1. Acropolis Hill and the Parthenon
One of the most popular sites and sights in the world, the iconic Parthenon, is dominating the heart of Athens. Just a look at this historical landmark is enough to impress you! The great monument of the Parthenon is a symbol of Greece, of Democracy and all the values the Ancient Greek civilization represented. A visit to Athens cannot be considered a proper visit without a tour of the Acropolis and it is on the top of the list for all first-time travelers to the Greek capital. The Parthenon, the temple of the virgin goddess, Athena, is not the only monument of great value on the rock of Acropolis. There are many impressive buildings on the site, like the Erechtheion with the famous Caryatids (which is, actually, the most sacred building on Acropolis), the Temple of Athena Nike and the impressive Propylaea. Traveling on the rock of Acropolis is like traveling back in time. The place that was closely associated with some of the most important mythological stories is the ideal place to enjoy a mythology tour and discover the mindset of the people that built this unique monument. The view from the top of Acropolis Hill is also breathtaking. The whole city of Athens is at your feet but at the same time, you feel like you are in another area, far away from the hustle and bustle of the modern city. For a more complete experience, you should combine your visit to the Acropolis site with a tour of the new Acropolis Museum, which is located at the base of the Hill. The museum exhibits all the artifacts that were found on Acropolis during the excavations and it will complete your understanding of the role of Acropolis in the lives of the Ancient Athenians.
Hint! If you are a family visiting Athens, this family-friendly Acropolis Mythology tour will be ideal for you.
See also: Best Time to Visit the Acropolis and Why
2. Odeon of Herodes Atticus
The famous Odeon of Herodes Atticus was the last monumental edifice to be built in antiquity in the Acropolis area. It was funded by a rich offspring of a well-known Athenian family and a great benefactor of the city, Herod, in the memory of his wife. The Odeon was intended mainly for music events and had a capacity of at least 5,000 people. When you visit this monument, you will see the niches on the walls, which are now vacant, but they used to house statues in antiquity. It is located on Dionysiou Areopageitou street and you will not miss it if you are visiting the Acropolis site. This Athens monument was restored in the 1950s and has since hosted cultural events, mainly in the context of the Athens Festival every summer. If you are in Athens during the summer and there is a live performance in the Odeon, make sure not to miss it! Watching a performance in this ancient odeon under the illuminated Acropolis is truly a breathtaking experience!
3. Temple of Olympian Zeus
One of the top monuments to visit in Athens is the temple of Olympian Zeus. This grand temple was the dwelling place of the King of the Olympians in Greek antiquity, the building that housed his worshiping statue, not the gathering place of believers, as in the Christian world. The worshippers were gathered in the surrounding area outside the temple, where there was also an altar, for sacrifice and worship. Today, only 16 of the 104 original colossal columns survive but are enough to dominate the area and make you feel really small if you stand next to them. During the Roman times, the statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who was a great benefactor of Athens and was worshipped as a god by many, was placed in the temple as well. The remaining columns of the ancient monument create a spectacular view with the Acropolis and its monuments in the background.
4. Panathenaic Stadium
This landmark of Athens is located next to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. It is the stage of the first Modern Olympic Games! Being the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble, the Panathenaic Stadium is located on top of an ancient stadium that was used primarily for the Panathenaic Games. The Olympic Hymn was heard for the first time in this stadium and it is the finishing line of the authentic Athens Classic Marathon. The Ancient Greeks had the saying “Nous hugieis en somati hugiei”, meaning “healthy mind in healthy body”. Sports and sports competitions were a huge part of their life and this stadium was a symbol of unity for all Athenians as its name suggests (Pan-Athenaic, “all Athenians”).
5. Temple of Hephaestus
Another great monument of Athens that you should not miss. The Temple of Hephaestus is located inside the Ancient Agora and it is actually one of the best-preserved temples of Greek antiquity. In the beginning, there was a misconception about this landmark since the archaeologists considered it a temple dedicated to the Athenian hero Theseus. Scenes of the heroes’ labors on the metopes of the temple led to this misconception. Later findings, however, proved that this was a temple dedicated actually to the god of blacksmiths and craftsmen, Hephaestus. The goddess of wisdom, Athena, was also worshipped in this temple, with her bronze statue positioned just next to the one of Hephaestus, as described by the ancient traveler and geographer Pausanias. Unfortunately, the statues of the gods were never found, but the outside of the temple is really worth a visit! If you pay close attention, you will be able to see scenes from the labors of Hercules at the metopes of its east side, while the metopes of its south side depict scenes from the labors of Theseus. The misconception of the figure that was worshipped in this temple led to the ‘false’ naming of the surrounding area, which is still called Thesseio, after Theseus. From this monument, you can admire clear views of the Acropolis Hill and in the surrounding area, you will find small traders and craftsmen, selling their handmade creations in the same place for more than 2000 years!
