Top 20 Fun Things to do in Athens
Athens is not just a capital city. Athens is the birthplace of Classical Greece and Western civilization in general. The first prehistoric settlement arose here around 3000 B.C. Over the centuries, Athens has been through many different episodes, including periods of decline. It's hard to imagine, but in the 1830s, when the city began to emerge from Ottoman oppression as the capital of independent Greece, Athens was just a small provincial village. Athens includes the Old City, the central districts, the suburbs, and the port of Piraeus. In the center are two hills: the Acropolis Hill with the Parthenon and ancient temples; and Lycabettus Hill (Likavitos) with the picturesque church of St. George on top. You could spend a month in Athens, exploring in detail all the ancient monuments and ruins, as well as the charming neoclassical buildings in the historic center and museums. But if you decide to do that, keep in mind that even in the heart of the city, there are places you shouldn't go idling. Seriously, the Omonia neighborhood, filled with immigrants, is best avoided in broad daylight.
Visit the Parthenon
The Parthenon has always been considered one of the most significant and monumental buildings on the Acropolis in Athens. The temple was built in honor of the goddess Athena, the patroness of the Greek capital. According to an ancient myth, the supreme god decided to get rid of his wayward daughter while she was still in her mother's womb by swallowing her whole. But she refused to let him go, and the thunderer gave the order to extract Athena from her head, where she was already dressed in armor and holding a sword and a shield. For such a warlike goddess, of course, it was necessary to erect a rather magnificent temple. Construction of the Parthenon began about 447 B.C. and lasted more than fifteen years. Excellent marble, the best pieces of ebony, ivory, and precious metals were brought from all over Hellas to the Acropolis. In the Parthenon, everything was thought out to the smallest detail. Every part has its unique size, shape, and purpose. It is one of the main attractions in Greece and is rightfully considered a masterpiece of world architecture. Unfortunately, nowadays there is not much left of its former grandeur, but even the ruins that have survived in its place fascinate millions of tourists.
Take a walk through the streets of the old town of Plaka
Athens' oldest neighborhood, Plaka, has preserved much of its original form, culture, and colors. Even though there are a lot of tourists and a lot of restaurants and souvenir shops, there is a peaceful and quiet atmosphere here, as if time stood still in these cozy and well-kept streets with straight rows of old construction houses. Whereas the rest of Athens is a vibrant cocktail of ancient architecture, Christian temples, oriental bazaars, modern fashionable boutiques, cozy national-style tavernas, and expensive restaurants.
Look at Athens from Mount Lycabettus
Mount Lycabettus is a chalky lime hill in Athens, located 277 meters above sea level. This hill is the highest point in the vicinity of the city. At the top is the Chapel of St. George, built between the 11th and 12th centuries. There are a theater and restaurant at the foot of the hill and a pineapple grove at the top of the hill. The large outdoor theater on the hill often hosts traditional Greek or international concerts. There is a great observation deck from which you can see the Acropolis like the palm of your hand. To climb the mountain, you can take the Lycabettus Funicular from the station at Kolonaki. The funicular runs from 8:45 to 0:45 in the summer (Thursdays 10:45 to 0:45) and from 8:45 to 0:15 in the winter (Thursdays 10:45 to 0:15).
Athens is a major modern metropolis. Antiques sit happily alongside designer name brands and affordable clothing, shoes, and accessories. For clothes and shoes by the best-known but cheapest brands, visit Ermou Street, the biggest shopping street in the Greek capital. From the middle to the end, the two sides of the street are lined with Zara, Morgan, Benneton, Marks& Spencer, and others. In the beginning, there are the more expensive high-end brands. The most luxurious shopping areas are Kolonaki, Kifissia, and Glyfada. If you go to one of them, be prepared to part with a large sum.
For bargains, see Patission Street (clothes, shoes, and accessories), Plaka (jewelry, souvenirs, antiques), and Monastiraki Street (handmade clothes and shoes, accessories, and traditional tools). The latter has a flea market every Sunday. There are interesting and unique items among the piles of useless trinkets, including inexpensive Greek souvenirs such as ceramics, linens, carpets, replicas of museum pieces, and busts of ancient Greek thinkers. Thrifty shopaholics should plan a vacation in the second half of summer. From mid-July to the end of August in Athens, there are sales and prices fall by 50-80%. Even during this time, however, the famous Greek furs cost a lot, so it is better to go to other parts of the country for a fur coat. In the end, be sure to visit Afinas Street. Here you can buy delicious Greek souvenirs: olives and olive oil, feta cheese, honey, rakia, and Metaxa.
