilton in Athens, finished in 1963, was a deeply divisive building in the city when it was first built. The original structure was designed by four Greek architects – Emmanouil Vourekas, Prokopis Vassiliadis, Spyros Staikos and Antonis Georgiades – who together worked on it for five years. Such a bastion of modernity was considered to be a serious eyesore, though today the Hilton is undeniably an Athenian landmark. Alongside the industrial, modern design, visitors should also note the road-facing relief by Greek artist Yiannis Moralis.
It was decided that the former FIX building should be converted into The National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) in 2000. However, the economic crisis meant that the gallery space only began to function again in 2018, after a long hiatus where it was closed. Nevertheless, it remains a captivating modern building, with two contrasting façades layered to create a sense of energy and purpose. In keeping the original building, the tension between functionality and creativity offers an invigorating atmosphere, with large, open-plan interiors.