Many people come to Athens to visit ancient ruins, archaeological sites, and museums, but they forget that the city is also home to stunning Byzantine and Orthodox churches that deserve a visit. Here are some of the most beautiful churches in the Greek capital that you can visit the next time you are around.
A major landmark and an important meeting point for locals on the famous pedestrian shopping street of Ermou, the church of Panagia Kapnikarea dates back to the 11th century. An ideal spot where shoppers often sit down to take a break from the busy street, it features stunning murals. When Ermou Street was constructed in 1834, they planned to relocate the church elsewhere, but it was saved after King Otto’s father’s (Ludwig, King of Bavaria) intervention.
Perched on top of Lycabettus Hill, the whitewashed chapel of Agios Georgios stands tall, offering some of the best views of the city and the sea. While the church is a recent construction, dating from the 18th century, some believe that it was built on the site of the ancient temple of Akreos Zeus. Another church once stood there during the Frank occupation. Today, with its air of a Cycladic church, it features a dome and a bell tower, whose bell was a gift from Queen Olga. An ideal spot to watch the sunset, the church is reachable by funicular or foot, after climbing up the hill through a sinuous road.
Dating from the 11th century, the Church of Metamorphosis, also known as the Church of the Transfiguration of the Savior, sits on the flanks of the Acropolis. Located in the picturesque district of Anafiotika, the Cycladic-inspired area under the Sacred Rock, the church features a cross-in-square layout with a typical Athenian dome.
Many would agree that the imposing Metropolitan Cathedral is a breathtaking church, and for good reason. A major landmark of the Greek capital, its magnificent façade is as striking as its interior. But we have a slight crush on the church next door, the tiny Agios Eleftherios Church, dubbed the Mikri Metropoli (little metropolitan church). This Byzantine church is decorated with over 80 ancient sculptures, and many of the reliefs on the façade come from ancient buildings of the city, possibly the Roman Agora. Built in the 13th century, Agios Eleftherios is one of the few churches in the capital that has maintained its original form since its construction.
Built in the 11th century, the church of Agios Nikolaos Ragavas lies in Plaka, on Pritaniou Street. Once part of the estate of the Ragavis family, an eminent Byzantine family of Athens, the church features a basic cross-in-square design and is topped by an Athenian-style dome. It was the first church to receive its bell after the country’s independence in 1821. Today, it is on display inside the church.
Located in the green park of Filopappos Hill at the foot of the Hill of the Nymphs near Dionissiou Areopagitou Street, the picturesque chapel of Agios Dimitrios Loubardiaris dates from the 16th century. Including remarkable frescos, this church is a one-aisled church with a façade adorned with clay and marble. Tradition has it that the church took its name after a cannon (loubarda) blew up in the propylaea of the chapel in the 17th century.
Few people know that in the surrounding area of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, where the River Ilissos used to flow, there is a picture-perfect church surrounded by nature. The little church of Agia Fotini Ilissos was built in 1872 near the riverbed, now located next to the busy Kallirois Avenue. It is dedicated to Fotini the Samaritan, who, according to tradition, went out to a well and gave water to Jesus. Renovated in 1986, it boasts murals dating from the 18th and 19th centuries.