Looking for the best things to do in Athens? Our citywide travel guide covers everything from popular attractions like the Parthenon to alternative indulgences, such as a steam bath in a hammam.
All About Athens, Greece
As one of the oldest cities in the world, the cultural and political legacy of Athens is well known. The capital of Greece boasts a wealth of landmarks with historical significance, from the Pnyx Hill near the Acropolis where democracy was founded to the Theatre of Dionysus, the birthplace of Drama. Nonetheless, many are surprised to find Athens is a bustling modern city, with thriving arts, food, and nightlife scenes you don’t need a classics degree to enjoy.
Athens essential travel information
- Athens and its metropolitan area have a population of more than 3 million citizens.
- The official language in Athens is Greek. Many Athenians are fluent in English.
- The official currency in Athens is the Euro.
- The exchange rate is roughly 0.66€ for one Canadian dollar.
- Carry cash. While there are many places that accept debit and credit cards, there are also many that only accept cash.
- Athens has a Mediterranean climate. Summers are hot and dry, while winters vary from mild to cold. Rainfall mostly occurs between October and April.
- The time zone in Athens is GMT+3, which is seven hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in central Canada.
Popular Things to Do in Athens
Acropolis of Athens
The Acropolis of Athens is the most popular site in the city. The ancient monumental complex is located on a steep hill above the city that contains the archeological remains of several historical buildings dating back to as early as the fifth century B.C. Most prominent among them is the Parthenon, the ruins of the temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. Other important sites on the Acropolis include the Propylaea (the gateway), the Erechtheion (a temple dedicated to goddesses Athena and Poseidon), and the Temple of Athena Nike.
TIP: Entry to the Acropolis costs 20€ in the summer and 10€ in winter. But if you plan to visit more archaeological sites, consider the multi-site ticket for 30€.
Visit the Acropolis Museum to further explore the history of the Acropolis site. This ultramodern museum is spread over an area of 150,000 square feet and houses more than 4,000 ancient artifacts found at the site of the Acropolis. Additionally, the museum’s large terrace and floor-to-ceiling windows showcase panoramic views of the city and the Parthenon. General admission is 5€ in the winter and 10€ in the summer.
What travellers say about the Acropolis Museum: “Amazing. Get here early first thing when they open to avoid crowds and you will feel like it’s a private viewing.”
Temple of Olympian Zeus
The Olympieion or the the Temple of Olympian Zeus was completed by the Roman emperor Hadrian in 131 CE. This colossal temple, with strikingly tall 17.25-metre columns, was one of the largest temples constructed in the ancient world. Only 15 of the temple’s 104 Corinthian columns remain standing.
Overlooking Syntagma Square, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded by traditionally uniformed evzones in front of Presidential Palace. The guard changes every hour with stylized choreography that showcases the evzones‘ more-than-six-pound tsarouchia shoes that are topped with a pom-pom. On Sundays at 11 a.m., a marching platoon and band join the usual guard for a brief ceremony.
Additionally, pay a visit to more modern-era buildings such as the University of Athens, Academy of Athens, and National Library of Greece.
Ancient Athenian and Roman Agoras
On the lower slopes of the Acropolis are the ruins of two agoras, the central public space of ancient cities. The Athenian Agora features an impressive reconstructed stoa, a columned portico once used as a market that now houses a museum. Visit the well-preserved Temple of Hephaestus here, too. A short walk away is Roman Agora, which features the Tower of Winds and ruins of Emperor Hadrian’s library.
An unmissable thing to do in Athens is to pay a visit to The Kallimarmaro, or the Panathenaic Stadium. The popular site is the only white marble stadium in the world, and the first modern Olympics were held here in 1896.
What travellers say about the Panathenaic Stadium: “Beautiful stadium, great view of the Acropolis, and easily accessible (close to public transportation and other landmarks).”
National Archaeological Museum
Don’t miss the world-renowned National Archaeological Museum. The museum collection showcases artifacts from a period of more than 5,000 years, collected from various archaeological sites in Greece. Additionally, other prominent museums in Athens include the Benaki Museum, Numismatic Museum, and the Museum of Cycladic Art.
Alternative Things to Do in Athens
Visit Plaka and Monastiraki
Located beneath the Acropolis is Plaka, the historical neighbourhood of the city. It’s a prime tourist area with beautiful neoclassical architecture and small Greek taverns. Monastiraki, another neighbourhood in the old town of Athens, has a crowded flea market and lots of small shops. Ermou Street is a pedestrian shopping street that leads to Syntagma Square, the central square of Athens.
Explore Athens National Gardens
If you are looking for a green spot to escape the city, visit the National Gardens. The scenic park is home to many exotic plants and, of course, archeological ruins. Attica Zoological Park, with nearly 2,000 animals, is also a good place to have some fun-filled time amid greenery.
Climb Mount Lycabettus
Climb Mount Lycabettus at dusk to watch the sunset over the city. As the tallest point in Athens, Lycabettus’ peak offers unrivalled views of the sprawling metropolis. Also, make sure to pop into the tiny 19th century Chapel of St. George that sits atop the mountain.
