With so many great places to visit in Athens, the Greek capital is always a top European travel destination. Whether you are a foodie, a history buff or an adventure seeker, the things to do in Athens will make you enjoy your holiday and long for more.
Top things to do in Athens, Greece
** Guest post by Evelyn and Paul from Mommy Stroller
Athens, the capital of Greece, has been a popular destination for literally thousands of years. Written records of the city’s history start at 3.200 BC and very soon the city grew into a great trade center, where politics, culture and civilisation also bloomed. Though today’s Athens is much different than the one in 432 BC when the world-famous Parthenon was built, strolling through the historical center of Athens makes the visitor feel like they are time-travelling.
As the city grew, it got unified with the port of Piraeus, that offers direct connections to almost all Greek islands. Even if you are visiting Greece for its wonderful beaches, planning to stay a couple of days in the country’s capital is well-worth it.
Why Visit Athens
Most tourists visit Athens in search of its glorious past. Indeed, the ancient monuments that are scattered all over the city are worth a visit. The feeling of tracing the steps of ancient philosophers, politicians and playwrights and looking at the sun reflecting on the pristine marbles, just as they did, is very unique. But there is a lot to be said -and seen- about contemporary Athens too.
Despite the huge financial crisis that became apparent around 2010 and heavily affected the daily life of the Greek people, their core values remain unchanged. Philoxenia, meaning hospitality, is one of them. Tourists will find that Greeks are really helpful in whichever way they can: giving directions, suggesting their favourite tavern or pointing you to the best shop to buy authentic Greek leather sandals (yup, just like the ancient ones).
Let’s have a look at the best places to visit in Athens and things to experience in the Greek capital, based on your interests.
Things to do in Athens for the food lover
The traditional Greek food is based on the principles of the Mediterranean diet. The best quality of olive oil, fresh greens and veggies ripened under the warm sun and fish and meat that in many cases are grown locally. Within Athens, you will find many high-end restaurants but taverns also serve fantastic food. At the Gazi area, around the cultural center of Technopolis, you will find both, serving a wide range of food, ranging from fresh fish to souvlaki and Greek mezze. The design of the restaurants in this area is modern and so is the chefs’ approach to traditional dishes.
Around the Monastiraki square and at the Psiri area in the centre, there are also great choices. Here you will find many taverns serving souvlaki, kebab, gyros and many other grilled meat dishes as well as Greek specialities prepared in the oven, like gemista (veggies stuffed with rice), gigantes (butter beans baked in tomato sauce) and pastitsio (oven-baked pasta with bechamel sauce).
For the hardcore meat lovers, going to the taverns of Chasia for all sorts of grilled meat is a wise choice. Here you will find many different kinds of meat, cooked on the spot, on open fire or barbeque. If you are into fish and love fried squid and grilled shrimps then the taverns of Piraeus next to the water, close to the port are also lovely.
In the last few years, a few vegan restaurants have also popped up! Many traditional Greek specialities are veggie though, so if you are a vegetarian or vegan there will be plenty to enjoy anyway. Fried courgette and aubergines, Greek salad without the feta cheese, fresh green beans, oven-baked potatoes, and grilled mushrooms are some standard dishes available at any tavern.
If you visit a local grocery shop – and there are many great ones in Athina’s street, where the big market is also situated – make sure to buy traditional products. Olive oil, greek mountain tea, greek herbs like oregano, thyme and spearmint, honey. You can also find vine leaves ready to stuff, preserved in brine and of course feta cheese. Many other local types of cheese can be found in delicatessen shops, made of goat or sheep milk. Trahanas and hilopita or manestra are Greek types of pasta that you can only find in Greece and are worth tasting as well. Mastiha products -that are produced in Chios island- are easy to find in Athens too. Look for a Mastiha shop, where you will find a great variety.
⇒ Extra tip: If you are planning some food shopping in Athens, make sure you meet your airline’s weight limit with a handy and affordable digital luggage scale easy to carry in all your trips.
Things to do in Athens with kids
Yes, we know. With all that traffic and many smokers around, Athens doesn’t look like a particularly child-friendly city at first sight. If you have young kids, taking a baby carrier with you will save you the trouble of navigating the traffic and going up and down pavements that are not necessarily equipped with ramps. Plus, you won’t have to worry about your kid running into Athens’s heavy traffic.
There are however tons of things you can do in Athens with your kids that they will love. Depending on their age, visiting museums or just hiking on the ancient hills in the center of Athens are great ways to introduce them to the city’s history. The historical center is largely a pedestrian zone, making it safe to move around both on foot and with a lightweight stroller.
There are many children’s theaters too that your little one will enjoy thanks to the great costumes and music, despite the language barrier. One of them is situated in an old train! If you can find a Karagiozis show, the traditional shadow puppet theater, don’t miss it!
The PLAYMOBIL fun park in Kifissia is a win-win and a great place to visit in Athens, as kids get to play with tons of different play sets from the famous toy brand, while parents can enjoy their coffee and a selection of delicious cakes. It is a great option both for rainy and really hot days, that being outside would be torture.
For the little animal lovers the Attica Zoological Park, where you get to touch lemurs and admire all sorts of wild animals in generously-sized enclosures will be a big hit! Make sure not to go during mid-day as animals, just like people, dislike the heat and prefer to nap in their shelters during the warmer hours, so it’s harder to spot them.
If you decide against renting a car, you can always hire a taxi. There is a taxi service that offers car seats as well. Just make sure to let them know when you make the booking, as not all taxis come with the seats pre-installed.
