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.
The Acropolis is one of the most recognisable historic sites in the world and remains an inspirational monument to the achievements of Ancient Greek civilisation.
Standing tall above the Greek city of Athens, the Acropolis contains a number of buildings and monuments from Greek Antiquity, including the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaia and the temple of Athena Nike.
The majority of sites on the Acropolis were constructed in the 5th Century BC, during the ‘golden age’ of Athens and under the stewardship of Athenian statesman Pericles. After the original site was burned to the ground in 480BC during the Persian Wars, the Athenians set to re-building their city with monuments that would bear testament to the greatness of their state.
The Acropolis continued to be developed throughout the Hellenistic, Macedonian and Roman periods. After the area became Christianised, the Acropolis complex was largely converted for use as a Christian centre, with the Parthenon serving as a Cathedral.
However, by the early middle ages, the Acropolis was more frequently used as a defensive fortification by the various occupiers of the city. During a battle between Venetian and Ottoman forces in 1687, the Parthenon suffered severe damage which was never repaired.
These impressive monuments have largely stood the test of time through invasion, conquest and war and the Acropolis stands as one of the greatest historic destinations in the world.
Today, the Acropolis is an extremely popular historic site and caters for a multitude of tourists every year. The recently opened Acropolis Museum, which lies nearby, contains an amazing array of displays and artefacts from the Acropolis itself.
The Acropolis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also features as one of our Top 10 tourist attractions in Greece.
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.
The Temple of Poseidon of Sounio is a picturesque ruin of a fifth century BC Greek temple dedicated to the deity of the sea.
Dramatically perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean, the Temple of Poseidon of Sounio is now made up of a rectangle of restored large Doric columns.
For truly spectacular views this partially-ruined Greek temple is hard to beat. If you can catch it at sunset, then the scene will be complete. It’s roughly an hour out from Athens and there are several tour operators offering half-day trips.
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.
The Theatre of Herodes Atticus, also known as the Odeon, is a Greco-Roman theatre built in 161 AD.
It is named after an affluent Greek-born Roman senator, Herodes Atticus, who constructed it in commemoration of his wife, Regilia.
Able to seat up to 5,000 people, the Theatre of Herodes Atticus was mostly used for music shows and festivals, a function which the now restored structure still performs today.
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.
The Temple of Hephaestus is an imposing ancient Greek temple in the Athenian Agora and site of worship of the Greek deity of fire, blacksmiths and sculpture.
Built in the fifth century BC, the Temple of Hephaestus was later incorporated into the Church of Agios Georgios, this accounting for its excellent state of preservation. This site also features as one of our Top 10 tourist attractions in Greece.
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.
The Parthenon is probably the most famous surviving site from Ancient Greece. Standing at the heart of The Acropolis in the centre of Athens, the Parthenon is a monument to Classical Greek civilisation.
Built during the golden age of Pericles - the famous Athenian statesman - the Parthenon was originally constructed to be a temple to the Ancient Greek goddess Athena.
The Parthenon was built in the mid-fifth Century BC and replaced an earlier construction on the site which had been destroyed during the Persian Wars. Through the centuries, the Parthenon has also been used as a Christian Church and a Muslim Mosque.
The Parthenon was heavily damaged in 1687 during a conflict between the Ottoman Empire and the Venetians. Many of the surviving sculptures from the Parthenon were removed from the site in the early 19th Century by the Earl of Elgin and are now on display in the British Museum.
Today the Parthenon remains on the ‘must-see’ list of most history enthusiasts and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
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.
Agios Eleftherios is a very small yet important Byzantine church in Athens set in the shadow of the city’s cathedral.
Built in the twelfth century, Agios Eleftherios was once the main church in Athens. This fact, coupled with the vision of the diminutive church next to the monolith of Athens Cathedral has led to it being known as the "little cathedral" or Mikri Mitropoli. It is also known by the name Panaghia Gorgoepiikoos.
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.
The site of the first modern Olympic games in 1896, the 2,300-year-old Panathenaic Stadium in Athens is one of the most significant historical sites in Greece.
