Best Things To Do in Athens
From ancient monuments and medieval churches to world-class museums and high-end boutiques, it's hard to get bored in Athens. One of the main reasons to visit is to roam the Acropolis and Ancient Agora, exploring their stunning ruins, including the Parthenon, Erechtheion and the Temple of Hephaestus. But you also want to save time for the exhibits housed at the National Archaeological Museum and the Acropolis Museum, as well as Plaka's historic streets. Depending on when you visit, you may even be able to take in a theatrical performance at the Herod Atticus Odeon.
Updated March 20, 2019
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As its name suggests, the Acropolis Museum – which resides in central Athens' Makrigianni district – houses various archaeological findings from the Acropolis. Key exhibits include a relief of Athena Nike, several carved statues from Erechtheion and a gallery with various Parthenon artifacts.
Many previous travelers said the Acropolis Museum was one of the best museums they'd ever visited, citing the property's displays as the perfect complement to the Acropolis' ruins. Another plus: the museum's design. Several visitors raved about the attraction's construction, especially its glass floors that offer a peek at the ruins situated beneath the building.
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The beautiful, historical neighborhood of Plaka, located under the Acropolis, is largely residential. Still, its assortment of restaurants and cafes keep it swarming with tourists each summer. You can also shop, especially if you're looking to bring home some gold jewelry.
Motor vehicles are not permitted on this neighborhood's winding streets, so make sure you have a street map and a comfortable pair of shoes. Visitors say Plaka offers a charming atmosphere and plenty of great shops for both souvenirs and one-of-a-kind finds. If you'd rather sip a drink once the sun goes down, travelers suggest visiting one (or several) of the area's vibrant clubs or bars.
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An impressive example of ancient Greek architecture, the Parthenon is a cultural landmark like no other. It once served as a treasury and at another point housed a Christian church. Now, the Parthenon is a must-see sight and the unchallenged highlight of visiting the Acropolis (and for some, Greece in general).
Recent travelers loved visiting the Parthenon despite the ongoing restoration work that's taking place on parts of the building's exterior. To enhance your experience, visitors recommended opting for a half- or full-day guided tour with an independent company like PK Travel Greece, Fantasy Travel or Timeless Athens Tours. These tours are led by local experts, but rates – which start at 29 euros ($31) per person – do not cover Acropolis admissions fees.
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While there are many more acropoleis (the plural of "acropolis," in case you're wondering) in Greece, it's this one in central Athens that garners the most attention. In fact, it's routinely referred to simply as "The Acropolis." The site is an elevated, flat-topped rock with an assortment of monuments and ruins built between 510 and 400 B.C., including the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion.
Travelers say the hike to the Acropolis is just as memorable as the sites it holds. If you're going to try it, many suggest beginning your trek in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid peak temperatures and crowds. For the best photos and views, arrive shortly before sunset. Visitors with mobility issues will have access to an elevator; however, some travelers noticed others struggling to move wheelchairs around the property, which lacks ramps and has gravel pathways, so allow extra time when using a wheelchair.
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Located just north of the Parthenon within the Acropolis complex, the Erechtheion was constructed between 421 and 406 B.C. as a place for Athenians to worship Erechtheus, the mythical king of Athens, and various Greek gods. Though smaller than the Parthenon, this structure features a frieze made of Eleusinian gray stone, multiple sculptures (known as caryatids) and other unique details, making it one of the Acropolis' most eye-catching buildings.
This sight's attention to detail makes it one of Athens' most popular ruins to visit. Sightseers love the caryatids found on the south side of the building, adding that these copies – five of the six original statues are on display in the Acropolis Museum, while the sixth resides in London's British Museum – are so accurate that it's hard to tell they're replicas. Another plus: the stunning city vistas.
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The agoras of the ancient Greek city-states were open areas for people to assemble for anything from military purposes to political or commercial ones. Ancient Agora is the most popular of its kind, thanks in part to its historical significance. Socrates used to lecture here, and it was also here that Saint Paul sought out converts for the then-fledgling religion known as Christianity.
