11 Things to do in Athens
Despite being the capital of Greece, Athens has more of a town-like feel. Plus, it’s also one of the cheapest city trips in Europe! A few days is enough to see the Acropolis and explore the center. However, we’d recommend spending more time here if you want to lounge on the beach or browse the many vintage shops and flea markets.
Tip: Athens is also a great jumping-off point for your Greek island-hopping trip!
1. Acropolis (Top Things to do in Athens!)
The Acropolis is one of the most famous landmarks on the planet and the top thing to do in Athens! The impressive archaeological site draws travelers from all over the world—each person excited to catch a glimpse of this remarkable spot.
The Acropolis, also known as the ‘Sacred Rock’ by locals, sits high on a hill overlooking Athens and is the beating heart of the city. In fact, you’ll notice that most balconies and terraces in the city point towards the ancient structure, so it’s never out of sight for long!
With its intricate history, it’s no surprise that the Acropolis has been awarded UNESCO world heritage status, with some even calling for it to be one of the world’s new wonders. The site is also a fantastic place to see the city from above, with gorgeous 360-degree views, making it the perfect place to visit at sunset.
Tip: Set aside at least two hours to walk around the whole site to fully take in the incredible architecture and sun-soaked city below you. For the best light for your photos, go a few hours before closing when the sun is lower (and less hot!), and there are fewer crowds.
Among this unique complex of monuments is the world-renowned Parthenon, a temple that has dominated the Athenian skyline (with its breathtaking white marble columns) for thousands of years. To reach the temple, walk up the smooth marble stairs, surrounded by peaceful olive groves.
Tip: Although the walk to the summit only takes 10 minutes, it is a steep climb, and the marble is slippery, so wear trainers or good walking shoes.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a grand amphitheater on the slopes of the Acropolis and one of the most impressive things to do on your trip to Athens.
The dramatic open-air theater is the perfect place to visit during the summer and into early fall when it is used for the Athens Epidaurus Festival (one of the oldest running festivals in Europe!). You can also enjoy moonlit concerts with world-famous musicians; it’s a fantastic experience to see life brought back to the 2000-year-old monument.
The Acropolis Museum
For history buffs, the Acropolis Museum is well worth a visit for an extra 10 EUR (10.42 USD). Standing 300 meters from the Acropolis, the light-filled modern building contrasts dramatically with its ancient surroundings. Here you can see stunning statues, fascinating archaeological excavations, and panoramic views of the city and the Acropolis itself. This is also a great place to start a day of exploring.
Entry Fee & Opening Times
The Acropolis is open from April to October 8 AM – 8 PM and November to March 8 AM – 5 PM. However, we recommend checking opening times on the Acropolis website before visiting. The entrance fee is 20 EUR (20.80 USD) at the ticket office or online, with cheaper tickets available in the winter months. If you are staying in Athens for longer, there is also a 5-day visit combined ticket for 30 EUR (31.25 USD), which includes all the museums.
2. Visit the Plaka Neighborhood
Plaka is one of Athens’s oldest and most beautiful neighborhoods, nestled underneath the Acropolis rock. Escape the sun by wandering the narrow tree-lined streets and following the ancient Greeks’ footsteps (one of the top things to do in Athens!).
Explore small picturesque squares with sand-colored houses, and browse shops filled with clothing, jewelry, and traditional rugs.
The main streets can be busy, but if you stray from the center, you can find peaceful little corners with ancient ruins. Take a seat outside at one of the many bustling restaurants and people-watch while you eat. Later, enjoy live music and sip a glass of ouzo as you take in Athens at night.
Don’t miss out on visiting Anafiotika, a tiny corner of Plaka on the slopes of the Acropolis. The white-painted streets and houses with their plant-filled doorways transport you to the Greek islands; it’s an island village in the heart of Athens!
Tip: For an unforgettable night out on a budget, check out Cine Paris, an open-air cinema paired with a rooftop garden with spectacular views of the Acropolis. The cinema is open May – October.
Plaka Stairs is a beautiful outdoor staircase leading to the Acropolis, filled with cozy Greek restaurant terraces. Colorful buildings and flower-filled pots line the stairs, the atmosphere is lively, and there is usually a street musician or two! Cafe-hop as you make your way up these iconic steps (Our favorite restaurant was Anefani).
A great way to explore Plaka is by joining a photography walking tour! See availability and tickets here.
3. Vintage and Antique Shopping
For great vintage and antique shopping, look no further than the Monastiraki neighborhood, particularly the famous Monastiraki flea market. This fantastic market sells unique second-hand clothes, trendy shoes, affordable linen wear, high-quality leather goods, and cute souvenirs.
There are also plenty of other great stores in the streets surrounding the market (one of our favorites was ‘Hippie Shop’, which is just around the corner).
If antiques are more your vibe, check out the market at Avissinias Square on Sundays. This wonderful treasure trove is home to ceramics, vintage radios, furniture, jewels, vinyl records, stamps, coins, and old books—all sold by friendly street vendors.
