Athens is one of my favorite cities in Europe. I’ve spent a lot of time in Athens and also a lot of time traveling through the Greek islands. Athens gets (for whatever reason) a bad reputation among newbies to be a not so beautiful, rundown, gritty city. I find that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Sure, Athens is as picture perfect as a place like Vienna but my oh my is Athens a special place. For starters, the historical monuments in Athens are older than any other European capital and the view from the Acropolis is something special. Athens is also full of beautiful buildings, picturesque Greek style streets, incredible restaurants, and endless options for nightlife. Athens is one of my favorite places to spend extended time in Europe and it is quickly becoming one of the digital nomad hotspots in Europe.
This post is a compilation of my top what to do in Athens list. Of course, there are plenty more things to do and I’ve still not explored all of the city but with this list, you’ll surely get a good taste of the city.
#1 – Acropolis
Without a doubt, the main sight of interest in Athens will be the Acropolis. This is one of the original seven wonders of the world and is one of the most well preserved ancient Greek monuments in the world.
The name Acropolis is Greek for the highest point in the city (Akro means high, and polis means city). Essentially, every town in Greece has an Acropolis because it is just the highest point in the town but of course Athens is a bit more famous than that.
The Acropolis consists of the Parthenon which is the iconic ancient Greek temple that is pretty much the only picture necessary to describe Greece, various other temples, and theaters. It’s very impressive and will check off all the boxes for your Ancient Greek fix. However, in the end, I’d still say the Pyramids of Giza were much more impressive.
The shining jewel of the Acropolis is definitely the Parthenon. It’s visible throughout Athens and is the symbol of the city (at least from a tourists point of view). The temple was constructed originally as a temple to Athena (no surprise) and has been used as a church and even a Mosque in the past. There are a total of 58 pillars on the Parthenon and each pillar is 3m wide! Crazy to think how this thing was constructed thousands of years ago.
The Parthenon was destroyed in the 1600s as Venetians and Turks fought over Athens with the entire interior being destroyed. Nowadays, you recognize the building with almost 1/3 of the pillars half destroyed. It has been reconstructed and is still being reconstructed regularly and you can see the results of that in the color differences from the pillars. I’m not sure what’s original or new anymore. In fact, I think Greece should just reconstruct the whole thing and restore it to its former glory.
It’s hard to take a bad photo here so shoot away!
The other sights in the Acropolis
The Acropolis isn’t just the Parthenon. Upon entry, the first thing you see is actually the Roman theater of Herod Atticus built by the Romans in 161 AD and still used today for classical concerts and performances. Further on is the Theater of Dionysious the first stone theater and home to Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes.
The theater is very impressive and exhibits the classical Roman styles that I saw when I was traveling around Italy. Specifically, this reminded me of the theater in Taormina, Sicily with the views of the volcano!
After this, you will be greeted with by the Temple of Nike which is extremely well preserved, as well as the smaller Temple of Athena next to the Acropolis.
How much does it cost to visit the Acropolis?
The cost of entry to the Acropolis is €20. It is a one time use only (so can’t come back in later in the day) and allows you to visit all the sights in the Acropolis. The lines can be very long to get in even after you’ve purchased a ticket. Another option is to purchase the Athens City Pass for €30 which is worth it if you plan on visiting the other sights like the temple of Zeus and the Agora (both highly recommended). You can pay with Credit card and you can even purchase the tickets beforehand on their website.
The Acropolis is discounted in the winter months to €10. The Acropolis is open from 8am until 8pm every day.
#2 – Roman Agora
The Agora, while not in the Acropolis, is a must visit sight as well. It’s the most well preserved Ancient Greek temple in all of Greece. After seeing the Acropolis which is almost half gone, the Agora offered a glimpse of what these buildings looked like fully standing.
The Agora, translating to “a place of gathering”, was once dotted with statues, shops, markets, schools and it was the place Socrates used to lecture his young disciples.
