Athens: Greece’s Capital – the Top 10 Places of Interest
Greece’s capital got its name from a myth: Poseidon, god of the sea, and Athena, goddess of wisdom and warfare, fought over who would get to name the city. Due to a rare and unique gift from Athena, the people of Athens declared her to be the city’s patron saint, and to this day she continues to be its tutelary deity.
For this and many other reasons, Athens is regarded as Europe’s most historic city, and is home to more ancient monuments than any other place in Europe. Moreover, the Olympic Games were first held here in 1896. And finally, the capital is considered the birthplace of democracy and acted as a hub for politics and society in earlier times.
With so much culture and history, you’ll want to grab your bags and explore this mythological city on your own, right? But before you start packing, we’ve put together a list of our top 10 must-see places for your trip to the Greek capital. Have fun!
Athens in a Nutshell
The capital city has a population of 655,000 people. If you include the metropolitan area up to the port of Piraeus, the figure rises to four million. The historical landscape of Attica, in which Athens is located, is surrounded by four mountain ranges: Hymettus (1,026 m), Pentelicus (1,107 m), Parnitha (1,413 m), and Aigaleo (468 m). In the south of the city, on the other hand, you won’t find any mountains, but rather the Saronic Gulf.
Greece experiences Mediterranean temperatures due to its proximity to the sea. However, due to being surrounded by mountains in the west, north, and east, the climate is even drier and warmer than in other regions of the country. This means that in the summer, you can expect temperatures of up to 40 °C in the shade. So don’t forget to pack sunscreen and a hat! In winter, on the other hand, cold air currents come from the north. If you plan your trip around the chillier months, you’ll want to bring some warmer clothing. Between December and February, the average temperature ranges from 9 °C to 11 °C.
Greece, gyros, and ouzo? That’s probably a mixture everyone is familiar with! In addition to these typical specialties of this southern European country, there are many other delicacies to discover in the capital. Baklava, for example, is a filo or puff pastry filled with nuts and honey – doesn’t that sound heavenly? However, if you like hearty food, we recommend bifteki, minced meat rolls made of beef, or moussaka, an eggplant casserole with potatoes and minced meat.
To go from one restaurant to the next, we recommend taking a walk through the historic city. If your destination is a bit further away, you can also use public transport without any problem. It’s reliable and really affordable here – choose between the metro, suburban railway, tram, or buses and trolleybuses. With a wide range of transportation options, it’s easy to navigate the city and even get to the airport and the suburbs.
Are you in the mood for music, movies, and street food? Then don’t miss out on the city’s different festivals! The Athens Epidaurus Festival is a three-month-long festival of music, theater, dance, and visual arts that takes place between June and August. It’s quite an experience! Or would you prefer a movie festival? Then pay a visit to the International Film Festival in September and experience indie films from around the world at this popular two-week long film event. The Avant-Garde Film Festival from October to November offers an alternative where you can see the latest and most groundbreaking films in international cinema. Feeling hungry after all these cultural fairs? Then check out the Street Food Festival in spring. Over the course of three weekends, some of the city’s best restaurants serve tasty treats from around the world – sounds delicious, doesn’t it?
The Top 10 Places of Interest in Athens
We’ve kept you waiting long enough. Below are Athens’ top 10 must-see sights.
Acropolis of Athens and Acropolis Museum
The Acropolis is the most well-known landmark in Greece’s capital. The 156-meter-high rocky outcrop towers high above the roofs of Athens with its unique splendor and history. The name Acropolis translates as “high city” – what an appropriate name for the city’s highest elevation. Needless to say, the view from up there is simply breathtaking. In addition to castles and fortifications for defense purposes, the flat rock was also home to sacred temples where Greek deities were worshipped. The Parthenon is the most magnificent, and probably most famous, temple on the Athenian Acropolis. Did you know that, according to Theodor Heuss – the first president of West Germany – the Acropolis is one of the hills on which Europe was founded? Crazy, isn’t it? The UNESCO declared this landmark to be a World Heritage Sites in 1987.
