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The 11 best things to do in Athens right now

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

Huw Oliver
Written by
Huw Oliver
Marissa Tajada

Athens comes with a certain air of expectation. It is the home of modern Western civilisation, after all, and visitors are well within their rights to expect something special when they visit the Greek capital. Does Athens meet those expectations? Does it ever. This tease of a city has cutting-edge galleries, incredible architecture and more cafes than you can shake a caffeine-fuelled stick at. 

The best things to do in Athens go way beyond the famous history. Sure, you can bathe in masses of that as well, but dismiss the modern elements of the city at your peril. Athens is a city focused on the future while embracing its past, straddling that line with the grace you should expect from such a spot. Ready for a thrilling journey through the very concept of Western culture as we know it, with added delicious restaurants at every turn? Athens is the city for you. 


Best things to do in Athens

What is it? When you think of Athens, you think of these ancient buildings. You’d struggle to name a more iconic sight in any part of the world. Perched on top of a rocky outcrop for 2,500 years, they’ve now been absorbed into a sprawling modern metropolis, but you’ll still be dazzled. 

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 (and there are many).

What is it? Athens isn’t short on treats for fans of Greek mythology. This is the temple you should visit first. 

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.

Monastiraki Neighbourhood

3. 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.  

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, as well as a small zoo with wild goats, peacocks and chickens. 


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? 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.


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

Why go? To see the distinctly shaped slender marble figurines and statues that date back to the Bronze Age. Or one of the 150 objects from the ancient Greek art collections, including vases, figurines and weapons grouped by the themes ‘Gods and heroes’, ‘Eros’, ‘the world of women’ and ‘the Underworld’.  

Varvakios Agora
Photograph: Lindasj22 /

8. 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.    

Plaka Neighbourhood
Photograph: Shutterstock

9. 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, as well as 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.    


Temporarily closed for renovations

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.

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