Explore Athens: Top 16 Best Things to Do in Athens

Steve Cummings

Updated on:

Athens, Greece

Thanks to its thousands of years of rich history and cultural and academic importance, Athens is one of the most captivating cities in Europe. The Greek capital is steeped in mythology and folklore and is home to some of the most incredible examples of ancient architecture. It also benefits from a warm climate, especially during the summer, beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters, and everything else you could hope for from a European vacation destination.

With a city so richly steeped in history and culture, picking and choosing which things to see and do in Athens may feel like a mountainous task, which is why we are here to help. With this guide, you will get a flavor of what's in store when you travel to Athens and how to get the best out of your time there without breaking the bank. 

1. Acropolis 

The acropolis is a tourist place you should go and see

It may seem like an obvious place to start, but one of the top things to do in Athens is take a trip to the Acropolis. There is a reason why this architectural citadel that sits on top of a hill overlooking Athens is so famous. It goes back to 510 BC and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The best way to experience the Acropolis is with a guided walking tour. You will feel like you have stepped back into the past as the ruins are still standing and have been maintained to give the same atmosphere they have had for thousands of years. Truly magnificent. 

2. Meteora 

If you are looking for unique things to do in Athens, then a trek to Meteora should be on your list. The imposing and treacherous-looking vertical cliffs of this natural structure have provided a place for religious people to go for meditation and contemplation for hundreds of years. Originally, hermit monks lived roughly in the caves when they traveled there, but 24 impressive Byzantine monasteries were constructed over time. Of the 24, there are six that are still standing and fully operational that you can visit on top of the intimidating rock formations. At this, another of Athens's UNESCO World Heritage Sites, you can take a guided walking tour that will allow you to safely explore the natural wonders and the man-made structures while providing historical context for what you see and where you go. 

3. Panathenaic Stadium

One of the most fun things to do in Athens, if you are an ancient history buff or are fascinated by the Olympics and their heritage, is to visit the Panathenaic Stadium. This was first built in the 4th century BC and was constructed with stunning shiny marble for the Panathenaic Games. It was reconstructed when the first Olympics were held in Athens in 1896. The iconic landmark of Grecian sporting endeavors, it was used as the venue for the archery competition and then the marathon's finish line at the 2004 Olympics. 

4. Drink Coffee in Some of the City's Hidden Coffee Shops and Cafes

drinking coffee
credit: depositphotos

While it's fair to say that any trip to the Greek capital city will include many of the most iconic and famous landmarks, and there should be no shame in that, you may be looking for some non-touristy things to do in Athens. Did you know that coffee culture in Athens is essential? This means many tremendous and quirky little coffee shops are scattered across the city. However, most of the best and most unique are those hidden away in residential areas and down seemingly quiet, sleepy alleyways.

5. Visit Museums for Free

Are you heading to the Greek capital between November and March? On the first Sunday of every month during this period, all the museums and archeological sites offer free entrance. So, although there are few outrightly cheap things to do in Athens compared to other European cities, if you time your trip right, you can have a frugal adventure.

6. Enjoy the Sunset from Philopappos Hill

Philopappos Hill
Credit: Depositphotos

The sunsets in Athens are some of the most dramatically beautiful you could hope to experience. And they cost nothing to experience. Therefore, if you want free things to do in Athens, trek up the stunning Philopappos Hill, wait for sundown, breathe in that fresh air, and watch as night falls. It is truly captivating.

7. Enjoy The Flavorsome Delights of Greek Cuisine

credit: depositphotos

The food is a real highlight among the good things about Athens, much of which you have heard about. Greek cuisine stands out from other Mediterranean national cuisines. It uses a lot of bay laurel leaves, cumin, dill, onion, garlic, mint, and oregano, along with a rich choice of fresh vegetables, meat, poultry, and seafood. Therefore, to get the best of your trip, dine out in traditional and authentic cafes, restaurants, and bars to treat your tastebuds and appetite. 

Related: 17 Traditional Greek Food You Must Eat While Visiting Greece

8. National Garden

Are you traveling to the Greek capital with little ones or older children? Then, you need to factor in their interests and things they might like to see and do. While the Acropolis and other vital landmarks are incredible, children may find it boring. The National Garden, however, is one of those things to do in Athens with kids that offers plenty for even the most restless set of little legs. It is a botanical garden with more than 500 species of flowers, trees, and plants worldwide. In addition to the breathtaking gardens and green spaces, where you can get lost in the natural beauty or enjoy reading or just relaxing with some lunch, there are also two duck ponds, a playground, and a mini-zoo. It is one of the many things to do in Athens with kids.

If that wasn't enough to keep your children occupied, the garden has a library for children, reading rooms, a fairy tale room, and a film and music room.

