Athena gave G-d the gift of an olive tree vs Poseidon’s water, therefore the city is named Athens. The city is the birthplace of many modern ideas. It is home to the birth of democracy, education, the first university of the world, theatre, and taxes. The city now combines the past with the future and has great diversity as a crossroads of the East and West.
You only need two days to see it all the main part of the city has to offer. You would need 3-4 days to gain a more personal experience of the city, giving you time to visit the nearby coast. Athens is also a great base to visit other places in the country.
We took a four hour Athens tour with Greece Athens Tours. The tour guide picked us up at 10-10:30AM from our hotel with a Mercedes taxi. While our guide came with a basic itinerary for the day, he talked with us to customize our tour around the city to fit our interests.
Even though the tour does not includes a licensed guide, our guide had a lot of knowledge, made the tour more enjoyable and was able to answer all our questions. The guide tries to immerse you into culture, it is not just about snapping a photo.
Our first stop was the top of Mount Lycabettus. It is a long and windy walk from the base to its peak at 300 meters. Alternatively there is a road that gets you most of the way up the hill.
At its peak is the Chapel of St. George as well as an amazing panoramic view of the entire city of Athens. It is the best spot to enjoy the sunset over the city.
Nearby our hotel is a famous Glass Statue, which shows the speed of running through stacked glass plates. In the same square is the oldest olive tree in Greece which is 1,500 years old.
A few blocks away is the War Museum. It covers everything ranging from ancient Greece until today. It is very interesting for those who love learning history through the perspective of war.
Tickets cost €4/person and the museum hours are as follows:
- Monday from 11AM to 4PM
- Tuesday to Saturday from 9AM to 5PM
- Sundays and Public Holidays from 9AM to 3PM
- Monday from 11AM to 4PM
- Tuesday to Saturday from 9AM to 7PM
- Sundays and Public Holidays from 9AM to 5PM
Just a few blocks away is the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art. This very beautiful building is home to the coolest art you did not know exists. Cycladic art is primarily small figurines from 3300 to 1100 BCE.
Tickets cost €7/person and the hours vary per day, see the complete schedule on their website.
Across the street are the National Gardens, which used to be only for the royal family. The gardens host many different types of trees and flowers from around the world, originally chosen by the Queen.
The Greek Parliament is located in the Old Royal Palace.
There is a changing of the guards every hour on the hour. On Sunday at 11AM there is an extra special changing, with traditional military dress from independence war from the Ottoman Empire and a military band. It is very busy at this time, so make sure to get there early to get a good standing spot.
The Monetary Museum is located in the former residence of Heinrich Schliemann. As a German business man and archaeologist, Schliemann started the excavations in Turkey to find Troy and Mycenae after reading Homer’s Iliad.
The coin museum has over 50,000 coins covering history from ancient times to today. It is a good place to view history from an alternative perspective. Tickets cost €3/person and is open Thursday through Sunday from 8:30AM to 3PM.
The famous Neoclassical Athens Trilogy were built between 1846 and 1880 after independence from the Ottoman Empire. At that point top architects from around the Europe came to restore Athens to its previous beauty.
Academy of Athens
The Academy of Athens is Greece’s highest research establishment. The building serves as a gathering hall for teachers. The columns are built in the old traditional style, where each section has a hole in the middle which is filled with melted iron from the top of the stack.
University of Athens
The University of Athens was the first of the three buildings completed. The pediment displays the different Greek G-d’s of the academic studies covered in the university. This Neoclassical building now serves as the academic offices of the university and is not open to the public.
The last building of the trilogy is the National Library. The library is home to over 1 million books including 100,000 handmade books. It has the most unique architecture out of the three buildings with its massive Renascence style staircase entrance.
The Metro stops with small museums of artifacts found during the digging of the stations themselves: Acropolis, panepistimiou
City Hall of Athens
We then passed the City Hall of the Municipality of Athens with large beautiful Kotzia Square in front. This bustling square also has the National Bank of Greece.
