What are the best things to do in Athens to explore the ancient sights? Athens is probably the most ancient capital you can imagine – besides the Acropolis, the city features an abundance of ancient constructions, including former marketplaces, the agoras, full of Ionic-, Doric- and Corinthian-style temples and other classical structures. Also, Athens’ fabulous museums, as well as more ‘modern’ sites such as the Panathenaic Stadium (stadium of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896), the vibrant Syntagma Square in front of the Old Royal Palace, and the enticing labyrinthine neighbourhoods full of local tavernas are must-sees in the city.
Atop the solid rock that bears the Acropolis, some of the most exceptional monuments and landmarks in Athens can be found: the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion, and the Propylaea. A walk around the Acropolis is literally a time travel to classical Athens where the Greek mythology played an important role.
Amazon Hotel Tasteful rooms in the heart of Athens near archaeological sites and Syntagma Metro Station. Some rooms feature Acropolis view & balcony.
Hotel Grande Bretagne luxury hotel opposite Constitution Square with city views from the rooftop terrace. Some rooms have balconies facing the Acropolis.
Among the top landmarks in Athens is the Acropolis majestically rising on a 60 m high rock over the city of Athens, justifying its name meaning ‘High City’. This upper settlement on the Attica plateau was the early Athens in the 6th century BC and the city remained up there for centuries afterwards. Spectacular temple constructions were erected in the 5th century BC as places of worship and residence for the most influential people in antiquity. Soon the mighty structures – the epitome of classical Greece – were encircled by walls, turning the plateau into an unconquerable fortification.
A fascinating past is revealed when you delve into the comprehensive history of the Acropolis. The site has served many purposes over the centuries – from being a mythical home of the Greek gods and a religious center, to being a Royal residence and a citadel. The solid constructions, all dating from the 5th century BC, have resisted both earthquakes and bombardments, and as important cultural world heritage, the Acropolis is today obviously listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Mycenaeans were the first settlers on the spectacular rock at the end of the Bronze Age. Then came the Athenians who erected the Bluebeard Temple and another temple, both dedicated to the goddess Athena – reflecting the importance that the Greek Mythology had to the citizens. However, the Bluebeard Temple’s heyday was short since it was soon demolished by the Persians. Therefore, around 490 BC, the construction of another great temple, the Old Parthenon Temple, began. Ten years later, the Persians attacked again and sadly destroyed the new construction.
A few years later, Pericles undertook a major work – initiating the creation of the Acropolis as we know it today, assisted by the architects Callicrates and Ictinus, as well as the sculptor Phidias – a project that took 50 years! The famous structures such as the Parthenon, the Propylaea, the Temple of Athena Nike, as well as the Erechtheion saw the light of day. Also, an amazing bronze statue of Athena Promachos was erected between the Propylaea and the Parthenon.
When visiting the Acropolis, you enter through the impressive Propylaea, the majestic gateway to the ancient city. The function of the Propylaea was to separate the secular and religious parts of the city. When climbing the stairs to the Propylaea, you will to the right spot the fine, small Ionic Temple of Athena Nike.
Inside the Acropolis area, Parthenon is with its massive Doric columns one of the most eye-caching structures on the plateau. The construction used to feature a spectacular statue of Athena. It is also world-famous for its outstanding frieze of which fragments can now be admired in several museums in Europe!
Another nearly as famous temple is the Erechtheion, an Ionic-style marble temple honouring Goddess Athena together with various other gods. It is famed for its six statues of the Caryatids, the strong and elegant female statues supporting the temple construction – serving as columns.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a spectacular Roman theatre located on the slope of the Acropolis. It was built in 161 AD by Herodes Atticus as a stage for concerts and other entertaining events taking place in the ancient city. The site had a capacity of 5,000 spectators. In the 1950’s it was restored to be used as a venue of the annual Athens Festival.
Great artists have performed at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, including Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Diana Ross, Liza Minnelli, and Jean Michel Jarre – just to mention a few.
Another theatre on the same slope is the even older Theatre of Dionysus – which was at the time a part of the sanctuary of Dionysus Eleuthereus. Its foundation dates back to the 6th century BC – and it expanded during the following centuries to reach a capacity of 17,000 spectators! However, it fell into disrepair and was covered by the ground right until the 19th century where it was rediscovered.
The Acropolis Museum can be found right outside the Acropolis’s South Gate. It is an amazing museum where significant parts of the Acropolis are on display, including a complete reconstruction of the Parthenon Frieze of which the original essentially is shared between the Acropolis Museum, the British Museum, and the Louvre. Additionally, a number of other European museums have fragments of the famous frieze, and precisely these years there are ongoing discussions on whether they should be returned to Greece.
Furthermore, a highlight of the museum is the collection of 5 of the 6 Caryatid statues from the Erechtheion. The 6th Caryatid is in the British Museum in London. Those standing on the Acropolis today are all replicas.
