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Open air theatre on top of Lycabettus hill and the city of Athens, Greece.
Photograph: Shutterstock.comOpen air theatre on top of Lycabettus hill and the city of Athens, Greece.

The 14 best things to do in Athens right now

Fun markets, stunning hikes and the beginnings of western culture? These are the best things to do in amazing Athens

Demetrios Ioannou
Written by
Marissa Tajada
Contributor
Demetrios Ioannou
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Desperate for sun in 2023? Athens isn’t your typical summer holiday. The Greek capital is bursting with history, from mind-boggling ancient ruins to mesmerising museums. But that’s not all it’s good for. For all its historical charm, Athens is actually a seriously trendy spot, home to great bars and lovely little cafes, as well as a cutting-edge arts and culture scene. 

Like the rest of Greece, the choices for food are endless. We’re talking plates of dolmades, souvlaki and more feta than you can shake a stick out. And the beaches? Not half bad either.  But when you’re done with that, why not stroll through flea markets, hike into the mountains, or visit one of the city's many open-air cinemas? Whatever you’re here for, there’s more than enough to fill your days. Here are the best things to do in Athens right now.

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🏠 The best hotels in Athens

This piece was recently updated by Demetrios Ioannou, a journalist based in Athens. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines and check out our latest travel guides written by local experts.

What to do in Athens

The Acropolis
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. The Acropolis

What is it? This 2,500-year-old rocky outcrop perched in Athens’ modern metropolis is the sight you’ve only dreamed about. The Acropolis finds itself at the very top of our list because if you do one thing in Athens, it has to be this. 

Why go? The monuments here are considered the greatest architectural feats of Greek antiquity. The Parthenon temple, dedicated to the goddess Athena, is perfectly proportioned and considered the world’s finest Doric masterpiece. Round the corner is the Acropolis Museum, which is well worth checking out – since 2009 it has accommodated all the artifacts found in the area that were previously exhibited on top of the ancient hill.

Temple of Poseidon
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Temple of Poseidon

What is it? Athens isn’t short on treats for fans of Greek mythology. This temple at Sounion, which is dedicated to the mighty Poseidon, should be one of the first temples on your checklist.

Why go? He may be the god of oceans, but Poseidon's palace stands 60 metres above sea level on Cape Sounio. This marble temple was first built by ancient Athenians to honour Poseidon and guide sailors safely home. All that remains now is a series of towering columns that don’t half look beautiful against a glorious Greek sunset. Bear in mind the temple is a bit of a way from the city center, so if you don’t drive, you might need to take a bus or two to reach it (but it's definitely worth it).

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The Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre
Photograph: Shutterstock

3. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre

What is it? On the foot of the Acropolis hill sits the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a stone Roman conservatory that was built in the 2nd century AD. The conservatory was destroyed in 267 AD and restored in the early 50s. Today, it is considered one of the best-preserved sites in the country, and it still operates as a venue for concerts and other performances.

Why go? Since 1957 it has held various cultural and artistic events as part of the Athens Epidaurous Festival. If you're planning a trip to Athens, be sure not to miss the opportunity to attend a performance at this historic venue, especially during the summer months when the weather is ideal for an outdoor show. It has a total capacity of 5,000 people and is the best place in the city to enjoy a night of ancient Greek drama theater.

The National Gardens
Photograph: Shutterstock.com

4. The National Gardens

What is it? Tucked away in the heart of Athens, the National Gardens offer a beautiful retreat from the bustle of the concrete capital.

Why go? This grandiose park was commissioned by Queen Amalia, the first queen of Greece, in 1838 and completed two years later. The Gardens cover 16 hectares of narrow gravel paths and ponds and a small zoo with wild goats, peacocks and chickens. 

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Varvakios Agora
Photograph: Lindasj22 / Shutterstock.com

5. Varvakios Agora

What is it? The Monastiraki area’s indoor and outdoor food market delights the senses. Starting in the wee hours, Greek vendors bellow out their best deals in an attempt to sell fresh meat, fish, fruit, spices and products from around the country.

Why go? The atmosphere is unlike any other as travellers and locals traverse the narrow aisles lined with hanging meat carcasses, stalls of Greek deli delights and fresh seafood iced down in vibrant displays.    

Monastiraki Neighbourhood
Photograph: Shutterstock

6. Monastiraki Neighbourhood

What is it? Monastiraki is one of the oldest and busiest areas of the capital, packed with rooftop bars, ancient sights and huge markets. 

