Τhe guide to explore Athens

Explore the city, reach the Ancient Greek temples, the historical attractions, the unique natural landscapes and visit the great museums!

Athens

Athens

The city center it's also called "historical triangle of Athens" and is the wider area between the three central squares:

Monastiraki square
Sintagma square
Omonia square

The wider area of the center includes these six districts:

Monastiraki district
Psiri district
Plaka district
Thisio district
Sintagma district
Acropolis district

These districts are the heart of Athens!
Are very social areas in which there are stores, cafes, bars, clubs, traditional Greek restaurants, hotels, youth hostels, etc.
These areas are popular for locals and tourists as well.

Finally, there are four well-known and large markets:

Andrianou street - Souvenir shops
Ermou street - Clothing stores
Monastiraki square - Flea market
Varvakeios - Food market

The place you should start from is the cozy and social square of Monastiraki!
From there, all the places you want to see are within a walking distance!

Ancient sights

The ancient sights of Athens are located in the city center and is easy to reach them by walk!
The only exception is temple of Poseidon, that is located in the area of Sounion.

Acropolis

Acropolis of Athens was the citabel of the city and built in the 5th century BC.
The name derives from the Greek Akro, high or edge and Polis, city, translated as 'High City' or 'City on the Edge'.

On its flat top, there are three temples:

The Parthenon
The Erechtheum
The temple of Athena

The Parthenon is a temple dedicated to goddess Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin).

Most city-states in ancient Greece had at their centre a rocky mound or hill where they built their important temples and where the people could retreat to if under attack.

Temple of Zeus

The building of the Temple of Olympian Zeus actually began in the 6th Century by Peisistratos but work was stopped either because of a lack of money or because Pisistratus's son, Hippias, was overthrown in 510 BC.

The temple was not finished until the Emperor Hadrian completed in 131 AD, seven hundred years later.

Its unusually tall columns and ambitious layout made the temple one of the largest ever built in the ancient world.

Ancient Agora

The agora was a central public space in ancient Greek city-states. The literal meaning of the word is "gathering place" or "assembly". The agora was the center of the athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life in the city. The Ancient Agora of Athens is the best-known example of an ancient Greek agora.

In the heyday of ancient Athenian culture and power (roughly 500 B.C.E. to the mid-300s B.C.E.), the agora was the center of all aspects public life. It was the center of economic life and served as a bustling marketplace.

It was used as a residential and burial area as early as the Late Neolithic period (3000 B.C.). Early in the 6th century, in the time of Solon, the Agora became a public area. After a series of repairs and remodellings, it reached its final rectangular form in the 2nd century B.C

Roman Agora

In the 1st century BC, when Athens had already become part of the Roman Empire, the Agora - the old marketplace of Athens - had become impractical for commercial activities. The Romans built a new forum, known as the Roman Agora or the Agora of Caesar and Augustus. In contrary to the Ancient Agora it had a purely commercial character.

The most interesting structure in the area is the Horologion of Andronikos Kyrrhestos, popularly known as the Aerides - Tower of the Winds. The octagonal tower, located just east of the Roman market, was constructed around 48 BC by the Syrian astronomer Andronikos Kyrrhestes. The tower has a height of over twelve meters (40 ft) and rests on a three stepped base. The relief frieze at the top of the tower shows personifications of the eight winds, hence the name of the tower. Below each relief was a sundial. Inside the tower was a complicated water clock, powered by a water stream from the Acropolis. On top of the tower's conical roof stood a triton shaped weather vane. The triton held a staff which pointed in the direction of the wind.

Two more buildings have been discovered during excavations near the Tower of the Winds, including a building known as the Vespasianai, a public latrine with seating for 68 people on all four sides of the building. There was hardly any privacy; at the time latrines were public places used for socializing. Emperor Vespasian imposed taxes on the use of latrines, so they were named Vespasianai.

Hadrian's library

Hadrian's Library was created by Roman Emperor Hadrian in AD 132 on the north side of the Acropolis of Athens.

The building followed a typical Roman Forum architectural style, having only one entrance with a propylon of Corinthian order, a high surrounding wall with protruding niches (oikoi, exedrae) at its long sides, an inner courtyard surrounded by columns and a decorative oblong pool in the middle.

The library was on the eastern side where rolls of papyrus "books" were kept. Adjoining halls were used as reading rooms, and the corners served as lecture halls. The library was seriously damaged by the Herulian invasion of 267 and repaired by the prefect Herculius in AD 407-412.

During Byzantine times, three churches were built at the site, the remains of which are preserved: a tetraconch (5th century AD) , a three-aisled basilica (7th century), and a simple cathedral (12th century), which was the first cathedral of the city, known as "Megali Panagia". Around the same period as the cathedral another church, "Agios Asomatos sta Skalia", was built against the north facade, but it is not preserved.

Philopappos monument

The monument of Philopappos is dated to 114-116 A.D. It was erected by the Athenians in honor of the great benefactor of their city, the exiled prince of Commagene, Julius Antiochus Philopappos who settled in Athens, became a citizen and assumed civic and religious offices. According to Pausanias, the monument was built on the same site where Mousaios was formerly buried.