Other highlights are the statues of Nike and Athena, as well as statues of other goddesses and gods, spectacular Greek amphoras, magnificent reliefs depicting anatomic details, beautifully decorated aryballos and many more arts and crafts objects. It is all invitingly presented in the modern museum building. Outside the museum you get an impression of the excavations at basement level. For even more insight into ancient Greek prehistoric antiquities, sculptures, and other archaeological artefacts, a visit to the National Archaeological Museum in the north of Athens is a must! It is the most significant museum in Greece – and the top Greek archaeological museum in the world!
Dotted with the ruins of ancient Greek buildings, the Ancient Agora of Athens (also known as the Classical Agora) is one of the landmarks from the city’s glorious heyday a couple of millennia back in time. It is Athens’ ancient trading place having existed since prehistoric times. The top attractions here are the Temple of Hephaestus and the Stoa of Attalos.
Originally, the site was a gathering and marketplace – ancient Athens’ focal point for merchants, artisans and politicians. Leading minds such as Aristotle and Socrates developed and discussed their philosophies with the intellectuals of the past here at the birthplace of democracy!
The Doric Temple of Hephaestus was constructed around 450 BC, built by Attalos II – the ruler of Pergamon, is one of the best-preserved Greek temples. Impressive bronze statues of Athena and Hephaestus were erected at the temple site.
The two-storey marble and limestone Stoa of Attalos with a Doric colonnade was constructed a few centuries later in the Hellenistic period, around 150 BC. However, the spectacular construction, used by merchants for storage and their shops, fell into complete disrepair over the years. Nevertheless, it was reconstructed based on its original appearance in the 1950s, funded by American donors – and houses today the archaeological Agora Museum.
The Roman Agora is located not far from the Ancient Agora, just north of the Acropolis and the neighbourhood Plaka. It was likely founded between 19 BC and 11 BC, commissioned by the Roman Emperor Augustus. As a replacement for the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora became the vibrant public square and central market in Athens those years. With its marble patio and Ionic marble colonnade, it was an impressive marketplace and meeting point in the city.
There were two gateways to the Roman Agora, the Ionic Gate of Athena Archegetis and the Doric East Propylon. The marketplace is today ruins, but still traces of the magnificent marble colonnade and other monumental buildings can be explored, among others the polygonal Tower of the Winds with a sundial and a water clock. The area of the Roman Agora has not yet been fully excavated.
One of the other great Athens landmarks is the Temple of Olympian Zeus, a former classical temple dedicated to the leader of the Olympian god, Zeus. Construction took place between 6th century BC and 2nd century AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. It finally stood as the most significant and largest temple in Greece, resting on 104 gigantic Corinthian columns. A stone’s throw away the Corinthian-style Arch of Hadrian from 132 AD marks the entrance to Hadrianopolis – as the gateway between the ancient and the Roman city.
However, its heyday became tragically short. Only a century after the completion of the imposing temple, it was devastated by northern invaders, and with the fall of the Roman Empire, it was never reconstructed, but rather used as a quarry for new constructions elsewhere in Athens. Only some of the colossal columns survived, but in 1852 a violent earthquake took even more, and precisely the massive column still lying on the ground in pieces is a result of this natural disaster. Today, the remaining 15 standing columns still give an indication of the proportion of the ancient temple.
Syntagma Square is the heart of Athens and is a historic square, although not as ancient as the landmarks described above. It is also known as Constitution Square, since a military uprising in 1843 required the first King of Greece, Otto, to provide a constitution for the country.
At the back of the square, the 19th-century Old Royal Palace can be seen, today housing the Greek Parliament which it has done since 1934. In front of the Parliament building there is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, well-guarded by the Presidential Guards wearing traditional uniforms. Changing of the guard takes places hourly and is particularly spectacular on Sundays at 10 am.
The popular square has both historical and current significance as it is today a vibrant square in Athens, lined with restaurants and shops, as well as being a public bus junction with a metro station underneath. There is a lot of commercial activities, and it is often a focal point for political demonstrations and other events.
Finally, a visit to Athens cannot be done without a visit to vibrant Plaka, the historical neighbourhood in the middle of the ancient landmarks – with labyrinthine streets around the slopes of the Acropolis.
Plaka is a lovely blend of local ambience, small tavernas, Greek Orthodox churches, neoclassical architecture, bougainvillea, orange and lime tress, as well as a plethora of souvenir shops. In the quaint little streets, you will also find antiques, jewellery, and hand-crafted icons. It is a great experience to take a look inside the beautiful churches – and with a bit of luck you may be able to attend a service.
For an authentic experience it can be recommended to get a bit lost in the cobbled streets of the Neighbourhood of the Gods which is one of the oldest parts of modern Athens – among musicians, locals, and ancient ruins.
7 Best Things to Do in Athens – Acropolis & Other Cool Landmarks
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7 Best Things to Do in Athens – Acropolis & Other Cool Landmarks:
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Athens landmarks – Acropolis – Parthenon