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20 best things to do in Athens

Let me share 20 activities you use not its in Athens!

By Anna Purpurpurpur

There are so many things to do in Athens, the capital of Greece, for everyone: food, shopping, history, architecture… See my selections of things to do!

1. Watch the change of guards at Syntagma Square 

Syntagma Square, dating back to the 19th century, is the most crucial square in Athens! The Hellenistic parliament and the most prestigious hotels, such as Grand Bretagne and King George, are located there, and the Attica store is just behind the corner. A large Xmas tree is installed there for the winter festivities as well.

The Hellenistic parliament has been in the former Old Royal Palace since 1934. Although an ordinary change of guards takes place daily, on special occasions and on Sundays at 11am, over a hundred Evzones, Presidential guards, a particular military unit of the Hellenic Army, parade in front of the Hellenic Parliament and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

2. Stroll in the National Park

The National Park, the former gardens of the Old Royal Palace created in 1838 and 1840 by the first queen of Greece, Queen Amalia, is located right behind the Hellenistic parliament and stretches up to the Zappeion.

It’s a lovely shadowy area with a great variety of plants, statues, antique ruins, and a very natural vibe – take advantage of a mini zoo, a duck pond and a lovely cafeteria there.

3. Shop around the Monastiraki square

Monastiraki is one of the oldest districts of Athens, and Monastiraki Square is at the very heart of it. The name refers to the women’s convent that once stood here – you can still see a small surviving part of it on the square itself: on the site of the 10th-century catholicon now stands the Church of the Pantanassa that used to be called a little monastery’.

Another site of the square is Tzistarakis Mosque, built in 1759 and now serving as part of the Museum of Greek Folk Art. Just being it there are Hadrian Library and the Roman Agora with the Tower of Winds and the Gate of Athena Archegetis is a short walk from here (see below).

You’ll find numerous cafes, restaurants and shop stalls in the area. During my first visit to Athens, I also visited a flea market there, which took place on Sundays. 

4. Explore the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, is a large Greek Orthodox church and one of Athens’s most essential modern landmarks. The materials for its construction were taken from 72 other churches that had already laid in ruins. It was completed in 1862 and reopened in 2016 for services after the major restoration.

Among the relics belong the Saint Philothei and Saint Gregorios V, martyrs who were killed during the Ottoman occupation of the city. The Metropolitan Cathedral is also the place where many Greek Royal events take place, such as weddings, christenings and funerals. 

For a small fee, you can also visit a small museum in the basement: it contains the religious treasures of astonishing beauty.

Right in front of it there is a newly opened Maria Kallas museum.

5. Don’t miss Agios Eleftherios 

Right by the Cathedral, there’s a tiny cross-shaped church called Agios Eleftherios, also known as Panagia Gorgoepikoos. Can you imagine that it was once the city’s main Cathedral? 

It dates to the 12th century and is famous for its not-so-Christian depictions on the outer walls! Unfortunately, the original frescoes inside didn’t survive; however, you can notice some traces of them.

7. Check the Athens War Museum

The Athens War Museum was founded in 1975 and is an excellent place if you’d like to revisit the past of the Greek army from prehistoric to modern times. It is the Museum of the Greek Armed Forces.

They have many historical artefacts, uniforms and thematic halls dedicated to the most prominent military conflicts. You can also learn about the weapons of other countries such as China or Japan. The more extensive exhibits showcased in the courtyard, such as fighter jets.

8. Visit the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea

The Church of Panagia Kapnikarea on Ermou Street is one of the oldest churches of the Greek capital. It’s possible it also was a Catholic monastery, just like the Church of the Pantanassa I’ve just discussed.

It consists of three parts and dates to the mid-11th century. Come here to admire the frescoes – the original ones are lost. The new ones were created by Fotis Kontoglou and his students. The outer mosaic with the Virgin Mary holding Jesus Christ was made by Elli Voila in the mid-20th century.

9. Walk along the Ermou street

You will be able to see Ermou Street if you’re coming from Syntagma Street to Monastiraki Square because this is the busiest street in the area!

Come here to listen to some street music and to shop for international and local brands such as Sephora, H&M, Marks & Spencer, Zara and many more (but also have a look at your belongings just in case!). Not far from it, there is a theme cafe and shop called Little Kook you might also consider visiting. During our trip, the whole street was occupied by their Christmas decorations!

If you want to do more shopping, head to the Attica centre near Syntagma Square.

10. Have a coffee with a view

Athens is a perfect place to sip a coffee overlooking historically significant buildings! First of all, you might be lucky with your hotel views as we were: we had a perfect view of Syntagma Square and even the Acropolis from the King George Hotel.

Also, I’d suggest you head to Jacqueline de Romilly Square and have some drinks at the Thissio view place: it overlooks the Ancient Agora, and you’ll see the Acropolis again!

Finally, the terrace and cafeteria of the New Acropolis Museum won’t disappoint you as well.

11. Explore the Zappeion Megaron

The Zappeion Megaron is a large building erected in 1888 that symbolises the rebirth of Greek civilisation. Was it commissioned by Evangelis Zappa? Evangelοs Zappas (hence the name and his head is still kept inside the walls of Zappeion Megaron) and designed by T. Hansen.

