The 10 best things to do in Athens right now

August 24, 2021
3 mins read

Fun markets, stunning hikes and the beginnings of western culture? These are the best things to do in amazing Athens

History buffs, you are in for a treat. Athens comes with a certain level of expectation, but the Greek capital blows everything out of the water in a blur of famous buildings and unbelievable museums. Add cutting-edge galleries and all the cafes you need for lengthy discussions, and you are on to a winner.

The best things to do in Athens go way beyond its famous history. Sure, originating the very concept of Western culture is cool and all, but creativity is still king in these parts. The food? Unbelievable. Don’t even bother trying to put those tastes into words. Athens is absolutely awesome.

Best things to do in Athens

1. The Acropolis

What is it? When you think of Athens, you think of these ancient buildings. You’d struggle to name a more iconic sight in any part of the world. Perched on a rocky outcrop for 2,500 years, they’ve now been absorbed into a sprawling modern metropolis, but you’ll still be dazzled. 

Why go? The monuments here are considered the greatest architectural feats of Greek antiquity. The Parthenon temple, dedicated to the goddess Athena, is perfectly proportioned and considered the world’s finest Doric masterpiece.

Temple of Poseidon

2. Temple of Poseidon

What is it? Athens isn’t short on treats for fans of Greek mythology. This is the temple you should visit first. 

Why go? He may be the god of oceans, but Poseidon’s palace stands 60 metres above sea level on Cape Sounio. This marble temple was first built by ancient Athenians to honour Poseidon and guide sailors safely home. All that remains now is a series of towering columns that don’t half look beautiful against a glorious Greek sunset.

3. Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC)

3. Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre

What is it? An oasis of Mediterranean greenery. 

Why go? For 170,000 square metres of parkland, complete with playgrounds, gardens, cafés, a striking eco-friendly glass complex (also home to the Greek National Opera), a manmade river, and the National Library of Greece. Plus, there’s a great view of the Acropolis.

4. Lycabettus Hill

What is it? Lycabettus Hill is one of the highest peaks in Athens. You can get to it by hiking up a forested slope – only briefly, mind – or, if you’re feeling lazy, there’s a cable car to the top.

Why go? At the peak, you’ll find one of the most sweeping views of the city. There’s also a pretty whitewashed church called St George, a café and Orizontes, a gourmet Greek restaurant with surely the capital’s most scenic terrace. Concerts are held at the Lycabettus open-air theatre, built on another part of the hill, in the summertime.

5. Varvakios Agora

What is it? The Monastiraki area’s indoor and outdoor food market delights the senses. Starting in the wee hours, Greek vendors bellow out their best deals in an attempt to sell fresh meat, fish, fruit, spices and products from around the country.

Why go? The atmosphere is unlike any other as travellers and locals traverse the narrow aisles lined with hanging meat carcasses, stalls of Greek deli delights and fresh seafood iced down in vibrant displays.    

6. The National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens

What is it? The EMST is Athens’s answer to the Tate Modern, Centre Pompidou or the Museum of Modern Art. 

Why go? This space is filled with art that gets people talking. Expect exhibitions of Greek and international artists across all media, from painting to video to experimental architecture. The museum’s vast home has its own fascinating story; it’s actually a former brewery – Greek beer Fix was once made here. 

7. The National Gardens

What is it? Tucked away in the heart of Athens, the National Gardens offer a beautiful retreat from the bustle of the concrete capital.

Why go? This grandiose park was commissioned by Queen Amalia, the first queen of Greece, in 1838 and completed two years later. The Gardens cover 16 hectares of narrow gravel paths and ponds and a small zoo with wild goats, peacocks and chickens. 

Monastiraki Neighbourhood

8. Monastiraki Neighbourhood

What is it? Monastiraki is one of the oldest and busiest areas of the capital, packed with rooftop bars, ancient sights and huge markets. 

Why go? The Monastiraki metro station is right off the picturesque main square (which also has brilliant views of the Acropolis). Go shopping at the Monastiraki flea market, squeeze through thronging pedestrian alleys, and peruse shops filled with antiques, handmade jewellery and Greek handicrafts.  

9. Museum of Cycladic Art

What is it? A lavish museum home to more than 3,000 artefacts of Cycladic, Ancient Greek and Cypriot origin.

Why go? Enjoy the distinctly shaped slender marble figurines and statues that date back to the Bronze Age. If the Bronze Age isn’t your bag, check out one of the 150 objects from the ancient Greek art collections, including vases, figurines and weapons grouped by various themes, including Gods and Heroes, Eros, The World of Women and The Underworld.

Plaka Neighbourhood
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. Plaka Neighbourhood

What is it? Stretching out under the shadow of the Acropolis, Plaka is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited neighbourhoods. 

Why go? Duck into the side streets here and explore the charmingly narrow old lanes. They’re lined with a hotchpotch of crumbling buildings from various eras and beautiful restored buildings-turned-stately homes. Plaka boasts a wealth of ancient sites, small museums, historic churches and picturesque small squares buzzing with restaurants and cafés.   

The Washington Inquirer Editor

20 years in media business

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