Most visitors to Greece head straight out to explore its many islands. The combination of sun, sea and sand is tempting enough to scatter the millions of tourists far and wide across the waters of the Aegean Sea. As a result the nation’s capital Athens sees a relatively small flow of the overall Greek tourist traffic; surprising given the important historical sites and places of interest that Athens has to offer.

So what are the highlights of a visit to the Greek capital? Here are 5 of the top things to see and do in Athens.

1. Acropolis 

The ‘Sacred Rock’ rises above the city skyline and forms one of the world’s most instantly recognisable backdrops. This was the heart of the ancient city of Athens for thousands of years and the monuments that can still be found here are some of the most important reminders of the ancient Greek civilisation.

Most famous of all is the Parthenon, the Doric temple built under the instruction of Pericles almost 2500 years ago and still standing despite earthquakes, bombardment and robbery. This temple is without doubt Greece’s no.1 landmark and the single most visited attraction in the country. Allow a full day to visit the Acropolis. The entrance fee is 12 euros and be aware that no backpacks or daybags are allowed into the site.

2. Plaka

Visit this traditional neighbourhood to wander through its charming streets (mainly pedestrianised) and maybe shop in the fashion and craft stores. Plaka retains a special place in Athenian folklore and features in many examples of Greek literature and music. It is also a popular neighbourhood to sit out in one of the many restaurants in the warm summer evenings and enjoy a leisurely meal.

3. National Archaeological Museum

Of all countries’ archaeological museums you should perhaps enter the Greek version with the highest expectations; fortunately this excellent museum will not disappoint. Filled with important discoveries from sites across the ancient Greek world you’ll find sculptures, pottery and jewellery along with multiple evidence of just how advanced the old societies really were.

One tip is to avoid visiting on Sundays when only a small part of the museum is open to the public and yet the admission fee is not reduced at all.

4. Syntagma Square

Perhaps better known now than ever before this central area is where the crowds of protestors have made their focal point in recent months. Meaning ‘Constitution Square’ it has been the centre of Athens and indeed Greece for over 100 years. A scene of wartime battles and victory marches it is now a great place to take a seat and people watch. Be aware of the possibility of protests while in the vicinity of the square. Most start and end very quickly and should not be a reason to avoid this important Athenian landmark.

5. Psiri

With a long-standing reputation for not towing the line, Psiri was a revolutionary hot-bed in its day. Now a rather upmarket part of Athens it is a place to take an evening stroll, admire the traditional architecture and sit back to enjoy some of the finest authentic Greek cuisine you’ll find anywhere.

Visit our special page to learn more about holidays in Athens.

by Andy Jarosz