Our favorite places to shop for vintage goods in Athens were:
- New Skin Vintage clothing (clothing)
- Treasure House (clothing)
- Retrosexual Vintage shop (furniture)
- Kilo-Shop (clothing)
Tip: Don’t be scared to haggle! It is part of Greek culture to barter before you buy.
4. Central Market
One of the best things to do in Athens is to visit the Central Market. Packed with fresh meat and seafood, colorful fruit and veg, and a huge variety of spices, nuts, and pastries, it will satisfy the most passionate foodies! Mingle with the locals as you smell, taste, and experience what Athens has to offer. It’s also a cheap alternative to eating out for those on a budget.
For the most flavorsome experience, join an organized tour of the markets, where you’ll get to sample all the best delicacies in the city.
5. Sunset from Lycabettus or Philopappos Hill
These two hills are not only great spots for a hike, but from the top, you’ll also have the best views of Athens and the Acropolis!
For a slightly easier climb, choose Philopappos Hill, which is closer to the center. The walk up here is beautiful as you wind your way through pine and olive trees to the monument at the top.
For the highest point in Athens—and the best views—Lycabettus Hill is the place to go. It is a steeper walk, but once at the top, you can see all of Athens and even the islands on the Athenian coast! The route is paved, but if you don’t fancy walking, you can hop on to the cable car, which carries you to the summit. Explore the gorgeous Greek church and have a bite to eat at one of the cafes at sunset (if you time it right, you’ll also see the lights come on at the Acropolis!).
6. Lake Vouliagmeni
You’ve heard of the French Riviera, but how about the Athenian Riviera? Only a 30-minute drive from the center of Athens (or 75 minutes by public transport), Lake Vouliagmeni is one of the best things to do in Athens and the perfect place to spend a day relaxing in the sun, away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
With an average temperature of 24 °C (75.2 °F), the thermal lake is an excellent spot for a dip (even in winter!). The crystal clear emerald water has healing properties, and small fish offer mini spa treatments by exfoliating your skin! What’s more, the lake is surrounded by stunning scenery of high rocky cliffs and is classed as a site of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Spend the day swimming, snorkeling, or relaxing on a sun lounger. Alternatively, take a hike up into the hills to gaze down on the lake and surrounding coastline from above.
Tip: Near the lake, there is also a restaurant with great food. You can find the restaurant location here.
Entry Fee & Opening Times
Open 8 AM – 5 PM. General admission costs 15 EUR (15.63 USD) on weekdays and 18 EUR (18.75 USD) on weekends (sun lounger included in ticket price).
You can reach the lake by using this hop-on hop-off bus service. Book your tickets in advance here.
7. Relax at the Beach
That’s right; you don’t need to go as far as the islands to experience fantastic beaches in Greece – Athens has them too! A gorgeous coastline awaits only 20 minutes from the center, which can be reached easily by metro and tram. Whether you prefer rocky or sandy beaches, somewhere more secluded or a more lively spot, the Athenian coastline has something for everyone. Some of the best beaches to visit are:
Although there is a small entrance fee, Vouliagmeni is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. It also sits next door to the thermal lake, so it’s worth visiting if you’re already in the area.
Additionally, there are lots of boat tours that leave from Athens that will take you along the coastline to visit some of the most beautiful beaches.
One of the more stunning beaches, Kape is secluded and peaceful. Although you have to walk down a steep flight of 100 steps to get there, the crystal clear waters are well worth the effort, so if you’re not heading to the islands, this is the next best thing! Come in the off-season when it’s even quieter.
If you don’t want to stray too far from town, head to Alimos. With white sand, gorgeous blue water, and plenty of sun loungers to choose from, this spot is popular with locals and easily accessible.
Tip: You may hear the phrase ‘organized beach’, which just means there are facilities available such as toilets, changing rooms, and sun loungers. Some of these beaches may have an entrance fee.
8. Street Art Tour
Street art may not be the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Athens, but the city is packed full of it! One of the best (and free!) things to do in Athens is to take a walk through its neighborhoods and spot incredible pieces of art from both local and internationally-renowned artists.
Head out on your own or take a tour with an expert guide who can explain more about the artists and their work.
The best places to see great art are Exarcheia, Psirri, and Gazi. However, you can also see some beautiful murals in the more touristy areas of Plaka or Monastiraki.
9. Cafes and Rooftop Bars
There’s a huge cafe culture in the Greek capital, and one of the best things to do in Athens is to experience as many as possible! Every neighborhood has cafes full of charm and character where you can enjoy a coffee and a snack to fuel you for a day of sightseeing. If the weather is warm, opt for a ‘Freddo’ cappuccino or espresso (the Greek version of an iced coffee).
In the evenings, the culture continues as cocktail bars open their doors all over the city. Here, cocktails aren’t just a drink; they are an art form! Head to one of the many rooftop bars for a spectacular alternative view of the Acropolis at night.
