Visiting Athens is like visiting no other city as it is the greatest archaeological site in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Athens is the birthplace of democracy, philosophy, and western civilization and there are so many famous landmarks to visit – no wonder it is visited by 30 million tourists each year!
Athens is at its very best between October and April when it is a little cooler for exploring on foot and there are fewer tourists. Athens has stunning archaeological monuments just a ten-minute walk from cool contemporary bars and boutiques and the various markets.
There are so many tempting dishes to sample as well as Greek wines and beers and refreshing coffee frappés. Have a great time in Athens visiting these key places at your leisure and buy a few good souvenirs along the way to remind you of your time in the city.
Kalosorisate sto polis mas – Welcome to our city….
The Best Athens Landmarks to Visit
The Acropolis is a huge rocky outcrop that is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. Its name means ‘upper city’ and it is where the Athenians could go for safety – there were still family dwellings on the Acropolis 150 years ago.
The Acropolis can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. Its monuments and sanctuaries are built-in snowy white Pentelic marble which turns golden in the afternoon sun and rosy red as the sun sinks.
The greatest of all is the Parthenon – an immense temple built by Pericles in the 5th century BC and which took nine years to be completed. The Parthenon is the most perfect, most imitated, and the most famous building in the world.
The Acropolis is easy to reach and is best visited first thing in the morning or as the sun is setting. Beautiful all year round, it is at its very best in the springtime when wildflowers grow in every crevice. A great vantage point is the north-eastern corner near the flagpole as there are great views over the rooftops towards Mt Lycabettus.
I totally suggest booking this small group guided tour of the Acropolis with skip the line tickets. The reason I like this tour is that it is a small group one, it starts at 8:30 am, so you avoid the heat and the cruise ship passengers and it lasts for 2 hours.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Situated on the south-western slopes of the Acropolis, stands this beautiful Roman theatre, it built by the wealthy benefactor Herodes Atticus, in memory of his wife. The Odeon was built in 161 AD in the typical Roman style with a three storey stage and numerous archways. Roman Odeons were built for musical contests.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus was restored in 1950 so that it could be used as the main venue for the Athens and Epidaurus Festival and even today, it plays a key role in the festival. The Odeon is only open to the public for musical performances when it has seating for 4,680 people. Some of the greatest singers have performed there including Maria Callas, Frank Sinatra, Nana Mouskouri, and Luciano Pavarotti.
Hadrian’s Archway is a beautiful triumphal archway that stands close to Syntagma Square, between the Acropolis and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The archway was built in Pantelic marble in 131 BC and stands 18 meters in height and 12.5 meters wide.
The archway was built on the line that divided Ancient Athens and Hadrian’s new city and was constructed for the arrival of the Roman emperor Hadrian and to thank him for the funds he provided to the city.
The Panathenaic Stadium is also known as the ‘Kallimarmaro’ meaning ‘beautifully marbled’ and is the only stadium made entirely from marble. The stadium was built in 144 AD after lying abandoned for many years, it was completely restored for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.
The marble stadium had been built on the site of an older wooden stadium that had been built in 330 BC for the Panathenaic Games which included jousting and chariot racing. Today the Panathenaic Stadium has seating for 50,000 and is a popular venue for pop concerts too and has welcomed top international stars including Bob Dylan and Tina Turner.
Parliament with the Evzones
A popular place to visit is the Greek Parliament building to watch the ceremonial ‘Changing of the Guard’ ceremony that takes place on a Sunday morning at 11.00. This is performed by the Evzones (Tsoliades) who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The Evzones are tall and elite soldiers who wear a world-famous uniform that includes a foustanella – a white kilt made from 30 meters of material that has been pleated 400 times. This number represents the number of years that the Ottomans ruled Greece.
The Evzones also wear farions – scarlet fezs with long black silk tassels and Tsarouchia – red leather handmade clogs, decorated with black pompoms and with numerous metal studs banged into the soles.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
Another popular Athens landmark is the Temple of Olympian Zeus dedicated to the chief of the Olympian gods, the remains of this temple stand right in the middle of town, just 500 meters from the Acropolis and about 700 meters from Syntagma Square. Construction of the temple began in the 6th century BC but was never completed. Emperor Hadrian completed the project 700 years later in 115AD.
The temple of Olympian Zeus was vast in size and one of the largest in Greece. There were 104 Corinthian columns – 15 of which can be seen today. The columns are sizeable as they stand 17 meters in height and their base has a diameter of 1.7 meters. The temple was adorned with numerous busts of the Greek gods and Roman emperors but none of these remain today.
Standing 277 meters above sea level, Lycabettus Hill is the highest point in central Athens. There is a circular route that you can walk along to reach the top, but this is challenging in the hot summer months!
The perfect alternative is the funicular railway that climbs the hill but the disappointment is that it travels through a tunnel so there are no great views to admire. Once you have reached the top, there are spectacular views, especially from the viewing platform in front of the church of Ayios Georgios.
This view is particularly spectacular in the evening when the Acropolis, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Panathenaic Stadium ad the Ancient Agora are all floodlit and in the other direction, seeing the sun sinking low over the Aegean, reminds you how close Athens is to the sea. For a very memorable meal, there is a really good restaurant situated on the top of Lycabettus Hill.
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Temple of Hephaestus
This temple is one of the greatest monuments in Greece and is certainly the best-preserved temple. Situated on the north-western side of the Agora, the temple was constructed on Agoraios Kolonos Hill around 450BC. The temple was dedicated to Hephaestus, the god of fire and Athena, the goddess of pottery and crafts.
The temple of Hephaestus was built in the classic Dorian architectural style, by the well-known architect Iktinus, who also worked on the Parthenon There are six columns on the shorter eastern and western sides and 13 columns on both longer sides- the northern and southern sides.
The wall friezes inside the temple, have sadly been badly damaged over time. The temple was used as a Greek Orthodox church for centuries and the last service was held there in February 1833. The temple was also used as a burial site for non-Orthodox Europeans and philhellenes. Restoration work continues on the ruins today.