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Why visit Athens? 12 Good reasons to go

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Athens…

It’s the birthplace of democracy, western philosophy (think Socrates, Plato and Aristotle) and classical art and architecture.

But is Athens worth visiting today?

You bet!

Is Athens worth visiting? For sure!

Is Athens worth visiting?

Athens used to have a reputation as a somewhat gritty (indeed grimy) city – a place to fly into just because you had to if you wanted to visit Greece and the Greek islands.

But that was then.

Now, Athens may not be a cool city like Berlin – or one of the world’s most beautiful cities like Victoria in Canada (we had to plug our home city!).

But Athens has cleaned itself up.

Trendy bars and cafés have sprouted. New hotels have been built. And it boasts some mind-blowing museums.

Athens is now definitely one of the best cities to visit in Greece. It’s worth visiting Athens today for both its ancient treasures – and its modern delights.

So let’s go check out some of the best reasons to visit Athens today!

1) Marvel at the Parthenon

Is Athens worth visiting? Yes! If only to visit the Parthenon on the Acropolis!

Nowhere is the glory that was ancient Greece more profoundly felt than by climbing the rocky hill of the Acropolis.

Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, the Acropolis is home to perhaps Greece’s most famous temple, the Parthenon, dedicated to the goddess Athena.

Parthenon column

Built between 447 and 438 B.C., with 65 magnificent soaring columns, the Parthenon is even more impressive in real life than in photos.

The city of Athens doesn’t live in the past though.

Restoration of the Parthenon has been ongoing for years (ironically, longer than it took to build).

Craftsmen have been painstakingly putting together new and old blocks of the columns so they stand tall, strong and proud again.

Lighter colored stone is used for the new parts – you can easily see what is original and what has been rebuilt.

You can easily see what is original and what has been rebuilt on the Parthenon from the different colors of stone.

Chances are you’ll see scaffolding too. Scaffolding on the site seems to be as old as the Parthenon itself.

Funnily enough, the scaffolding and construction equipment don’t take away from the Parthenon’s monumental visual impact, however.

Our most recent visit to the Acropolis was at sunset.

Perhaps it was the light dancing on the marble. Or perhaps it was because it wasn’t very crowded (it had been raining on and off that day). But we were mesmerized.

Also don’t miss the Erectheion, another Greek temple on the north side of the Acropolis.

It’s adorned with reproductions of the Caryatids, statues of beautiful ladies that stood in place of columns. (See #5 below to read about the original Carytids.)

Pssst! Don’t wear high heels when visiting the Acropolis

One of the many interesting facts about Greece is that it’s against the law to wear high heels at historic sites, as you could damage them – the sites, that is. (Not to mention damaging your shoes or hurting your ankles!)

2) Dream in the Theater of Dionysus

The Theater of Dionysus is found next to the Parthenon, on the south slope of the Acropolis.

Dating back 2,600 years ago, it was the world’s first stone theater ever built.

Sit back on a honey-colored stone row – and imagine watching an ancient Greek tragedy performed in front of you.

3) Run around the Panathenaic Stadium

One of the cool things to do in Athens is to run around the Panathenaic Stadium.thenaic Stadium

We’re not done with ruins yet!

Another ancient monument that’s a must-see in Athens is the horseshoe-shaped Panathenaic Stadium.

Paved completely in marble, it used to host the Panathenaic Games to honor the goddess Athena.

More recently, it was the site of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and also the finishing line for the marathon in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

What’s really cool today is that the Panathenaic Stadium is open for joggers who want to go for an early run around it between 7:30 am to 9:00 am.

4) Watch the sunset from a rooftop bar

At sunset, you’ll want to be comfortably settled at one of the rooftop bars in Athens.

A for Athens is popular as it has one of the best views of the Acropolis.

The cool Galaxy Restaurant and Bar on the top of the Hilton Athens also has gorgeous Acropolis views (just go for a pre-dinner cocktail or late night drink).

The Acropolis view is also great from the King George Hotel’s restaurant (which is especially nice for breakfast).

