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A Guide to Athens: the best things to do in the Greek capital

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Embarking on the exploration of Athens’ unmissable tourist attractions is no small feat, given the extensive roster of iconic landmarks that grace the Greek capital!

Boasting historical alleyways steeped in rich heritage and a pulsating atmosphere, Athens has all the ingredients to captivate explorers craving new discoveries.

To aid you in deciphering this puzzle with its rich tapestry of history, Captain Ulysses has curated a ‘shortlist’ (though still quite extensive, given the city’s Athens’ prominence) of indispensable visits and activities in the Greek capital. This will allow you to draw inspiration and tailor your stay based on your preferences.

And because Athens extends beyond its ancient landmarks alone, Captain Ulysses will also lead you on an exploration of its trendy neighborhoods, vibrant markets, and the surrounding areas, boasting beaches and historical sites. For Athens truly encompasses all of this at once: a vibrant mosaic of culture, history, gastronomy, and relaxation.

So, what sights and experiences await you in Athens? Follow the guide!

💡 The Captain’s tips 💡

💤 On the hunt for the perfect stay in Athens? Captain Ulysses sails you toward these top-pick hotels, with excellent value for money.

👶 Planning a family adventure to Athens? Discover all of the Captain’s top tips in the article: Exploring Athens with the Kids: Family-Friendly Activities

How to get around in Athens?

Before embarking on the exploration of Athens’ iconic landmarks and must-visit activities, it’s important to consider a strategic point!

The points of interest in the Greek capital aren’t all conveniently located near each other, so you’ll likely need to venture into the realm of public transportation!

  • The metro: It’s the simplest and quickest way to navigate the city. Beyond being a mere mode of transportation, it’s a bona fide time machine. Each station invites visitors to delve into archaeological artifacts that were unearthed during the metro’s construction!
  • The bus and tram: Perfect for reaching the beach or the bustling port of Piraeus.

Where to stay in Athens?

Wondering where to settle in and recharge your batteries between days of exploring the heart of the Greek capital? Captain Ulysses has carefully curated the finest neighborhoods to consider during your Athens getaway.

Plaka: If you’re seeking luxury with jaw-dropping views of the Parthenon, look no further than the Plaka neighborhood. Nestled at the base of the Acropolis, this picturesque district is famed for its charming cobblestone streets and neoclassical-style houses. Numerous upscale hotels offer comfortable rooms with terraces overlooking the illuminated Acropolis. It’s a perfect setting for a sunrise breakfast or an evening glass of wine.
👉 Explore a handpicked selection of top-notch accommodations in the Plaka district.

Psiri: Craving more budget-friendly options? Captain Ulysses recommends exploring the Psiri neighborhood, renowned for its bohemian atmosphere and lively streets. Here, you’ll find numerous youth hostels and cozy guesthouses. It’s the ideal area if you wish to immerse yourself in Athens’ vibrant nightlife and connect with fellow travelers from around the globe.
👉 Discover a curated selection of quality accommodations in the Psiri district.

Koukaki: For those seeking a blend of tranquility and discovery, the Koukaki neighborhood is an excellent choice. Located a stone’s throw from the Acropolis but less touristy than Plaka, this district has witnessed the rise of charming boutique hotels and stylish rental apartments that retain the allure of the old city.
👉 Explore a curated selection of quality accommodations in the Koukaki neighborhood.

Piraeus Port: Let’s not overlook Piraeus, the perfect base if you’re planning to venture to the Greek islands. Hotels here are generally more affordable, and you’ll be conveniently positioned to catch the first morning ferry.
👉 Discover a curated selection of quality accommodations in the Piraeus neighborhood.

 

Exploring the Ancient Sites of Athens

The Acropolis and the Parthenon

A true embodiment of Greek civilization, the Acropolis stands as an archaeological site with a history dating back to the Neolithic period. The earliest temples, constructed to honor the gods and goddesses of the Greek Pantheon, emerged on the Acropolis around the 8th century BC.

As for the Parthenon, it stands as a masterpiece of Doric architecture dedicated to the goddess Athena. It was erected during the 5th century BC under the rule of Pericles.

In ancient times, the Acropolis held paramount religious, political, and social significance. It served as the backdrop for religious ceremonies and festivals.

Over the centuries, the city witnessed the successive occupation of the Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans, each leaving their distinct mark on the Acropolis. Eventually, the site became a profound national symbol upon Greece’s independence in 1830.

The Acropolis boasts an abundance of architectural treasures, including the renowned Parthenon, the captivating Erechtheion featuring its iconic Caryatids, the intimate Ionic temple of Athena Nike, the historic Theater of Dionysus, the serene Sanctuary of Asclepius, the grand Propylaea, the Temple of Zeus Polieus, and the fascinating Temple of Artemis Brauronia.