Our favorite cafes were:
- Melina Mercouri Cafe
- Dope Roasting
- Overoll croissanterie
Tip: Take your time! Drinking coffee is a Greek pastime and shouldn’t be rushed. Sip slowly while you chat with locals and let time pass you by.
The best cocktail bars:
- Juan Rodrigues
- BarBaba au rum (on the World’s Best Bars list!)
We recommend a food & drink tour of Athens with an experienced local guide to get a deeper insight into this delicious side of Greek culture!
10. National Garden
The National Garden is a green haven in the heart of Athens where you can take a break from city life and spend an hour or two in nature. Stroll through tree-lined avenues and shaded terraces with towering palm trees, quaint bridges, and cooling fountains.
Open from sunrise to sunset, there is plenty to see in this massive park, including a small zoo, a botanical museum, and over 7000 trees!
Tip: Keep an eye out for the many turtles which have made their home in the duck ponds.
Within the National Garden is the Zappeion Building, a stunning exhibition center with classic Greek architecture. It’s a great spot for photographers, so take a walk around the picturesque courtyard with its many sculptures.
The old Panathenaic Stadium dates back to 330 BC but was rebuilt for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. This massive marble stadium is the only one of its kind in the world and is well worth dropping in on while you’re in the park.
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Temple of Olympian Zeus
The Temple of Olympian Zeus is another fantastic example of Ancient Greek architecture. Despite it being a ruin of what it once was (with only 15 columns standing from the original 104), the massive temple is still an incredible sight to see.
11. Zéphyros Open-Air Movie Theater
Perfect for warm summer evenings, this open-air cinema will take you back in time, with its old movie posters decorating the walls. Best of all, the movie theater shows classic films from the ’60s, which are projected onto a screen under the stars (absolutely magic!).
We recommend wandering through Petralona, one of the prettiest neighborhoods in Athens, before settling in with some popcorn for an old-fashioned cinematic experience. Tickets from 7 EUR (7.29 USD).
Best Cafes and Restaurants in Athens
Athens has a fantastic selection of local and international restaurants throughout the city. Whether you want to feast on souvlaki, meze (small plates), or freshly-caught seafood, there are plenty of charming underground tavernas and tiny delis. If you’ve got a bigger budget, the city is also home to some incredible Michelin-star restaurants!
Vegetarian? Athens also has a fantastic vegetarian and vegan food scene for plant-based foodies. Learn more about how to become a vegetarian.
Our favorite restaurants in Athens:
- Happy Blender
- Efcharis restaurant
- The Brunch factory
- The Brunchers
Tip: Athenians eat late, so expect most places to stay open until midnight.
Where to Stay in Athens
There are loads of great neighborhoods in Athens for every kind of traveler. For somewhere a little less crowded and with an authentic, local vibe, check out Thissio or Petralona. Alternatively, if Athens nightlife is what you’re here for, Psirri is young and vibrant, with loads of bars and restaurants. Click here to see all hostels in Athens
We spend our days in Athens in Pallineon House located in Petralona. It is located close to the metro line, so you can be in the center of Athens within 10 minutes (walking + metro). It’s a lovely decorated accommodation in a more local neighborhood and some lovely cafes and restaurants nearby like Ubuntu and Lemonanthos.
If the Acropolis is your priority, head to Plaka, Monastiraki, or Koukaki; these neighborhoods are central, walkable, and also have great shopping, pretty streets, and delicious restaurants. However, please note that accommodation may be more expensive in these popular areas.
How to Visit Athens
The international airport in Athens is the largest in Greece, and once you’ve landed, the center of Athens is only a 40-minute metro ride away and costs less than 10 EUR.
If you’re arriving in Athens from Europe, there are also plenty of overland options. For example, you can travel by boat from Italy or by night bus from Albania.
Also read: Complete Albania 2-week road trip!
Athens is a very walkable city, with plenty to explore within walking distance of the city center and surrounding neighborhoods. Wandering the streets is also a great way to spend an afternoon! However, if you need to travel further afield, Athens has a well-connected public transport system that links the city with the beaches and airport. The metro is very affordable – a 5-day ticket for the center of Athens costs 8.20 euros (8.50 USD).
How Much Does Athens Cost?
Surprisingly, considering its popularity as a jumping-off point to the Greek islands, Athens was recently ranked the cheapest location in Europe for a city break. It’s even more affordable to visit in the off-season, making it the perfect city trip before your Greek Island hopping trip.
Best Time to Visit
As a capital city, Athens will always have something going on with endless things to do, whatever time of year. However, summer is extremely hot, with temperatures upwards of 40° C (104 °F). This can make sightseeing during the day difficult.
What’s more, most locals will leave the city for the coast in August, making the center quieter and less atmospheric. For this reason, we’d recommend visiting during the shoulder seasons of spring and fall when it is cooler, cheaper, and there are fewer crowds.
Tip: February is also a fun month to visit, as it is Greek carnival time, and parades, concerts, and delicious street food stalls fill the streets.
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