10 Must-See Places to Visit in Athens for First-Timers
The Greek capital city of Athens is one of the most culturally and historically rich places on the entire planet; it lies at the heart of the ancient world, and a large portion of the ruins and remains are still standing and accessible to this day. Athens is completely magical, and there is no shortage of things to do here, or places to visit, regardless of your interests; no matter how many days you are spending in Athens, whether it be 2 days or 3 days, you will be stunned by the huge array of attractions that are on offer. Here are some of the best places to visit in Athens:
1. Acropolis & Slopes
Perhaps the most iconic and famous landmark to visit in Athens is the almighty Acropolis, which towers dominantly over the city; it is one of the most notable archaeological sites in the world and has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Throughout the centuries, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has served many functions, such as a citadel, a home to the mythical Greek gods, as well as a residence to kings.
The slopes of the Acropolis are also a popular attraction, and have a huge amount of history; for example, the South Slope of the Acropolis has immense cultural, spiritual, and religious importance, and dates back to the Neolithic period.
One of the highlights of the Slopes is the Theatre of Dionysus, which is the most ancient theatre in the entire world; many famous Greek poets, such as Euripides and Sophocles performed here. Additionally, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus is another great place to visit on the southwest side of the Acropolis; it is an impressive open-air theatre that is incredibly well-preserved.
If you are thinking of taking a guided tour of the Acropolis, the two below are my favorite’s:
– A small group guide tour of the Acropolis with skip the line tickets. This tour is great as it starts at 8:30 am and lasts 2 hours. This way you avoid the heat of the day and also the cruise ship passengers.
– Another great option is the Athens Mythology Highlights tour. This tour combines a guided visit to the Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Ancient Agora, which are 3 of the most important monuments in Athens. The entrance fee of €30 is extra and apart from the mentioned sites includes some more that you can visit on the following days. See the details of the combined ticket below. This is my favorite tour in Athens as it combines history and mythology.
– Alternatively, you can buy your skip the line tickets online and pick them up near the South entrance.
2. Acropolis Museum
In accompaniment to the Acropolis is the Acropolis Museum, which is nestled at the food of the southern slope of the landmark, and houses some of the surviving gems of the ancient world.
The museum is modern, light, and incredibly impressive, and holds a huge collection of artifacts; the museum houses items that cover the Archaic period all the way to the Roman era, though the majority of the museum is centered on the Acropolis of the 5th century BC.
What is charming about this museum, is that you are able to see the Acropolis itself, through the enormous floor-to-ceiling windows; a trip to the Acropolis Museum is a must-see attraction in Athens.
Here are some great options for visiting the Acropolis Museum:
– Acropolis Museum Entry Ticket with an Audio Guide
3. National Archaeological Museum
Famous for being the larger museum in the whole of Greece, and one of the most significant and important in the entire world, the National Archaeological Museum in Athens houses vast collections of artifacts from a variety of different time periods.
The origins of this museum date back to the 19th century, where its primary function was that of receiving excavations from Attica and other parts of Greece. Today, this museum is a very popular tourist attraction that houses a fascinating selection of unique Greek artifacts, many of which date to prehistoric times; the building itself is also gorgeous and is built in the neoclassical architectural style, dating back to the end of the 19th century.
Check here for more interesting museums in Athens.
4. Plaka Neighbourhood & Anafiotika
Athens has a string of different neighbourhoods, that each offer their own unique charms and attractions, but arguably, one of the best and the most popular, is the Plaka neighbourhood; this is the oldest section of the city, and has an array of quirky shops, bars, restaurants and cafes, and a wonderfully vibrant atmosphere.
Nestled beneath the Acropolis, Plaka is in the heart of the city, and is very popular with tourists; it is the perfect place to spend an afternoon strolling around, absorbing the sites and sounds of the area.
Another charming neighborhood of Athens is Anafiotika; with its string of small white and blue buildings, and its picturesque streets and features, this feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city center; much of Anafiotika was constructed in the mid-19th century, and it is a wonderful place to visit to soak up some more recent history.
