Athens is a dynamic and vibrant capital where archaeological vestiges live next to modern constructions. As such, it has countless options for adventurers, history buffs, sun worshippers, and epicureans. But if you are visiting the city on a tight budget, there are plenty of things to do without breaking the bank. Here are ten free activities to explore when in the Greek capital.
This central public park is located right next to the Parliament Building in Syntagma. Featuring a botanical museum, a small pond, plus a zoo and a café, this green area offers a welcoming break from the concrete jungle on any warm day. Make a day of it and bring your picnic plus a good book.
Blessed with a diverse topography, Athens has a few hills you can climb, allowing you to enjoy all-encompassing views, from the land to the sea. As an extension of Acropolis Hill, Filopappou Hill is a climber’s paradise on warm days – a place where you can grab a beer at a nearby kiosk or periptero and enjoy majestic views of Athens and the port of Piraeus. If you need to take a rest after visiting the Acropolis, take a break at the Vrahakia, the rocky top of Aeropagus Hill, right across from the entrance of the sacred site. From there, you can admire the actual size of the city and simply relax. For a pleasant afternoon, climb Strefi Hill, in Exarcheia, for an excellence vantage point from which to admire the Acropolis. Finally, finish the day with a hike up Lycabettus Hill, the highest summit in the city. The sunset from there is truly fabulous.
Just because you’re on a budget does not mean that you cannot enjoy the services of a guide. There are several organizations, such as This Is My Athens, and Athens free walking tours that offer tours around the city. Taking advantage of the compact size of the city, these tours are led by locals who will let you in on some of the best secrets and fascinating facts about the Greek capital.
While building the metro network, many archaeological artifacts were uncovered. The city of Athens and the metro company decided to put them on display so that citizens and visitors alike could enjoy them. They are located on the upper level of the Syntagma, Panepistimio, Acropolis, and Monastiraki metro stations.
Even when on a budget, there are a few museums requiring an entrance fee that you should visit. However, Athens has museums with free admission as well. The Municipal Gallery of Athens on Koumoundourou Square houses artwork by Greek artists who profoundly impacted the history of art in Greece and contributed to its development in the 20th century. The Museum of Popular Instruments, which is often overlooked, includes an impressive collection of 1,200 Greek musical instruments dating from the 18th century to the present day. Also, Aristotle’s Lyceum (Peripatetic School) – an ancient Greek gymnasium – finally opened to the public for free after years of excavations.
Plaka is the oldest neighborhood in Athens, nestled in the center of the city by the Acropolis. Its picturesque pedestrian streets, little traditional houses, and old-world charm make it perfect for a leisurely stroll. Also, be sure to explore Anafiotika, a little Cycladic-inspired village at the foot of the Acropolis, where residents of Anafi settled decades ago when they first moved to the big city.
This one is a well-kept secret. An Athens University student cultural organization, Irida offers seminars and workshops (though, most are in Greek) plus screenings of cult movies and classics on the big screen for free. Don’t hesitate to check the website to see what the next showing will be.
Athens has a vibrant street art scene, readily available to anyone who wants to admire it. Stroll around Exarcheia and Psyrri where you will see some impressive works.
To escape the hustle and bustle of Athens, pack a lunch and head to Ymittos (or Hymettus), a nearby mountain in the northern part of the city. Frequented by hikers, joggers, cyclers, as well as nature lovers, the mountain is densely covered by a lush pine forest and features historic monasteries, marked paths, and even some hidden caves.
The Changing of the Guards in front of the Parliament on Syntagma Square is a tourist attraction worth seeing. The stars are the Evzones, a military ceremonial unit who are selected because of their height. Every hour they make their way down Vasilissis Sofias Avenue from their barracks on Irodou Attikou and change posts with the soldiers already there, all the while performing an intricate dance. Be sure to visit on Sundays at 11 am when the ceremony is more impressive – it includes a larger group.