“Built nobly, pure the air and light the soil, Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of arts and eloquence” — John Milton aptly described this cradle of Western civilisation that beautifully marries the ancient with the modern. Its very name evokes the grandeur of ancient civilisations, where myths mingled with reality and gods walked among mortals. Named after the goddess of wisdom, Athena, the capital city harmoniously blends millennia-old history with the pulse of modern life. Contemporary Athens boasts a vibrant nightlife, bustling markets, and a thriving arts scene. The city’s modernity doesn’t overshadow its past. Instead, it complements it, with metro stations displaying archaeological finds, and sleek new museums meticulously narrating the tales of its ancient heritage making it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and discerning travellers. Add to this, the city offers a gastronomic journey that’s as rich as its history. The city’s vibrant café and taverna scene offers a plethora of options, enjoyed by both locals and tourists until late into the night. Here’s your exciting guide to Athens’ must-visit spots!
The Acropolis of Athens
The Acropolis of Athens, also known as the Sacred Rock, stands as the ultimate symbol of ancient Greek civilization. Atop this hill, the Parthenon, its most famous monument, was erected by Pericles in 447 BC, replacing the archaic Ekatompedon destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC. Overlooking the city, the Acropolis showcases Ancient Greece’s magnificence. Its crowning jewel, the Parthenon, overlooks Athens, embodying democracy, philosophy, and the arts—cornerstones of Western civilisation. This UNESCO World Heritage site offers breathtaking views and stands as a testament to the grandeur of a bygone era. Don’t miss the ancient amphitheatre of Herodium, also known as the Odeon of Herodus Atticus at the foothills of the Acropolis, one of the best places to experience a live classical theatre performance.
A stone’s throw away from Acropolis on the beautiful Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, Acropolis Museum boasts a fascinating collection from the Sacred Rock. It houses over 4,250 objects exhibited over an area of 14,000 square meters. Beyond Acropolis findings, it showcases treasures from various excavations across Attica, including the temple of Artemis. Its unique features include a glass floor revealing ongoing excavations and a top floor mirroring the Parthenon, providing a fresh outlook on this ancient marvel.
Surrounded by parks, Pnyx holds immense historical significance as an essential ancient gathering place. Here, classical Athenians convened for crucial city decisions. They deliberated on critical civic matters, engaging in discourse, and shaping the town’s destiny. This assembly likely marks the earliest manifestation of democracy, where discussions on political issues led to collective decisions—a milestone in human governance and polity.
Visit the Panathenaic Stadium, the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. It hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and remains a symbol of sportsmanship and fair play. This grand stadium, also called the Roman Stadium or Kallimarmaro, sits at the end of Herodes Atticus Street. Originating in ancient times, it hosted the revered Panathenaic Games, celebrating the city’s guardian, Athena.
Anafiotika and Plaka
Explore Athens’ oldest neighbourhoods, Anafiotika and Plaka, boasting neoclassical charm, winding alleys, and vibrant cafes. Anafiotika, located within Plaka near the city centre and Acropolis, stands out for its picturesque allure. Cafes and restaurants dot this area, offering traditional warmth and hospitality. The district’s architecture resembles the Cyclades, with well-preserved houses adorned in vivid hues and tiny gardens. Wander through these historic streets, adorned with unique homes and immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere that preserves the essence of Greek tradition amid Athens’ bustling heartbeat.
The Hellenic Parliament, once the Royal Palace, signifies modern Greece. Witness the solemn changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, echoing the nation’s tumultuous past. Located at the heart of Athens, north of Syntagma Square, this Neoclassical structure initially served as the King’s palace. After monarchy abolition in 1924, it transformed into a museum and hospital until the government relocated Parliament there in November 1929. Many visitors walk from Athens Academy through City Hall to Varvakios Agora, which is a busy market full of delicious smells and lots of bright colours.
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
Located in Paleo Faliro, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center embodies cultural richness. It encompasses the National Library, the Greek National Opera, and the Stavros Niarchos Park. Conceived in 1998, this modern marvel emerged from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation’s donation, enriching Athens’ cultural landscape. Housing the National Library and Greek National Opera, it stands as an architectural gem. The expansive park invites leisurely strolls, offering a serene escape within this vibrant cultural hub, shaping a haven where art, knowledge, and nature harmoniously converge.
Ascend Lycabettus Hill for breathtaking vistas of Athens. This green oasis, adorned with pine trees and trails, stands at 227 meters—the city’s second-highest point. From the summit, crowned by the Chapel of St. George, relish a panoramic 360-degree view. Behold Athens and its suburbs, with the Aegean Sea as the stunning backdrop. Besides the church, a nearby restaurant offers delightful meals, making it an ideal spot for romantic dinners overlooking the entire city—a perfect blend of natural beauty and captivating scenery.
National Garden & Zappeion Megaron
Escape the city’s heat in the Athens National Garden, a lush oasis in the heart of Athens. The garden houses a small zoo, a botanical museum, and several ancient ruins.
Not far from here is Zappeio Megaron a wonderful building of neoclassical style that is associated with the revival of the Olympic Games. Over the years, national events and exhibitions of various products and services have been hosted on the premises of Zappeion Megaron.
Hotel Grande Bretagne
Overlooking the Acropolis, Athens Parliament and Syntagma Square, the Hotel Grande Bretagne, a beacon of luxury since 1874, offers breathtaking views. With 150 years of unrivalled splendour, it’s witnessed significant historical events like the first Olympic Games of 1896. Located right in the heart of the city, this Athenian icon has played host to a number of celebrities from Elizabeth Taylor to Sean Connery and from Sting to Bruce Springsteen. Given its rich history, it would not be an exaggeration to say that this elegant property is a living museum with all its antiques and art masterpieces.