5. Monastiraki Square & Flea Market
Monastiraki is a central Athenian neighborhood, that is equally popular with locals and tourists alike; every Sunday, a fantastic Flea Market takes place, where a huge number of vendors come to sell their items, whether it be junk or totally unusual and unique antiques. It is a brilliant place to visit, and simply stroll around and take in the vibrant hustle and bustle.
Also make sure to make a stop at Monastiraki Square, which lies at the heart of the neighborhood; here, there are a string of delicious restaurants, and many people come here to relax and hang out with friends; it is a great place to people-watch and absorb the atmosphere.
You might also like: The best squares to visit in Athens.
6. Syntagma Square & Changing of the Guard
Syntagma Square is one of the most famous and popular squares in the entire city of Athens; it is often at the top of the list of attractions for tourists. It is also known as Constitution Square, and it is famous for being the site in which the Athenians stood up to King Otto of Greece, in 1843.
This Square holds many famous buildings, such as the Hellenic Parliament, and in front of this is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. At the Parliament Building in Syntagma Square, the Changing of the Guard also occurs; this is a fantastic sight to see, on Sundays at 11:00 am, where you can witness traditional outfits and the famous cultural ceremony.
7. Ancient Agora
Ancient Agora is the historic heart of ancient Athens, and it was the hub of social, political, and commercial activity during its prime; over the centuries, Agora had a variety of functions, ranging from a residential area to a burial ground.
During the 19th and early 20th century, the Greek Archaeological Society excavated the site, and it has been a hugely popular tourist attraction in recent years. Some of the highlights of Ancient Agora include the Stoa of Attalos, which is a large and beautiful building, that was built in approximately 150 BC; it reflects the designs of the Hellenistic period in Athens, and is now the home to the Ancient Agora Museum.
Another highlight of Ancient Agora is the Temple of Hephaistos or Hephaestus; this temple is incredibly well-preserved and it was built to honor the god Hephaestus, who was the son of Zeus and Hera.
8. Panathenaic Stadium
Another top site to see in Athens in the Panathenaic Stadium; is believed to have initially been constructed in the 4th century BC, with the purpose of hosting events, most of which related to celebrating the wonderful metropolis.
Over the centuries in which the Panathenaic Stadium has existed, it has witnessed many changes, such as having been abandoned on several occasions, reconstructed and renovated; it was heavily repaired during the 19th century and it hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896.
9. Olympieion: Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Gate
The Olympieion in Athens was originally constructed centuries ago, with building work most likely beginning in around 174 BC; the Olympieion is also known as the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and it was completed by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the year 131 CE.
It is built in the traditional Greek style, consisting of enormous columns, making it one of the largest buildings of the ancient world; it is today an incredibly popular tourist attraction and is a must-see sight in Athens.
Nearby lies Hadrian’s Gate, which is a monumental and important landmark. That resembles a Roman triumphal arch; it is the gateway to the magnificent Temple of Olympian Zeus.
10. Temple of Poseidon in Sounio
Situated on the spectacular Cape Sounion, and towering above the scenic Aegean Sea, lies the fantastic Temple of Poseidon; though this is around 70 kilometers outside of Athens, it makes for a great day trip.
The temple was originally constructed between the years 444 and 440 BC, and it is believed to have been designed by Ictinus, who also constructed the Temple of Hephaestus, in Ancient Agora.
This temple is dedicated to the God of the Sea, Poseidon, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations outside of the center of the city; there is so much to learn and discover at this site.
A visit to the Temple of Poseidon in Sounio is a must especially at the time of sunset. The easiest way to get there is by a guided tour. I personally recommend this half-day Sounio sunset tour from Athens
Athens is a spectacular metropolis that caters to every type of interest, from those who adore history and culture, to those who are fascinated by modernity; regardless of how long you are visiting the city, you will return home with unforgettable memories.