View of the Acropolis from the King George Hotel

5) Visit the Acropolis Museum

Designed by a Swiss architect, the huge and very modern Acropolis Museum (completed in 2009) sits at the base of the Acropolis.

And it’s absolutely stunning!

The main floor is partially glass – you can see ongoing excavations of archaeological ruins underneath.

Excavation is ongoing at the Acropolis Museum in Athens.

Hundreds upon hundreds of marble and stone busts and statues found on the Acropolis are showcased in the Acropolis Museum.

The beautiful Caryatids are the icing on the cake.

The lovely Caryatids at the Acropolis Museum (their new home)

These original ladies used to adorn the Erechtheion, the sacred temple near the Parthenon that was built to house a wood statue of Athena. 

But they were moved to the museum several years ago and given a makeover (hey, if you were that old, you probably wouldn’t mind a facelift either).

Reproductions of the Caryatids now stand in place of the originals at the Erechtheion.

Along with the Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum is one of the top sights in Athens – don’t miss it!

6) Shop in the Plaka

We were also taken with the restored historical Plaka neighborhood, located below the Acropolis.

Many of the lanes and streets are pedestrian-only, making it stress-free to stroll around.

Plaka Athens

Want to pick up a souvenir? You’ll find one here.

Souvenirs include everything from olive oil soaps, worry beads, handmade leather sandals, evil eye talismans and handmade Greek pottery.

Attractive tavernas and cafés are also abuzz late into the night. So the Plaka is a great area for people watching too.

7) Tour the National Archaeological Museum

Another one of the best museums in Athens is the National Archaeological Museum.

Extensively refurbished in time for the 2004 Athens summer Olympics, it houses some 11,000 Greek treasures.

You’ll want to see the stunning gold funeral mask of King Agamemnon of Mycenae from the 15th century B.C.

Other star exhibits include the Antikythera mechanism (a hand-powered analogue device that was probably used to calculate the dates of religious holidays), Santorini frescoes, the Jockey of Artemision (a life-size bronze statue of a boy riding a horse) and three exquisite gold hairnets adorned with small busts of Aphrodite and Artemis.

Gold hairnet and other exhibit from the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

8) Watch the changing of the guards

Head to Syntagma Square on Sunday for the 11:00 am changing of the guards – and you’ll agree that watching this ceremony at the Hellenic Parliament Building is one of the best things to do in Athens.

The changing of the guard in Athens

The elite presidential guards, called Evzones, are dressed in traditional uniforms.

The ceremony is very impressive to watch – be sure to include it in your Athens itinerary if in the city on a Sunday.

9) Eat Greek food 

Greek salad

You can devour some great meals in Athens.

We love Greek moussaka. And you’ll find lots of places serving up this mouth-watering dish made from eggplant, ground lamb and cheese.

Wash that down with Greek wine (getting better and on the rise).

Moussaka

Oh, and the yogurt! Creamy, thick and heavenly. Pour honey on it for some sweetness.

Gyros are popular too – soft pita bread wrapped around a filling of lamb or chicken (cooked on a vertical rotiserrie), onions, tomatoes and tsatziki. A very tummy-satisfying “sandwich.”

Don’t miss trying loukoumades either. These are Greek donuts.

Loukoumades are delicious Greek donuts you can get in Athens -- just one of the many reasons to visit Athens!

They’re traditionally served soaked in hot honey and sprinkled with cinnamon.

Sometimes they come topped with chopped walnuts or toasted sesame seeds too. Delish!

10) Check out the Benaki Museum

Less popular than other Athens museums, the Benaki Museum is just as interesting.

Housed in a beautiful Neo-classical building, the museum focuses on Greek culture over the centuries, starting from the Bronze Age, and displays a wonderful collection of jewelry, swords, Greek regional costumes, sculptures, ceramics and historical documents.

11) Browse the Monastiraki Flea Market

Don’t think just a flea market.

Athens’ famous Monastiraki Flea Market is more like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul (which you absolutely have to include on your Turkey itinerary when in Istanbul).

You can find almost anything you can think of.

