1. Acropolis and the Parthenon tour
Surely, if you think of Athens you think of the Parthenon. If this is your first time in Athens, you will want to cross this off your bucket list early on. The Acropolis, the so-called "sacred rock of Athens", is arguably the most important archaeological site in Greece. It is located on a steep hill in the center of the city. There are actually three ancient temples on Acropolis Hill. The famous Parthenon, the enigmatic Erechtheion, and the Temple of Athena Nike. There is also the monumental entrance, the Grand Propylaea, that takes your breath away. All of the Acropolis monuments were built during the Golden Age of Pericles (5th century BC). The Parthenon was dedicated to the goddess Athena, the patroness of the city. As Pericles said, "they were made by men for men."
Tip: Make sure your visit is worthwhile. Joining a tour with an expert tour guide will definitely enrich your experience and offer a different perspective.
2. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus experience
If you are strolling around Dionysiou Aeropageitou Street, you will come across a magnificent ancient structure. It is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, an ancient conservatory of the Roman period, located at the foothills of the Acropolis Hill. It was built at the expense of Herodes of Attica during the 2nd century AD, in honor of his wife. The purpose of the building was, mainly, to host musical events, hence its name ‘Odeon’. Today, there are still festivals and concerts taking place on its stage and the Odeon is one of the main venues for the Epidaurus Summer Festival. If you happen to be in Athens when there is a concert at the Odeon, do not miss the chance to book a ticket and attend! Truly could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one of the ‘must’ things to do and not miss in Athens.
Fun fact: Back in ancient times, the Odeon had a wooden roof(!) of cedar wood. There is no trace of it today.
3. Explore the picturesque neighborhoods and the local vibes
Plaka, the ‘neighborhood of the gods’, is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque spots in Athens. Enter its colorful alleys from Tripodon Street, and walk where supposedly the great Pericles saw and fell in love with the courtesan Aspasia. Stroll around the small neoclassic houses and the vivid local shops.
Right above Plaka, you will find Anafiotika, the ‘secret neighborhood’ of Athens. You’re your way through the beautiful white and blue cube-shaped little houses which are a replica of the houses of Anafi, an island in the Cyclades. After enjoying the panoramic views, walk down till you reach the Yassemi steps, also known as the steps of Mnisiklis, the architect who designed the entrance of the Acropolis. Locals love hanging out at the steps and enjoying their coffee and a sweet from the café called, what else, Yassemi!
Monastiraki and Psyrri
Monastiraki is the multicultural heart of Athens and the most famous meeting point. At its street market, you can find anything you are looking for; from souvenirs to antiques. This ancient neighborhood is surrounded by important archaeological sites, like the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library and the Tower of Winds. After you strolling around and shopping your vintage items at Avissinias square, cross Ermou street and enter the Psyrri area. Locals and travelers are becoming one at its vibrant alleys filled with street art and family-run stores.
4. Tasting the authentic Greek gastronomy
One of the top things to do in Athens is to try the local food. Visiting Greece is a journey of a wide range of culinary sensations and possibilities! The Greek cuisine is well known for its rich tradition and flavors. Athens has a different food spot in every corner of the city. Trying Greek food will be easy but tasting really good Greek food won’t be that easy. It’s easy to fell into the so-called ‘tourist traps’ that fill the city center. So make sure to research in advance where and what you are going to eat. It is strongly recommended to join a food tour run by a local company. It will give you a great orientation of the city and guide you to the most authentic Greek flavors.
5. Explore Syntagma Square and the National Gardens
Syntagma Square (or Constitutional Square) is the ground zero of Athens. Back in the 19th century, the Greeks required their King to register their rights in a statute that was signed at this square (hence its name). Today, there is no king and the former palace now houses the Greek Parliament. You can see the Presidential Guards in front of the Parliament House, an institution that remained intact through the centuries. The Change of Guard is an interesting sight and something you should witness when in Athens. It takes place every hour. The soldiers are dressed in traditional Greek freedom fighters' uniforms, guarding the Greek parliament externally. They remain silent and absolutely still with their armor until they are replaced. Syntagma Square connects the most well-known neighborhoods of the center (Acropolis, Plaka, Monastiraki, Psyri, Kolonaki, etc.). So it makes for a good starting point when you arrive in Athens and one of the first things to see.