💡 Practical Information 💡:

Location: Situated at the heart of Athens, the Acropolis is easily accessible on foot from the city center. The site is well-served by the metro (line 2, Acropole station) and buses (lines 230, 236, 237, 790).

Tickets: Adult tickets cost €20 in summer and €10 in winter. Reduced rates are available for European Union students, individuals under 25, and seniors. Children under 5 years old enjoy free admission.

Opening Hours: The Acropolis is open daily, excluding public holidays. From April 1st to October 31st, it operates from 8 am to 8 pm. From November 1st to March 31st, the opening hours are from 8:30 am to 3 pm.

Guided Tours: Discover the Acropolis with this guided tour, which can be canceled up to 24 hours in advance.

Ticket Reservations: It is highly recommended to book tickets in advance to avoid long queues, especially during the peak season. Options include skip-the-line tickets for the Acropolis, combined tickets for the Acropolis + Ancient Agora + Temple of Olympian Zeus, or a combined ticket for the Acropolis + 6 other archaeological sites.

Caryatids - Acropolis Athens

The Ancient Agora of Athens

Nestled at the foot of the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora of Athens is an absolute must-visit for any traveler exploring the Greek capital.

During the 6th century BC, this central square thrived as the pulsating heart of the city, bustling with political, social, and economic activities.

Showcasing the daily life of ancient Greece, the Ancient Agora is adorned with significant structures, such as the impressive Stoa of Attalos, the awe-inspiring Temple of Hephaestus, the renowned Library of Pantainos, and the striking Gate of Erysichthon, which serves as the main entrance to the site.

Within the Ancient Agora, you’ll also discover the Bouleuterion, where the legislative assembly convened, along with more practical amenities like public fountains and artisan workshops.

💡 Practical Information 💡:

Location: The Ancient Agora is situated in the historic center of Athens, just a short stroll away from Thissio Station on Metro Line 1.

Tickets: Full-priced tickets cost €10, while children under 18 and students enjoy a discounted rate of €5. Children under 5 can enter for free.

Opening hours: The Ancient Agora welcomes visitors every day from May to October, opening at 8 am and closing at 8 pm. From November to April, the hours are from 8 am to 3 pm.

Guided tours: Captain Ulysses highly recommends opting for a guided tour of the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and the Acropolis Museum (available in English, French, Italian, German and Spanish / can be canceled up to 24 hours in advance).

Ticket reservations: To bypass the queues, it is strongly advised to book tickets online in advance. You can secure a skip-the-line ticket for the Ancient Agora, or consider a combined ticket for the Acropolis + Ancient Agora + Temple of Olympian Zeus, or even a combined ticket for the Acropolis + Ancient Agora + 5 archaeological sites.

The Temple of Hephaestus - Ancient Agora

The Temple of Olympian Zeus (Olympieion)

The Temple of Olympian Zeus, also known as Olympieion, is another must-see attraction for wanderers exploring Athens.

The site’s history dates back to the 6th century BC, initiated by the Athenian tyrant Pisistratus. However, its construction was not completed until the 2nd century AD under the Roman emperor Hadrian.

During its heyday, the temple stood as one of the largest in the ancient world, housing a colossal statue of Zeus made of gold and ivory. This statue held a prestigious position on the exclusive list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

With the advent of Christianity, the temple gradually faded into obscurity. Today, the Olympieion has managed to partly withstand the ravages of time, and the remnants of the temple bear witness to its former grandeur.

💡 Practical Information 💡 :

Location: Situated in Athens’ city center, the temple is easily accessible by metro (Akropoli station on Line 2/red or Thissio station on Line 1/green), by bus, or on foot.

Tickets: Admission is €6 for adults, €3 for students and seniors (over 65), and free for children under 18 and individuals with disabilities.

Opening hours: The temple is open daily, except on public holidays, from 8 am to 8 pm during the summer and from 8:30 am to 3 pm in the winter.

Ticket reservations: Captain Ulysses recommends purchasing a combined ticket for €30, valid for five consecutive days, which provides access to several archaeological sites in Athens, including the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, and the Kerameikos.

Temple of Olympian Zeus - Athens

The Roman Agora of Athens

Situated in Athens’ charming Plaka neighborhood, the Roman Agora stands as one of the capital’s most iconic archaeological attractions.

Constructed in the 1st century AD under the reign of Emperor Augustus, this magnificent site replaced the Ancient Agora and quickly became the new epicenter of political, social, and commercial life in the city.

Within the site, you’ll encounter several noteworthy features, including the awe-inspiring Gate of Athena Archegetis, an imposing structure from the 2nd century AD dedicated to the goddess Athena. Another remarkable highlight is the Tower of the Winds, an octagonal tower from the 1st century BC that served as both a sundial and a weather station. Additionally, you’ll find the Fethiye Mosque, which was constructed between 1668 and 1670 and now serves as an exhibition space.