Why go? The Monastiraki metro station is right off the picturesque main square (which also has brilliant views of the Acropolis). Go shopping at the Monastiraki flea market, squeeze through thronging pedestrian alleys, and peruse shops filled with antiques, handmade jewellery and Greek handicrafts.  

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Plaka Neighbourhood
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. Plaka Neighbourhood

What is it? Stretching out under the shadow of the Acropolis, Plaka is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited neighbourhoods. 

Why go? Duck into the side streets here and explore the charmingly narrow old lanes. They’re lined with a hotchpotch of crumbling buildings from various eras and beautiful restored buildings-turned-stately homes. Plaka boasts a wealth of ancient sites, small museums, historic churches and picturesque small squares buzzing with restaurants and cafés. Don't miss the Anafiotika area, where blooming bougainvilleas spill out of colourful balconies. It's quite the picture.

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC)
Photograph: Milan Gonda / Shutterstock.com

8. Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC)

What is it? An oasis of Mediterranean greenery, plus opera, books and an architecturally-acclaimed main buliding.

Why go? For 170,000 square metres of parkland, complete with playgrounds, gardens, cafés, a striking eco-friendly glass complex (also home to the Greek National Opera), a manmade river, and the National Library of Greece. Plus, there’s a great view of the Acropolis.

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Lycabettus Hill
Photograph: Shutterstock.com

9. Lycabettus Hill

What is it? Lycabettus Hill is one of the highest peaks in Athens. You can get to it by hiking up a forested slope – only briefly, mind – or, if you’re feeling lazy, there’s a cable car to the top.

Why go? At the peak, you’ll find one of the most sweeping views of the city. There’s also a pretty whitewashed church called St George, a café and Orizontes, a gourmet Greek restaurant with surely the capital’s most scenic terrace. Concerts are held at the Lycabettus open-air theatre, built on another part of the hill, in the summertime. The theatre has been shut since 2008 but is set to finally reopen in late summer 2023.

What is it? Onassis Stegi is said to be the place where contemporary culture meets aesthetics and science, but it’s way more than a typical cultural center in the heart of Athens.

Why go? Stegi, which literally means ‘roof’ in Greek, is a vibrant space which is home to a wide range of cultural events, including theatre and dance performances, concerts, film screenings, art and digital shows. It's a hub for young, restless Greek artists to showcase their talents, while also attracting international performers like Marina Abramovic and John Malkovich. Its restaurant on the top floor of the building offers a breathtaking view of the Acropolis, the Philopappos monument, Lycabettus, and the Saronic Gulf. 

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The National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens
Photograph: Pit Stock / Shutterstock.com

11. The National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens

What is it? The EMST is Athens’s answer to the Tate Modern, Centre Pompidou or the Museum of Modern Art. 

Why go? This space is filled with art that gets people talking. Expect exhibitions of Greek and international artists across all media, from painting to video to experimental architecture. The museum’s vast home has its own fascinating story; it’s actually a former brewery – Greek beer Fix was once made here. 

What is it? The area that formerly hosted the (for decades abandoned) Ellinikon International Airport in the southern suburbs of Athens is currently transforming into one of the biggest coastal parks in Europe.

Why go? Relax and escape from the hustle and bustle of the city in a place by the sea, filled with more than 600 trees and 80,000 plants of Mediterranean varieties. In this first phase open to the public, the park offers a variety of activities for visitors, including a water maze, a forest playground for the children, a serene zen garden and outdoor exercise facilities. It also hosts festivals and a variety of activities all year long, and it looks pretty spectacular when it's all lit up.

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Museum of Cycladic Art
Photograph: Giorgos Sfakianakis / Museum of Cycladic Art, 2018

13. Museum of Cycladic Art

What is it? A lavish museum home to more than 3,000 artefacts of Cycladic, Ancient Greek and Cypriot origin.

Why go? Enjoy the distinctly shaped slender marble figurines and statues that date back to the Bronze Age. If the Bronze Age isn't your bag, check out one of the 150 objects from the ancient Greek art collections, including vases, figurines and weapons grouped by various themes, including Gods and Heroes, Eros, The World of Women and The Underworld.

Cine Paris
Cine Paris

14. Cine Paris

Temporarily closed. Reopening 2024

What is it? Athenians know it’s summer in the city when the outdoor cinemas begin to open up. The legendary Cine Paris, which has been going since the ’20s, is best known for its striking Acropolis views.

Why go? For a proper night out the way Greeks do it. Cine Paris is one of around 90 outdoor film venues in Athens where patrons can watch old Greek and foreign classics, plus the latest Hollywood releases.

Don't want to wait for Cine Paris to reopen? Check out our local’s guide to open-air cinema in Athens!

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