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. A great place to start is with The Rough Guide to Greece . And in the meantime, our Athens expert brings your her lowdown below.
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.
Read on for a visual tour of the city. It will help you get your bearings and discover the best things to do in Athens. If you're ready to start planning your stay, browse the best hotels, guesthouses and hostels in Athens.
The wide streets around Athens' historic Agora are lined with pavement cafes filled with locals drinking strong back coffee and conducting passionate debates. Pick and table and join the throng. Then stroll the pedestrianised Apóstólo Pávlou that takes you past cafes to the edge of the Agora and the Acropolis. The view is particularly spectacular at sunset.
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Why not try a four-day 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.
Rain or shine, the Parthenon atop the rock of the Acropolis stands majestically above the city of Athens, master of all it surveys. It's undoubtedly one of the most iconic sites in the Western world. The first time you see it you're sure to feel a little shiver of excitement.
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.
In the shadow of the Acropolis, the winding streets of Pláka seem lost in a time warp. There are hand-shaped walls, colourful shutters and tumbles of potted plants outside doorways.
The area is largely pedestrianised and is lovely to walk around to just enjoy the feeling of the city around you. 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.
Acropolis House:. A rambling, slightly dilapidated, family-run 150-year-old mansion. It's much loved by its regulars, most of whom are academics who often leave behind books for guests to read. Discounts available for longer stays.
Electra Palace Athens: Five-star luxury right in the heart of Pláka. You'll enjoy every facility including both indoor and rooftop pools, small gym and sauna. Upper-floor suites have large balconies with great Acropolis views.
The Student & Traveller’s Inn: Very friendly, perennially popular travellers’ meeting place. It's clean and well run, though a bit dated and not always the quietest spot. Triples, four-bed and female-only dorms are available.
The area around Athinás and Eólou streets makes up Athens' Bazaar. Here you can find almost anything for sale. The atmosphere will remind you of a North African souk, with different areas of the streets dedicated to different items.
You'll find clothes along Eólou and Ayíou Márkou, tools at the south end 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.
OK, the Temple of Poseidon is not technically in Athens (you'll find it 70km away at Cape Soúnio). But if you're a history buff this site is well worth the detour. The 5th century temple, built in the time of Pericles, has been a landmark for sailors sailing between Piraeus and the Islands for centuries, and is still an atmospheric spot to visit.
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.
A trip to the National Archeological Museum is a must on any visit to Athens. Yes, you've seen Greek sculptures before, but the wealth of items of display here will please the most jaded traveller.
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.
On the southwest slope of the Acropolis, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus (built in the 2nd century AD) is one of the city's most atmospheric ruins. The tiered arches allow glimpses of the city beyond.
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.
In addition to visiting Athens, in our guide you will find many other best things to do and experience in Greece .
Ready to start your Athens adventure? Find your perfect place to stay in Athens.
Ready to travel to Greece ? Find out about the best time to go , the best places to visit plus the best things to do in Greece and of course – the best beaches in Greece . For inspiration use the Greece itineraries from The Rough Guide to Greece and our local travel experts . A bit more hands on, see our top tips for travelling in Greece , or learn about getting there , getting around the country and where to stay once you are there. And if you prefer to plan and book your trip to Greece without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
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