It was one of the areas used for the 1896 Olympic Games and served as a venue for many sports and arts events afterwards. Now you can pay it a visit as a tourist.

12. Spot the Lycabettus hill

Mount Lycabettus is a limestone hill standing high at 277 metres. You can get by Lycabettus Funicular, which has been operating since 1965, or simply admires it from the side.

On the very top of it is the beautiful white Chapel of St. George, dating to 1870 and erected on the remains of the temple of Zeus, and the Theatre of Lycabettus, dating to 1965.

13. Admire Holy Church of the Holy Apostles of Solakis 

 The Church of the Holy Apostles, frequently called Holy Apostles of Solakis, is a landmark within the premises of the Ancient Agora of Athens, which stands out because it’s not lying in ruins as the majority of the Agora sites.

It dates to the 10th century, which makes it one of the oldest surviving churches of Athens. It stands on the remains of an ancient nymphaion. Solaris is frequently attributed to the Solaki family, who were the beneficiaries of the church restoration under the Ottoman occupation of the country (the last restoration dates back to the mid-20th century).

14. Visit New Acropolis museum

 The new Acropolis Museum, which opened in 2009, is the museum you should visit if you have time only for one museum visit in Athens (I was just a bit hesitant if I should attribute it to the National Archaeological Museum, but I’d still vote for New Acropolis museum).

It has it all: a fantastic collection of exhibits retrieved from the Acropolis, including vases, lampshades, figurines, statues, bas-reliefs, a terrace with a restaurant and cafe, an area dedicated to a documentary about the Acropolis, and a shop.

It also has a pretty modern vibe, which some other Greek museums lack a bit – цhen I visited Acropolis for the first time, the only museum there was a small one and old fashioned one near the Parthenon. 

15. Check the Omonoia square

The Omonoia Square is one of the largest and most important squares of Athens, with the most treasured buildings there being Megas Alexandros Hotel and Bagkeion Mansion. The square was largely redesigned in 2020, just a few years ago.

If you walk around the centre of Athens, you should also have a look at the trio of magnificent neo-classical buildings of the University, the Academy and the National Library on Panepistimiou Avenue!

16. Try Greek food

Greek cuisine is one of my all-time favourites, and here’s my list of must-try Greek dishes! Don’t miss Koulouri Thessalonikis bread sold in the stalls on the streets.

Start your meal with Tzatziki, Tirokafteri and Taramasalata dips with pita bread and some fried or grilled cheeses (not only feta!) and dolmades. Souvlaki, Moussaka, Pastitsio, Gyros, and Kleftiko would make a perfect main dish, and Tiropita and Spanakopita pastries are the best for any time of the day, including breakfast. Pistashioa from Greece are another delicacy I can’t spot praising.

For desserts, try Bougatsa sweet pastry, Rizogalo pudding, Portokalopita orange cake, and Kormós chocolate sausage. And if we’re talking about drinks, thick Ellinikos Greek coffee and Frappe are the best – did you know that the latest originates from Thessaloniki?

17. Stroll along the Plaka

Plaka is another historical district of Athens that every tourist must get familiar with. It’s located right at the foot of the Acropolis and has lovely views, local restaurants and lots of shopping opportunities!

Two main pedestrian streets there are Kydathineon and Adrianou (the latest ways named after the Roman Emperor Hadrian). Looking for local arts and crafts, wood items, T-shirts, jewellery, postcards and souvenirs? That’s your destination, then!

The oldest house in Athens, the Benizelou Mansion or the House of St Philothei, is also located in the area, on the 96 Adrianou Street: there’s a small museum dedicated to it.

18. Visit Classic Greek landmarks

The Greek heritage of the city is probably the one you won’t miss anyway: Acropolis, Areopagus, Ancient Agora, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Theatre of Dionysus, Lykeion, Olympieion, and Kerameikos Ancient Cemetery!

Please check another article of mine to learn more.

19.… and Roman sites

Romans have left a measurable footprint on Athens as well, and I’d suggest you take advantage of the Hadrian’s Library, Hadrian’s Library, and Roman Agora of Athens with the Gate of Athena Archegetis and Tower of the Winds.

And, finally…

20. Airplane views

Greece is one of those countries that start serving while you’re still in the air. The Athens International Airport Eleftherios Venizelos is located among the picturesque mountain chain with forested slopes standing pretty dramatically.

The flying-over-water part of the journey is good with the prettiest coast, ships, islands and other sites behind you. We had a chance to observe them in full when we didn’t land in Thessaloniki as planned due to strong winds and made it all the way back to Athens – I can’t say that I’d recommend this experience; however, I’d definitely suggest you look out from your plane window once you’re heading to Athens!

Where to stay in Athens

We stayed in the gorgeous King George Hotel on Syntagma Square. Our room was nice and luxurious, with Byredo Le Chemin skin care products and the view over the Syntagma square.

However, the best thing I loved about it was their breakfast area that functions as a restaurant in the evenings, not to mention a fantastic selection of pastries; the view over the Acropolis was just overwhelming!

You might also like:
12 Greek and Roman monuments in Athens

Hope you liked my blog!
Anna xxx

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