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Athens Attractions - Things to Do - Day Trips in Athens

Athens Top Attractions - Things to Do in Athens

OVERVIEW OF ATHENS ATTRACTIONS

Athens was the centre of culture in the ancient world and nowadays visitors can enjoy the architectural splendour it offers while soaking up the vibrant atmosphere of a modern city. Of course there is the Acropolis with its array of historical sites, most notably the magnificent Parthenon. Museums abound in the city, looking at topics as diverse as archaeology and folk instruments. If you need a break from all that culture, you can kick back and relax at one of the many lovely beaches near the city such as Votsalakia, enjoy the tranquil seclusion of the National Gardens, or pick up a bargain at the famous Monastiraki Flea Market. There’s also the ceremonial spectacle of the Changing of the Guard and charming old neighbourhoods such as Plaka to explore. If thrills are your thing, Allou Fun Park offers high-octane rollercoasters, and there’s a special section for under-12s. Whatever you do, it’s impossible to get bored!

Top Athens Attractions - Paris Day Trips

Acropolis Museum (Paid)

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This museum is dedicated to amassing every single historical artefact found on the Acropolis, from the Bronze Age up to Roman and Byzantine Greece. It moved to its new site in 2009 as the collection had outgrown the space in the old museum. The building itself lies on the site of some ancient ruins, and excavation into these is ongoing: this forms part of the exhibition as visitors can see the work through a glass floor. Different parts of the collection are housed on three different floors; as you enter the museum you will see finds from the slopes of the Acropolis, including statues as well as everyday items. After this is the Archaic Gallery covering the 7th to 5th centuries BC, followed by the Parthenon Gallery and artefacts from the other temples such as the Erectheion (including the original Caryartids) and Athena Nike. Finally there is the Roman era. The layout is designed to take you through history in chronological order, so you can see the development of art and architecture on the famous hill.
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The Acropolis (Paid)

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The Acropolis is undoubtedly the most important cultural site in Athens and the one thing you definitely have to see when you visit. You will find a wealth of architecturally stunning buildings at the peak of this rocky hill, the most famous of which is the Parthenon, which serves as the symbol of Greece. The Acropolis rises to 150 metres (490 feet). The Parthenon was dedicated to the goddess Athena and once housed an enormous statue of her. Dating from 447 BC, it is held in high acclaim for the quality of the architecture at such an early time, such as the curving columns which are designed to resist rain and earthquakes. It originally served as a treasury and was later a Christian church. Also make sure you see the Erectheion, dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon. It was finished in 406 BC, and has many interesting features, including the Caryatids, female statues used as columns, the originals of which can be found in the Acropolis Museum.
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National Archaeological Museum (Paid)

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This museum houses the largest collection of ancient Greek artefacts anywhere in the world and is the place to go if you want to gain a better understanding of the stunning quality of these items’ craftsmanship and their influence on the world. The collection stretches back to Neolithic times (6800-3000 BC), and includes sculptures, vases and metalwork as well as a section on Egyptian art. First opened in the late 19th century, the museum has been expanded several times to accommodate the growing collection, and this process is not yet finished. Today it is the largest museum in Greece, with over 20,000 exhibits spread over 8,000 square metres of floor space. The items on display reflect life in all sections of society, ranging from nobles’ funeral masks (including the Mask of Agamemnon) to everyday items such as jewellery, tools and coins. You can also find a statue of Poseidon similar to the one which was housed in the Temple at Cape Sounion.
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Benaki Museum (Paid)

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This museum celebrates Greek art and culture from prehistoric times right up to the present day. It was founded in 1830 when the Egyptian-born Antonis Benakis donated the vast collection of artefacts he had collected on his travels to the nation of Greece. The main museum is housed in the Benakis family mansion, although since its 2000 reopening, supplementary museums have housed art from other cultures, allowing the central hub to focus solely on Greece. Among the thousands of objects, you can see bowls, belts, sculptures, vases, jewellery and tools from every era of Greek history. There is also an emphasis on the everyday life of Greek citizens, with many traditional costumes and household items on display. The museum offers a snapshot of the development of Greek culture through the ages, and of the fine workmanship that has been in evidence from the earliest times. Temporary exhibitions are frequently mounted, so check the website to see what’s going on.
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Panathenaic Stadium (Paid)