Things to do in Athens for the history lover
If you are still wondering what to do in Athens, a stroll in the historical centre is a must. Climbing up the hill of Acropolis to see the Parthenon might be a cliche, but there’s a reason so many people visit it. If you are visiting during the summer make sure to start early in the morning as it gets really hot from as early as 10 am. The Acropolis museum, designed by Bernard Tschumi, is a wonderful building with an even more interesting content. With great accessibility for the disabled and a lovely cafe on the top floor with amazing views of Athens, it is not to be missed.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a theater built in 161 AD and renovated in 1950 is still in use today. It is very close to the museum, on the Dionysiou Areopagitou street, a pedestrian cobblestone street that leads you down to Monastiraki square, where you can visit the museum of folk art, housed in an old Ottoman Mosque building, built in 1759.
If you’d like to get a glimpse of a more contemporary part of Greek history, visiting the Anafiotika neighbourhood, in the area of Plaka, is a great idea. In 1922, after the complete destruction of Asia Minor many Greek refugees from there started their new lives under the shadow of the Parthenon. Picturesque, humble houses with small courtyards, steep, narrow streets, whitewashed walls and fragrant geraniums seem to be coming from another era.
Things to do in Athens for the art lover
The Greek National Opera, at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, is a must among the things to see in Athens. If you can get tickets for a show, even better! Watching a theater play or a concert at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus that we already mentioned is an unforgettable experience.
When it comes to festivals, there is a lot to enjoy, especially during spring and summer. The jazz and the comic festivals that take place at Technopolis, at the Gazi area attract locals as well as tourists and are both very-well organized. The Rockwave festival, a bit outside Athens, at the Terra Vibe location in Malakasa is -as the name suggests- amazing for the rock and metal music lovers, featuring world-famous bands and solo artists every year.
There are of course many museums to be visited as well as art galleries, right at the center of Athens. Any tourist information point can provide you with a guide. Don’t forget to visit an open-air cinema, often playing classic movies under the stars, with the song of the cicadas as a background. Art is scattered all around the city streets, with some very impressive wall art created by graffiti artists.
Things to do in Athens for the adventurer
If you are looking for non-touristy things to do in Athens, renting a car is a good idea. There are many areas around the city that are full of amazing nature and hiking trails, that are not easily accessible with public transport. Visiting Mount Parnitha and the Mpafi shelter is a worthwhile experience all year round. You can take the free teleferic (cable car) that goes up to the casino and enjoy the dense forest view underneath.
In Parnitha you can also observe lots of wild plants and animals, from wildflowers and rare mushrooms to red deers.
Lake Vouliagmeni, a lake that is filled by freshwater streaming from mount Hymettus, is another wonderful destination for nature lovers. You can enjoy a swim in the cool waters and there are a cafe and a restaurant, too.
Antonis Tritsis Environmental Awareness Park is a gem mostly known to locals. Within the city of Athens but about one hour from the center using public transport, it is a green oasis. The park features big lakes that attract many different bird species and are full of life (fish, turtles, and frogs live there). There is a lovely cafe that serves food made of local and organic produce and small shops selling eco-friendly toys, herbs, and home decoration items. All sorts of events often take place in the park during spring and summer, including concerts and theater plays.
If you want to visit areas of Athens off the beaten track but are not into nature, then looking at Exarchia square, right in the center of Athens, will pay off. The square is notorious as the centre of many riots, but it is actually also the centre of a really nice neighborhood with great food and cafes. Here you will see the true face of Athens, a mix of poverty-stricken immigrants, well-off locals who bought property in the area many generations ago, the occasional drug addict sleeping on a bench and inhabitant collectives fighting to bring local parks back to life. Many volunteers work in Exarchia to protect minorities, from immigrants to abused women, by offering their services -language courses, legal aid etc- for free. It is a very rich area with many layers to be discovered.
⇒ Extra tip: Book some fantastic day trips from Athens to the scenic Meteora and to the ancient ruins of Delphi, site of the Oracle. To combine ancient history and a visit to a traditional village, book a day trip to Mycenae and Epidaurus.
Tips for your visit to Athens, Greece
- If you can plan your trip outside peak season (from May till the end of August), you will enjoy a much more quiet city, with smaller queues at museums and archeological sites. Plus, you will avoid the heat.
- If you have to go during summer, make sure to start your day early, always carry water and sunscreen with you. Water is easy to find at every kiosk and is cheap too, but why not refill your own water bottle?
- Tipping at restaurants and cafes is considered polite but not expected from tourists.
- All cafes and restaurants are obliged to have a child seat, but it’s often hidden at the back, so ask for one if you don’t see it.
- Since 2017 an electronic ticket (basically a card) is used for tram, metro and train within the centre of Athens. It is easy to recharge at many train stations and the directions of the machines are in English too.
- Most Greeks speak intermediate English and will be able to help you find your way. All shop, hotel, hostel and restaurant owners speak good English and a couple more languages as well.
Bio: Mommy Stroller was started by Evelyn and her husband, Paul, who both decided to blog about baby gear after the overwhelming feeling they experienced when trying to pick out their first stroller. Both of them enjoy spending time with family and friend, live music, travelling and going on jogs with their kids (in a stroller). Today, Mommy Stroller is comprised of a group of parents who are interested in providing value and tips to other parents because parenting shouldn’t be difficult! For detailed baby gear guides, stroller reviews and anything and everything stroller-related, check out Mommy Stroller! You can also connect with the Mommy Stroller crew on Pinterest and Facebook.
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