If you’re trying to decide what to see in Athens you could find yourself spoilt for choice. A city synonymous with history, the list of places to visit in Athens is immense. From iconic landmarks like the Acropolis to hidden gems such as the Philopappos Monument, Athens simply has so much to explore!
So if you’re planning a visit to this ancient city and want to make the most of your trip, then our selection of the best things to do in Athens could be just the ticket. Our expert guide highlights what to see in Athens on a short trip, with our top ten places to visit in Athens set alongside a handful of additional recommendations that didn’t quite make the cut but shouldn’t be ignored if you have more time. And if that’s not enough, you can also explore our full list of sites in Athens to your heart’s content.
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. Not one of the most famous places in Athens, 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. And 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.
Built in the nineteenth century, this attractive cathedral, known as the Great Mitropolis, is worth a quick visit if you’re looking for a couple of extra things to do in Athens. Inside the Cathedral has a few noteworthy elements, including some interesting tombs and frescoes. It’s certainly not the world’s most remarkable cathedral, but still worth a look if you have the time.
Many of the most famous places in Athens to see date back more than 2,000 years and are steeped in ancient Greek history. However, there’s more to this city than the ancient past and perhaps nothing signifies this more that the Averof Museum – located aboard the most famous Greek warship of modern times. Now home to this maritime and nautical museum, the ship saw service for over 40 years, including both world wars. One of the lesser known things to do in Athens, it’s quite something to explore this 20th century cruiser and will certainly add a different dimension to your trip.
One of the most prestigious museums in Greece, the Benaki Museum tells the story of Greek history – no small undertaking! The exhibits incorporate a whole range of Greek art and artefacts, spanning from pre-history right up to the present day. Foremost among these is an enormous collection of Greek art and sculpture ranging from Hellenic, Roman and Byzantine Greece to the Ottoman age and right through to modern times. Alongside some of the other excellent museums in the city, the Benaki Museum is one of the most interesting places in Athens to visit.
When planning which places to see in Athens, most people don’t get around to the Byzantine Museum. However, this impressive institution boasts over 25,000 artefacts dating from the 3rd to the 20th centuries and includes some fascinating works of ancient art, religious artefacts and sculpture.
For those who are willing to head further from Athens on day trips, then a number of great options await, not least of which is Corinth. A major city to both the Ancient Greeks and the Romans, its fascinating ruins are a popular tourist destination and a number of tour operators offer day trips from Athens. It’s ruins include the famous Temple of Apollo as well as the ancient theatre and Roman fountain.
One of the closest archaeological parks to Athens is Eleusis, once one of the most sacred places in the ancient Greek world. The ancient settlement was renowned as the home of the Eleusinian Mysteries, which ranked among the most sacred religious rites of ancient Greece. Today, the Greco-Roman ruins at the site are beautifully preserved and steeped in the richness of Greek mythology. Usually free of crowds, the combination of ancient ruins and space to explore ensures this ranks among the most enjoyable things to do on a trip to Athens.
Visiting Epidaurus from Athens in a day takes commitment, but is certainly worth the effort given the incredible UNESCO-listed ruins on offer, particularly the stunning ancient theatre. Built to accommodate 15,000 people, the fourth century BC theatre remains extremely well preserved. A number of tours run from Athens, but it’s a long day with a two-hour drive each way. But when considering what to see in Athens, it’s definitely worth casting your net slightly wider in order to see this truly astonishing ancient location.
A visit to the monument of Philopappos is a great idea for two reasons. Not only do you get to view this 2nd century AD mausoleum, built to celebrate the life of one of Athens’ most important benefactors, but you also get to see some magnificent panoramas of the city below, with an excellent view of the Acropolis.
Not necessarily the most frequented of the places in Athens to visit, the Roman Agora or Forum actually contains some interesting ruins and is well worth exploring. Among the remains found here is the imposing Gate of Athena Archegetis and the monument known as the ‘Tower of the Winds’ – which is an ancient clock, weather vane, sundial and compass all rolled into one.
Opened to the public in 2009, this delightfully modern museum exists in a sympathetic contrast to the ancient structure for which it is dedicated. Among a wealth of other collections, the museum houses a number of the Parthenon Marbles in a stunning glass gallery at the top of the building; the Acropolis itself providing the beautiful backdrop to the exhibit. Definitely one of the best places in Athens to visit.