Planning a trip to Greece and wondering what to see in Athens? This guide to the top 10 things to do in Athens is your recipe for the perfect visit to Greece’s capital city.
This guest post was written by Casey LaClair, a travel enthusiast whose love of technology led him to create Viraflare to help others find their way on the road.
Athens, Greece is a popular destination for world travellers and it’s no surprise why. The city has a 3,000-year history and is home to some of the oldest standing structures in Europe.
Figuring out exactly what to see in Athens can be overwhelming. If it’s your first visit, there are certain sites you should prioritise. You won’t find the blue domes of Santorini, but you will come across ancient ruins that speak to the city’s origins, world-class museums, phenomenal food like nowhere else, and beautiful streets in the charming neighbourhood of Plaka. I can personally attest Athens is a city you won’t soon forget.
Here is what to see in Athens, Greece for first-time visitors.
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Where to stay in Athens
Touring Athens is great, but where are you going to stay?
Due to the high number of tourists in Athens, hotels and accommodations have popped up all over. Depending on your preference, you can get a place near the Acropolis or find something more affordable on the outskirts of the city.
While I like to Airbnb for a lot of trips, I highly recommend the Herodion Hotel as it has very affordable rooms and is located just a few blocks south of the Acropolis. This way you’re in a prime spot for sightseeing in Athens – and you won’t have to spend your life savings.
If you’re willing to spend a little bit more, another great option is the Royal Olympic Hotel. This hotel is a little further from the Acropolis but it overlooks the Temple of Zeus if you can get the right room!
What to see in Athens: Top 10 Athens attractions
Consider these must-sees when you’re planning what to see in Athens, Greece.
Acropolis of Athens
The Acropolis is a must-see for anyone visiting Athens. It’s not just a historical site, it’s also the original foundation for the city of Athens.
If you’re curious to know how to fit it in your schedule, plan to spend four or more hours here. It takes a good chunk out of your day as it holds so many sites. Start your visit by walking up the hill, stopping at the Theatre of Dionysus before making your way around the numerous temples, and finally to the Parthenon.
There’s a bit to take in and a lot of history, so be sure to wear good walking shoes and bring a reliable camera.
Top tip: Save time and skip the line by pre-ordering your Acropolis and Acropolis Museum tickets online in advance. With this option, you have the flexibility to use your tickets at any point within the next 30 days.
Bordering the Acropolis, Plaka is an Athens neighbourhood that’s become a destination in itself. There isn’t one specific spot that you should visit here; instead, it’s a broad area that you should explore on foot.
Coloured buildings, cobbled streets and pretty laneways make Plaka extremely photogenic. It’s the perfect place to go after visiting the Acropolis, as there are numerous authentic Greek restaurants scattered around. There’s nothing better than touching a piece of history and then sitting down to a nice meal of souvlaki!
Ancient Agora is the Greek way of saying ‘Ancient Market’. While it was the place for trading in Ancient Greece, don’t expect to find anyone selling goods here today.
The Agora is composed of the buildings and foundations where merchants would trade with their day-to-day customers. The site is very well maintained considering its age, and gives visitors a view into the lives of Athens’ original citizens.
You’ll need roughly two hours to truly appreciate the entire Agora and walk through all the laneways and crannies it has to offer.
Top tip: Skip the queue and deepen your experience by joining a 1.5-hour guided tour of Agora and the adjoining Museum.
Visiting the National Garden was an accident for me, but I’m so glad I stumbled on it. A diverse landscape with a variety of vegetation and animals, it’s a nice way to have an outdoor experience without leaving Athens.
When you first arrive at the garden through any of the entrances, you’ll see a large map. The garden isn’t the size of Jurassic Park, but I do recommend taking a picture of the map to help navigate through and get a heads up of everything it contains.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
This temple has weathered tough times since its first stones were laid around 170 BC. Just south-east of the Acropolis, only a few of the Temple of Zeus’ original pillars are left standing. The sheer size of its remaining components gives you a good indication of how massive a structure it must have been.
While you can’t go back in time to see it in its prime, you’d regret missing out on the ruins. The architecture and scale are impressive, and there are still small structures surrounding the spot where the temple stood.
