What everyone must visit in the City of Athens

Last Spring, Mathieu and I went on a family trip to Athens, with my parents. Our flight to the Greek Capital landed late in the afternoon, so after going to the city of Athens from the airport, we only had time for dinner in the first evening.

However, this came as an advantage the next day. After a good night’s sleep, we woke up all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to discover the first place everyone must visit in the city of Athens: the Parthenon on the Acropolis.

Acropolis Hill in Athens, Greece

Visiting the Acropolis of Athens

The Acropolis of Athens isn’t the only acropolis in the world, but it is the most well-known. Rising from the heart of the city of Athens, the sacred hill was a shelter of its main religious buildings since the very beginnings of the capital.

The Acropolis of Athens was erased from the surface of the Earth entirely during the Greco-Persian Wars but reconstructed by Pericles during the Golden Age of the city of Athens. Named by historian Thucydides “the first citizen of Athens”, Pericles is the man standing behind the raising of the Parthenon, the Erechteum, and many other buildings still standing on the Acropolis of Athens.

On the Acropolis in the city of Athens, you can find several temples, sanctuaries, altars, amphitheaters, statues, and other monuments worthy of all admiration. However, the most well-known among them are the Parthenon, the Erechteion, and the Temple of Athena Nike.

parthenon on acropolis hill

The Parthenon, the icon of the city of Athens

Dedicated to the Goddess Athena, the patron of the city of Athens, the Parthenon was built between 447 and 438 BC. The final decorations were added in the year 432 BC. This symbol of Ancient Greece was raised in the place of an older temple of Athena, destroyed during the Greco-Persian Wars.

The Parthenon started as a Greek temple serving also as the treasury of the city of Athens. Towards the end of the 6th century AD, the building became a Christian Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, following the fate of many other Greek temples. Later on (beginning ofthe 1460’s), under the Ottoman rule, the Parthenon became a mosque.

26 September 1687 is the date when the Parthenon changed forever: ammunition left inside the building by the Ottomans was ignited during a Venetian bombardment. The explosion damaged not only the statues and sculptures from inside the Parthenon but also the building itself. Most of the statues salvaged after this terrible event are now on display in the British Museum, in London.

Luckily, massive restoration works began in the 1980s, and they continue to this day to improve and preserve the structure of the Parthenon, a true icon of the city of Athens.

erechteion on acropolis hill in the city of athens

The Erechteion

The Erechteion is an Ancient Greek temple dedicated to Athena and Poseidon. The building was raised entirely in white marble, between the years 421 and 406 BC (with a break between 414 and 409 BC).

On the northern side of the Erechteion, there is a porch with six Ionic columns. On its southern side, you can see the Porch of the Maidens. The six statues of women serving as columns for architectural support also give the name of the Porch of the Caryatids.

The Erechteion changed both its purpose and its interior over time. During the Byzantine period, it turned into a church. And, later on, during the rule of the Ottomans, the building housed a Turkish harem.

temple of athena nike on acropolis in the city of athens

The Temple of Athena Nike

Nike means victory in Greek, in case you were wondering. The Temple of Athena Nike was built in the 5th century BC, in honor of the Greek’s victory over the Persians. Above its grand columns, you can admire various battle representations.

In the past, the Athenians would bring homage to Athena Nike in this temple. The goddess was represented through a statue without wings so that it could not go far from the city of Athens.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus on Acropolis Hill in the city of Athens, Greece

Impressions after visiting the Acropolis of Athens

Though it was extremely hot, it was great to be there and to admire the famous Athenian constructions. Besides the main ones at the top of the hill, I also liked the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, in the image above.

It is an incredible feeling to step where so many other people have been over centuries. And I’m not speaking of the high number of tourists that come visit the Acropolis from all over the world. I’m referring to those who have made and altered the history of the city of Athens, and Greece, in general.

