Most of us are more familiar with Athens of the 5th century BC, the so-called Golden Age of Pericles. And for this reason the iconic Parthenon on the city’s acropolis is where we all head, and with good reason. Archaeological evidence, however, shows there has been continuous habitation going back to the Neolithic, the age of Europe’s first farmers. This makes Athens one of the oldest cities in Europe. With more than 6,000 years of history there is so much more to explore than the Acropolis. Byzantine churches from the 11th and 12th centuries, Ottoman Mosques and baths …
Gate of Athena Archegetis, Roman Agora.
From around 500 BC Athens became an important city-state, as well as a prominent centre for the arts and philosophy. From this time until the 4th century AD many wonderful and some colossal buildings were erected in the city. Many of these can be visited today: from Plato’s Akademia and Aristotle’s Lyceum to the astounding ruins of the Temple of Zeus completed by Hadrian. This self-guided tour of Ancient Athens includes the more important attractions, most of which are clustered around the Acropolis and within easy walking distance of each other.
10th Century basilica, Monastiraki Square.
Following the shift in power from Rome to Constantinople in the 3rd century AD, Athens was sacked from time to time but remained in Imperial hands as a provincial town up until the beginning of the 13th century. Many of the better known Byzantine churches in Athens and surrounding areas were built during the 11th and 12th centuries, a period thought to be Athens’ Golden Age of Byzantine art. During this self-guided tour you will get to see some of the oldest churches in the city, as well as extraordinary Byzantine objects in some of Athens’ finest museums.
In situ remains at Monastiraki Metro Station.
The construction of the metro network in Athens between 1993 and 2000 facilitated the largest ever programme of archaeological excavation in Greece. Over an area of 79,000m2 archaeologists recovered more than 50,000 artefacts. The presence of the archaeology was not a surprise to anyone, in fact it was predicted. And designers of the metro stations incorporated display space into their plans from the outset. Today eight stations have informative exhibits of the artefacts found. The stations are (light blue markers on the map): Panepistimio, Syntagma, Akropoli, Evangelismos, Monastiraki, Dafni, Elaionas and Aigaleo.
Perhaps because of the well known archaeological sites in Athens, the city is not considered one of the museum capitals of Europe. The new Acropolis Museum has a high international profile, not just for the collections housed within it but also because of its award-winning architecture. In all, spread over the greater Athens area, there are over 70 museums (indicated with dark blue pins on the map) for visitors. Besides the expected archaeology and history museums, there are also museums of art and design, science and nature, ethnography and folklore, gastronomy, fashion and music. List of Museums in Athens and Piraeus >>
One of the most popular evening activities in the summer, even for locals, is the outdoor cinema. Local newspapers and websites have the programme. The first showing is at dusk, around 21h00, with a second showing at 23h00. More Information/Book Online
For a great view of the Acropolis from a distance (perfect for a selfie, well … we have all done it), particularly at sunset, Vrahakia (Greek for little rocks) is a short climb up Areopagus Hill.
If you hotel does not have a roof-top bar/restaurant, find one! An evening meal, or even a cocktail as the sun goes down is quite a magical experience at a good location. For a great view of the Acropolis, I recommend staying and/or eating at the Herodion Hotel.
After visiting the ancient sites, get a feel for the landscape with beautiful panoramic views over the city from the top of Mount Lycabettus. If climbing the steps is out of the question, take a funicular ride. And a trip up the spectacular mountain is included on some of the longer, guided tours of the city, see for example this 6 Hour Guided Tour of Athens
Athens is certainly not all ruins and museums. The markets and speciality food shops are a must for anyone with a passing interest in local cuisine and gastronomy. For an introduction to the Mediterranean diet and the best markets in Athens join a 3 Hour Walking Food Tour, or go one better and take a 3 Hour Cooking Class.
The Museum of Illusion is one of Athens’ most popular experiences. Here you can explore a number of interactive installations that make you think about perception and illusion. Walk through a vortex or experience the upside down room. More than just a little bit of fun! Buy Tickets for the Museum of Illusions in Athens.
Gastronomic delights of Athens, sample and buy fresh olives, learn about dried foods, try a koulouri, learn how to prepare Greek favourites, fresh fruit and vegetables, and an amazing array of fresh fish and seafood – enough to make you want to go self catering.
And of course, there are day trips from Athens … lots of them … but consider these five to begin with.
Delphi is one of the most famous of all the ancient sites in Greece; it is certainly the most magical. Take a luxury, air-conditioned bus for a full-day tour of Delphi to explore the museum and hilltop ruins, with the striking view from the theatre and the Temple of Apollo. More Information/Book Online
Cape Sounion is at the southern most tip of Attica, known for the photogenic Temple of Poseidon. The tour is timed to enjoy sunset at the temple for you to experience that iconic scene, followed by an evening meal in a local restaurant. More Information/Book Online
See for yourself the spectacular UNESCO-listed, cliff-top Meteora monasteries. You catch the train in Athens at 8.27 am and have time to visit two or three monasteries of your choice and then get to explore the town of Kalambaka before returning to Athens just after 10.00 pm. More Information/Book Online
Take a bus from Athens heading west to Corinth. Here you will see the famous Corinth Canal, the town of Corinth (where St Paul lived and preached) with its ancient market place and Apollo’s Temple. This is a half-day tour, returning to Athens in time for lunch. More Information/Book Online
Board a bus in Athens at 8.00 am to spend the day in the Argolis region – the kingdom of Agamemnon. Highlights include Mycenae, the city ‘rich in gold,’ the ancient theatre of Epidaurus, known for its extraordinary acoustics. More Information/Book Online
The Propylaia: entrance to the Acropolis.
For the Acropolis and six other ancient sites and associated museums in Athens there is a special package ticket that makes it cheaper to visit these popular attractions. These tickets can not be purchased online; rather they are on sale at the ticket offices of the participating sites. For more information about this special ticket, where to buy it, which of the many sites and museums in Athens are included, read the detailed post about the Acropolis and Ancient sites multi-ticket.
Sublime roof-top view of the Acropolis.
If a meal or cocktails at sundown within view of the Acropolis is a special treat, I recommend the 4* Herodion Hotel. The view on to the Acropolis from the rooftop restaurant and bedrooms on the northern side of the hotel is surely any archaeology traveller’s dream! After a day walking the streets of this ancient city and dozing off with the Parthenon in sight is quite magical. The hotel is a stone’s throw from the Acropolis Museum and within easy, walking distance of all the best sites and museums in central Athens, and the metro for those that are further away.
ISLAND HOPPERS: it is possible to get a direct train between the port of Piraeus and the airport. There is no need to change trains in Athens.
Leaving every hour, the journey takes about 63 minutes, and costs €10 for a single journey.
The first departure from Piraeus is 4:44 am, with the last at 20:44 pm. The first departure from the airport is at 5:52 am, the last at 22:50 pm.