Things to do in Athens

Must-see Athens attractions

While there’s no escaping the fact that most people come to Athens for its ancient attractions (and who can blame them?), even visitors with a passing interest in the past will be spoilt for choice for things to do here.

From tasting tzatzíki in traditional tavernas, to quaffing cocktails in contemporary bars, Athens is a feast for all the senses.

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1. Get your ancient Greek on at the Acropolis

Visiting the Acropolis is hands down one of the best things to do in Athens, with the Parthenon its literal and metaphoric highpoint. While the colours and carvings of its heyday have gone, the remaining marble and its sheer size seal its status as an architectural masterpiece. Dedicated to Athena - daughter of Zeus and goddess of wisdom - it’s worth braving the crowds to see this wonder firsthand.

Best for: Everyone. You’ll regret not going.

Don’t missthe Acropolis Museum’s basement archeological excavation, and the space poignantly left for the Elgin Marbles.

2. Follow in the footsteps of gods

Looming large in the city centre, the Temple of Olympian Zeus is the biggest temple to have been built on Greek soil, with 104 columns surrounding an inner sanctum. Though the blingy gold-and-ivory statue of Zeus has been lost, and only sixteen columns remain, the temple still packs a colossal Corinthian punch, as befits a guy whose CV has him down as King of the Gods.

Best for: Legend-lovers.

Don’t missnearby Hadrian’s Arch, built by the Athenians for Emperor Hadrian.

3. Promenade picturesque Plaka

Straddling the ancient and modern city, Plaka was the hub of Athens’s population from Byzantine times through to Greek independence. Today its tangle of winding thoroughfares is a delight to explore. Dappled with neoclassical mansions, fragrant with gardenias, and chock-a-block with street musicians and affable hawkers, it’s the perfect place for a pre-dinner stroll.

Best for: People-watching. 

Don’t missPlaka’s museums, from the Frissiras Museum of edgier contemporary European art, to the Jewish Museum of Greece.

4. Experience island idyll

If you feel a bit stuck in the city, Anafiotika is the place for you. Perched above Plaka in the shadow of the Acropolis, this unique neighbourhood was constructed by master builders from the island of Anafi in the 19th-century, when King Otto fancied revamping his capital.

With their stark white façades, bright shutters and dazzling bougainvillea gardens, the fifty or so cubic houses are exactly like you’d find on the Cyclades Islands. You don’t need to plan what to do here - just stick on your sunnies and make like you’re meandering Mykonos.

Best for: island lovers. 

Don’t missAnafiotika’s beautiful Byzantine churches.

5. Get into Greek gastronomy

From scoffing street food while racing between ruins by day, to savouring seafood by night, Athens has plenty to satisfy your appetite round the clock. Head to Monastiraki Square for a huge choice of eateries offering gyros (meat shavings) and souvlaki (meat chunks). Hungry for a more upscale dining experience? Try Spondi – its terrace garden is the perfect starlit stage for your Michelin-starred meal. For Athens holidays with extra flavour, this is the place to eat (and be seen).

Best for: foodies. 

Don’t misseating on Athens’s most scenic terrace. Perched on Lycabettus Hill, the view from the Orizontes cliff side restaurant is Zeus-level legendary.

6. Marvel at modern art

Despite appearances, Athens isn’t only about ancient artifacts. The city’s contemporary and modern art scene is alive and kicking, especially at the Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art. Being Athens, this neoclassical mansion showcases painting and sculptures from 1890s from the present, so it’s not entirely contemporary. But with works by the likes of Monet, Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso, it’s sure to fire-up fans of Impressionism and Modernism.

Best for: art-lovers. 

Don’t missthe museum shop for art-inspired souvenirs. 

7. Meander markets

Visiting Athens’s markets is sure to spark all your senses. Housed in an attractive 1870s building, Central Market - locally known as Varvakeios - is the city’s largest food market, with an entire side of its vast hall dominated by butchers and fishmongers. Vegans take note: you’ll find plenty of aromatic herbs, spices, nuts and veg on the opposite side.

For a feel-good shopping experience, head to Kypseli Municipal Market, a community-run social entrepreneurship. Alongside regular food and flower stalls, it has a great gallery and space for community classes.

Best for: atmospheric shopping
Don’t missMonastiraki Sunday flea market for handicrafts, antiques and one-of-a-kind souvenir - one of the most fun things to do in Athens.

8. Go West to divine Delphi

Three hours west of Athens, and flanked by Mount Parnassus, a day trip or overnighter to Delphi will take you out into the countryside and back in time. In its day, Delphi was the spiritual centre of the Greek world, with no important decisions of state made without consulting the temple’s resident Mystic Meg.

Though there’s no entranced priestess to consult these days, with the Stadium of Delphi, Athenian Treasury and an ancient theatre to explore alongside the temple itself, there are plenty of memorable things to do and see in Delphi.

Best for: history enthusiasts.

Don’t missstopping off in Livadia to explore a medieval castle and the grottos of the Herkyna river springs.

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