Athens is a vibrant and colourful capital city, with its fascinating culture playing out among some of the world’s most important historical and cultural attractions. Uncover its impressive ancient buildings, monuments and museums with Culture Trip’s guide.
For 2,500 years the Acropolis has stood sentinel over Athens, the crowning jewel of a city that ignited the flame of democracy across the Western world. Today, the collection of ancient monuments and buildings never fail to stir something deep within the thousands of visitors it receives daily. The star of the show is the Parthenon, a temple built in the fifth century BC dedicated to Athena Parthenos, Greek goddess of wisdom and war and namesake of the entire city. Truthfully, this is one of the most important historical sites in the world.
Originally constructed in the fourth century BC, the Panathenaic Stadium is where the Ancient Greeks would compete (in the nude) in athletic feats of strength and endurance. Restored for the 1896 Olympic Games, this is the only stadium in the world constructed entirely from white marble. Audio guides lead you through the stands and vaulted passageways beneath, recounting the stadium’s Olympic legacy along the way. Visitors can also relive history by going for a run on the track and taking a photo standing on the winner’s podium – as long as you keep your clothes on.
One of the most important museums in Greece, the National Archaeological Museum houses the world’s largest collection of Greek antiquities and artefacts. Sculptures, art, jewellery, pottery and more are on display, grouped thematically to give you a sweeping overview of Greece’s civilisation from the prehistoric era to more classical periods. There’s far too much to take in on a single visit, which is why guided tours are recommended. By taking part in a tour, you will be directed to the most significant works in the museum and gain an understanding of the decisive points in Greece’s history.
Opened in 2009, the Acropolis Museum contains the many cultural artefacts and treasures found in the Acropolis, celebrating the height of Ancient Greece’s artistry and achievements. Located on the southern slopes below Greece’s most visited attraction, exhibits cover the period from the fifth century BC to fifth century AD, containing archaic sculptures, statues and votive offerings. A glass floor reveals the remnants of an ancient Athenian neighbourhood below, and floor-to-ceiling windows capture views of the Acropolis above. This is the ultimate experience (aside from the Acropolis itself) for those interested in Ancient Greece.
The Museum of Cycladic Art houses over 3,000 artefacts and pieces of art, all of it of Cycladic, Greek and Cypriot origin. The marble figurines on the first floor draw the most attention, slender pieces from the Cycladic civilisation that flourished on the islands in the Aegean Sea between 3,200 and 1,100 BC. Here, you’ll also find pieces of Ancient Greek and Cypriot art over the four floors of the museum, such as vases, figurines and weapons, organised thematically.
The expansive National Garden is located in the heart of Athens. The park is a welcome and pleasant refuge from the searing summer sun, and inside you’ll find a café, a small zoo and tranquil duck ponds. Commissioned by Queen Amalia in 1838, it was formerly known as the Royal Garden. Guided Segway tours are also available, with the added bonus of taking in Hadrian’s Arch, the Temple of Zeus, Parliament House and the Presidential Mansion.
Plaka, Athens’s oldest neighbourhood, lies under the shadow of the Acropolis. The old town of the city is the centre of all things tourism, with cafés, restaurants and shops dotted throughout. The best way to experience the area is to get lost in its narrow streets, wandering past Byzantine churches and Neoclassical architecture, all the while catching glimpses of the magnificent Acropolis above. You’re sure to come across something special on your explorations.
The highest point in Athens, Mount Lycabettus sits 300 metres (984 feet) above sea level, commanding outstanding views over the entire city. Much like the Acropolis, it can be seen from almost anywhere in Athens. The walk up is pleasant (as long as it’s not the height of summer), with the paths taking you through a fragrant forest of pine trees before emerging at the top. At its peak, you’ll find the 19th-century Chapel of St George, but most come here for the views. Catch the sunset and watch as the ancient sites across Athens glow in the fading light.
The Ancient Greeks made many advancements in science and technology, so it’s only fitting that Athens is home to the most advanced planetarium in the world. Embark on a virtual 3D trip into the galaxy, with films displayed on a 950-square-metre (10,226-square-feet) dome that delve into the secrets and mysteries of our universe. Located in the popular seaside neighbourhood of Palaio Faliro, the foundation also hosts various scientific exhibitions and workshops in the Athena Science and Technology Centre at the same location.
Visitors might be drawn to Athens by its ancient monuments, but those who come back do so for the infectious and creative vibe found in its neighbourhoods. There’s a distinctly alternative and edgy undercurrent that runs through Exarcheia, an area famed for its revolutions, riots and intellectually engaged population of students, anarchists and creatives. Plastered with politically charged murals and graffiti, the neighbourhood is full of bookshops, vinyl stores, quirky independent shops, cafés and bars.
It’s not summer in Athens until the open-air cinemas begin operating again. Over 90 cinemas are scattered throughout the city, drawing in visitors to watch a healthy mix of classics, Greek films and the latest Hollywood blockbusters. One of the best in the city is Cine Paris, which has been around since the 1920s. The only problem is that from its vantage point on a rooftop in the heart of Plaka, the views of the Acropolis might distract you from whatever film is playing on the night.
The southern edge of the Greek capital is where you’ll find the Apollo Coast, marked by idyllic white-sand beaches and inviting esplanades. Flisvos Marina is one of the more popular areas along this coastline, a magnet for European millionaires. The promenade is the perfect place for an early-evening stroll, stopping for a cocktail or a spot of seafood.
The Karaiskakis Stadium is situated in the Piraeus port district, where the majority of traffic comes through from the Greek islands. It’s the home of Olympiakos Football Club, who are to Athens what Real Madrid and Barcelona are to Spain, so if there’s a chance to grab tickets for a game at the stadium, don’t miss out on a great local experience. The surrounding area has been cleaned up from its red-light district days into a glitzy entertainment hub, with plenty of bars and clubs that are frequented by Athens’s most trendiest residents.