Jewelry (genuine hand-made gold and silver jewelry plus fake stuff). T-shirts, of course! Junky knick knacks. Rare books. Gems like icons painted by the monks who live in one of the most unique places in Greece, Mount Athos.

And more.

Brush up on your bargaining skills!

12) Visit the Museum of Cycladic Art

Up for another Athens museum?

The Museum of Cycladic Art showcases contemporary art exhibitions, as well as housing more than 3,000 objects of centuries-old Greek and Cypriot art (marble bottles, pottery, metal helmets, Byzantine icons and more).

Yes, it’s worth it to visit Athens

Athens is no longer just a jumping-off spot to visit the Greek islands. It’s a destination in itself.

And one we want to revisit again soon…

Where to stay in Athens?

King George Hotel:

The King George Hotel is one of the best hotels in Athens.

We loved our Athens hotel, the luxurious King George, a Luxury Collection Hotel.

With an unbeatable location in historic Syntagma Square, it boasts sumptuous rooms, with marble bathrooms and a breakfast restaurant overlooking the Acropolis.

Other top hotels in Athens:

For a stylish but less expensive 4-star hotel, check out the new top-rated B4B Athens Signature Hotel. Centrally located (a 6-minute walk from the Acropolis Museum), it has an amazing roof bar with Acropolis views.

Have a look too at the boutique Coco-Mat Hotel Athens located in the high-end Kolonaki neighborhood in central Athens. It also has a smashing roof terrace, along with chic minimalist rooms and a small outdoor pool. And it won’t break the budget either.

More information about Athens

See these Athens and Greece travel guides on Amazon. (As as Amazon associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.)

Experience more of Greece!

Read our posts on:

Mykonos | Mykonos is a slice of cool in the hot blue Aegean. See our Mykonos travel guide, including the 5 best Mykonos beach hotels.

Santorini | Looking for a hotel that wows with discreet luxury? You’ll love Vedema Resort.

Philippi | From Alexander the Great to St. Paul, history whispers around every corner at the ancient Philippi ruins.

Ready to book your trip?

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Our Travel Resources Guide | Get airline booking tips. Discover great travel, tour and car rental companies. And find crazy useful trip planning info!

Booking.com | Score a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one.

GetYourGuide | Check out local guided tours and book tickets to attractions.

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CDC website | We follow the CDC travel guidelines to determine what medications and vaccines are needed for international trips. You can get vaccines at your pharmacy, travel medical clinic or doctor’s office.

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Photo credits: 5, 10, 11, 12, 22 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 9, 24, 25 King George Hotel | 15, 16 National Archaeological Museum | 23 Museum of Cycladic Art


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews and information, insanely useful travel tips and more!

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M. Peterson

Sunday 30th of August 2020

You are all forgetting the best thing about Athens….the people!! I’ve traveled around the world but never found such outgoing and kind people. They know who they are, know they have nothing to prove so are just themselves. Whether a guide at a museum, a local on the street or a shopkeeper in the Plaka, loved them all.

Janice and George

Sunday 30th of August 2020

We agree :-). But we'd go one step further! In Greece, as in many other countries we've visited (like Mexico and Sri Lanka), the kindness of the people is one of the best things about traveling to these foreign places.

Victor

Sunday 30th of November 2014

Athens and Greece are in trouble now, but the Archaeological Museum is a miracle. We devoted a full day to it.

Janice and George

Sunday 30th of November 2014

The National Archaeological Museum is just one of the reasons why we need to return to Athens for another visit :-).

Shikha

Thursday 20th of November 2014

So fascinating to hear that it's taking longer to renovate than it did to build - does make you wonder what we've achieved over generations with all our electricity and gadgets :D That rooftop terrace at the King George looks just perfect - great way to dine!

Sophie

Tuesday 18th of November 2014

Haven't been in Athens in more than 10 years. About time to plan a new visit, I think. Would love to see the new museum at Acropolis

Paul Jessica

Monday 17th of November 2014

The Parthenon is an example of very perfect architecture. The Acropolis Museum is very nice too!