Western Civilisation owes a great deal to Athens. Many intellectual and artistic ideas originated there, and great thinkers were drawn to what was once one of the powerhouse cities of classical antiquity. As the cradle of democracy, classical Athenian architecture reflected the influx of ideas, with sprawling villas, vast monuments, and epic amphitheatres being just a few of the sites that have been left behind.
Today, the city is still dominated by landmarks which date to 5th-century B.C. and are hugely popular attractions. Here’s our pick of 10 that you shouldn’t miss.
What are the Top Ten Sites to Visit in Athens?
Of all the places to visit in Athens, the Acropolis is by far and away the most popular. However, there’s more to this site than just the Parthenon temple for which it is best known.
Indeed, the Acropolis contains a number of other fascinating things to see, including the Erechtheion, the Propylaia and the temple of Athena Nike. Usually pretty swamped with tourists and guides, it’s not a particularly peaceful experience, but you simply can’t visit Athens without seeing the Acropolis.
For truly spectacular views you can’t beat a short half- or full day-trip down to Sounio to see the Temple of Poseidon.
This partially ruined Greek temple sits atop a coastal cliff, with the deep blue ocean below combining to make for one picturesque backdrop – certainly one of the most picturesque places near Athens to visit. If you can catch it at sunset, then the scene will be complete. It’s roughly an hour out from Athens and there are loads of tour options available.
This partially restored Greco-Roman theatre is visually stunning. If you forgive the fact that much of the site is probably more Greco-Modern than Greco-Roman then you’ll definitely enjoy your visit.
Built by an affluent Greek-born Roman senator in the mid-second century AD, the theatre is startlingly photogenic and offers some great shots of the city. Though it’s not one of the most well-known Athenian sites, it’s nevertheless one of the most appealing.
Strangely ignored by many lists of the best things to see in Athens, the Temple of Hephaestus is actually the best preserved of Athens’ ancient temples, and by quite some margin. It’s remarkably good condition is due to its conversion for use as a church in the 7th century.
Today it largely stands in its original form; remarkable given it was built almost 2,500 years ago. Despite all its clear advantages however, it has been and remains overshadowed literally and figuratively by the larger and more famous temple on the hill, the Parthenon.
Unmistakably perched atop the Acropolis, many people come to Athens just to visit the Parthenon. Indeed, it always ranks among the top 10 places to see in Athens, often sitting at number one.
While there’s no doubt the Parthenon is impressive and you simply can’t come to Athens without visiting it, it gets hot and jam packed in the tourist season and it’s not as well preserved as some of the other ancient temples in Athens. Visit as early in the day as you can and be aware that there is on-going preservation work underway.
One of the more tucked away places to see in Athens, the charming Byzantine church of Agios Eleftherios is definitely worth a visit.
Built in the 12th century, it’s a beautiful example of later-Byzantine architecture. Located alongside the far larger Cathedral of Athens, this small yet perfectly formed medieval church is a pint-sized hidden gem among the hustle and bustle of Athenian life.
A visually stunning stadium and the site of the first modern Olympic games, the Panathenaic Stadium is well worth a visit. Built on the site of its ancient predecessor, the sporting history of this place stretches back 2,300 years.
Today the site is one of the most fun things to do in Athens – you can explore the stadium, find out more about Olympic history, and even hold an Olympic torch! Great for kids, the track is open for visitors, so you can follow in ancient footsteps and gain your own Olympic glory.
If you’re mulling over what to see in Athens, the Ancient Agora is an interesting and easy to reach option.
Once the thriving heart of the city, today it contains the remains of a number of important ancient buildings as well as the impressive Agora Museum, contained within the reconstructed building known as the Stoa of Attalos.
A hidden gem that takes a little extra effort to discover, Kerameikos seems very much to be the most ignored archaeological park in Athens.
However, this quiet and peaceful place definitely ranks among the more interesting and rewarding things to do in Athens. Containing the remains an ancient cemetery, Kerameikos includes the ruins of a series of famous monuments and even what’s left of the old city walls. The small museum helps to bring a bit of context to the site and is also well worth a visit.
One of the most prominent archaeological institutions in the world, this great museum is absolutely packed with ancient artefacts – far too many to discover in one go!
Like any museum of this type, it can be somewhat exhausting once you’ve explored several dozen collections, and with such a treasure trove on show the novelty can wear off after a time. That said, with permanent exhibitions ranging from the Neolithic and Mycenaean, right through ancient Greece and into the Romans era, the museum is full of fascinating artefacts and stories and certainly ranks among the most interesting places to visit in Athens.