A symbol of Western Civilization at its most magnificent, Athens boasts an illustrious history that stretches back more than 3,000 years. The city flourished during classical antiquity and was the birthplace of Socrates, Pericles, and Sophocles. There are few cities in the world with more to see. But here we gathered the essence for your perfect weekend.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Athens:
Few sights in the world compare to Athens’ Acropolis, with its Parthenon temple perched high on a rocky crag keeping watch over centuries of civilization. A reminder of the glory of ancient Athens, the center of the ancient city the was Acropolis and functioned as a citadel in its protected hilltop location. The most emblematic building is the Parthenon, the largest temple of the classical antiquity period dating from 447 BC to 338 BC. With its monumental rows of Doric columns and stunning sculptural details, the temple is an awe-inspiring sight. In the frieze on the eastern side, reliefs depict the birth of the goddess Athena. Other ruins of the Acropolis include the Erechtheion, a complex of ancient sanctuaries built between 421 BC and 395 BC. The most famous feature of the Erechtheion complex is the Porch of the Caryatids, with six statues of maidens in place of Doric columns.
Acropolis museum is considered one of the most important museums in Greece. It is also consistently rated as one of the best museums in the world. Devoted to the Parthenon and its surrounding temples, it is cleverly perched above Athens like a luminous box. As its name suggests, the Acropolis Museum – which resides in Makrigianni district – houses more than 3.000 artifacts from the Acropolis. Key exhibits include a relief of Athena Nike, several carved statues from Erechtheion and a gallery with various Parthenon artifacts.
It is for sure a memorable museum experience, as the property’s displays as the perfect complement to the Acropolis’ ruins and the museum’s design, especially the glass floors offer a peek at the ruins situated beneath the building.
We would suggest to start from the top floor of the ‘Parthenon Gallery’ and make your way down from here. Also, the glass panelling and elevation of this floor allows you to easily glance over to the ancient city of the Acropolis, with the Parthenon always in plain sight only 300 metres away.
Plaka & Anafiotika
Located at the foot of Acropolis, Plaka is a picturesque neighbourhood with the narrow streets, neoclassical houses, shops, restaurants and ruins from the Roman era.
A walk through the oldest neighborhood is a must and one of the most pleasurable activities in the early evening. There are hundreds of shops from kitschy tourist to the workshops of some really great artisans. Several good restaurants where you can sit outside almost year round are also around the corner. There are also some nice little ouzeries that are cozy when it is too cold to sit outside. Ancient Greek and Roman ruins are scattered around as well as some beautiful 19th century buildings and several Byzantine churches. Lets not forget Anafiotika, the neighborhood closest to the stone slope of the Acropolis where you can wander around and feel like you are on an island in the middle of the Aegean instead of an island in the middle of a modern city.
Agora: Ruins of the Ancient Marketplace
The ancient Agora was the marketplace and the center of everyday life in ancient Athens. For an impressive view of the Agora from afar, head to the north wall of the Acropolis. The best place to enter the Agora is at the north gate off Adrianoú Street (near the Saint Philip Church). The Greek word “Agora” means to “gather and orate,” indicating that this site was a location of public speaking. The Agora was a place of administration and commerce as well as the meeting place of the Agora tou Dimou, a civic decision-making group. Athletic events and theater performances were also held here. One particularly interesting feature of the Agora is the 18-meter-long Royal Stoa. The stoa is the seat of the Archon Basileus, who took over the cultic functions of the earlier kings. This sixth-century BC stoa may have been the scene of Socrates’ trial in 399 BC.
Olympieion: Temple of Olympian Zeus
Dedicated to Zeus, the Olympieion was the largest temple in ancient Greece. Though the Parthenon is better preserved, the Temple of Olympian Zeus was an even more monumental structure in its day. The temple dates to the sixth century BC but was not completed until the second century AD by the Emperor Hadrian. It’s easy to imagine the grand impression this temple made in its complete form. More than a hundred enormous marble columns once supported the grandiose sanctuary. Only 15 columns remain standing, and another surviving column lies on the ground. But still the ruins’ monumental presence gives a sense of the massive size of the original building. The gigantic structure was a befitting shrine to Zeus, known as the King of Gods. Nearby, just north of the Olympieion, is a small park containing the ruins of Themistokles’ wall and the ancient Roman baths.
Panathenaic Stadium & Olympic Stadium
Ancient Athens’s largest building, the Panathenaic Stadium, has a capacity for 60,000 spectators. Constructed around 335 BC during the era of Herodes Atticus, the venue hosted the Panathenaic Games where runners competed in races around the track. The 204-meter-long track was designed with four double herms, where runners would turn in the races. Around AD 140, Herodes Atticus updated the stadium with new marble seating. The structure that you see today is a replica of the original stadium. It was rebuilt for the Olympic Games of 1896. It is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. This modern-era Olympic Stadium was created in the identical fashion as the Panathenaic Stadium, with 47 tiers of seating and a rounded southeast end.
The venue continues to hold significant cultural, sporting and ceremonial events. During an Olympic Games year, the Olympic flame travels from the ancient site of Olympia moving around Greece before finally arriving to the Panathenaic Stadium. The flame is then with an official hand-over ceremony transferred to the new host country.
BONUS – Byzantine Museum
This interesting museum offers fascinating insights into the Byzantine period of Greek history. Housed in a 19th-century palace originally built for the Duchesse de Plaisance, the museum displays a precious collection of Byzantine art. The Byzantine Empire was the inheritance of the eastern half of the Roman Empire after it fell; the expansive empire was officially Orthodox Christian in religion and Greek speaking. From the third to the 15th century, the Byzantine Empire ruled over the land of what is now the Balkans, Greece, and Asia Minor. During this time, religious art was highly valued. Byzantine artists created masterpieces of detailed, glittering mosaics and gilded icons.
With more than 25,000 items on display, the Byzantine Museum is a treasury of religious artifacts from the Byzantine, early Christian, medieval, and post-Byzantine eras. The collection includes sculptures, paintings, icons, textiles, and mosaics. The museum’s courtyard features a splendid fragment of a mosaic floor from the fifth century.