Taste local cuisine
The national cuisine of Greece is traditionally associated with plenty of vegetables and seafood, olives, soft feta cheese, and a variety of herbs and spices. Tiropita (cheese pie), moussaka (layered dish of eggplant, potatoes, and minced meat), dolma dolma (stuffed cabbage rolls in grape leaves), zazziki (a thick sauce made of fresh cucumber, yogurt, and garlic), and, of course, char-grilled squid, fish, shrimp, and octopus can be found in every restaurant in Athens.
Where to go to try it all? It all depends on your budget. For those who are planning to spend 100 EUR per dinner for one person, there are several authentic Michelin-starred restaurants in the capital. Luxurious interiors and exquisite dishes look more like works of art, and the taste is beyond praise. However, the city is full of establishments with much more reasonable prices for the average tourist. In the coastal taverns and small restaurants in the city center, you can taste traditional Greek cuisine, paying no more than 50 EUR for a dinner for two. If you go to the suburbs or the area of Plaka, this price will increase to 60 EUR. For those who do not want to spend more than 5–15 EUR for lunch, in Athens, there are inexpensive eateries and cafes called "tiropitadiko". The former serves kebabs with pita and lemon, while the latter specializes in puff pastries with cheese, spinach, and other fillings.
Walk through the Acropolis
Every polis in Ancient Greece had its own Acropolis, but none could surpass Athens in scale, layout, and concentration of so many monuments from past eras. Without it, the capital of Greece is simply unthinkable. It is rightly considered its calling card, a true mecca for tourists from around the world. Here, time stands still; it is frozen in the impeccable elegance of its architectural forms. Everything here looks majestic and strikes you with its scope and monumentality, testifying to the high level of development of ancient Greek culture and remaining a model of world architecture for centuries.
Originally, on the Acropolis hill, there was an imperial palace, and in the 7th century BC, large-scale reconstruction began and the foundation of the first and most important temple — the Parthenon — was laid. It is striking not only for its size but also for its special layout; you can see it in volume. If you look at the structure from the central gate, you see three walls. The secret is that the Parthenon columns are located at a certain angle to each other, and this is due to several other interesting architectural features. The main decoration of the temple was a statue of Athena made of ivory and gold. In the 5th century B.C., it was taken to Constantinople, where it was burned in a fire.
Equally grandiose is Erechtheion, built on the site where the legendary dispute between Poseidon and Athena took place. Here, in the sanctuary of Pandora, an olive branch was kept and spring of seawater flowed. In addition, the temple has the famous sculptures of the Caryatids—six beauties that replace the columns of the temple; many friezes; and preserved in some places, mosaics.
The temple of the goddess Nike stands out among the others because, according to legend, the Athenians left her without wings so that she did not fly away from them, and victory was always for them. This is a truly legendary place — it was here that Aegeus was waiting for his son Theseus, and in a fit of unbridled despair, he jumped into the sea. And very nearby is the ancient theater of Dionysus, where Aristophanes and Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides presented their dramas and comedies. Formerly, one could enter the Acropolis through the huge gate — the Propylaeum — which is a masterpiece of architecture and was called "the brilliant face of the Acropolis".
Of course, even the monumental structures of the Acropolis are subject to the influence of time, so everything that can be seen there now is rather badly destroyed. The numerous destructions and devastations that have occurred at various times have further altered the appearance of the "upper city." Nevertheless, the Acropolis of Athens impresses us with its elegance, luxury, and perfection, even in ruins.
Visit the Temple of Hephaestus
One of the favorite places for tourists visiting Athens is the Temple of Hephaestus. Here you can almost fully immerse yourself in the era of ancient Greece because the temple of Hephaestus is considered to be one of the best-preserved structures of that distant time. Athenians have always had a special reverence for the temple of Hephaestus. This is evidenced, for example, by the fact that all pediments, columns, and most of the roofs can be seen exactly as they were built by the ancient Greeks. But unfortunately, all the decorations have been despoiled over the centuries.