Do you want to delve deeper into the Athenian Acropolis’ mythology? Then a visit to the Acropolis Museum should be at the top of your list. Not only is it one of the best museums in the world, but it also houses spectacular artifacts, exciting excavations, and breathtaking exhibitions. So instead of just taking vacation photos of the Acropolis, the museum may help you gain a better understanding of what makes this exceptional landmark so special. It will bring you even closer to ancient Greek history, and you’ll have a lot more fun exploring.
The main temple of the Acropolis was built almost 2,500 years ago. A 12-meter-high statue of Athena, the city’s patron saint, stands in the center. It’s surrounded by 50 white marble columns that reach a height of 70 meters. This intimidating, but beautiful structure is supposed to emphasize Athens’ power and the victory over the Persians. Original parts of the Parthenon are also on display in the Acropolis Museum.
Syntagma Square, right in the heart of the capital, acts as a hub and turning point for public life. Many metro lines, as well as other public transportation, depart from here. If you want to stay a bit longer, the side streets provide a wide range of coffee shops, outdoor restaurants, and bars. Furthermore, the central shopping street, Odos Ermou, also branches off directly from the square. Are you in the south of Syntagma Square? Then pay a visit to the National Garden.
Lycabettus, the 277-meter-high limestone hill in central Athens, is accessible on foot or by cable car. However, due to the usually high temperatures, we recommend using the latter to avoid a steep climb. From the viewing platform, you’ll have a wonderful view of the Acropolis, the National Garden, and the Olympic Stadium. The hill offers you a completely different perspective on the city during your trip – don’t miss it!
Want to escape the crowds and concrete buildings for a while? Then make your way to the National Garden. People also call it “the green lung of the city” due to its idyllic atmosphere. Relax in the Botanical Museum, visit the small zoo with wolves and goats, or simply sit in the shade with a book and enjoy the green biodiversity.
Plaka – the old town of Athens
Every capital, especially one as historically rich as this one, has an old town. The neighborhood of Plaka wins over its visitors with picturesque buildings and charming, vibrant alleys. Here, you’ll find cute cafés, small boutiques, and plenty of street musicians and painters whose skills you can admire. The old town is especially popular in the early morning hours, when regional fishermen and farmers display their products at the central market. Have fun feasting!
Whether you’re a fan or not, the birthplace of the Olympics is an absolute must-see when you’re in Athens. Who doesn’t want to see the place where the Olympic torch was first lit? To this day, the ceremonial event of lighting the fire is held here. Additionally, the Olympic flame is officially handed over to the host country in this stadium. In addition to the Olympic Games, the Athens Classic Marathon also takes place here.
The Agora used to be the economic and political center of Athens. The Athenians used the old central marketplace not only for shopping, but also for administrative purposes such as voting and elections. Nowadays, you can still see stone remnants of the once most important square. With the rest of the overgrown terrain and your historical knowledge, the Agora takes you back to ancient times.
You can’t travel to the southern part of Europe without visiting a beach, can you? Varkiza beach is a great place to clear your head and cool off after all the historical information. Apart from its size, the beach stands out for its wide range of activities. Whether it’s windsurfing, volleyball, tennis, or a little shopping trip through the boutiques, there’s always something to do here. But of course, the blue sea is the highlight of this place. The beach is just outside Athens, so the best way to get there is by driving along the coast. Alternatively, you can take the train.
Do you want to stay active during your vacation and get your heart rate up? Then we recommend the hike on Mount Hymettus to the Monastery of Kaisariani. The route passes through an emerald-green pine forest, and you’ll momentarily forget that you’re right next to a city of millions. The monastery is located on Taxiarches Hill, from which you’ll have a breathtaking view of Athens. Be sure to take some snacks with you ! After the almost two-hour hike, you can recharge your batteries at one of the many picnic areas around the viewpoint while enjoying the picture-perfect view.
Athens is a unique city, especially due to its imposing historical architecture. In addition to its incredibly exciting history, Greece’s capital also offers you nature and adventure, with great temperatures all year round. Who can say no to a trip like this? We hope our list of the top ten sights in Athens helps you plan your next trip!