An Architecture Lover’s Guide to Athens

Make sure to see the Erechtheion when in Athens
Make sure to see the Erechtheion when in Athens | © Thomas Gravanis / Culture Trip
Photo of India Doyle
16 December 2019

Architecture lovers will feel at home in Athens, a city with a unique blend of ancient and modern buildings. Whether you want to experience jaw-dropping historical monuments or admire contemporary architecture, Culture Trip’s guide to the Greek capital will help you choose where to go and what to see.

Ancient architecture to visit in Athens

Temple of Athena Nike

The Temple of Athena Nike was designed by Callicrates and built in 420 BC
© Thomas Gravanis / Culture Trip

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, with four monolithic columns at the eastern and western fronts, the elegant columns with fluted grooves pay homage to the feminine attributes of the goddess. A continuous frieze around the temple depicts victorious narratives. It was designed by the architect Callicrates and is a beautiful example of architecture from the High Classical Period.


Building, Church, Mosque, Ruins
The Parthenon is majestic and imposing
© Thomas Gravanis / Culture Trip
Perhaps the most famous of Athens’s ancient temples, the Parthenon on the Acropolis is one of the earliest architectural designs that remains today. A tribute to the goddess Athena, the architecture is majestic and imposing. Keep your eyes peeled when looking at the 46 Doric columns – they narrow slightly as they move upwards.


Building, Ruins, Shrine
The Erechtheion is dedicated to the goddess Athena and the god Poseidon
© Thomas Gravanis / Culture Trip
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 World War II, but a cutting was preserved and a new tree planted in 1952.

Panathenaic Stadium

Stadium, Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
The Panathenaic Stadium hosted the first Olympiad
The Panathenaic Stadium hosted the first Olympiad | © Thomas Gravanis / Culture Trip
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, it hosted the first Olympiad and was once again used as an Olympic venue in 2004.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Building, Theatre
Nabucco - Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Artists to have performed at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus range from Frank Sinatra to Florence and the Machine | © Dimitris Sakalakis

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a theatre built in AD 161, 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.

Modern architecture to visit in Athens


Neoclassical 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 facades. Other areas, such as Neapoli and Kolonaki, also offer this unique hybrid between more contemporary styles and traditional Athenian buildings.

Embassy of the United States

Building, Architectural Landmark

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, the embassy is still well worth a visit.

Acropolis Museum

A modern building in an ancient city, the Acropolis Museum’s design combines past and present
A modern building in an ancient city, the Acropolis Museum’s design combines past and present | © Stefano Paterna / Alamy Stock Photo
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.

Hilton Athens

Exterior of the modernist Hilton Athens building against a blue sky with trees around it
© Andrew Chisholm / Alamy Stock Photo

The Hilton 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 worked on it for five years. Such a bastion of modernity was considered an eyesore by many, 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.

National Museum of Contemporary Art

Art Gallery, Building, Museum
Thomas Gravanis / © Culture Trip
The captivating National Museum of Contemporary Art reopened in 2018 | © Thomas Gravanis / Culture Trip
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 facades layered to create a sense of energy and purpose. In keeping with the original building, the tension between functionality and creativity offers an invigorating atmosphere, with large, open-plan interiors.

Additional reporting by Cajsa Carlson.

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