💡 Practical Information 💡:

Location: The Roman Agora is conveniently nestled in Athens’ vibrant Plaka neighborhood, easily accessible via Metro Line 1 (Thissio station) or by a pleasant stroll from Monastiraki or the Acropolis.

Tickets: Full-priced tickets are priced at €12, while reduced tickets are available for €6 (applicable to non-EU students and non-EU seniors aged 65 and above). Children under 18 and EU students enjoy free admission.

Opening hours: From November 1st to March 31st, the Roman Agora welcomes visitors from 8 am to 3 pm. From April 1st to October 31st, the site extends its opening hours from 8 am to 8 pm.

Ticket reservations: Captain Ulysses highly recommends opting for a combined ticket, which grants you access to not only the Roman Agora but also six other captivating archaeological sites in Athens (including the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus).

The Panathenaic Stadium

The Panathenaic Stadium, also known as the Panathenaic or Kallimarmaro Stadium, stands as a true symbol of Greek history and culture.

Originally built in wood during the 5th century BC to host the Panathenaic Games, dedicated to the goddess Athena, it underwent several transformations over the centuries, transitioning from wood to the stunning Pentelic marble.

In 1896, it underwent a major restoration to accommodate the inaugural modern Olympic Games. Today, the stadium continues to hold sporting events, concerts, and official ceremonies.

Visiting the stadium takes you on a captivating journey through time. From the highest stands, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of Athens, with the iconic Acropolis and the Parthenon gracing the backdrop.

💡 Practical Information 💡 :

Location: Situated in the heart of Athens, near the National Garden and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. You can easily access it via the metro (Line 2), bus, tram, or by taking a pleasant walk from the Acropolis or Syntagma Square.

Tickets: Admission is €5 for adults, with a reduced rate of €2.50 for students and seniors. Children under 6 can enter for free.

Opening hours: The stadium is open every day of the week.
From April to October, the operating hours are from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm.
From November to March, it is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Guided tours: The entrance ticket includes an audio-guided tour available in multiple languages.

Panathenaic Stadium - Athens

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Situated on the southern slope of the Acropolis, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus is an ancient theater that is truly a must-see.

Herodes Atticus, a wealthy merchant, commissioned its construction in the 2nd century AD as a tribute to his wife, a passionate enthusiast of music and theater.

Despite enduring significant damage over the centuries, the Odeon was rediscovered and meticulously restored in the 19th century. Today, it serves as a prestigious venue for performances and concerts by world-renowned artists. The likes of Luciano Pavarotti, Maria Callas, Placido Domingo, Elton John, and Sting have graced its hallowed stage.

💡 Practical Information 💡 :

Location: Positioned on the southern slope of the Acropolis in Athens, near the historic Plaka neighborhood. Conveniently accessible from the Akropoli metro station on Line 2, the Makrygianni tram stop, and the Akropoli bus stop served by lines 230, 236, 237, and 550.

Tickets: Ticket prices vary depending on the specific events being held. It is advisable to consult the specific information for each performance.

Hadrian’s Library

While perhaps not as well-known (and not as much of a must-see) as other archaeological sites in the capital, Hadrian’s Library still makes for an interesting stop if you have the time to explore.

Situated near the Roman Agora and the Ancient Agora, this library, commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 132 AD, was once a grand edifice housing around 20,000 papyrus scrolls. It served as a bustling hub for intellectuals of the time.

Forgotten and lost over the centuries, the library was rediscovered by archaeologists in 1885. Today, visitors can marvel at the remains of a few Corinthian columns, a substantial marble wall, and the remnants of three churches.

💡 Practical Information 💡 :

Location: Found in Athens’ vibrant Monastiraki neighborhood, at the heart of the city, near the Roman Agora and the Ancient Agora. You can conveniently reach it by taking the metro (Line 1 or 3 to Monastiraki) or by hopping on one of the buses (lines 025, 026, 027, 035, 227, 500 to Monastiraki).

Tickets: Admission costs €6 for adults, and there is a reduced rate of €3 available.

Opening hours: The library is open every day, except on Mondays.
During the summer months (May to September), it welcomes visitors from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm.
In the winter season (October to April), the opening hours are from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm.

Ticket reservations: If you’re planning to visit the library, Captain Ulysses highly recommends considering a combined ticket that grants access to seven ancient sites.

Hadrian's Library in Athens

The Kerameikos, the Ceramicus

In ancient times, the Kerameikos was not only the pottery district but also one of the major cemeteries of the city. Its name derives from the abundance of pottery workshops (keramos in Greek) found there.