Philopappos’ monument is a two-story structure, supported by a base. On the lower level there is a frieze representing Philopappos as a consul, riding on a chariot and led by lictors. The upper level shows statues of three men: of Antiochus IV on the left, of Philopappos in the centre and of Seleucus I Nicator, now lost, on the right.

Kerameikos cemetery

This was the cemetery of ancient Athens. The area took its name from "keramos", which means pottery in Greek, from the numerous pottery workshops that existed in the area before it was turned into a cemetery. Another explanation is that the area took its name from the local hero Keramos, son of Dionysus and Ariadne.

The region of Kerameikos was divided into two parts by the walls of Athens, the so-called Themistoclean walls. The inner part was an inhabited area, while the outer part was actually the cemetery, which laid outside the city walls. The walls had two gates, Dipylon and the Sacred Gate. Dipylon was the gate of the Panathenaic Way which led to the Acropolis and the Sacred Gate led to Eleusina, an important town in the ancient times, where the Eleusinian Mysteries would take place every autumn.

In the Classical times, a significant public building, the Pompeion, was constructed between the two gates. This building was the starting point for the long procession of the Panathenaic Festival, the most important festival in ancient Athens in honor of goddess Athena, the protector of the town. Before the procession, a large sacrifice of 100 cows would take place there. This building was destroyed during the siege of Athens by Sullas, a Roman general, in 86 BC.

Panathenaic stadium

The Panathenaic Stadium or Kallimarmaro it is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. A stadium was built on the site of a simple racecourse by the Athenian statesman Lykourgos (Lycurgus) 330 BC, primarily for the Panathenaic Games.

It was rebuilt in marble by Herodes Atticus, an Athenian Roman senator, by 144 AD and had a capacity of 50,000 seats. After the rise of Christianity in the 4th century it was largely abandoned. The stadium was excavated in 1869 and hosted the Zappas Olympics in 1870 and 1875. After being refurbished, it hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and was the venue for 4 of the 9 contested sports.

It was used for various purposes in the 20th century and was once again used as an Olympic venue in 2004. It is the finishing point for the annual Athens Classic Marathon. It is also the last venue in Greece from where the Olympic flame handover ceremony to the host nation takes place.

Temple of Poseidon

The Ancient Greek temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, built during 444–440 BC, is one of the major monuments of the Golden Age of Athens. It is perched above the sea at a height of almost 60 metres (200 ft).

The original, Archaic-period temple of Poseidon on the site, which was built of tufa, was probably destroyed in 480 BC by Persian troops during Xerxes I's invasion of Greece. Although there is no direct evidence for Sounion, Xerxes certainly had the temple of Athena and everything else on the Acropolis of Athens, razed as punishment for the Athenians' defiance. After they defeated Xerxes in the naval Battle of Salamis, the Athenians placed an entire captured enemy trireme (warship with three banks of oars) at Sounion as a trophy dedicated to Poseidon.

The temple of Poseidon at Sounion was constructed in 444–440 BC. This was during the ascendancy of the Athenian statesman Pericles, who also rebuilt the Parthenon in Athens. It was built on the ruins of a temple dating from the Archaic period.

Historical sights

Plaka

Pláka is the old historical neighborhood of Athens, clustered around the northern and eastern slopes of the Acropolis, and incorporating labyrinthine streets and neoclassical architecture. Plaka is built on top of the residential areas of the ancient town of Athens. It is known as the "Neighborhood of the Gods" due to its proximity to the Acropolis and its many archaeological sites.

Plaka was developed mostly around the ruins of Ancient Agora of Athens in an area that has been continuously inhabited since antiquity. During the years of Ottoman rule, Plaka was known as the "Turkish quarter of Athens", and the seat of the Turkish Voevode (Governor). During the Greek War of Independence, Plaka like the rest of Athens, was temporarily abandoned by its inhabitants because of the severe battles that took place in 1826. The area was repopulated during the first years of King Otto's rule. Plaka had a sizable Arvanite community till the late 19th century, which led some to refer to it as the Arvanite quarter of Athens. At the same period the neighborhood of Anafiotika, featuring traditional Cycladic architecture, was built by settlers from the Aegean island of Anafi.

In 1884 a fire burned down a large part of the neighborhood which gave the opportunity for the archaeologists to conduct excavations in the Roman Market and Hadrian’s library. Excavations have been taking place continuously since the 19th century.

Anafiotika

Anafiotika is a scenic tiny neighborhood of Athens, part of the old historical neighborhood called Plaka. It lies in northerneast side of the Acropolis hill. The first houses were built in the era of Otto of Greece, when workers from the island of Anafi came to Athens in order to work as construction workers in the refurbishment of King Othon's Palace.

The first two inhabitants were listed as G. Damigos, carpenter, and M. Sigalas, construction worker. Soon, workers from other Cycladic islands also started to arrive there, to work as carpenters or even stone and marble workers, in a further building reconstruction period in Athens, but also in the following era after the end of the reign of King Otto.