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This stadium is the birthplace of the modern Olympics; the first Games were held there in 1896, and it was used again in 2004. Two precursors to the current games also occurred here in 1870 and 1875. Its sporting history actually dates back to around 566BC, when it hosted part of the Panathenaic Games. Originally a wooden stadium, it was later redesigned in marble, and the modern arena actually uses part of the rebuilt ancient structure. Nearby, you can find a tennis club and swimming pool, so the area is a good place to be if you’re feeling active on your holiday. The stadium also hosts occasional music concerts. Tours are on offer at an affordable price, with a full commentary on the stadium’s fascinating history. There is also a small museum where you can view torches and memorabilia from past Olympics; and the top of the seating offers another vantage point for fabulous views including the Acropolis.
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Hike Mount Lycabettus (Free)

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This hill is the highest point in Athens at 277m (908ft) above sea level, and affords breathtaking views over the city and out to the Aegean Sea, making it well worth the journey to the top. It also has the 19th century Chapel of St George, a theatre, and a restaurant at its two summits. There is a funicular railway that ascends the hill, starting from Aristippou Street, but if you’re up for an invigorating physical challenge, it’s a great idea to hike to the top. During the summer it’s best to go at twilight to avoid the sweltering heat, but in any case you should bring a bottle of water with you. A view of the sunset from the peak is a sight to be remembered, with lights beginning to twinkle on across the city and rooftops taking on a rosy glow. There are many interesting myths surrounding the hill - it’s supposed to have been created when Athena dropped a mountain meant for the Acropolis, and apparently once harboured wolves, which gave it its name.
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The Ancient Agora (Paid)

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In ancient times, the Agora was the social, commercial, political and cultural hub of the city. It was established in the 7th or 6th century BC, and over the next thousand years underwent various periods of upheaval including invasions from Persians and Slavs until it was finally abandoned. Excavations started in 1931, uncovering a wealth of fascinating monuments and buildings. Many temples were erected on the site, the most notable of which is the Temple of Hephaestus. Built from 449-415 BC, most of the original structure still remains. Hephaestus was the god of metallurgy and craftsmanship, the temple being dedicated to him due to the large amount of workshops in the area. Battle scenes from Greek mythology are portrayed on the temple’s friezes. Elsewhere in the Agora, a museum is housed in the Stoa of Attalos. A stoa was a covered walkway - what you see today is a 1950s reconstruction of the original ruined building, but it has been acclaimed as an exact replica.
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Plaka (Free)

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Plaka is the oldest neighbourhood in Greece, as it is built directly on top of ancient housing and has many interesting archaeological sites. It is located on the northeastern slope of the Acropolis, leading to the name “The Neighbourhood of the Gods”. Excavations starting in the 19th century have shown among other things that Adrianou Street is the oldest street in the city, with the layout unchanged since ancient times. There are many museums to visit including the Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments (link), and plenty of shops where, with a bit of hunting, you can find a unique item to take home from your holiday - including jewellery and classical-style pieces. It’s very nice to wander around Plaka in the evening, stopping at one of the many restaurants and taking in the history all around in the picturesque old buildings. It also features an open air cinema during the summer, with English subtitles, in Kydathinaion Square.
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Temple of Poseidon (Paid)

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This temple at Cape Sounion on the coast was dedicated to the Greek sea god Poseidon in an effort to prevent shipwrecks and drownings. It was built between 444-440 BC and sits directly above the sea, making for a striking sight. Only a few columns remain of the temple after it was ruined in 399 AD, but it seems to have closely resembled the Temple of Hephaestus at Athens, and like the Parthenon, used to contain a giant bronze statue of the god who was being worshipped. Many sacrifices and rites would have been performed here. You can access the site on a coach trip from Athens. Sunset on the Aegean Sea as seen through the temple’s columns is a sight to behold, and shouldn’t be missed, although this is naturally the busiest time of the day. Also be aware that the rocks can be slippery, so wear sturdy footwear.
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Agora-Athens Central Market (Free)