This site, dating back to the 3rd millennium BC, transformed into a burial ground around the 12th century BC and remained as such until the Roman era. The Kerameikos cemetery is adorned with numerous funerary steles. It also boasts the Dipylon Gate, one of the primary entrances to ancient Athens, and visitors can still admire the remnants of the ancient city wall.

A museum on-site offers a captivating glimpse into the past through a wide array of artifacts uncovered during excavations. These include vases, sculptures, funerary urns, and jewelry.

💡 Practical Information 💡:

Location: Situated to the west of Monastiraki Square, it can be easily reached by taking metro Line 3 (Kerameikos station) or by strolling from the city center.

Tickets: Admission is priced at €8 for adults, with a reduced rate of €4 for non-EU students and seniors over 65 who are not EU members. Children under 18 and EU students can enter free of charge.

Opening hours: From 8:30 am to 3:30 pm from November 1st to March 31st, and from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm from April 1st to October 31st.

Ticket reservations: opt for a fast-track ticket to the Kerameikos with an audio tour accessible on your phone or consider a combined ticket granting entry to 7 ancient sites.

Exploring the Museums of Athens

The Acropolis Museum

If there’s one museum you shouldn’t miss in Athens, it’s definitely the Acropolis Museum. Housed in a striking modern building, it showcases a vast collection of ancient artifacts.

After over 30 years of planning and construction, the museum opened its doors in 2009, offering visitors a chance to marvel at over 4,000 objects discovered at the Acropolis site.

Designed by architects Bernard Tschumi and Michalis Photiadis, the museum boasts an architectural masterpiece that provides a bright and airy space with stunning panoramic views of the Acropolis. The design also prioritizes the protection of the collections from heat and direct sunlight.

The museum’s exhibits are spread across three levels. On the ground floor, you can explore objects that offer insights into the daily life of ancient Greece. The first floor is dedicated to the sculptures and statues from the Acropolis, including iconic pieces like the Caryatids. Finally, the top floor presents the Parthenon friezes, enhanced with augmented reality technology for a truly immersive experience.

In addition to its permanent collections, the museum also hosts temporary exhibitions that showcase recent archaeological discoveries and ongoing research.

💡 Practical Information 💡 :

Location: The Acropolis Museum is conveniently located just a short walk from the Acropolis. You can easily reach it by taking the metro to the “Acropole” station on Line 2 (red).

Tickets: Admission prices vary depending on the season. In winter, adults pay 10 euros, while in summer, the fee is 15 euros. Reduced rates of 5 euros in winter and 10 euros in summer are available for EU students and visitors over 65. Children under 18 and foreign students with an ISIC card can enter for free.

Opening hours: The museum is open every day except Mondays.
During summer (April 1st – October 31st), the operating hours are from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm.
In winter (November 1st – March 31st), the museum welcomes visitors from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Guided tours: To make the most of your visit, Captain Ulysses highly recommends taking a guided tour of the Acropolis, Parthenon, and the Acropolis Museum (can be canceled up to 24 hours in advance).

Ticket reservations: As one of the most popular tourist sites in Athens, it’s advisable to book your tickets in advance to save time. You can secure your admission to the Acropolis Museum with an audio guide or opt for combination ticket for the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum with an audio guide or opt for combination tickets that include access to the Acropolis, Acropolis Museum, and Archaeological Museum.

Acropolis Museum in Athens

The National Archaeological Museum of Athens

The National Archaeological Museum of Athens is a must-visit attraction in the Greek capital.

The museum first opened its doors in the early 19th century, shortly after Greece gained independence. Originally located in the Old Academy of Athens, it has grown and expanded over the decades and now houses an impressive collection of 20,000 ancient artifacts displayed across 42 exhibition halls.

The museum’s collections span various periods, from prehistory to the Roman era, encompassing diverse civilizations such as the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations, classical Greece, and the Hellenistic period.

From grand sculptures to exquisite pottery, precious jewelry, ancient bronzes, frescoes, and mosaics, the museum is a true treasure trove for history and ancient culture enthusiasts.

Among its most iconic pieces are the Mask of Agamemnon, a gold sculpture from the Mycenaean period, the Artemision Bronze, a life-size bronze statue of a jockey, the Poseidon of Artemision, another stunning bronze sculpture, and the Akrotiri Frescoes from the Minoan period.

💡 Practical Information 💡 :

Location: Situated in the Exarcheia neighborhood, in the heart of Athens.

Admission: Tickets cost 6 euros during the low season (November to March) and 12 euros during the high season (April to October). Admission is free for visitors under 18 years old.

Opening hours: The museum is open every day except Tuesdays, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm in winter and from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm in summer.

Guided tours: Audioguides are available for purchase along with the entrance ticket. Captain Ulysses also recommends a guided tour of the Acropolis, Parthenon, and Acropolis Museum (can be canceled up to 24 hours in advance).