In 1922, Greek refugees from Asia Minor also established here, altering the population that was up to that time only from the Cycladic islands. In 1950, part of this neighborhood was destroyed for archeological research and in 1970 the state started to buy the houses. In the modern era, there are only 45 houses remaining, while the little streets from Stratonos to the Acropolis rock are still unnamed and the houses are referred to as "Anafiotika 1", "Anafiotika 2", etc.

The neighborhood was built according to typical Cycladic architecture, and even nowadays gives to visitors the feel of Greek islands in the heart of the city, with white walls and small spaces, usually with the presence of bougainvillea flowers. Houses are small and mostly cubic, small streets that often end up to ladders or even deadends at terraces, where one can sit and enjoy the night view of the city.

Changing of the guards

The Presidential Guard is a ceremonial infantry unit that guards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Presidential Mansion. in Athens. The unit is distinguished as the last unit of Evzones in the Hellenic Army, and is closely associated with the traditional Evzone's uniform, which evolved from the clothes worn by the klephts in the Greek War of Independence.

Natural attractions

Lycabetous hill

Mount Lycabettus, also known as Lycabettos, is a Cretaceous limestone hill in the Greek capital Athens. At 300 meters (908 feet) above sea level, its summit is the highest point in Athens and pine trees cover its base. The name also refers to the residential neighbourhood immediately below the east of the hill.

The hill is a tourist destination and can be ascended by the Lycabettus Funicular, a funicular railway which climbs the hill from a lower terminus at Kolonaki (The railway station can be found at Aristippou street). At its two peaks are the 19th century Chapel of St. George, a theatre, and a restaurant.

Lycabettus appears in various legends. Popular stories suggest it was once the refuge of wolves, which is possibly the origin of its name. Mythologically, Lycabettus is credited to Athena, who created it when she dropped a limestone mountain she had been carrying from the Pallene peninsula for the construction of the Acropolis after the box holding Erichthonius was opened.

The hill has a large open-air amphitheatre at the top, which has housed many Greek and international concerts.

Filopappou hill

Also called the Hill of the Muses, Filopappou Hill – along with the hills of the Pnyx and the Nymphs – is a somewhat wild, pine-shaded spot that's good for a stroll, especially at sunset. The hill also gives some of the best vantage points for photographing the Acropolis, and views to the Saronic Gulf.

Inhabited from prehistoric times to the post-Byzantine era, the area was, according to Plutarch, the area where Theseus and the Amazons did battle. In the 4th and 5th centuries BC, defensive fortifications – such as the Themistoclean wall and the Diateichisma – extended over the hill, and some of their remains are still visible.

National garden

The Royal Garden was commissioned by Queen Amalia in 1838 and completed by 1840. It was designed by the German agronomist Friedrich Schmidt who imported over 500 species of plants and a variety of animals including peacocks, ducks, and turtles. Unfortunately for many of the plants, the dry Mediterranean climate proved too harsh and they did not survive. Other botanists planning and managing the garden include Karl Nikolas Fraas, Theodor von Heldreich and Spyridon Miliarakis.

A part of the upper garden, behind the Old Palace, was fenced off and was the private refuge of the King and Queen. The garden was open to the public in the afternoons.

In the 1920s the park was opened to the public and renamed "National Garden". In honour of Amalia of Greece, the entrance was moved to the 12 palms she planted and the street in front was renamed Queen Amalia Avenue. Since then the National Garden, is open to the public from sunrise to sunset.

The Garden also encloses some ancient ruins, tambourines and Corinthian capitals of columns, mosaics, and other features. On the Southeast side are the busts of Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first governor of Greece, and of the Philhellene Jean-Gabriel Eynard. On the South side are the busts of the celebrated Greek poets Dionysios Solomos, author of the Greek National Hymn, and Aristotelis Valaoritis.

The National Garden, is open to the public from sunrise to sunset. The main entrance is on Leoforos Amalias, the street named after the Queen who envisioned this park. You can also enter the garden from one of three other gates: the central one, on Vasilissis Sophias Avenue, another on Herodou Attikou Street and the third gate connects the National Garden with the Zappeion park area. In the National Garden there are a duck pond, a Botanical Museum, a small cafe and a Children's Library and playground.

Museums

Acropolis museum

The Acropolis Museum is an archaeological museum focused on the findings of the archaeological site of the Acropolis of Athens. The museum was built to house every artifact found on the rock and on the surrounding slopes, from the Greek Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece. It also lies over the ruins of a part of Roman and early Byzantine Athens.

The museum was founded in 2003, while the Organization of the Museum was established in 2008. It opened to the public on 20 June 2009. More than 4,250 objects are exhibited over an area of 14,000 square metres.

Archaeological museum

The National Archaeological Museum in Athens houses some of the most important artifacts from a variety of archaeological locations around Greece from prehistory to late antiquity.

It is considered one of the greatest museums in the world and contains the richest collection of artifacts from Greek antiquity worldwide. It is situated in the Exarcheia area in central Athens and its entrance is on the Patission Street adjacent to the historical building of the Athens Polytechnic university.