I definitely think the Acropolis is a place everyone should visit in Athens! But do keep in mind it can be really crowded, so watch out for those in your group. We lost my mom at one point and we couldn’t call her, so it took forever to find her. Luckily, Mathieu runs fast, so once we spotted her, he recovered her quickly. 🙂

graffiti in plaka anafiotika in the city of athens greece

Exploring the streets of Anafiotika

After leaving the Acropolis of Athens, we were feeling parched. We drank a lot of water and also refilled our bottles at a fountain we found inside the complex, but it wasn’t enough. We started looking around Plaka to find a less crowded terrace to have a cold drink and a quick lunch, and, without knowing, we wondered into Anafiotika.

street in anafiotika in the city of athens

An island in the middle of Athens

Anafiotika is my favorite part of Athens! It doesn’t resemble the rest of the city of Athens, though. Its white buildings and stairs, and the blooming oleanders reminded me of Santorini. 

The beautiful Anafiotika was actually built by workers from the island of Anafi, who came to work on King Otto‘s Palace. They were soon joined by other workers from the Cycladic Islands and they all truly made themselves at home. The constructions they raised to serve as their houses were built in the typical Cycladic architecture.

That is how, even though you’re in the heart of the city of Athens, a walk through Anafiotika can feel like a stroll on one of the beautiful Cycladic islands.

Street art in Anafiotika

graffiti in plaka anafiotika in the city of athens greece

If you are into street art, then you’re going to love Athens! There are beautiful graffiti murals and other types of urban art just waiting to be discovered throughout the city.

However, the highest concentration, from what we’ve seen, is in Anafiotika. It’s great to get lost on the narrow streets here and discover colorful graffiti around every corner!

Monastiraki Flea Market in Athens, Greece

Animated streets for shopping in the city of Athens

Some other interesting streets to wander on are those leading away from Monastiraki Square. You can easily get there by metro — there is a station right in the square.

Ifestou, for example, is a great street to do some souvenir shopping. Explore the cramped little shops and find whatever your heart desires, from ceramic fridge magnets to objects made of olive wood, and from traditional sweets and products to gold jewelry.

gyros from o thanasis tavern in the city of athens greece

Dinner in the lively heart of Athens

Also close to Monastiraki Square, there is Mitropoleos street, filled with taverns. And while they may seem to offer a great choice of places to go to, at a closer look you will discover that the same owners have 2 or three establishments with similar styles and not very far away from each other.

Such an example is one of my dad’s favorites in the area, O Thanasis. The traditional Gyros and Souvlaki can be served in the pita kebab version, or on a plate. The latter is a lot larger, and you really need to feel hungry to finish it. Luckily, we were!

Whenever we travel, Mathieu and I usually order different things and we switch when we ate half. This way, at O Thanasis I got to try both the Gyros and the Souvlaki. And, while I’m more of a Gyros fan, I really loved their Souvlaki, nicely flavored with a lemon dressing.

Mirela The Travel Bunny with sunburns in Athens, Greece

Remains of the day: My sunburns!

Haha, yes! That’s how my neck and back looked when we returned to the apartment in the evening. Luckily, on the way home, we stopped at a pharmacy to get a lotion against sunburns. The lady there recommended one that contained yogurt and she said to keep it cold in the fridge. It did wonders! Not just against the pain, but in healing the skin very fast.

To avoid getting sunburns like I had put on some lotion with a high sun protection factor. And choose the collar of your clothes carefully! 😉

We also made another stop for a bit of shopping in a supermarket. We got some orange juice, some fruit, and… ouzo! And from that evening on, every time we returned to the apartment, we each had a small glass of ouzo with some ice. The perfect nightcap after a day in the sun!

Tours in the city of Athens

The tours I found are very nice and very affordable. The cheapest starts from €7.00, while the most expensive (guided tour with a local) starts at €30.00. And the tours themselves last somewhere between 2 to 4 hours, or even longer if you wish to stay more on the Acropolis of Athens.