Ticket reservations: To avoid queues, it is advisable to book tickets online in advance: Acropolis + Acropolis Museum + Archaeological Museum.

National Archaeological Museum of Athens - Minotaur

The Benaki Museum of Greek Culture

Calling all history and Greek culture enthusiasts! The Benaki Museum in Athens is a must-visit for you.

The Benaki Museum’s roots can be traced back to founder Antonis Benakis’ passion for Greek art and culture. With a lifelong commitment to expanding his collection of artworks and historical objects, Benakis aimed to establish a museum dedicated to Greek culture. In 1929, he generously donated his collection to the Greek state, and in 1930, the Benaki Museum opened its doors to the public.

Today, the Benaki Museum stands as one of Greece’s most esteemed cultural institutions, boasting a vast collection of over 40,000 objects spanning the entire spectrum of Greek civilization, from prehistoric times to the present day.

The museum’s exhibits are thoughtfully curated into chronological and thematic sections, encompassing Prehistory and Antiquity, the Hellenistic and Roman periods, Byzantine and post-Byzantine art, Greek folk art, Islamic art, Coptic art, as well as modern and contemporary Greek art. It offers visitors an immersive journey through time, unraveling the diverse influences that have shaped Greek identity.

💡 Practical Information 💡:

Location: Situated at 1 Koumbari Street in the heart of Athens. Easily accessible by metro (Syntagma and Evangelismos stations), bus (lines 025, 026, 027, 209, and 227), or on foot if you’re staying in the city center.

Admission: Admission fees are 12 euros for adults, 9 euros for students and individuals aged 65 and above. Children under 18 enjoy free entry.

Opening hours: The museum welcomes visitors on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, on Thursdays from 10:00 am to 11:30 pm, and on Sundays from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Please note that the museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Ticket reservations: To bypass any queues at the museum’s entrance, particularly during peak seasons, it is highly recommended to secure your ticket online in advance: Benaki Museum of Greek Culture entrance ticket.

The Cycladic Art Museum

The Cycladic Art Museum in Athens, established in 1986 by Dolly and Nikolaos Goulandris, is a captivating invitation to explore the vibrant civilization that flourished in the Cyclades islands during the Bronze Age. Nestled within a contemporary architectural masterpiece by Ioannis Vikelas, the museum showcases over 3,000 artistic treasures, including statues, pottery, ritual objects, as well as Aegean, ancient Greek, and Byzantine artifacts.

The collections are thoughtfully organized in a chronological and thematic manner, providing a profound immersion into the rich tapestry of Aegean art history. The hallmark of Cycladic art is its sleek, geometric marble statues that captivate the imagination. Among the highlights are masterpieces like the “Flute Player” and the “Harp Player,” dating back to 2700 BC, which testify to the exceptional artistic prowess of this ancient culture.

💡 Practical Information 💡 :

Location: Situated in Athens’ Kolonaki neighborhood, near the Benaki Museum. The museum is conveniently accessible by public transportation, with “Evangelismos” (blue line 3) or “Syntagma” (red line 2 and blue line 3) being the closest stations.

Admission: The admission fee is 12 euros for adults, 7 euros for students and seniors aged 65 and above. Children under 18 and disabled visitors enjoy free entry.

Opening hours: The museum welcomes visitors from Monday to Wednesday, as well as Friday and Saturday, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. On Thursday, the museum extends its opening hours until 8:00 pm, while on Sunday it opens from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Ticket reservations: To optimize your visit and bypass queues, it is highly recommended to purchase your tickets in advance online: Cycladic Art Museum entrance ticket.

The Must-See Landmarks of Athens

The Central Market of Athens (Varvakios Agora)

The Central Market of Athens is a must-visit for anyone looking to immerse themselves in the vibrant daily life of Athens. Built in the 1880s, the market remains a thriving economic hub of the city, offering an abundance of fresh produce, from meats and fish to seasonal fruits and vegetables.

The market is a sensory delight, with a symphony of colors, aromas, and sounds! Butchers, fishmongers, and vegetable vendors energetically compete for attention, creating a lively and charming atmosphere. It’s the perfect place to discover high-quality local products like olive oil, olives, cheese, and spices.

You’ll also find numerous small, unassuming restaurants that serve a variety of delicious local dishes made with the market’s fresh ingredients.

💡 Practical Information 💡:

Location: Situated in the city center, bordered by Athinas, Eolou, Evripidou, and Sofokleous streets. Easily accessible on foot from Omonia or Monastiraki metro stations.

Opening Hours: Open every day except Sundays. The market’s opening hours vary among vendors, but generally, it buzzes with activity from early morning until early afternoon.

Guided Tours: Captain Ulysses highly recommends these two fantastic and affordable activities (unfortunately, they are only available in English): Market Tour and Cooking Class / Gastronomic Tour.