We went in the morning during the high travel season and it still wasn’t too crowded.
Top tip: Skip the line and save some cash by pre-purchasing a combined ticket for the Acropolis, Agora, and Temple of Zeus.
National Archaeological Museum
When you’re deciding what to see in Athens, leave some space in your itinerary for the largest museum in Greece. At the National Archaeological Museum, a collection of more than 11,000 exhibits and five permanent collections details Greek civilization throughout history.
The Sculptures Collection is particularly noteworthy – it catalogues the development of this iconic Greek art form all the way back to the 5th century BC. The Museum offers a detailed overview of Ancient Greece and will set you in good stead for the rest of your time in Athens.
Top tip: Deepen your experience with a short guided tour of the Archaeological Museum.
In ancient times, Hadrian’s Library was the most important place in Athens for storing important documents. It was also an intellectual meeting point within the city, hosting regular lectures. But it’s more than just a single building that held papyrus – the library had an atrium in the centre, reading rooms, and small lecture halls attached.
This was both a place for thinkers and a facility for maintaining important documentation relevant to Athens. In my opinion, the place where a city keeps its records is one of the most important, as it’s where history gets recorded.
Obviously the original documents that once filled the shelves of Hadrian’s Library have either withered away or been relocated to museums. But the impact they had – and the influence of the people who walked the hallways here – can still be felt.
The only stadium built entirely of marble, the Panathenaic Stadium has been the centrepiece for hosting numerous games throughout history. It was originally built for the Panathenaic Games (hence the name), and later served as one of the venues for the Olympics in 1896 and again in 2004.
The best part about visiting this historic stadium is that you’re allowed to walk through the stands and stroll around the track. It’s amazing to casually pace the grounds where athletes once competed in one of the world’s greatest competitions.
Accessing the stadium involves more than just a walk around the track, though – you’re also allowed to tour the tunnel that leads to the underground chambers where athletes stayed prior to competing. In the guts of this monument is a small museum showcasing much of the stadium’s history.
If you’re an outdoors person like me, then you might eventually need a break the bustling city. Athens is a phenomenal place to visit because it also offers options for adventure in nature as well as urban exploration.
Mount Lycabettus is the perfect place for a quick outdoors break in Athens. The hill is roughly 900ft (270m) above sea level and is steep in some areas. Climbing to the top, you can get a great view back over the city.
I recommend bringing some water and snacks for the hike plus some cash for the restaurant at the top.
Monastiraki Flea Market
I saved this for last since it was the last place I visited on my trip. If you’re looking for a keepsake to remember your time in Athens, the Monastiraki Flea Market is the best place to find affordable gifts and trinkets.
I usually buy gifts for family on every trip I take, and I found multiple handmade items here that made for perfect souvenirs. Don’t expect any sites of historic significance here, though – it’s strictly about the shopping.
Top tip: Join a walking food tour of Monastiraki to sample some of the market’s best gastronomic delights.
BONUS: Temple of Poseidon
For an easy half-day excursion from Athens, travel 1.5 hours down the coast to Cape Sounion for the remarkable Temple of Poseidon. Constructed around the same time as the Acropolis, it stands as another reminder of the Ancient Athenians’ ingenuity.
The temple has a similar structure to that of the Temple of Zeus, but there are more pillars still standing, and some small variations in the design. The temple is right at the tip of the peninsular overhanging the Aegean Sea, which makes for a striking backdrop. It’s very exposed, so just make sure you go when the weather is fair.
Top tip: Hop on a sunset tour to Sounion from Athens to see the temple in its best light.
Map of what to see in Athens
Enjoy Your Trip to Athens!
I hope this list of what to see in Athens helped provide some inspiration. I strongly recommend prioritising these top 10 attractions!
I loved every minute of my time in Athens, and it was visiting these historic monuments that made it so great. I can only hope you have as awesome a time as I did!
More Greece travel inspiration
- Ride the metro in Athens and visit some of the most beautiful and unusual metro stations in the world.
- For an alternative city break, head to Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city.
- Plan a Balkan road trip through Greece and neighbouring countries.
- Find the perfect price on a rental car for Greece using Discover Cars.
- Learn how to travel overland between Greece and North Macedonia.