Visit a hammam
One of the more fortunate remnants of the Ottoman occupation of Athens are hammams, hot steam bathhouses that provide massages and other spa treatments. Indulge with a visit to Al Hammam in Plaka, which has a rooftop terrace with the Acropolis in view. Often affordable, hammams are also ideal for the “splurgetting” traveller.
Watch a movie under the stars
There are several open-air cinemas in Athens that offer screenings of newish releases and classics. Cine Paris, a rooftop cinema in Plaka is the oldest and most popular, in part because of its view of the Parthenon. Cine Thisson, Cine Dexameni, and Vox are great options, too.
Eating and Drinking in Athens
Athens has a number of street vendors, traditional taverns, fast food restaurants, and fashionable bars, offering a wide variety of dishes. Souvlaki, moussaka (a layered eggplant and beef dish), and loukoumades (fried dough topped with honey) are some traditional Greek dishes you’ll find on menus. For a midday snack, grab a koulouri (sesame bread ring) from one of the many kiosks lining the streets. Cool down with a frothy iced-coffee frappe to-go.
Plaka, Thisseio, and Monastiraki are popular neighbourhoods to dine in, especially thanks to the abundance of rooftop restaurants with stellar views of the city. Kuzina is a standout dinner option for modern Greek cuisine in the otherwise touristy stretch along Andrianou Street. But for a more traditional meal, head to Tavern Klimataria. Orizontes serves up local Mediterranean dishes with a view.
What travellers say about Kuzina: “After a couple of meals in the touristy places in the Plaka district, this was a breath of fresh air.”
Nightlife and Entertainment
Drinking, dancing, and partying are typical of the Athenian lifestyle. The nightlife scene offers variety, from bars that play jazz or rebetike (urban Greek music) to karaoke dens or nightclubs with live performances or DJs spinning until dawn. Once settling on a hotspot, saddle up at a bar and order ouzo, raki, or Rakomelo—a mix of raki, honey, and spices.
Most entertainment venues are located in the central Plaka, Monastiraki, and Psyri neighbourhoods. Brettos, the capital’s oldest distillery and bar, is always a hit thanks to its bottle-lined walls. Open all day and all night, Six D.o.g.s is multi-purpose hangout, with a cocktail bar, art installations, outdoor garden, indoor dance floor and the occasional concert. From there, hop over to Faust for another round of cocktails. Venture to Exarcheia and Gazi neighbourhoods for alternative and industrial spots frequented by locals. Also, Bios bar is a cool spot to grab a drink or catch a flick under the stars.
Where to Stay in Athens
Athens has a variety of affordable places to stay. Whether you prefer to be in central or off the beaten path, most Athenian neighbourhoods are well connected by public tranist.
This five-star luxury property places guests in the heart of the bustling Plaka neighbourhood in style. Located within walking distance of trendy restaurants and major attractions, but some of the best spots are on site. The Metropolis Roof Garden restaurant offers a gourmet dining experience with unbeatable views of the Acropolis. Also, right under to lobby find Agia Dynami, a small Byzantine-era church that’s still in use.
A for Athens
Conveniently located close to Monastiraki Square and subway station, this modern hotel offers 35 comfortable rooms with large windows in the city center. Take a bath with a view of the Parthenon, or head upstaris to the panoramic restaurant and bar for cocktails under the stars.
What travellers say about A for Athens: “This is an interesting place because it is a hotel but set up like apartments. Very clean and modern with an amazing staff.”
City Circus Athens Hostel
On the more budget-friendly end of the Athenian hospitality spectrum, this four-star property in Psyri redefines what it means to stay in a hostel. With spacious dorm-style and private rooms, social events and activities, and helpful staff, it’s a not you’re average no-frills hostel. Guest can enjoy deals and specials at the onsite Zampanó restaurant, pop in to the hotel’s photobooth for a circus-themed souvenir, and enjoy the property’s rooftop graden.
What travellers say about City Circus Athens Hostel: “I’m not usually a hostel kind of gal. I can honestly say that the facilities at this particular hostel are probably the best I have seen, anywhere.”
Getting Around Athens
Athens has an extensive mass transit system, which includes a large fleet of buses, trolleybuses or electric buses, trains, and trams. There are about 300 bus and 22 trolleybus lines. The underground metro network serves the red and blue lines, while the electric railway network serves the green line and has several routes at ground level. Consider renting a car if you’d prefer a more expedient mode of transport. It’s also a good option if you plan to make a day trip to Delphi or the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion.
Flying to Athens
Athens International Airport Eleftherios Venizelos (ATH) connects the capital to several domestic and international destinations. There are direct flights to Athens from Toronto, and connecting flights from Montreal, Vancouver and other major cities. If you’re on a connecting itinerary, consider booking a multi-city flight. London, Paris, and Munich are common connecting cities worth spending an extra day or two visiting.
Best Time to Visit Athens
The best time to visit is from March to May and September to November. Epidaurus, the popular arts festival, takes place from May to October. But there are things to do in Athens year round. If you’re budget-conscious and not put=off by the occasional rainfall, consider visiting in the off-season since ticket prices to attractions are significantly reduced.
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