The Church of Panagía Kapnikaréa

Dating back to the 11th century, the Church of Panagía Kapnikaréa offers a serene retreat amidst the bustling city. Nestled among charming alleys and quaint shops, it provides an ideal sanctuary to recharge and immerse oneself in the local ambiance.

With its Byzantine-style architecture, the church boasts a cross-in-square design and a central dome gracefully upheld by four robust columns. Inside, visitors can admire religious icons and neo-Byzantine frescoes created by the talented painter Fótis Kóntoglou.

💡 Practical Information 💡:

Location: Situated in the heart of Athens’ historic center, between Ermou and Aiolou streets, near Monastiraki Square.

Admission: Entry is free, though donations to support the preservation of the site are appreciated.

Opening Hours: The church is open daily, with operating hours varying depending on religious services and events.

Kapnikaréa Church - Athens

The National Garden of Athens

A true sanctuary in the heart of the city, the National Garden of Athens is a must-visit for those seeking a moment of tranquility after a busy day exploring the museums and ancient sites of Athens.

This 16-hectare park was beautifully designed in the 19th century by Queen Amalia, the wife of King Otto, the first monarch of modern Greece. Her vision was to create a green oasis around the royal palace (now housing the parliament).

The National Garden boasts a diverse array of botanical species, including majestic cypress trees, graceful palm trees, and exotic plants.

While strolling through the garden, you’ll encounter delightful surprises such as ancient ruins, a charming zoo, a serene duck pond, and a captivating greenhouse.

Fun fact: The National Garden not only provides a refreshing escape but also contributes to improving air quality and cooling temperatures during the scorching summer months.

💡 Practical Information 💡:

Location: Situated next to Syntagma Square, the garden is easily accessible by foot from the city center or by taking the metro (Line 2, Syntagma station).

Admission: Free entry.

Opening Hours: The garden welcomes visitors every day of the year, from sunrise to sunset.

Exploring the Must-Visit Neighborhoods of Athens

The Plaka District

Nestled at the foot of the Acropolis, Athens’ Plaka district is a vibrant and colorful neighborhood that you simply can’t miss.

Known as the “neighborhood of the gods,” its charming streets are lined with cobblestones and adorned with colorful houses, quaint shops, and traditional restaurants that exude a warm and inviting atmosphere.

Take a leisurely stroll through its winding alleys, discover historical landmarks like the Byzantine church of Kapnikarea and the Tower of the Winds, delve into the neighborhood’s museums, savor local cuisine at traditional eateries and cozy cafes, and experience the lively nightlife. And for an authentic touch, be sure not to miss a captivating performance of traditional Greek dance.

💡 Practical Information 💡:

Location: Situated at the base of the Acropolis.

Guided Tours: Embark on a small-group gastronomic tour (cancellable up to 24 hours in advance) for an immersive experience.

Show: Immerse yourself in Greek culture with a mesmerizing Greek dance show in Plaka, accompanied by a delectable 3-course dinner (cancellable up to 24 hours in advance).

Recommended Accommodations in Plaka (in ascending order of price): Kimon Athens Hotel* / Plaka Hotel*** / Electra Palace Athens*****.
For more fantastic recommendations in Plaka, check out the Captain’s carefully selected hotels that offer exceptional value for money.

Street in Plaka - Atyhens

The Monastiraki Neighborhood

Renowned for its vibrant atmosphere and rich cultural heritage, the historic district of Monastiraki is home to a plethora of tourist attractions. You can explore notable landmarks like the Tzistarakis Mosque, the Byzantine Church of Panagía Pantánassa, the bustling flea market, and even the impressive Library of Hadrian.

At the heart of the neighborhood lies Monastiraki Square, a bustling hub where locals and tourists alike gather to meander through the streets, indulge in shopping excursions, or simply soak in the lively ambiance of the cafes accompanied by the sounds of street musicians.

Ermou Street takes the spotlight as the district’s premier shopping thoroughfare, boasting an array of boutiques and establishments. Meanwhile, Adrianou Street is renowned for its abundance of souvenir shops and traditional Greek eateries.

💡 Practical Information 💡:

Public Transportation: Conveniently accessible via the metro system (Green Line 1 and Blue Line 3), buses (lines 025, 026, 027, 227), and the tram (Syntagma Station, T2 and T4 lines).

Recommended Accommodations: Here is a curated selection of hotels in Monastiraki that offer exceptional value for your stay.

The Monastiraki Flea Market

Mount Lycabettus

As an iconic hill in Athens, Mount Lycabettus offers a unique vantage point to behold the city. Legend has it that this hill was formed by the goddess Athena, who, captivated by the melodious song of a nightingale, accidentally dropped a colossal rock at the very spot where the hill now stands.