Located next to Syntagma square there is a hidden oasis - the National Gardens. They used to be the Royal Gardens of the former Kings and Queens of Greece. They are open to the public from sunrise to sunset and entry is free. Take a magical walk between the countless indigenous trees, the tree-lined alleys, under the pergolas; find your way to the pond with the swans and other birds and turtles. It is the perfect place for a romantic walk and relaxation. You can then head to Zappeion Hall and the Kallimarmaro Stadium, located next to the Gardens.
See also: Free things to do in Athens
6. Join a Greek Dance Lesson
Are you a fan of Zorba the Greek and you would love to dance the famous Syrtaki like a local? One of the most fun things to do in Athens is to join a Greek dance lesson. There are lessons taking place in the heart of the city center so you don't even need to go out of schedule. Within a couple of hours, you will learn some of the most famous Greek folk dances, like Syrtaki and Kalamatianos, and enjoy memorable moments to last a lifetime! Whether in a small group or privately with your family or friends, you should definitely book your place for a Greek dancing lesson.
7. Discover the Arcades of Athens
What is it about the arcades that fascinate people? Concerning the Athenian Arcades, it’s their particular architecture. Their atmospheric (to some extent incomplete) lighting. Their retro aesthetic. The fact they offer shelter from bad and cold weather during winter. Their warm and cozy atmosphere. The scent of the old Athens that they exude. Proof that the architectural creation in Greece did not die with Pericles… The most famous arcade - and the locals’ favorite - is the Korai Arcade. Make a quick stop from your walking tour and enjoy a hot chocolate at one of its cafés.
8. A morning at the National Archaeological Museum
The National Archaeological Museum of Greece is one of the most important museums in the world when it comes to the field of Ancient Art. Its collection represents the cultures that flourished in the Greek territory from prehistoric times to the end of the Roman period. At the center of the neoclassic building, there is a very beautiful garden where you can enjoy a drink or a snack before you continue your tour. The treasure and the findings that this Museum holds are truly of indescribable value. Of course, an expert tour guide will give another meaning to your experience, so it is advised to book a guided tour. Visiting at least one museum in Athens is one of the ‘must’ things to do, considering its rich history and heritage.
9. Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
When you enter the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) anything is possible! Concerts by the canal; summer cinema with picnic blankets spread on the lawn of the glade; sailing lessons in the canal; Climbing walls; Latin dance evenings. Art exhibitions at the beautiful park behind the building. It is a vital escape space for the locals but also a cultural destination for travelers in Athens. Hop on the bus from Syntagma Square and take a short ride for a nice afternoon or evening in SNFCC.
10. Athens Riviera and a unique sunset in Cape Sounion
Don’t miss the experience of watching the sun setting over the Aegean Sea from the ancient Temple of Poseidon. The Temple of Poseidon is located in Cape Sounion, just 40 minutes away from Athens. One of the best decisions to take when in Athens is to take a day trip to Sounion and drive through the so-called ‘Athens Riviera’ - the beachfront districts of the Greek capital. On the way, make a stop for swimming in one of the many sandy beaches or diving spots on the rocks. The main road passes next to all of them and you can choose which is best for you. Make a stop for lunch at a seaside restaurant to try the famous Greek mezedes (small dishes) and drink some ouzo! You will find some good options just before the Cape Sounion, with a view of the imposing Temple of the Sea God. Then visit the Temple for the grand finale: watching from the top of the cliff the sun diving in the deep blue of the Aegean Sea. Amazing!
Tip: Contact us if you are interested to enjoy the above trip from Athens.
11. A night out at Dexameni’s Square
There are many ‘must’ things to do and see in Athens, but in our opinion, experiencing the local vibes and life is another ‘must’! It doesn’t have to involve famous landmarks or monuments. Simply take a walk in Dexamenis Square. Located at the top of Kolonaki district, at the basis of Lycabettus Hill, it used to be the place where great Greek writers once frequented, such as Souris, Kazantzakis and Alexandros Papadiamantis. Today, it is a famous hangout spot for local Athenians and you will find nice bars to enjoy a drink (or more) under the Athenian night sky. Taking your way down the hill, head towards Kolonaki square and feel the vibes of its vibrant nightlife.
About the author: Our team at Greek TravelTellers consists of academics and lovers of Greek culture. Our vision is to convey our knowledge and Greek values through unique tours and experiences. Through our blog, we hope to bring Greek history and culture closer to you. Feel free to learn more about us.