6. Tower of Winds
The Tower of Winds, or the Horologion of Andronikos Kyrrhestes, is located inside the Roman Agora, next to the Ancient Agora, and it is actually the world's first meteorological station! It is an octagonal building, depicting on each side a different Wind God. If you get closer to the monument, you will be able to marvel at the marbled sculptures depicting a different god in a different way. The colder Winds are older men wearing heavy clothes, while the warmer Winds are younger men wearing fewer clothes. The Tower of Winds was built by the astronomer Andronikos around 50 BC and it functioned as a sundial, weathervane, water clock, and compass! The clock was working with running water coming from a spring on Acropolis Hill. However, how its other functions operated remains a mystery. It is definitely one of the landmarks you should see in Athens and learn more about the mythical tales of the Wind Gods!
7. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
This is actually not a monument from Greek antiquity but from its modern history. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located in Syntagma Square, in the building housing the Greek Parliament. This monument is a cenotaph in honor of the fallen in wars. The sculpture depicts a naked male figure of a dead warrior lying on rising ground. The fallen warrior holds a circular shield, wears an ancient helmet and has his face turned to the side. The rendering of the dead body gives the impression that the Unknown Soldier is resting alive, ready to rise. To its sides, there are two inscriptions from Pericles’ Epitaph of Thucydides. In front of the monument, you can admire the Presidential Guards, also known as Evzones, with their traditional uniforms. The changing of the Guard is one of the most popular things to see in Athens. However many times you see it, it always makes for an impressive spectacle.
Tip! The changing of Guard is taking place every hour, so it is hard to miss. Make sure to be there at least 10 minutes earlier, to have time to witness it from the beginning. Every Sunday at 11 am, you can witness the whole Guard changing.
8. Ancient Cemetery of Kerameikos
The archaeological site of Kerameikos is located at the heart of Athens and used to be the official cemetery of the ancient city. Its name derives from the ancient settlement of potters (ceramic artists) and their workshops that were situated there in antiquity (and still are, actually). The area was divided into two sections, the "inside" and the "outside" Kerameikos when the Themistoclean Wall was built in the 5th century BC. The two sections were linked by two of the most important gates of Ancient Athens. The Dipylon was a large monumental structure and was considered the “greatest gate of the ancient world”. The Sacred Gate was the other important gate of Classical Athens. It took its name from the Sacred Way, the road that led the procession from Kerameikos to Eleusis for the Eleusinian Mysteries, the most sacred religious rites in the Ancient Greek world. At the outside section of this landmark, one would find the official cemetery of the city. It was there that the great Pericles delivered his famous funeral oration for the fallen warriors of the 1st year of the Peloponnesian War and was buried one year later. Walking past the extravagant and the simpler burial monuments and seeing how they change depending on the time period, is like walking past the centuries and the people’s beliefs about death and the afterlife.
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9. Archaeological site of Eleusis
Eleusis was one of the 5 sacred cities of Ancient Greece, along with Athens, Olympia, Delphi, and Delos! The word Eleusis comes from the Greek verb “eleftho”, meaning “come”; that is, the place of arrival, of coming, of presence, of revelation. This little town, 21km away from Athens through the Sacred Way which was starting from Kerameikos site, was the home to the notorious Eleusinian Mysteries. The Mysteries were the most sacred and ancient of all the religious rites celebrated in Greece and one would have to be initiated before being revealed of their secrets. According to their mythological origin, they were founded by goddess Demeter, when she was in search of her daughter Persephone who was abducted by Hades, Lord of the Underworld. Many prominent men of antiquity were initiated into the Mysteries, including Pericles, Plato, Pythagoras and the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Although this religion survived for more than 1500 years (!), no one ever divulged what was really happening inside the Telesterion, the inner sanctuary of Eleusis. One reason for this silence is obvious: speaking of the sacred rituals was a crime punishable by death. What we do know, though, is that those who participated in the mysteries were no longer feared death. Today, the town of Eleusis has about 25,000 inhabitants and you can explore it on a half-day trip from Athens. The town has received the anointing of the European Capital of Culture for 2021, with many cultural events being planned, among which a revival of the holy procession from the Sacred Gate in Kerameikos and through the Sacred Way!
10. Temple of Poseidon in Sounion
In a short distance from Athens, you will find one of the most majestic places in Greece! The ancient aura and the Aegean breeze interplay to create a unique experience for anyone visiting the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion. The ancient temple, dedicated to the god of the seas, still stands over a high cliff. The endless blue of the Aegean Sea adds to the scenery and makes for an excellent visit for travelers to Athens. The archaeological site closes after sunset, so most travelers visit this monument late in the afternoon, to admire the colorful sunset sky along with the ancient ruins and history of the place. This was the spot where King Aegeus fell into the sea, after thinking his son, Theseus, died during his heroic journey to kill the Minotaur in the Labyrinth. The story of the king that gave his name to the Aegean Sea is one of many mythological stories you can discover at this landmark. The area also offers beautiful beaches, so you can combine swimming with culture!
Hint! Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon makes for an excellent half-day trip or full-day trip from Athens. You can even enjoy a private, tailor-made tour from Athens.
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