Athens is typically a city where tourists and travelers stop to educate themselves on the oldest civilization in the world, see Athens attractions such as the Acropolis then head off to the more leisurely Greek islands like Santorini and Mykonos in the Cyclades, or Aegina, Hydra or Poros in the Saronics, Skorpios or Corfu in the Ionians, Rhodes in the Dodecanese, or to Crete. We don’t want to dissuade the traveler from enjoying the Greek Islands but as you will read below, there are alot of things to do in Athens including walking, hiking, going to the beach, archaeology, a zoo, gardens, shopping and, of course, the nightlife.
Today, Athens is a cleaner city and a newly renovated one due to the influx of monies from the 2004 Summer Olympics. Streets, parks and beaches are clean and attractive. Signs are posted in English as well as Greek. As opposed to the stigma of Paris – most times unfairly – Greeks are known for their hospitality and friendliness.
Top 10 Athens Attractions, as suggested by our readers
- Athens Walking Tours
It is said that the best way to know Athens is to walk it. A walk through Athens will reveal the archaeological wonder in Syntagma Metro Station, expose you to the House of Parliament, the Monument of the Unknown Soldier, the National Gardens, the Presidential Palace on Herod Atticus Road, the marble Panathenaic Stadium where the first Olympic Games were held in 1896, the neoclassical Zappeion Hall which sits in front of the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch, and Plaka, a famous Athens neighborhood that sits at the foot of the Acropolis.
- The Acropolis of Athens
It is also referred to as the Sacred Rock of Athens and is regarded as the most important cultural offering of Athens because this is where ancient Greek civilization was represented through architecture. The Acropolis has been used as a place for residences or as a cult place. For instance, during the Archaic Period, from 650 to 480 B.C., statues were erected and vases placed to honor the patron goddess, Athena. During the Classical Period, from 450-330 B.C., three temples were erected on old temple ruins called The Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Nike. The point of experiencing the Acropolis is that thousands of years of history are contained within it.
It was once the center of the Athens government where, at a later time, temples to Zeus, Apollo, and Hephaestus were erected.
A temple built in the 5th century B.C. on the Acropolis to honor the Greek goddess Athena
- Benaki Museum
Located in downtown Athens opposite the National Gardens, it is is home to Greek art dating to the prehistoric periods all the way up to modern times.
- The Jewish Museum
It houses jewelry, textiles, religious artifacts, books, documents and manuscripts from World War II, the 19th and 20th centuries, and Thrace where, in 1943, the Bulgarians seized Jewish property.
- National Archaeological Museum
Home to prehistoric (before written history or before the 4th century B.C.) and late antiquity (300-600 A.D.) artifacts from many Greek locations, it is considered the most important musuem in the world.
- Museum of Cycladic Art
Displays art and artifacts of Aegean and Cyprus cultures emphasizing Cycladic art dating back to 3,000 B.C.
- Byzantine Museum
Displays Greek art, i.e., sculptures, paintings, mosaics, manuscripts, wall paintings, pottery, coins, wood carvings, from the 4th century to the 19th century
- Temple of Olympian Zeus
Also known as the Olympieion, it is a gargantuan temple of ruins dedicated to Zeus, the king of Olympian gods. Construction began by Athenian tyrants in 400 B.C. and then completed 650 years later by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 200 A.D. Pillaged and ruined by barbarians in 300 A.D., it continues to this day in disrepair.
- National Garden
Formerly The King’s Garden, the National Garden offers flowers, trees, a zoo, a turtle pond, 2 duck ponds, ancient ruins and monuments. Has a children’s library. Free admission.
- Mount Likavitos (Lycabettus)
A wonderful and romantic attraction for couples. Take the funicular to the top adn enjoy a quite view of Athens and the sea.
Our recommendation is to commute into Athens to shop, see attractions, learn the culture and history, and even to enjoy the nightlife. However, for accommodations and lodging in Athens, stay in one of its suburbs right on the Saronic Gulf – a place called Paleo Faliro. Stay at the Coral Hotel which is a four-star boutique hotel right on the sea. The owners are Greek but speak perfect English, having been educated in the United States. All of their rooms have balconies and many of the rooms – about a 1/3 – have views of the sea. Their Athens restaurant is a fine dining establishment and the bar has a patio that overlooks the sea, as one would expect. They host business meetings and conferences as well as weddings and all or most of their function rooms overlook the sea, as well. Moreover, if your plan is to travel to the Greek Islands, the place to leave from is the Port of Piraeus which is only minutes from the Coral. Their service is impeccable, you get a complete Greek cuisine and cultural flavor, you get to escape the 24-hour hustle and bustle of Athens and you are within minutes of a boat that can take you to the Greek Islands.
If you want to book your hotel accommodations in Athens, at least reserve a room at a hotel that has views of Athens mystique and history. The Athens Gate Hotel is within walking distance of the Acropolis and the Plaka neighborhood. Reserve a room overlooking the Parthenon which comes to life at night. Then, to top it off, venture to the roof garden for uninterrupted views of the Parthenon and Acropolis.
Like Barcelona, Athens is well known for its history, monuments and architecture. Athens architecture – old and new, like that in Barcelona, meld nicely in symmetry and appearance. Where Barcelona has Dali and Gaudi, Athens dates back “a few years” – a couple of hundred centuries in fact.
Interestingly, Greece really didn’t have anything architectural to offer the world early on – durign the Mycenaean Period, from 1200 B.C. to about the beginning of 700 B.C. Until 600 B.C., plebians constructed buildings made of clay, mudbrick and wood. Roof beams were made of wood, plaster was used for sinks and bathtubs, unbaked brick was used for walls, marble was used for columns, terracotta was used to construct roofs, and bronze was used for decorations. For good reason, none of these structures exist today.
From 600 B.C. on, wood beams and columns were replaced with stone. Thus, to this day, temples are the most common form of Athens (Greek) architecture.
Greek architecture can be assigned three categories:
Doric architecture was formal. Columns were built to stand alone on pavement without a base of support. Vertical shafts were fluted and topped with a flared capital (crown). The Parthenon and the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens are Doric.
Ionian architecture was informal and relaxed with greater emphasis on decoration. Ionic columns were supported with a base and the capitals (crown) displayed paired scrolling volutes scroll-like ornaments inherent in Ionic architecture) laid on a cap. The Temple of Hera on Samos in the north Aegean, the Erechtheum and the small temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis are Ionian.
Derived from Ionic architecture, Corinthian architecture is even more ornate and decorative in that its columns are slender and fluted and its capital (crown) is decoratd with scrolls and acanthus leaves. The Temple of Olympian Zeus is an example of Corinthian architecture.
When travelers visit Greece, the plans are to absorb as much cultural and historical education in Athens and then head off to the Greek islands of Mykonos or Santorini for beach fun. The surprise is that Athens has many fun, clean and family-type beaches. If the kids are getting bored with museums and attractions in Athens, take them to the beach for a day.
Athens beaches, at least the ones in the southern suburbs, run from Alimos to Vouliagmeni. Although a fee is required to use most of these beach facilities (consider this a good thing), beach chairs, umbrellas, and lockers are provided. There are even concession stands. A select few beaches, such as Glyfada Beach, offer water sports such as windsurfing and water-skiing.
- Edem Beach
- Alimos Beach
- Voula Beach
- Asteras Vouliagmeni Beach
- Vouliagmeni Lake (mineral and therapeutic water, is a year-round spa)