Throughout history, Mount Lycabettus has played diverse roles. It served as a revered sanctuary in ancient times, a sanctuary for Christian hermits during the Byzantine era, and a strategic defense position during World War II.

Today, Lycabettus Hill allures numerous visitors with its awe-inspiring panoramic views, storied past, and verdant green spaces that offer a rejuvenating escape amidst the urban bustle.

💡 Practical Information 💡:

Admission: Entry to Mount Lycabettus is complimentary, but there is a fee for the funicular ride (5 to 7 euros for adults, 2.50 to 3.50 euros for children).

Operating Hours: The funicular operates from 9 am to 2 am, and St. George’s Chapel is open daily with varying hours.

The Port of Piraeus

Situated southwest of Athens, the Port of Piraeus beckons visitors to experience another facet of the Greek capital.

With its foundation dating back to the 5th century BC, Piraeus was a bustling hub of commerce and a strategic naval base for the city of Athens in ancient times. It stands as one of Europe’s oldest ports and continues to be the largest port in Greece, serving as a vital link to the Mediterranean.

The Port of Piraeus is not merely a transportation hub but also a vibrant neighborhood boasting delightful promenades. Be sure to explore the Zea Marina with its opulent yachts and upscale boutiques, the Mikrolimano marina, the Archaeological Museum of Piraeus, offering captivating insights into the port’s history, and the Central Market of Piraeus, a haven for those seeking authentic local flavors. For breathtaking views of the port and the sprawling cityscape of Athens, venture to the summit of Kastella Hill.

Moreover, Piraeus serves as a gateway to captivating cruises to the Greek islands, such as Hydra, Poros, Aegina, Moni, Mykonos, and Spetses. If you have a penchant for island exploration, Captain Ulysses recommends three exceptional cruises:

💡 Practical Information 💡:

Location: Southwest of Athens

Transportation: You can reach the Port of Piraeus from the city center through various means:

  • Metro: Take Line 1 (the green line) from Monastiraki station in the city center to Piraeus station (approximately 20 minutes).
  • Bus: Several bus lines, including the X80 bus departing from Syntagma Square (travel time ranging from 30 to 40 minutes).
  • Taxi: The journey between the city center and Piraeus takes around 20 to 30 minutes and costs between 15 and 25 euros, depending on traffic conditions and the time of day.

Recommended Accommodations: Here is a curated selection of hotels in Piraeus that offer excellent value for your stay.

Syntagma Square

Syntagma Square, also known as “Constitution Square,” is an iconic landmark in the Greek capital that you simply can’t miss. It proudly bears the name of the Constitution that King Otto was compelled to grant to the people back in 1843.

With the elegant Hellenic Parliament as its centerpiece, formerly the royal palace, the square offers a magnificent view of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This significant site is constantly guarded by the Evzones, the ceremonial guards dressed in their traditional uniforms. Don’t forget to catch the captivating changing of the guard ceremony.

Syntagma Square buzzes with a variety of cafes, restaurants, and shops, providing endless enjoyment for both locals and visitors.

It’s also the starting point for many exciting excursions that allow you to explore Athens and its surroundings.

💡 Practical Information 💡:

Public Transportation: Conveniently located near the Syntagma Metro Station, which is served by the Red Line 2 and Blue Line 3. You can also find numerous bus lines and tram lines T2 and T4 in the vicinity.

Recommended Accommodations: If you’re looking for quality accommodations near Syntagma Square, here is a hand-picked selection of hotels that offer excellent value for your stay.

Exploring Greek Gastronomy

No visit to Athens would be complete without embarking on a culinary adventure to discover the rich and diverse Greek gastronomy. It’s a true reflection of the country’s history and culture, with recipes passed down through generations and flavors deeply rooted in Mediterranean traditions. The Cretan diet, also known as the Mediterranean diet, is particularly renowned for its health benefits.

Start your gastronomic exploration by visiting a traditional taverna, where you can indulge in famous dishes like tzatziki, moussaka, or souvlaki. Fresh seafood, dishes prepared with olive oil, local vegetables, and cheeses such as feta, along with aromatic herbs, are absolute must-tries. And don’t miss the opportunity to savor retsina, a traditional Greek white wine, or ouzo, a distinctive anise-flavored liqueur that perfectly complements your meals.

Exploring the world of Greek street food is also a must, with delightful specialties like gyros, a mouthwatering sandwich filled with grilled meat, tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki sauce. And when you need a sweet treat, be sure to indulge in loukoumades, delicious Greek donuts that will satisfy your cravings.