The whole complex only takes about 20 minutes to see but is well worth the visit especially if you’ve purchased the Athens Pass.
#3 – Visit the Anafiotika neighborhood in Athens
The most unique part of Athens has to be the Anafiotika neighborhood. This neighborhood is located right at the base of the Acropolis with perfect views over the city. It features houses built in the traditional Cycladic style that you’ll find on beautiful islands like Mykonos and Santorini.
I love the Cyclades and everything about the islands so what a surprise it was when I could find the iconic white stone houses in the middle of Athens! In the early 19th century, King Othon hired the best builders from Greece to refurbish his palace. These builders came from the Cyclades and from the island of Anafi (hence the name). The king let the builders stay at gifted them land nearby to the Acropolis where they build homes for their families in the traditional style.
You can find the neighborhood high up in the Plaka district of Athens and it’s the perfect place for some nice photo opportunities.
#4 – Temple of Olympus Zeus
Another must visit sight is the temple of Zeus. It’s probably the next most recognizable monument after the Acropolis. The construction started in the 510 BC and took centuries to complete after one ruler was overthrown by the other.
The building during its glory days had 104 Corinthian columns which is actually two times more than the Parthenon so this structure was absolutely massive in its day. It was also surrounded by various statues and fountains of which none are visible today.
Nowadays, there are only 15 columns left and no statues. It’s unknown how the building collapsed but most bets are on an Earthquake during medieval times.
The entrance fee is €8 for a one time visit or you can purchase the Athens City Pass for €30 which allows access to this temple, the Acropolis, and more.
Nearby is the Arch of Hadrian which was erected in 132 AD as a gate between the ancient city and the Roman city of Athens. This one is free to visit and even has views of the acropolis through the arch.
#5 – See a Show at the Odeon Amphitheatre
In the summer months, the Odeon Theater at the Acropolis puts on regular concerts and shows. I didn’t even know about this until I tried entering the theater on my first day in Athens thinking I was going into the entrance of the Acropolis. Someone stopped me and told me you need a ticket to the concert.
After entering the Acropolis, I could see into the theater and how they were setting up for a concert in perhaps the most amazing concert venue of all time. I had to book my own tickets. I promptly booked tickets to the next show which was a classical concert including Vivaldi’s four season (who doesn’t like this?).
The cost was €25 for a very good ticket. I actually think this is one of the only venues in the world that it is better to sit in the very back so you can have views of the entire semi-circular theater, as well as the city of Athens in the background. Simply stunning place to watch a show!
#6 – Sunset at Mount Lycabettus
Don’t miss a visit to Mount Lycabettus which is the ultimate sunset spot in my opinion. It’s near to the city center and can easily be reached by foot or taxi. You can either take a cable car from the entrance for €5 or walk yourself to the peak. From the entrance of the cable car, it is only about 200m to the top and is not a difficult hike.
The views here are simply stunning as you can really grasp just how massive of a city Athens is. You can even see the Mediterranean from the viewpoint.
There is a cafe and restaurant here where you can buy cocktails to enjoy the view. The restaurant is very expensive but could be worth it if you’re keen for some nice views!
#7 – Have a drink with a view
Athens has plenty of rooftop bars with beautiful views of the city and of the Acropolis. My favorite bars to soak up the sunlight and the views are from Couleur Locale and A for Athens.
Couleur Locale is definitely the more relaxed of the two boasting fantastic views of the Acropolis and tasty drinks to accompany.
It’s a huge space with one floor as an open air restaurant and the top floor as the rooftop bar area. Both floors offer amazing views of the Acropolis in an industrial chic type of vibe. This bar isn’t the typical tourist hangout but rather caters mostly to locals. The views here are amazing, although no amazing than the Airbnb I was staying in!
I also had amazing cocktails in all the bars of Athens. Bartenders here know their stuff and Couleur Locale makes a delicious Negroni.