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This vibrant market is the place to be to get all your fresh produce sourced from all over Greece - meat, fish, and vegetables. Unless you’re staying in a self-catering apartment, you may not have much call to do any cooking while on holiday, but it’s still well worth a wander around to soak in all the delicious sights, sounds, tastes and smells. There is also a fantastic range of cheeses, olives, spices and much more. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, as the fish area can be slippery underfoot! And you can sample some of the goodies on offer in one of the restaurants on site. These are slightly rough and ready, but serve food of the highest quality, such as the patasas - an authentic old Greek soup made from tripe. There are many eyecatching sights all around the market, such as the meat carcasses lit by light bulbs. The Agora is a taste of the working life of Athens that shouldn’t be missed.
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Anafiotika (Free)

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For a real taste of old-fashioned Athens, you have to visit this picturesque neighbourhood, which is part of the Plaka district. If you are visiting the Acropolis, you will find it situated just under the temple complex on the northeastern slope of the hill. It’s well worth spending some time strolling the streets, which seem untouched by modern progress. The whitewashed, cubic houses are beautifully decorated with blooming flowers and many local cats enjoying the sun. The streets are very steep with a lot of steps, so do be aware that it’s not wheelchair accessible. You can enjoy a delicious meal and some Ouzo at one of the charming restaurants, where you can take in spectacular views both of the Acropolis, which is beautifully illuminated at night, and of the city spread out below you. Anafiotika imparts the feel of an unspoilt Greek island, far removed from the urban sprawl while being right in the middle of it.
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Monastiraki Flea Market (Free)

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You can find anything and everything at this bustling market; books, antiques, paintings, jewellery, clothing, records and much, much more. It’s centred on Avissynias Square and there are many cafes and restaurants in the area. The busiest day is Sunday; try to arrive before 11am as it gets extremely hectic with the influx of tourists. It’s definitely a great place to hunt for that souvenir from your holiday as there are many bargains to be had - haggling is encouraged! There are also many shops round about the area selling a huge variety of goods. You can find these on Pandrossou Street and Adrianou Street. There are many side streets where you may be able to find more unique items, as many of the bigger shops sell mass-produced wares. Or you can just sit at one of the cafes and watch the world go by. Whatever you do, it’s the place to experience the real hustle and bustle of Greek working life.
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Changing of the Guard Athens (Free)

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For a real flavour of the pomp and circumstance of the Greek military, you should check out this highly ritualised ceremony which takes place every hour on the hour. The Greek Evzones in their traditional uniform change the guard which stands at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Parliament Building in Syntagma Square. Usually, just four guards are involved - two replacing two - but if you come on Sunday at 11am, there is a marching band and an entire regiment of guards, making for quite a spectacle. The guards wear a very particular uniform, the most notable features of which are the kilt known as the fustanella and dress shoes with pompoms. This is a recreation of the uniform worn by the Klephts, highly regarded guerrillas who fought against the Turkish occupation of Greece from the 15th to 19th centuries. The Evzones are an elite unit, trained to stand motionless except when changing guard - which is a highly elaborate ceremony involving slowly raising each leg high in the air before taking each step.
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Mars Hill at Night (Free)

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This bare marble hill, situated next to the Acropolis though not nearly as tall, is a place of pilgrimage for many, as it was where the Apostle Paul delivered his sermon on “the Unknown God”. A bronze plaque commemorating this can be found at the bottom of the stairs leading to the top. If you want to climb the hill, wear sturdy shoes in the wet, as the steps can get slippery. The summit affords a good view of the Acropolis. It is especially nice to ascend the hill on a cool night and look out over the city lights. The rocky outcrop is named after Mars, the Roman God of War, although in Greek it is known as Areopagus, or Rock of Ares - Mars’ Greek name. In classical times it served as the High Court of Appeal, and there was a temple at the bottom where murderers could find sanctuary.
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Theatre of Dionysus (Paid)