If you are looking for best place in Athens for fresh fish, meat, olives, oil, spices and all foods Greek you cannot miss the Central Market. This large market has an endless variety of stalls with some of the best prices in the city.
Unfortunately we passed the Central Market on Sunday, the only day that it is closed!
We then went along the beautiful Stadiou Street with many shops. Going down the street we also passed the old Parliament building.
Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens
Several blocks south of the old Parliament building is the immense marble Metropolitan Cathedral of the Annunciation. The church was built using ruins of 72 small chapels and churches. It was also the location of the marriage of Juan Carlos I of Spain and Princess Sophia of Greece.
Tower of the Winds
At the end of Lysiou Stree is the Tower of the Winds. This 2000 year old structure served as the first public clock in the world, with a combination of sundials, a water clock, and a wind vane.
In the same complex are the following ancient buildings as well:
- Gate of Athena Archegetis
- East Propylon
- Fethiye Mosque
Monastiraki Flea Market
We then walked through the Monastiraki Flea Market. If you are looking for anything from souvenirs to trinkets to clothing, this is the best place to wander through. There are also a handful of cheap cafes and food stalls if you are looking for a bite to eat.
Unlike the Central Market, the best day to visit the flea market is Sunday.
Just south of the flea market is the Ancient Agora of Athens. This large complex served as a main city center 2000 years ago. The largest reconstructed building is the Stoa of Attalos, which is now a museum with many ancient artifacts.
There are many other ruins you can see when you walk through the complex, but make sure not to miss out on the Temple of Hephaestus.
You cannot visit Athens without climbing the Acropolis. Acropolis means “at the top of the town,” which was key in terms of both defense and religion.
There are many different attractions to make sure not to miss on the Acropolis:
- Propylaia Gateway
- Erechtheion Temple
- Temple of Athena Nike
- Theatre of Dionysus
Entrance to the Acropolis cost €20/person. The grounds are open daily from 8AM to 8PM.
After coming down the Acropolis you must visit the Acropolis Museum. The museum features many of the archaeological finds from atop the Acropolis. It gives a complete history of what you just saw.
Tickets are €5/person, and the hours depend on the season and day, so check their website for complete hours information.
We then entered the Plaka Area, the older neighborhood of the city. The streets, lined with flowers, have many 200+ year old houses. Make sure to walk along Lysiou Street and enjoy the atmosphere.
It is a great walking area with many tourist shops and cafes. It is also the best place to find nice clothes at good prices.
Behind the Acropolis is the Temple of Olympian Zeus. This temple once stood larger than the Parthenon with 110 columns, but now only 16 are left standing.
At the entrance to the temple is the grand Arch of Hadrian. This arch was built to thank Roman Emperor Hadrian for finishing the Temple of Zeus, over 600 years after its construction began.
Tickets cost €6/person and its daily hours are 8AM to 8PM.
The Panathenaic Stadium is the only all marble stadium in the world, rebuilt on the remains of an ancient stadium for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.
Tickets to the stadium cost €5/person. The stadium is open daily from March to October from 8AM to 7PM and November to February from 8AM to 5PM.
We went passed the St. Paul’s Anglican Church. This beautiful, but small church makes a great photo.
While the city of Athens is walkable, the weather reaches as high as 104°F(40°C) making walking brutal. We took the four hour Athens Tour with Greece Athens Tours. Their air conditioned Mercedes taxis, minivans and minibuses makes the day so much better, as most attractions are outdoors.
The best part about the tour is they offer free Wi-Fi in the car to keep your social media up-to-date and yours friends jealous.
This tour is perfect for anyone with limited time in Athens, especially cruise visitors. They also offer many other tour options inside and outside the city. The newest tours include: a visit to winery 25km from city with lunch; a food tour journey through the best food in Greece; and a wine tour within city.