Originally built around 330 BC, the ancient stadium was used to host the Panathenaic games every four years. The stadium was rebuilt in the mid-second century AD by Herodes Atticus, a wealthy Greek-born Roman senator who built a number of grand public buildings in Athens at the time. At this stage the stadium would have been able to accommodate around 50,000 people.
Abandoned through the ages, it was not until the late 19th century that the stadium was excavated and subsequently rebuilt to host the reborn modern Olympics. As well as being a site of great historical importance, the Panathenaic Stadium now hosts modern competitions and famously hosted events at the 2004 games.
Today, the Panathenaic Stadium remains one of Greece’s most significant and popular tourist sites and includes the annual culmination of the Athens marathon. You can even do your morning jogging round the track!
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.
The Ancient Agora of Athens was a market, a meeting place and the social, political and commercial hub of the ancient city. Whilst initial developed in the sixth century BC, the Ancient Agora of Athens was destroyed, rebuilt and renovated several times, including attacks by the Persians in 480BC, the Romans and by the Scandinavian tribe known as the Herulians in 267BC.
Despite its turbulent history, the Ancient Agora of Athens houses several fascinating sites, including the stunning fifth century BC Temple of Hephaestus. It is also home to the remains of several covered walkways or "stoas" such as the famous Stoa of Zeus where Socrates is said to have debated and met with other philosophers.
A good way to get your bearings within the Ancient Agora of Athens is to start by visiting the Agora Museum, which offers more information on the site.
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.
Kerameikos is an archaeological site in Athens which contains the remains an important ancient burial ground as well as a series of famous monuments.
Once home to the city’s potters - hence its name meaning pottery - Kerameikos developed to also become the site of a cemetery. In fact, some of the oldest graves found at Kerameikos date back to as far as the third millennium BC. It would serve this function for centuries, including under the Romans up to the sixth century AD.
Yet, in addition to the burial aspects of Kerameikos, such as the Street of Tombs where prominent figures were laid to rest, the site also contains remnants of the entrance to ancient Athens. Visitors can see the ruins of what was the city wall, including the Sacred Gate and the Dipylon Gate. It is also where the Panathenaic procession - a great ancient Athenian festival - began its route. The ruins of the staging area for this procession - the Pompeion - can be found at Kerameikos.
To see finds from the site, such as vases, visit the Kerameikos Museum.
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.
Athens National Archaeological Museum is the largest museum in Greece, housing over 20,000 exhibits spread over 8,000 square metres of an imposing nineteenth century building.
With permanent exhibitions ranging from the Neolithic era and the Mycenaean era to the Ancient Romans and even the Ancient Egyptians, the Athens National Archaeological Museum’s collection offers a comprehensive insight into the history of Greece throughout the ages, from prehistoric times to the eighteenth century.
Amongst of the most impressive exhibits at the National Archaeological Museum is its collection of Greek sculptures. This vast exhibit includes statues, altars, busts and other pieces from throughout mainland Greece and the Aegean islands. Many of the sculptures are funerary in nature and include sarcophagi and reliefs.
The Neolithic, Mycenaean, Cycladic and Thera exhibits, which make up the National Archaeological Museum’s prehistory collection, encompass everything from tools from 6800 BC to finds from the doomed settlement of Akrotiri in Thera, destroyed by a volcano in the sixteenth century BC. The Mycenaean collection is the largest exhibit at the National Archaeological Museum. This includes excavation finds from Mycenae itself as well as from the settlements of Argolid, Lakonia, Messenia, and Attika.
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.
Athens Cathedral (Metropolis) was built over the course of two decades in the nineteenth century.
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.
The Georgios Averof is the most famous of all Greek warships and was in service for over 40 years, including seeing action during both world wars. Today the Averof is home to a maritime and nautical museum in Athens.
Launched in 1911, the warship was built at the Orlando Shipyards in Livorno, Italy and paid for with the help of one of Greece’s most significant benefactors, Georgios Averof – after whom it was named.
Over the following decades, the Averof had a long service history. She saw action in both the first and second World Wars as well as during the two Balkan Wars.
Decommissioned in 1952, the Averof has now been renovated and transformed into the Averof Museum, a naval museum that serves to honour all those who lost their lives at sea fighting for their country. Visitors learn the history of the Hellenic navy and the museum also organises exhibitions and seminars on Greek and international nautical history.