9. Parthenon

Credit: Depositphotos

It doesn't get much better than the Parthenon if you are interested in the must-see things in Athens. Among its many ancient ruins, this is the most impressive. The temple was built in dedication to the Greek Goddess of Wisdom, Athena, with construction starting in 447 BC. It was completed in 432 BC. This is an exceptional reminder of how glorious ancient Athens and Greece were, with intricately sculpted friezes, Doric columns, and a marbleized façade that was once home to an incredible gold-plated and ivory statue of Athena designed and constructed by Fidias. 

10. Scavenger's Union Bazaar and Avissinias Square Flea Market

Who doesn't like a bargain now and then? If a bargain is what you are looking for in the Greek capital, or if you want to find cheap things to do in Athens, then a stroll around the most popular flea markets in town should be on your itinerary. On Sundays, you will find the Scavenger's Union Bazaar, which is very close to Elaionas metro station, and on Avissinias Square, there is an open-air flea market. 

Whatever you are looking for, whether souvenirs, local crafts, produce, or something strange to remember your vacation with, you will find it and so much more in these markets.

11. Temple of Olympian Zeus

Temple of Olympian Zeus
Credit: Depositphotos

Rulers of Athens first started constructing the awe-inspiring and suitably intimidating Temple of Olympian Zeus during the 6th century BC. Work was completed on the temple around 600 years later when Roman Emperor Hadrian was ruling, and at that time, it became the largest temple in all of Greece. It has a noteworthy statue of the king of the gods of Mount Olympus, one of the world's largest. 

Sadly, however, it has started to fall into disrepair. Only 15 of the temple's original 104 columns are still standing. Most of its marble has either been stolen to be used in other temples or recycled. All that aside, visiting this impressive landmark of the ancient world is still one of the top things to do in Athens. 

12. Odeon of Herodes Atticus

On the sacred cliff, the Acropolis, on its southern slopes, sits one of the top things to see in Athens, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. It was initially built in 161 AD by Herodes Atticus in honor of the memory of his wife, Aspasia Annie Regilla. It was constructed to be an ancient theatre that had steep slopes and a stone front that was three stories high with a wooden roof made from Lebanese cedar timber. The venue was used to host music concerts for 5,000 people. 

Over the thousand years since it was first erected, it became a ruin. But the theatre was painstakingly restored in the 1950s and continues to be used as an open-air venue with a fantastic setting.

13. Athens National Archaeological Museum 

First built and opened in 1829, the Athens National Archaeological Museum has remained one of the best things to see in Athens ever since. It is home to hundreds of unique treasures from the many archeological sites around Greece. It features exhibits and artifacts that date from prehistoric times to the later years of the classical period. A beautifully designed neoclassical museum, it holds jewelry, ceramics, bronzes, and sculptures from Santorini, Mycenae, Ancient Egypt, and many other locations.

14. The Academy of Athens, the National Library of Athens, and The University of Athens

Three Neoclassical buildings, referred to as the Athenian Trilogy, are among Athens's top things to see. These are the Academy of Athens, The National Library of Athens, and The University of Athens. In addition to the stunning Neoclassical architecture and the statues of Apollo and Athena, they offer a lot to see and do for tourists.

The Academy of Athens has three unique sections: Fine Arts and Ethics and Political Sciences, Literature, and Sciences. It is the capital's most important support center for non-university scientific research. Many sculptures of figures like Apollon, Athena, Plato, and Socrates exist. 

The University was built in 1837 and is considered the Eastern Med's first University. 

The National Library was first built by the Grecian royal family in the 1880s and was based on the ancient temple of Agora. There is still evidence of its inspiration, and this sets it apart from other libraries worldwide.

15. Delphi 

Credit: Depositphotos

Another of Athens's many UNESCO Heritage Sites, Delphi, and its stunningly preserved ruins are must-see things in Athens. The site dates back to the 7th century BC and stands on the majestic Mount Parnassus' southern slopes. There, you can wander the stadium, the theatre, and the temple and feel like you are stepping back in time. This was the Pan-Hellenic sanctuary where Apollo's oracle spoke and the location of the so-called “navel of the world” or omphalos. 

16. First Cemetery of Athens

If you are looking for non-touristy things to do in Athens that are not often listed on the city's must-see sites, consider a walk around The First Cemetery of Athens. Built in 1837, it is the burial place for the most notable and important Athenians, and you will find there many of the most famous and iconic romantic and neoclassical sculptures like The Sleeping Girl or I Kimomeni, which was designed and built by Yannis Chalepas, the renowned Greek sculptor. 

Final Thoughts

Athens is a sprawling city with as many modern elements as ancient sites and landmarks. It can feel like two different cities, depending on where you explore. If you are heading there and looking for the top things to do in Athens, this guide will help you get the most out of your trip. Whether you decide to visit everything we have listed or a choice of a few favorites that pique your interest, we are sure you will have a wonderful and inspirational time. 

There are also plenty of great beaches, sublime restaurants, and other things you can do in and around Athens, and you can use it as a base to visit other fantastic places around Greece. Please let us know in the comments section below if you have missed something from our list that our readers would enjoy. We always want to create the best guides for frugal travelers everywhere.

Leave a Comment