A for Athens is similarly a bit of a more upscale place but with beautiful views of Monastiraki square and the Acropolis.
#9 – Eat Gyros and Souvlaki
Greek food is probably my favorite cuisine in all of Europe. The diversity of the food from salads, to meats, to street food is right up my alley. Greek street food is by far the tastiest in all of Europe. Gyros (pronounced yee-roas) are the most popular of the street foods and is a must try when visiting Greece. Gyros are Greece’s variation of the meat on a rotating spit similar to the doner kebab in Turkey, schwarma in Lebanon, and tacos al pastor in Mexico.
Greek gyros feature pork meat on the spit along with tomatoes, onions, tzatziki, french fries all wrapped in a traditional pita bread. I’ve eaten countless gyros during my time in Greece.
Souvlaki is cubes of meat cooked on a skewer (pork or chicken). You can have souvlaki in a pita as well instead of gyros or you can just eat the meat straight up.
Meat the Greek
One of my favorite stops in Athens is meat the Greek in Monastiraki. They have amazing gyros and souvlaki at very cheap prices. You can expect to pay €2.3 to €2.5 for gyros all over Athens (incredibly cheap I know).
Traveling Greece for two months, I ate my weight in gyros and souvlaki. They are some of my favorite street food of all time and hold a special place in my heart. Kostas is one of the most famous places in Athens to eat souvlaki in a pita.
There are actually two Kostas restaurants. The same name, located near each other, both serving souvlaki, but totally different restaurants. This first one is the original (I think?) and it’s the tiniest shop with a picture of the man himself as the facade. They make their pitas in house and grill delicious cubes of pork as well as beef kebab. It’s then combined with tomatoes, onions, parsley, and tzatziki that’s wrapped up in a warm pita. It’s delicious and a must try, especially for €2.50 a pita.
#10 – Acropolis Museum
The Acropolis stood for thousands of years mostly unscathed. It was built in 400 BC during the Greek empire before being converted to a church a thousand years later, and then into a mosque under Ottoman times. It was only during the 1600s that war with the nearby Venetians saw a cannonball destroy half of the Parthenon leaving what is remaining today.
In that time, many of the statues and historic art pieces of the Acropolis were removed, decayed, or buried in the surrounding areas before they were finally excavated and featured in the museum. The Acropolis museum is located right under the Acropolis. It was built only in recent years as a way to house and display all the relics found in and around the Acropolis over the ages.
The Acropolis museum is well worth the visit before or after a visit to the Acropolis. It’s not a big museum and you can see everything in under 1 hour. There is also a beautiful viewing deck on the 2nd floor with amazing views of the Acropolis and a restaurant.
#11 – Philopappos Hill for views of the Acropolis
Similar to the Mount Lycabettus, hike up to the top of Philopappos Hill for an even better view of the Acropolis. I found the view from Philopappos to be more stunning as it is closer to the Acropolis. You don’t get the same city views as from Lycabettus but to each their own.
From Philopappos you can also see the
#12 – Visit the Panathenaic Olympics Stadium
I had totally forgotten Athens was the home for the 2004 Olympics (and of course the original Olympics). They built this giant stadium modeled in the traditional sense for the opening and closing ceremonies in 2004.
It has since been largely unused and just a relic from that those games. I’m not sure why they wouldn’t use such a beautiful structure but I guess it’s the same reason they don’t want to reconstruct any of the Ancient buildings?
Nevertheless, it’s largely just a giant stadium in the middle of the city nowadays that tourists can visit. It is €5 for the entrance fee and you can walk around the stadium to your desire. There weren’t many visitors at all during the times I visited so you can bet on taking some fantastic photos.
#13 – Walk Around The Plaka Neighborhood
After spending ample amounts of time exploring the Acropolis, end your day by walking around and having dinner at one of the oldest and beautiful neighborhoods in Athens. The streets of Plaka are located at the steps of the Acropolis and is closed off to just pedestrians.
