In a city packed to the rafters with historic sites, planning a trip to Athens can be overwhelming. Especially when it comes to knowing the best things to do in Athens – and what to skip. There are several ancient sites in Athens well worth the effort (including the Acropolis of course). However, a lot of the city's charm lies in cafe-hopping in the sunshine, or browsing the huge variety of goods for sale at the Bazaar.
Why not try a four-day tailor-made tour of Athens? You'll wander a maze of charming streets, discover the Acropolis and the Parthenon and indulge in delicious Mediterranean food at local tavernas.
Along with the Parthenon, the Acropolis site is also home to several other notable buildings. This includes the Erechtheion, the temple of Athena Nike, and the Propylaia (gateways). It's easy to spend an entire day exploring the site.
Bear in mind that there's little shade here and it can get very hot in summer. So set your alarm for an early start to get the best out of the site (it opens at 8am). Also be aware that various part of the buildings have been covered in scaffolding for the best part of 20 years as part of a major cleanup operation takes place.
The area is largely pedestrianised and walking around to enjoy the feeling of the city around you is one of the best things to do in Athens. It also makes a welcome change from the concrete rectangles that characterise much of the rest of the city.
We suggest strolling downhill along Odhós Kydhathinéon, from the Anglican and Russian churches at Odhós Filellínon to Hadrian's Street, Odhós Adhrianoú. There are plenty of shops, restaurants and cafes to fill your time along the way.
You'll find clothes along Eólou and Ayíou Márkou, tools at the south end of Athinás, and food in the middle, around the Central Market. If you're looking for unique souvenirs to bring home, this is the place. Even if you're not in the market for shopping, the area makes a great people-watching spot.
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It captured the imagination in Britain in the early 19th century. When Lord Byron visited the temple in 1810 he carved his name on a pillar (an activity that's strictly discourages these days) and immortalised the site in his poem Don Juan.
Our tailor-made trip to classical Greece will take you to Athens, the city of legends and some of the most fascinating classical sites, such as Epidaurus, Olympia, Delphi and the man-made marvels of the Corinth Canal and Byzantine monasteries of Meteora.
Try to head here later in the day to avoid the tourist hordes. If you've only got time to zip around the highlights, make time for the gold Mask of Agamemnon, the Acropolis treasure trove of gold goblets and jewellery and the bronze Statue of Poseidon, dredged from the waters off Evvia in the 1920s.
The audience seats were extensively restored in the 1950s. The restoration was celebrated by inviting stars including Maria Callas and Frank Sinatra to perform at the venue. There's an ongoing programme of events at the amphitheatre from May to October. It's the ideal way to round off your trip to Athens.
The stadium’s reconstruction dates from the modern revival of the Olympic Games in 1896. Its appearance and pristine whiteness must be very much as it was when first reopened under the Roman senator. Though the bends are too tight for major modern events, it’s still used by local athletes and marks the finishing point of the annual Athens Marathon.
The remains of ancient Athens, uncovered during the building work, can be seen even before you enter. It is protected under glass flooring that continues through the ground floor. The displays start with a ramp described as the Slopes of the Acropolis, as that is where most of the pottery and other objects displayed here were found.
Learn the secrets of Ancient Greek mythology and history by visiting the world-renowned site of the Acropolis. Explore the unspoiled landscape of Peloponnese, become a true Spartan warrior in Thermopylae and much more - this tailor-made Odyssey Adventure in Ancient Greece takes you on a real Greek adventure.
The best overview of the Agora is from the exceptionally well-preserved Hephaisteion, or Temple of Hephaistos. This is where there is a terrace overlooking the rest of the site from the west. The display shows the buildings as they were in 150 AD, and the various remains laid out in front of you makes for a great expirience.
Directly behind Hadrian’s Arch, the colossal pillars of the Temple of Olympian Zeus stand in the middle of a huge, dusty clearing with excellent views of the Acropolis and constant traffic noise.
Today, there’s little evidence of ancient grandeur beyond various steps and niches cut into the perilously slippery rock. However, the crowds come here to rest after their exertions on the Acropolis and to enjoy the views. These, at least, are good – down over the Agora and towards the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos.
Roughly midway between the Acropolis and Lykavitós hill, with the Greek Parliament building (the Voulí) on its uphill side, it’s the political and geographic heart of Athens and still the principal venue for mass demonstrations and political rallies.
The hills of the Pnyx and Filopáppou offer a pleasant, green escape from the city as well as fine views down over the Acropolis and Agora. On the west side of the hills, the residential zone of Áno Petrálona is a real delight, entirely untouristy, with some excellent tavernas and a great open-air cinema.
On the summit, the brilliantly white chapel of Áyios Yióryios dominates – a spectacular place to celebrate the saint’s name-day if you’re in Athens at the time. Just below it, Orizontes is a very expensive restaurant with an equally expensive café, both of which enjoy spectacular views.
Ready for a trip to Athens? Check out the snapshot The Rough Guide to the Greek Islands or The Rough Guide to Greece. If you travel further in Greece, read more about the best time to go, the best places to visit and best things to do in Greece. For inspiration use the itineraries from The Rough Guide to Greece and our local travel experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
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