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Top 10 Things to Do in Athens on a First Visit, Greece

Nothing can prepare you for your first view of the Parthenon perched on top of the ancient Acropolis in Athens. Civilisation as we know it began here, and the opportunities to travel back in time in the Greek capital are many. Tick off these ten must-sees and dos.
Ten of the best things to do in Athens
Ten of the best things to do in Athens on a first visit

Athens is sometimes unfairly passed over by travellers in favour of the jewels in Greece’s crown — the Greek Islands.

However, with a historical and cultural legacy dating back more than 3,500 years, it’s a hugely rewarding destination for those prepared to brave the traffic chaos, dust, and relentless noise. You’ll find if utterly frustrating one moment, and mesmerising with immemorial gravitas the next.

The key to a successful stay in the Greek capital is flexibility. Be open to unplanned experiences and take all the distractions in your stride. You’ll soon find yourself falling for this incredible time capsule of human endeavour.

Here are ten of the best things to do in Athens on a first visit.

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1. Climb the Acropolis

The Acropolis is synonymous with ancient Athens and the hill must be climbed! Here you’ll find the city’s most famous temple, the Parthenon, which was dedicated to the goddess Athena — protector of the city. Other historical sites of note include the Ancient Agora, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s Library, and the Roman Agora. A guided city tour will see you doing the rounds in air-conditioned comfort.

Ten of the best things to do in Athens
Ten of the best things to do in Athens: Parthenon. Image: Bigstock

2. Choose a museum, any museum

With more than 60 museums and galleries within its city limits, Athens has a cultural facility to interest just about everyone. Popular themes include archaeology, folklore, science, art and music, maritime and military history, and activities for children. The Acropolis Museum — a striking architectural marvel of steel, concrete, marble, and glass — was purpose-built to house the age-old treasures of the Acropolis and shouldn’t be missed. Check opening times for all museums carefully, as many are closed on Sundays and/or Mondays.

3. Dine in the Plaka

The Plaka is a historical neighbourhood at the foot of the Acropolis; a maze of small streets, laneways, and stairways leading up, down, and around. The area is renowned for al fresco dining and is hugely popular with tourists. When choosing a place to eat, remember — if it’s full of local residents, it’s bound to be good!

Ten of the best things to do in Athens
Ten of the best things to do in Athens: Plaka. Image: Bigstock

4. Follow your nose on a food tour

Discover the city’s edible delights on a five and a half hour food walking tour with Culinary Backstreets. The tour takes in Downtown Athens and will show you where the locals shop and eat. It’s a fascinating insight into what is known locally as ‘the stomach of the city’. Go hungry!

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5. Shop for fresh food at the market

The Athens Central Municipal Market (Varvakios Agora) bursts with colour, noise, and smells from 7am to 6pm Monday to Saturday. It’s where locals buy their produce, from super fresh fish, chicken and meat, to Greek herbs and spices, cheeses, olives, sweets, honey, and fruit and vegetables. You’ll also find lots of small local eateries here. They’re strictly no frills, but the food is always fresh and delicious.

Ten of the best things to do in Athens
Shop at the Athens Central Market.
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6. Bag a bargain at Monastiraki Flea Market

The Monastiraki Flea Market is an open-air market that’s known for souvenirs and antique shopping. It’s open every day, but on Sundays it’s bigger and takes on a different flavour. Itinerant sellers pack the market, spreading their wares out on the ground. While you’re there, look for Melissinos — makers of Ancient Greek-style leather sandals. You’ll find them in Aghias Theklas Street, opposite Monastiraki Square.

Ten of the best things to do in Athens
Ten of the best things to do in Athens: Monastiraki Flea Market

7. Eat on the street

Eating street food is a part of everyday life in Athens. Start the day with koulouri (bread rings sprinkled with sesame seeds) or perhaps an enormous doughnut, which you’ll find for sale on most street corners. When lunchtime rolls around, head to Ariston Bakery near Syntagma Square for a mouthwatering selection of pies. Three or four blocks from there, O Kostas in Pentelis Street serves up what is reputed to be the best souvlaki in Athens (get there before midday to avoid the long queue).

Ten of the best things to do in Athens
Ten of the best things to do in Athens: Try the street eats.

8. See a sunset from Mount Lycabettus

During golden hour, the only place to be is at the top of Mount Lycabettus — another hill in the heart of the city. Access the peak by car, on foot (the path starts in Kolonaki), or by taking the funicular. The surrounding views of Athens, Pireaus, and the Aegean Sea are exceptional. At the top, you’ll find the chapel of Agios Georgios and a café (where the prices match the heady heights!).

Ten of the best things to do in Athens
Ten of the best things to do in Athens: Lycabettus Hill. Image: Bigstock

9. Watch the changing of the guard

The changing of the guard is a must-see spectacle of synchronised slow-motion moves that takes place outside the Hellenic Parliament on Syntagma Square every Sunday at 11am. Known as Evzones, the guards are part of an elite infantry unit that protects the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Presidential mansion. On Sundays they wear the traditional white kilts, red and black caps and clogs with pom-poms.

Ten of the best things to do in Athens
Ten of the best things to do in Athens: Changing of the guard, Hellenic Parliament

10. Stop and smell the flowers

Situated behind the Greek Parliament complex, the Athens National Garden offers cool respite from the heat and hubbub outside. The grounds house a small zoo, botanical museum, cafe, children’s library, and playground. Those travelling with little ones will no doubt end up spending a couple of hours here.

For more inspiration, visit www.visitgreece.gr.

Browse our range of Athens tours and experiences here.

Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the top things to do in Athens on a first visit? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

Francesca Muir

About the writer

Sydney-based journalist Francesca Muir fell in love with the Greek blue of the Mediterranean while living on the island of Crete in the late 1980s. She has written about Greece for Living Postcards, Crete Travel, Politismosmuseum, Stigmez, Athens News, TV Soap, Soap World, Gourmet Traveller, Vogue Entertaining, Vogue Living, Ita, Way to Go, Travel Abroad, the Sun-Herald, and the Sunday Age.

 

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  1. Fabulous article Frannie.. well written, with so much inside info.. you’re a legend.. I can’t wait for you to share your Crete with our #GlamGirlsLuxTravels group. June 2018.. we’ll live like locals.. and only because you know Crete like the back of your hand.. salute..

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