You’ll be walking through neoclassical houses, beautiful views of Athens as its on a hillside, cobblestone streets, and more. Nowadays, it’s filled with restaurants, bars, cafes, shops and anything else you can think of.
#14 – Hadrian’s Library
Hadrian’s Library was constructed in the 2nd century AD by the Roman Emperor Hadrian to house rolls of papyrus books. The Emperor’s goal was to create a place of academic study worthy of the reputation of Ancient Athens in Letters and Science.
Nowadays, the ruins of the library still stand just next to the busy Monastiraki square. It’s impossible now to see the monuments as you walk through the streets of Athens. You have perfectly good views of Hadrian’s library from the street but if you are interested, you can also go inside the ruins.
Entrance Fee: €6 for a single entry, €30 with the Athens pass
Opening Hours: 8am-8pm
#15 – Have a world famous cocktail at the Clumsies
Athens is also home to two of the top rated cocktail bars in the world. The Clumsies is one of them! I had to make a visit to try these out. The bar was trendy but not overly so and had a super inviting vibe. I had their world famous Aegean Negroni which was one of the best things I’ve tasted. It’s a dramatic dark baby blue color that reminds me of the time in the Cyclades but with the familiar taste of a Negroni. Not only did it look beautiful but the tastes reflect it as well.
Baba Au Rhum
Down the street from the Clumsies is another top rated cocktail bar called Baba Au Rhum (Father of Rum in Farsi). This place, as the name suggests, specializes in rum cocktails and boy were they delicious.
I grabbed a seat in their courtyard and had at least two of their rum cocktails. On certain nights, they even do an all you can drink rum punch night for €20 and these punches are not what you had in your younger years that’s for sure.
#16 – Go on the free Athens walking tour
I’m a big fan of free walking tours in cities and Athens is no different. The free walking tour I did here was incredibly informative and I learned things that I definitely would not have learned if I hadn’t gone.
We walked by all the main sights and got lots of stories from the guide about Greek culture, history, and food. We even visited a neighborhood adjacent to the Acropolis that is a little mini Cyclades within the city. I had no idea this existed but really it felt like I was walking through a village in Milos. This is because builders from the Cyclades were known to be the best and were brought in to construct a lot of the official buildings back in the day. They settled near to the Acropolis and were allowed to build in whatever fashion they wanted.
#17 – See the cats of Athens
Athens and Greece as a whole is a country of cats. Cats are integral to the culture and they roam the streets of Athens openly without concern. The people here take care of the cats better than people in some cases and you’ll find plenty of well fed and beautiful street cats.
My favorite cat was the fluffy cat I found on Mount Lycabettus. It was the friendliest cat that I’ve seen craving human attention.
Now you know what to do in Athens
Hopefully this guide helps you out in planning the ultimate trip in the Greek capital. Athens is one of my favorite cities in Europe for a variety of reasons and Greece as a whole is my favorite country in Europe.
When you’re ready to leave Athens, make sure to follow my Cyclades island hopping itinerary to get the most of the Greek islands!
- The Perfect Athens Itinerary: One Day, Two Days, and Three Days In The Greek Capital
- The Perfect Travel Guide For Athens: Everything You Need To Know About Greece’s Capital
- Visiting Thessaloniki: The Culinary Capital Of Greece
- The Perfect One Week Itinerary For Greece
- Cost Of Living In Athens, Greece: Detailed Breakdown Of My Monthly Budget
- The Perfect Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini Travel Itinerary
- The Best Gyms And Fitness Clubs In Athens, Greece
- Why Santorini is my Least Favorite Greek Island
- Best Time To Visit Greece: The Best Months For Every Traveler
- The Ultimate Naxos Island, Greece Travel Guide
- A Perfect Travel Guide For Ephesus and Pamukkale, Turkey
- A Guide To All The Ionian Islands, Greece: Which Island Is The Best?