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.
The Benaki Museum in Athens houses over 100,000 artefacts from Greek history and showcases the many eras, civilisations and cultures which have influenced the development of Greece. Spread over a number of locations, the museum ranks among Greece’s foremost cultural institutions.
The main museum is located in the centre of Athens in a neo-Classical mansion which belonged to the Benaki family. This is a fluid, beautifully designed space which incorporates a whole range of Greek art and artefacts, spanning from pre-history right up to the present day.
Among this extensive collection are a wide variety of objects of historical and national importance. 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. Yet alongside these grand artworks, the museum includes a range of more commonplace items including books, regional costumes, documents and scrolls.
As well as Greek artefacts there are also permanent exhibits focusing on Chinese, Pre-Colombian and Islamic collections, though these areas are not all located in the central museum.
A number of satellite museums operate within the Benaki framework, including a children’s toy museum in Kouloura House, Palaio Faliro, and the Museum of Islamic Art, which is located near the Kerameikos cemetery.
Please note that the opening hours, contact details and entry fees listed here are all for the main museum.
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.
The Byzantine Museum in Athens contains over 25,000 artefacts of national importance and is a popular attraction for visitors to the Greek capital.
The museum’s vast collection covers the Early Christian, Byzantine, Medieval and post-Byzantine eras. It includes religious artefacts, stunning iconography, sculpture, textiles, paintings, manuscripts, jewels, ceramics and art.
The museum is divided in five main sections: From the ancient world to Byzantium; the Byzantine world; intellectual and artistic activity in the 15th century; from Byzantium to the modern era; Byzantium and modern art.
The artefacts come from all across Greece as well as from nearby regions where Hellenic and Byzantine culture were prominent.
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.
Ancient Corinth, the ruins of which can be found in the modern town of Korinthos, was a city of major importance in Ancient Greece and in Ancient Rome. Located in between mainland Greece and the Peloponnese, Corinth was a vital port and a thriving city-state as well as being of religious significance.
Inhabited since the Neolithic period, Corinth grew from the eight century BC under the Ancient Greeks, developing into a centre of trade and a city of great riches. Much of this wealth was accumulated from the seventh century BC under the rule of Periander, who exploited Corinth’s location in the Isthmus of Corinth. By travelling through Corinth, ships could cross quickly between the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf, avoiding the need to sail around the coast. Corinth had the diolkos, a ship hauling device which allowed them to do just that. Ship owners were charged for using this device, providing Corinth with an ongoing flow of income.
Corinth became such a powerful city-state that it even established various colonies such as Syracuse and Epidamnus. In 338 BC, following the Peloponnesian War and the subsequent Corinthian War, Corinth was conquered by Philip II of Macedon. Throughout the classical era, Corinth had held regular sporting tournaments known as the Isthmian Games. These were continued under the Macedonians and, in fact, it was at the 336 BC Isthmus Games that Alexander the Great was selected to lead the Macedonians in the war against Persia.
In 146 BC, Corinth suffered partial destruction from the invasion of Roman general Mummius, although it was later rebuilt under Julius Caesar, eventually growing into an even more prosperous Roman city. Corinth’s decline began in 267 AD following the invasion of the Herulians. Over the subsequent years, it would fall into the hands of the Turks, the Knights of Malta, the Venetians and finally the Greeks, each of these conflicts, together with numerous natural disasters, depleting but never entirely destroying the city’s once magnificent sites.
Another interesting aspect of Corinth is its diverse religious history. Dedicated to the Greek deities of Apollo, Octavia and Aphrodite, during Roman times it was also the home of a large Jewish community as well as being visited by the Apostle Paul.
Today, visitors to Corinth can see its many ancient sites, including the fairly well-preserved ruins of the Temple of Apollo, which was built in 550 BC and the remaining columns of the Temple of Octavia. By contrast, only few remnants remain of the former Temple of Aphrodite, once a home of Corinth’s sacred prostitutes. Perhaps what makes Corinth such a fascinating site is that, due to its extensive wealth over the years, this ancient city’s Doric architecture was exceptionally ornate.