To truly immerse yourself in the local culinary scene, make sure to visit the vibrant local markets, such as the Varvakios Agora central market. Here, you can find high-quality local products and experience the authentic atmosphere of Athens. Additionally, there are fantastic guided culinary tours available, offering tastings and cooking workshops. Captain Ulysses highly recommends the following experiences:

Excursions from Athens

If you have the time, Captain Ulysses highly recommends venturing beyond the bustling streets of the capital to explore the surrounding areas of Athens for a day or more. With its ancient landmarks and awe-inspiring natural wonders, Greece offers a wealth of attractions to entice adventurous travelers in search of discovery.

To make the most of your journey, you have several options:

  • Rent a car: This is the perfect choice for those seeking freedom and flexibility. Captain suggests checking out the Rentalcars platform, which compares offers from a variety of rental services, to find the best deal.
    👉 Explore car rental options
  • Take the bus: While it may be the most economical option, it is not the most convenient. For information on schedules and fares, visit the website of the KTEL bus company.
  • Book an organized tour: GetYourGuide provides a wide range of one-day or multi-day tours with exceptional value for money. You can embark on an exploration of the Peloponnese, visit Delphi, explore the Meteora Monasteries, or discover the enchanting Greek islands.
    👉 Discover excursions from Athens

Iconic Sites of the Peloponnese

If time permits, Captain Ulysses highly encourages you to take advantage of your visit to the Greek capital and embark on a journey to discover the iconic sites of the Peloponnese.

While one could easily spend a whole week exploring this renowned peninsula, there are also day trips available that allow you to visit the most significant sites in the region, with Mycenae, Epidaurus, and Olympia taking top positions on the list.

👉 Captain Ulysses particularly recommends this excursion: Mycenae, Epidaurus, and Nafplio Day Trip
For further information on the must-visit sites in the Peloponnese, be sure to delve into Captain’s detailed article: Exploring the Peloponnese.

Olympia Stadium - Greece

Delphi and Ossios Loukas

Nestled in the mountains 180 kilometers northwest of Athens, the Sanctuary of Delphi holds a prime position on the list of Greece’s most iconic ancient sites. It’s actually a personal favorite of Captain Ulysses.

Historians believe that the sanctuary emerged in the 8th century BC and subsequently rose to prominence as a top-tier place of worship in the Greek world from the 6th to 4th centuries BC. It’s regarded as a “panhellenic” sanctuary, where Greeks from various city-states like Athens, Corinth, and Thebes would come together to partake in shared rituals.

Not far from there, Ossios Loukas unquestionably stands as one of the most exquisite Byzantine monasteries in the country. It’s definitely worth a visit if you have the chance!

👉 Captain Ulysses enthusiastically recommends this excursion: Delphi Day Trip from Athens.

Delphes - tholos

The Meteora Monasteries

The Meteora Monasteries are perched atop cliffs and rocky peaks in Thessaly, northern Greece. These monasteries have been home to Christian monks since the 11th century. Originally accessed by hanging baskets, the current staircases were built in the early 20th century.

The name “Meteora” translates to “suspended in the air” in Greek. Legend has it that these rocks were sent by divine providence to provide refuge for hermit monks.

Six monasteries are still active today: the Great Meteoron (Monastery of the Transfiguration), Varlaam Monastery, Agios Nikolaos Monastery, Agios Stefanos Monastery, Agia Triada Monastery, and Roussanou Monastery.

Hiking enthusiasts can embark on a 17-kilometer circuit that takes them around all six functioning monasteries.

To explore the Meteora Monasteries from Athens, Captain Ulysses highly recommends these three excursions:

Cruises Departing from Athens

While Captain Ulysses thoroughly enjoys visiting ancient sites and other must-see tourist attractions, it’s no secret that as a seasoned sailor, he never turns down the opportunity for a cruise to explore the enchanting Greek islands.

If you’re eager to set sail and discover one or more of these mythical Greek islands, he highly recommends these three specific cruises:

The Top 10 Must-Visit Sites in Athens

If you’re short on time in Athens and can’t explore all the countless tourist attractions, Captain Ulysses has put together a list of the top 10 must-visit sites in Athens, ranked in order of importance:

  1. The Acropolis of Athens
  2. The Acropolis Museum
  3. The Plaka District
  4. The Ancient Agora
  5. The Temple of Olympian Zeus
  6. The Panathenaic Stadium
  7. The National Archaeological Museum of Athens
  8. Hadrian’s Library
  9. Mount Lycabettus
  10. The Central Market of Athens (Varvakios Agora)

👍 Insider Tips 👍 :

Want to save time by booking your tickets and activities in advance? Captain Ulysses has handpicked the very best options for you:

👉 Avoid waiting in line in Athens: book your tickets and tours in advance!


👉 Finding the perfect place to stay: book your accommodation in Athens:

 

Credits
Henrik Berger Jørgensen | Ali Menoufi | Magalie L’Abbé | Jim Forest | Ava Babili | Christos Vassiliou | Raul Villalon

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