Recent travelers, especially history buffs, loved visiting Ancient Agora. Though some wished the site offered more written information about its ruins, many felt the locale had a better atmosphere (and fewer crowds) than the adjacent Acropolis. Just be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes or allot extra time for moving around if you use a wheelchair, since Ancient Agora's pathways are covered in gravel.
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One of central Athens' best preserved ruins is the Temple of Hephaestus. Nestled within Ancient Agora, this site was built between 460 and 420 B.C. and once served as a Christian church. Eventually, the building was transformed into an archaeological museum before undergoing excavations in 1930 and later opening to tourists.
According to prior visitors, the Temple of Hephaestus is "impressive" and "definitely worth a visit." In fact, some felt this ruin deserved more accolades than the Parthenon, despite its smaller size. Like most sights found in Ancient Agora and the Acropolis, the Temple of Hephaestus can only be viewed from the outside, so time your visit early in the morning to take in everything while temperatures are cooler. Also, consider visiting Ancient Agora first if you plan on seeing its attractions and those at the Acropolis within the same day. The Temple of Hephaestus and other Ancient Agora ruins are open daily from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., meaning they close two hours before those located at the Acropolis.
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The Benaki Museum focuses on Greek art, from prehistory to the modern age. Its campus features several contemporary and historic buildings that house everything from Islamic art to art studios affiliated with Yannis Pappas and Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, two well-known Greek artists. Facilities like restrooms, restaurants, gift shops and a library are available as well.
Art enthusiasts love visiting this museum's collections and highly recommend arriving on a Thursday when entrance fees are waived for permanent exhibits. Free admissions are also offered at the Yannis Pappas Studio and the MENTIS workshop, where visitors can see how costumes, military uniforms and more were made for centuries. The only negative, for some, is the museum's abundance of exhibits, which tend to be repetitive at times and are tough to squeeze into one visit.
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Situated on the south slope of the Acropolis, the Herod Atticus Odeon was named after Tiberius Claudius Herod Atticus, a wealthy Athenian who sponsored the building of this ancient outdoor auditorium between A.D. 160 and 174. Historically, the venue hosted a variety of music festivals, but today, the locale serves as the site for many theater, music and art festivals, including the Athens & Epidaurus Festival.
Though some previous visitors said this attraction isn't as impressive as others found in the Acropolis complex, many highly recommended attending one of the venue's summer performances. If you do attend a show here, plan on wearing comfortable walking shoes, since steps at the Herod Atticus Odeon are steep. You can also visit during nonevent days, so long as you purchase an Acropolis ticket, which is generally cheaper than event tickets at 20 to 30 euros ($22 to $32.50) per person.
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Founded in 1986 as a place to display Aegean and Cypriot artifacts owned by Nicholas and Dolly Goulandris, two Athenians interested in preserving Greek culture, the Museum of Cycladic Art features various sculptures, jewelry, pottery and weapons. Permanent collections are housed in the Main Building, while temporary exhibits are showcased at the adjacent Stathatos Mansion.
History buffs and art lovers rave about the high-quality exhibits offered inside this small museum. What's more, all of the displays include English translations, making it easy for Americans to learn more about each item. This attraction is also popular with families, thanks in part to its complimentary admissions for children 17 and younger and its free family activities (on weekends between October and May) like interactive museum tours and arts and crafts workshops. Additionally, the museum offers complimentary Wi-Fi access, a gift shop and a cafe, which visitors say serves tasty homemade pastries.
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The National Archaeological Museum contains some of the most revered artifacts of Greece, dating back to 6000 B.C., and is considered one of the world's best museums for ancient Greek art.
Prior visitors said this museum is well laid out and offers informative and interesting displays, adding that seeing the Agamemnon's gold death mask is a must. However, some cautioned that select areas of the property are closed each day due to a lack of funds. The building can also get crowded at times, even during the offseason.
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