The temple of Hephaestus is also devoted to Athena, the patroness of the city. If you believe the legends of ancient Greece, she was responsible for the pottery craft. During excavations, archaeologists concluded that potters and blacksmiths lived near the temple. The temple is among the most famous landmarks of ancient Greece. It is also often compared to the Parthenon Temple. And no wonder, because they are made in the same style (Doric) and at the same time. The construction of the Parthenon temple dates back to 432 BC.
Spend time with your children
Even in such a monumental and majestic ancient city as Athens, there is room for children's spontaneity and curiosity. The first thing to do is to visit the Children's Museum, located in the center of the city. There are regular themed classes and workshops — culinary, creative, and theatrical — as well as games to develop logic and attention. For fun, visit Allou Fun Park, the best amusement park in Greece. The solid area has rides for the whole family, from small merry-go-rounds for the little ones to extreme "roller coasters" and a large Ferris wheel.
Get in touch with beauty at the Byzantine Museum
The Byzantine Christian Museum is considered one of the most famous museums in the Greek capital. It is called the orthodox treasury of the country. More than 25,000 interesting artifacts of Byzantine and Christian art can be found here. Statues, paintings, drawings, prints, frescoes, ceramics, embroidery, icons, ancient books, and manuscripts — you can enumerate a very long list. It's easier to see all this wealth at once. Of course, the funds of the Byzantine Museum will impress even the most curious visitor.
It is worth noting that the villa itself is very interesting. It was built in 1848 by the Greek architect Stamatis Klementis. The mansion is named so not by chance. The fact that nearby once flowed the river Ilissos. Over time, everything has changed, and now the river can be seen only in the area of Keramik. However, all the names remained the same. At the end of the 20th century, it became clear that the building could no longer hold the huge collection of the Byzantine Museum. Therefore, in 1993, it was decided to expand the villa. Especially for this, three underground floors were built. Of course, the exterior of the building did not have to undergo any changes, which was taken care of by the architect, Manos Perrakis. After all the changes, there was enough space for exhibitions.
The Byzantine Museum is divided into two thematic departments: Antiquity-Byzantium and the Byzantine World. Pay attention to the items in the Mithi-lini exhibit; all these artifacts were found on a shipwreck. On the lower floor, you can see the fully reconstructed interior of an 11th-century Byzantine church and a 5th-century Christian basilica.
Dance in the club all night long
For tourists who are attracted to the nightlife of Athens, the best places are concentrated in the central districts of Plaka, Kolonaki, Psirri, and Thyssone. There are plenty of places to listen to traditional music, watch the sirtaki and listen to bouzouki. At the same time, there are also more modern bars with electronic and other modern music. Speaking of concrete locations, here is the 3-story Club Venue (130, Pireos) where every Saturday parties with famous DJs take place; Plus-X (Patriarchou Ioakeim 37) in the Kolonaki district has DJ sets and rock shows; Plastik bar in the Gazi district (12 Dekeleon) near Keramikos metro station has good dance parties and free entrance, and BAROQUE club on Tzaferi 5 has parties worth seeing.
Relax in the countryside
When the weather is good, it's best to go to the island of Aegina. Ferries go there several times a day from Athens' port of Piraeus. The trip takes only 40 minutes and takes you to the picturesque pier, surrounded by white houses with red tile roofs. In ancient times, Aegina was an important political center and even competed with Athens for influence. Nowadays, there is little reminiscent of those times. It is possible to walk around Aegina in a couple of hours. The island lives a quiet and measured life, with almond cultivation and octopus fishing. The main attraction is the orthodox monastery of St. Nektarios. In the warm season, it's nice to swim and sunbathe on the beaches of the island. In the fall and winter, it is quite quiet. Walk through the ancient streets and be sure to try the fish dishes in one of the taverns on the shore.
Another destination for a day trip out of Athens is ancient Mycenae and Argos. This is where Paris kidnaps the beautiful Helen to take her with him to Troy. Heinrich Schliemann, an archaeologist, discovered and explored Mycenae in the nineteenth century. Now tourists walk along the ancient walls, take pictures of the massive Lion's Gate, and marvel at the acoustics in the tomb of Atreus. From Athens, Mycenae can be reached by bus in an hour and a half. There's plenty to see, even for those who are indifferent to historical sites. Not only the cities that Homer glorified, but also the idyllic Greek countryside, with its orange groves, cozy little houses, and picturesque views of the surrounding hills are worth visiting. It is a nice place both in winter and summer. And you can wait out the bad weather in one of the small family-run cafes.