When talking about Athens, a city such full of history and legends, it is impossible to cover everything in one post. So let’s start with looking at our top 10 recommended steps to discover Athens. This tour can be done even in one day if you start early enough.
1. Visit the ancient Acropolis
Start your Athens tour with visiting the Acropolis, the extraordinary ancient citadel, included in the World Heritage list, that will offer you a glimpse of the great Greek history and civilization.
Since it is located on the flat top of a rocky hill, on a warm sunny day it is better to go early and avoid the crowd and the midday heat. We suggest to get the ticket that includes entrance to the other important historical sites such as the Roman Agora, the Acropolis Museum and visit them all if time allows.
Once reaching the Acropolis, you would be able to visit a series of important ancient buildings:
– the Parthenon, the temple dedicated to goddess Athena Parthenos
– the Erechtheion – a temple dedicated to a series of ancient Greek gods, famous for its supporting female statues, known as Caryatids
– the temple of Athena Nike
– the Propylaia, a monumental gateway with colonnades built in a Doric style
– traces of other ancient buildings, sanctuaries and altars that unfortunately left few archaeological remains.
You would also have a chance to admire a spectacular view of the surroundings.
2. Visit the Acropolis Museum
After visiting the Acropolis, on the pedestrian way towards Thisio there is the new and very modern museum of Acropolis. If you are interested in history and archaeology then you will probably want to explore this museum.
More information about the Acropolis Museum can be found here: http://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/en
3. Walk from Thisio to Monastiraki visiting also the Roman Agora
The route we are suggesting would take you on the pedestrian walk from the Acropolis Museum to Thisio and then to Monastiraki square. Before you reach Thisio you will find on the way lots of cafes and this area is very popular for going out.
From Thisio to Monastiraki you will pass near the Temple of Hefaistos and the Roman Agora. The temple of Hefaistos was initially mistaken to be dedicated to Theseu, a mythological Greek hero, and this association gave the name of the area.
You will also see how interesting is the metro line passing near the ancient ruins.
4. Try a pita gyros or souvlaki
Once in Monastiraki you will see the busy and crowded atmosphere of this small square that is one of the main meeting points in Athens.
The name of the square comes from the little Pantanassa church (former monastery), located in the square, and from here start many pedestrian narrow streets full of cafes, gyros & souvlaki places or souvenir shops. If you are hungry we recommend to try a gyros or souvlaki. These are tasty wraps containing meet cut (gyros) or on a stick (souvlaki) with fried potatoes, tomatoes and sauce or tzatziki (traditional yogurt and garlic sauce). If you want the wrap and not the plate version remember to ask for the “pita” one. They go very well with a Greek salad near (horiatiki).
5. Stop for a coffee at a roof top cafe in Monastiraki
If you have time you can have a good coffee on one of the roof tops cafes surrounding Monastiraki square. “A for Athens” is a very popular place with a great view of the Acropolis.
6. Check the shops on Ermou street
From Monastiraki to Syntagma Square you can walk on the famous shopping street Ermou. The name of the street comes from Hermes, the Greek god of commerce. There are many local and international brands here and if it’s the discount season you will feel the shopping frenzy around.
7. See the guards at Syntagma Square and the Parliament building
Once in Syntagma Square you will see the Parliament building, which is actually the former royal palace. The square is named after the first Constitution signed by the first King of Greece, Otto the 1st and also houses the monument dedicated to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded by the famous Greek soldiers (Evzones) in traditional uniforms. Tourists often stop to take pictures and see the changing of the guards.
8. Visit the Benaki Museum near Syntagma Square
On the left side of the Parliament if you continue your walking tour you will find the Benaki Museum. This was initially the private collection of the Benaki family and the museum is hosted in the Benaki villa. Although the Benaki collection is now grouped and split between more museums with different specifics, the Benaki Museum near Syntagma displays an invaluable collection offering a quick but comprehensive view of the Greek history and civilization, from early beginnings to more recent times. You can find here exquisite pieces from areas such as archaeology, art, the Byzantine empire, religion, music, jewelry and costumes, culture, sciences, crafts, military, but also related to the monarchy and history of modern Greece. So we really recommend it.
More information about the museum here: www.benaki.gr
9. Explore the National Gardens
If you have time and like parks and gardens, the National Gardens are located just across the Benaki Museum and behind the Parliament building. These were the gardens of the former royal palace and have been commissioned by Queen Amalia, the first queen of Modern Greece in 1838. In the approximate 15 hectares park you can see a diversity of plants, birds and even ancient ruins.
10. Go to Lykavittos hill for an amazing view of the city
Not far from Benaki Museum and the National Gardens you can see the Lykavittos (or Lycabettus) hill dominating the city. This limestone hill is the highest point of Athens and offers amazing views of the city, including of the islands not far from Pireas.
You can get to the top by either talking the funicular or by going on foot, which even if it takes longer it is also a pleasant healthy walk. On the top of the hill there are:
– an open air amphitheater that host many concerts or other cultural events;
– the chapel of St. George, where there is also the best observation deck of the area;
– a bar/restaurant also with wonderful views.
We would recommend you to go there before sunset and stay for dinner or drinks.
This is only the beginning and Athens has so much to show. We will be back with more posts about it soon.