From hilltop temples to ancient marketplaces and world-beating museums, Athens is a city-sized historical theme park. Here are the must-visit sights for both first- and second-timers.
A trip to Greece is not complete without a visit to the capital city. There are few cities with as much history as Athens; after all, it is the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy. Where else can you walk the same streets and paths as some of the greatest philosophers, leaders and minds that have ever lived? Everywhere you look you’ll find traces of the past and a history lesson, even in the Subway stations. To get the most out of your visit to Athens, you must see these famous attractions.
You simply cannot go to Athens without visiting the Acropolis. Beckoning you from its rocky plinth that towers over the city, the Acropolis is home to the most iconic surviving structures of Ancient Greece: the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena, the theatre of Dionysus and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, to name a few. If, for nothing else, come for the views of rooftops, temples and mountains – they’ll be imprinted on your memory forever.
The Parthenon is the symbol of Greece and the most recognised and important building of the Ancient Greek world. It was built at the peak of Athenian prosperity, under the direction of Pericles, the most famous Ancient Greek general and was dedicated to the goddess Athena, after whom Athens itself was named. It is an architectural wonder, and you’ll find yourself marvelling at the perfectly aligned marble columns and miraculously still-visible details.
As you’re discovering the city of Athens, you’ll notice that much of what we know about the Ancient Greeks was learnt through the surviving pottery. The ancient site of Kerameikos (where we get the word “ceramic” from) is where the potters lived and worked, and it is one of the largest, most interesting archaeological sites in the city – not just for the pottery, but because it later became an important burial site. There is a small but informative museum on the premises that’s worth a visit.
The Ancient Agora of Athens was the busiest and most important gathering place for the Athenian people. It served as a commercial, social and administrative centre as well as a courthouse. It is beautifully maintained and surrounded by lush green shrubs, trees and plants. Walk around the gardens, and you’ll stumble across marble statues of the gods and magnificent classical architecture. The museum holds artefacts that range in age from the Neolithic period to the 19th century.
This is a history buff’s nirvana, containing the largest and most significant collection of artefacts of Greek antiquity found anywhere. Even the uninitiated will undoubtedly recognise some of the statues and artworks from their history textbooks, such as the bronze statue of Zeus, the mask of Agamemnon and the marble statues of the Kore. By the time you leave, you’ll have a grip on the evolution of Greek art from the Mycenaean period to the classical.
As you’re exploring the area around Syntagma Square and the National Garden, you will practically stumble upon the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The imposing marble columns with their acanthus leaf capital peek over the trees that surround the ancient site. The temple was dedicated to Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods. Its construction was completed during the Roman era and has many dedications, including the grand arch, which was dedicated to the Roman emperor Hadrian.
Hike or take the cable car up to the highest point in Athens, Lykavittos Hill. It is believed that Athena herself created Lykavittos when she dropped a huge limestone rock intended for her temple, the Parthenon. You will have a 360-degree view of the sprawling city and the sea. The best time to visit is at sunset for the incredible views and to see the ancient sites such as the Acropolis beginning to light up. There is a cafe and restaurant, where you can enjoy the breeze and the calm energy of the mythical spot.
Stavros Niarchos Park
Building, Library, Opera House, Architectural Landmark, Park
The newest addition to every must-see list of Athens is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) in Kallithea. It is a welcome green space dedicated to environmental sustainability in the south of the city. The cultural centre has large gardens and parks with playgrounds and dancing water features along the canal. The building itself has an impressive library, an opera house and a fine-dining restaurant. A visit to the SNFCC has something for the entire family to enjoy.
This is a rewrite of an article originally written by James Taylor.