With layers upon layers of history, Athens is home to a plethora of ancient temples, historic attractions and monumental sites. Its unequivocal beauty means there’s something eye-catching to see at every turn while its gritty charm adds another dimension to the city’s multifaceted personality. From world-famous attractions and marvellous viewpoints to trendy bars and photogenic neighbourhoods, read on to discover the best things to see in Athens.
The Acropolis of Athens
It goes without saying that a visit to the Acropolis of Athens should be on every traveller’s itinerary when visiting what is widely considered to be the ancient capital of the world, but many come with the impression that the Parthenon is all that there is to see. In fact, the historic site is home to a number of temples, theatres and ruins. The collonaded Propylaea is a spectacular gateway of epic proportions that marks the entrance to the site while the Monument of Agrippa stands proud just before it. Look back while walking through the Propylaea and you’ll also see the strikingly well-preserved Temple of Athena Nike. Once inside, marvel at the Parthenon up close and gaze into the eyes of the maidens holding up the Porch of the Caryatids at the Erechtheion. Walk through the Roman Beulé Gate and look down onto the vast Odeon of Herodes Atticus.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus
With 104 towering Corinthian columns, the Temple of Olympian Zeus was once the largest temple in Greece. Today 15 of the original columns still remain, creating a dramatic attraction that shouldn’t be missed when visiting Athens. Sitting right in the middle of the city next door to a busy main road, the temple can be seen when simply driving or walking past, but a visit into the grounds is essential to really appreciate its grand scale. Additionally, one inside the site, you’ll also be able to see the Acropolis in the background, making a visit to the temple one of the best things to see in Athens. In the summer months, visit just before it closes at 8pm to see both the Acropolis and Temple of Olympian Zeus beautifully lit in the soft evening sun.
The hillside neighbourhood of Plaka is undoubtedly one of the most touristy spots in Athens with many of the streets now lined with shops selling souvenirs and restaurants serving overpriced food and drink. However, it’s also one of the city’s prettiest districts with many quaint streets and picturesque spots to discover. The Plaka stairs are a highlight with a large number of Greek trattorias lining steep concrete steps while overgrowing foliage crawling over pastel-coloured buildings creates an aesthetically-pleasing stroll. The neighbourhood’s hillside location also brings the opportunity of fantastic views across the city.
Sitting in the shadow of the Acropolis, Anafiotika is a tiny neighbourhood nestled within the bustling Plaka district. A higgledy-piggledy collection of houses line the cobblestone streets with a labyrinth of hidden alleys to explore, and the whitewashed buildings with blue and brown shutters offer a small taste of island life in the heart of the city centre.
Monastiraki Square is a bustling public square in the historic district of Athens. While it may be one of the most touristy spots in the city with sellers trying to flog you an array of souvenirs, it’s still certainly still one of the best things to see in Athens with the Tzistarakis Mosque, Monastery of Pantanassa and Library of Hadrian taking you on a journey through the city’s Ottoman, Byzantine and Roman past.
A for Athens
To see Monastiraki Square from above, ascend to the top of the A for Athens hotel to the upmarket rooftop bar and restaurant of the same name. Spread across two floors, it has an indoor space with floor-to-ceiling windows as well as an outdoor terrace for al fresco drinking and dining. It’s here that you’ll find the best views of the square as well as the Acropolis, and if you stop by during golden hour you’ll see it beautifully illuminated in a warm golden glow. If you plan on visiting for dinner, be sure to book a table in advance.
A short walk away from Monastiraki Square, Psiri is a picturesque bohemian neighbourhood filled with quirky bars, restaurants, cafes and live music venues that range from hip to traditional. Vibrant green foliage and eye-catching street art decorate many of the buildings, creating several good photo opportunities, and there’s also a weekly flea market and several independent boutiques.
One of the hippest venues in Athens, Six D.o.g.s is a bar, cafe and arts space set within a picturesque secret garden in the heart of the city. Surrounded by soaring concrete walls adorned with exposed brickwork and art, the three-tiered garden has been transformed with trees, tropical plants and rustic wood furniture – head for the seats on the very top level for views across the entire venue. By day the sun streams through the leaves creating a shady yet sun-dappled spot for a quiet coffee or beer while at night hanging lanterns illuminate the space with an attractive golden light under which young Athenians drink and laugh until the early hours. The venue hosts a programme of live music and art events, so keep an eye on their website to find out what’s on the line-up.
Standing at 300 metres above sea level, Mount Lycabettus marks the highest point in Athens and is worth a climb for breath-taking views of the city and the Saronic Gulf. Sunset is one of the most popular times for climbing the mountain, so it can be best to visit at another time of day to avoid the crowds while the lookout points located on the path up to the summit also provide a quieter option. There’s a small church located at the top of the mountain as well as a popular restaurant for drinking and dining with a view. Those who don’t have the energy to walk to the top can take the funicular instead.
A large pine-covered hill in the heart of Athens, Filopappou Hill provides a 360-degree panorama of the city and unrivalled views of the Acropolis with several different viewpoints dotted along an easy walking trail, much of which is lined with a marble pathway. Built between AD 114 and 116 in honour of Roman consul Julius Antiochus Filopappos, The Monument of Filopappos crowns the summit while just beyond the monument is a rocky outcrop that forms the best vantage point to see the Acropolis, especially at sunset.
One of the lesser-known viewpoints in Athens, Strefi Hill is located in the student neighbourhood of Exarcheia and is a popular spot among locals for watching the sun setting down behind the mountains. Only a small crowd gathers each night and there’s a large open space at the top of the hill, meaning you’ll have no trouble finding your very own peaceful spot to enjoy the view. From the top of the hill, you can enjoy far-reaching views across the city with the Acropolis and Mount Lycabettus in the background.
Essentially a large clearing with a few ancient ruins, The Pynx isn’t much to look at but it’s an incredibly important historical site and one that should be visited when in Athens. Dating back to 507BC (predating the Parthenon) it was here that the very concept of democratic assembly was born with thousands of citizens of ancient Athens gathering to discuss and vote on crucial aspects of city life such as building projects and wars. A visit also provides spectacular views of the Acropolis, which sits on the neighbouring hill.
Before visiting, read this guide on where to watch the sunset in Athens.