16 Thoughts to “What everyone must visit in the City of Athens”

  1. Mirela what an awesome place. Athens feels special. Like a trip back to the past, with its ancient wonder.

    1. I’m happy you like Athens, Ryan. It was like a trip to the past, but I think it was unlucky for Athens that we were visiting right after Rome. Rome had already stolen our hearts and we couldn’t help but compare the two. While the city of Athens is special in its own way, I’m afraid Italy’s Capital won the race 🙂

  2. Ketki

    I had read so much about Athens and made the most perfect itinerary, covering most of the things mentioned by you. But my trip did not work out (it was a work trip). But I am inspired enough to go by myself. I would definitely like to check out the street art. Lovely read.

    1. Hey, Ketki. Work trips almost never go as you plan them, I know! You never know for how long you’ll be in the office, if there are social things planned beforehand for networking etc. I encourage you to go on your own. While you have to watch your pockets in public transport and in crowded places, Athens is quite safe to travel to. But do stay away from Omonia after dark, we heard gunshots from there one night 🙂

  3. I did all of these tourist things on my first visit to Athens and though hotter than Hades, it was so enjoyable. I did enjoy my next visits much more though, doing more local things and steering very clear of the tourists, other than taking a popular food tour. Athens is a must-visit, for sure. ?

    1. I agree, Melody, the city of Athens is a must-see. But once you’ve seen it you can venture out into the rest of the Athens area or Greece, in general. I prefer Greece’s islands and beaches to its busy cities. Thessaloniki, for example, tired me out. 🙂 And it’s only the second city in size after Athens.

  4. This is a destination that is definitely on my bucket list. I love ancient Roman history and need to get to Athens! My only drawback is the crowds and am hoping the tourists will die down some day?!?!? Most likely this will never happen, so I’ll try to make a visit when it’s not so hot.

    1. Sorry to say so, Candy, but I think the tourists will die down only when there will be nothing left to see in Athens. And that will be way past our lifetimes! 🙂 As for the weather, it’s a bit tricky. It was already really hot in the first days of May, when we went. And it also rained a lot towards the end of our trip. Even so, I think Spring or Autumn should work best for a visit to the city of Athens.

  5. Athens is a wonderful city. I think you’ve visited exactly the right places. We looked at the old antique olympic stadium. The audio guide has impressed me very much.

  6. I went to Athens a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it!! This brought back lots of wonderful memories. Isn’t the Parthenon just mind-blowing?!? With all of our modern technology, we couldn’t build anything as perfect today as they could several thousand years ago. Just amazing!

  7. I’ve only been once, stopping for a day on a cruise. We visited the Parthenon, Acropolis and walked around many of the neighborhoods. The food was good, the people were nice and it was easy to use the public transportation BUT I wasn’t enthralled with the city like I thought I would be. We missed your favorite part of the city so maybe we need to give it another go!

  8. Greece is so high on my travel list that maybe I will make it there this year! I can’t wait to see all these wonderful historical places you have mentioned and also to get off the beaten track too. I think the problem for me is that the islands will be calling so not sure how much time to devote to Athens!

  9. Acropolis of Athens is the beacon of Humanity. These are not many monuments like Acropolis which generates so many emotions when you see it. Loved to know about Erechtheion and Temple of Athena Nike.

  10. Athens is so amazing … the Acropolis, Temple of Athena, Parthenon … classics. Street life and art, cafes … wonderful. It’s been too long since we were last there … time to go back.

  11. I spent a day in Athens after touring Santorini and Milos and really liked it! We saw all the ruins you mention, but didn’t make it over to Anafiotika. Hoping to eventually make it back here since the city itself seems like it has so much to offer!

  12. Kemi

    These are gorgeous and I’ve never heard of Erectheion! I so wanna visit Greece for the mythology that I read as a child. I’m glad to see particular neighbourhoods and not standard tourist traps.

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