Beyond these sacred sites, much of Corinth’s original infrastructure is visible along with many remains from the Roman-era city, including the Theatre and the Peirene Fountain.
Those wanting to learn more about Corinth and see many of the artefacts from its excavation can also visit the Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth.
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.
Eleusis archaeological site contains a range of impressive Greco-Roman ruins, steeped in the richness of Greek mythology.
Surrounded on all sides by a thriving modern industrial town, the site of Eleusis is renowned as the home of the Eleusinian Mysteries, a series of annual initiation ceremonies for the cult of Demeter and Persephone which ranked among the most sacred religious rites of ancient Greece.
The site was also the birthplace of Aeschylus, a playwright (or ‘tragedian’) who is known as the ‘father of tragedy’ and whose plays are still performed and read.
Today, the Eleusis archaeological site houses a number of important ruins including the Sacred Court, a Roman reproduction of Hadrian’s Arch in Athens and the Kallichoron Well, according to the Homeric Hymn, the resting place of Demeter. There is also a museum located on site which gives more detail on the history of Eleusis and provides further explanation on the myths associated with the site.
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.
Epidaurus was a major city in Ancient Greece famed as a centre for healing. Inhabited since prehistoric times, Epidaurus thrived as a sanctuary devoted to the healing deities including Apollo, Asklepios and Hygeia and contained hundreds of spas, the remains of many of which can be seen today.
The main sanctuary area, called the Asklepieion, contains two such spas where a variety of healing rituals took place, including hypnosis. This was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. There is also a shrine to Asklepios and the remains of rooms for patients.
Probably the most impressive of the sites at Epidaurus is the fourth century BC theatre, which was built to accommodate approximately 15,000 people and still extremely well preserved.
Whilst most of the sites at Epidaurus were constructed in the fourth and fifth centuries BC, when the city was at its peak, some of them date back as far as the Mycenaean period and others were also adapted later by the Romans. The theatre is one example of such refurbishments.
Overall, Epidaurus is an absolutely vast, fascinating site set over three levels and offering an insight into Ancient Greek life. There is also a nearby Epidaurus Museum, exhibiting artefacts from its excavation. This impressive site features as one of our Top 10 tourist attractions in Greece.
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.
The Philopappos Monument is a magnificent mausoleum celebrating the life of one of Athens’ most important benefactors, Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos, and built by the citizens of the city after his death in 116 AD.
When Philopappos died, the citizens of Athens built a spectacular two-storey Pentelic marble mausoleum and monument close to the Acropolis to honour his name. He was the textbook polymath – a massive benefactor to the city of Athens, patron of the arts, a games magistrate and a member of the Roman Senate.
The monument was preserved virtually intact up until at least the late fifteenth century and, though degraded by the years, today visitors can still see elements of the lavish decoration and burial chamber of this famous Athens patron.
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.
The Roman Agora of Athens - also known as the Roman Forum of Athens - was founded in the late first century BC / early first century AD and its construction was funded by Julius Caesar and the Emperor Augustus.
Probably the most impressive historic site at the Roman Agora of Athens is what is known as the Tower of the Winds. A clock, weather vane, sundial and compass all in one, this monument is generally thought to date to the first century BC and is very well preserved.
The Roman Agora of Athens is also home to the Gate of Athena Archegetis (circa 11BC) as well as the remains of some ancient public toilets.
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.
The Acropolis Museum is a stunningly located and constructed archaeological museum housing a myriad of Ancient Greek artefacts, particularly those relating to the Acropolis and the Parthenon, both of which can be seen from the museum's top floor panoramic windows.
Housed in an eminently modern building and using multimedia presentations side by side with ancient artefacts, the Acropolis Museum is both fascinating and accessible.
The undoubted highlight of the Acropolis Museum is the top floor where the Parthenon sculptures are beautifully displayed in the order in which they would have graced the original Parthenon.
Pointedly, there are gaps, filled by plaster-cast reproductions, which await the return of the originals - the Elgin Marbles - which are currently found in the British Museum having been brought to England ('stolen' in the view of some) at the end of the 18th Century by Lord Elgin. This site also features as one of our Top 10 tourist attractions in Greece.