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One of the earliest ancient theatres in the world, this open-air arena located near the Acropolis is regarded as the birthplace of European drama and had a capacity of 17,000. This was where classical plays by some of the most famous Greek playwrights were performed, including Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, with actors wearing masks in order for spectators to identify the characters in the vast theatre. The plays were put on in honour of the god Dionysus. It’s still possible to sit and visualise the spectacle which formed the main source of entertainment for the ancient Athenians. It must have been an exciting place to be; playwrights and actors had the status of rock stars, and the plays tended towards extremes, being either very light-hearted, satirical or rude (comedies) or dealing with the weightiest themes such as fate (tragedies). The theatre was rebuilt and expanded many times over its lifespan; the earliest version, dated to the fifth century BC, probably featured wooden seats, which were replaced in 330 BC by the stone seats visible today.
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Technopolis (Paid)

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Athens’ Technopolis is an ingenious attraction; housed in the city’s former gasworks built in 1857, it has been an industrial museum and cultural centre since 1999. It is home to many different exhibitions, concerts, films, workshops, fairs and many other events. Visiting the Technopolis is an intriguing experience because most of the fixtures and fittings from the gasworks are still in place, giving an insight into Athens’ industrial heritage and an interesting setting for the various arts-related events. Check the website to see what’s happening. You can also find out all about the gasworks in the museum dedicated to them. See what life was like for the workers here through interactive exhibits and view the original machinery. The centre also features a cafe and a shop where you can buy gifts which are derived from or inspired by the industrial history of the building. It’s well worth visiting the Technopolis at night to take in the wonderful illumination of the old factory and chimneys.
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National Gardens (Free)

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These picturesque gardens offer a tranquil haven from the hubbub of the city while being located right in the middle of it. Spanning 32 acres, they are a perfect place to just sit and relax for a while, or you can explore the park and the many interesting features it contains by wandering along the 7.5km of pathways which wind between the array of plants and trees. Opened by Queen Amalia in 1840, animals were kept in the park from the beginning and you can still find some today at the eastern side, including ducks, geese, peacocks, parrots and a donkey. Ancient ruins are scattered around the premises, including Corinthian columns, mosaics and Roman baths. The gardens are a perfect place for kids, with a well-stocked children’s library and a large playground. At the Botanical Museum, you can find examples of the park’s ornamental plants. There is also a cafe which is ideal for refreshing snacks and drinks on a hot day.
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Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments (Free)

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This compact museum displays 600 well-loved instruments dating back 300 years. Exhibits are spread over three floors, covering percussion, wind and strings. Among the items you can find are lyres, bouzoukia (similar to a mandolin), and toubelekis (a type of drum). Headphones are provided with each instrument so you can check out the sound. The museum garden hosts regular concerts, where you can listen to the harmonious sounds of the instruments as they are played by talented folk musicians. Educational programmes for children are also offered daily in the exhibition space and lecture hall, underpinning the museum’s stated aim of promoting and safeguarding Greece’s folk musical heritage. Check out the website for details of upcoming events. It’s also an excellent idea to check out the shop, where experts on Greek music can recommend selections from a diverse array of CDs. Located in Plaka, the museum is well worth a visit if you’re wandering through the area.
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The Beach (Free)

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There is a wide variety of beaches with beautiful golden sands only a few miles out of the centre of Athens. After examining all those temples, no holiday would be complete without an afternoon of stretching out and topping up your tan. Let’s take a look at what some consider the best of the bunch, Votsalakia. Only 9km (5.6 miles) south of Athens in the Piraeus area, the beach boasts a volleyball court and watersports as well as numerous cafes and restaurants in close proximity. Be aware that things can get very crowded in the summer season (May to July); like most Greek attractions, the best thing to do is arrive early. Take a bus to Piraeus (itself worth exploring with its attractive harbour) and another one to the beach. The beach is well noted for its cleanliness, and the sparkling water temptingly invites you in for a refreshing dip.
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