As the historical capital of Europe, Athens has seen it all! What started out as the birthplace of science, art, democracy, and philosophy in western civilization, the capital city has continued to grow and develop, attracting millions of visitors each year who are eager to see where the world we know today originally began.
From iconic millennia-old temples and archaic street markets to museums guarding ancient artifacts and art galleries laden with prehistoric pieces, Athens is a paradise if history is your favorite subject. Add into the mix clandestine bougainvillea-clad alleys, rooftop bars with unbeatable views, and a coffee culture you’ll fall in love with, and you’ll be spoiled for choice for things to do in Athens, whatever you’re into.
With so many cool things to choose from in the city, you might not know where to begin. To help you get started, we’ve put together a list of the absolute best things to do in Athens. Add these activities to your Athens bucket list and start getting excited about exploring one of the most captivating cities in Europe!
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15 cool and unique things to do in Athens
1. Watch a Movie Under the Stars
One of the coolest things to do in Athens is to grab a chair at one of the open-air cinemas and watch a movie under the stars. There are tons of outdoor cinemas in Athens, some of which have been operating for hundreds of years.
Aegli, in the garden of the stately Zappeion Hall, is the city’s oldest and most popular open-air cinema. There’s a bar at the back of the space where you can order drinks and snacks, as well as plenty of chairs and tables so you can get comfy while you watch.
Cine Paris in Plaka is another great choice. Your eyes will be torn between the giant screen and beautiful views of the Acropolis!
One thing you need to be aware of is that smoking is allowed at most outdoor cinemas in Athens, so choose your seat wisely. Movie listings are usually advertised at the venue or online. You can choose between watching each movie dubbed in Greek or watching the original with Greek subtitles.
2. Let Loose at the SNF Nostos
Joining in with the SNF Nostos is one of the must-do things in Athens if you visit during the summer. Held each year across July or August, this week-long spectacular is hosted by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre and is designed to kick summer off in style while bringing everyone together in a safe, vibrant space.
All kinds of free events are held during this time, including music performances from local and international artists, dance recitals, theatrical shows, sports competitions, family-friendly activities, and various workshops that anyone can participate in. There are different activities designed for different age groups, giving everyone the chance to express themselves and join in on the fun.
Activities are held in indoor and outdoor venues throughout the city, so check the website to find out what’s going on during your trip. No two festivals are ever the same, so even if you’ve been lucky enough to attend SNF Nostos before, it’s always worth another visit!
3. Explore the Ancient Acropolis
Without a doubt the most emblematic of all Athens attractions, the Acropolis is somewhere you simply have to visit during your trip to Greece’s capital. Standing tall and visible from almost anywhere in the city, the Acropolis is made up of so many different parts that you need at least half a day to explore it all.
Get there first thing in the morning to make sure you’ve got enough time to discover all of the fascinating temples, including the Parthenon, Propylaea, Arrhephorion, Erechtheion, and Temple of Athena Nike. As well as providing you with a captivating journey back in time, the Acropolis also rewards you with remarkable views, which stretch out across the city and all the way out to the sea.
Along the hill that leads up to the Acropolis, you’ll find a handful of street sellers offering you everything from souvenirs and photo props to snacks and drinks. The prices are reasonable, and it’s a convenient place to grab something if you accidentally left it behind.
4. Become Entranced at the Acropolis Museum
After spending some time at the Acropolis, add more Athens sightseeing into your schedule by taking the afternoon to walk around the Acropolis Museum. Conveniently located just a short walk from the Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum displays thousands of artifacts, which were discovered on the landmark’s archaeological site.
The museum is divided into three levels, taking you on a chronological adventure through the centuries. From gems found from the Erechtheion, Propylaea, and Temple of Athena Nike to a space designed to show you what the Parthenon looked like in its heyday, the museum is home to a remarkable collection of pieces you won’t see anywhere else.
If you’ve got time to spare, head outside on the ground floor, where you can walk through a genuine ancient Athenian neighborhood that goes back to the 4th millennium BC. You’ve got to use your imagination a little, but if you do, it’s easy to imagine the place bustling with life!
5. Take Insta-Worthy Photos at Little Kook
Get your camera ready and take a stroll past Little Kook for one of the most unique things to do in Athens. This quirky cafe goes all out when it comes to decorations, making for excellent photo opportunities for Instagram.
As well as the big holidays, like Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas, Little Kook gets all dressed up for normal days when not much is happening. Stop by, and you could see the cafe decorated with tap-dancing penguins as part of a Mary Poppins theme, unicorns as part of a fairytale theme, or acrobats as part of a circus theme. The staff gets dressed up according to the theme, too!
If you’re in the mood for a sweet treat, head inside. Little Kook has an amazing dessert menu bursting with goodies like loaded pancakes, fairy milkshakes, ice cream sundaes, brownies, cheesecakes, and pies. Portions are very generous, so make sure you show up hungry.
6. Sip Rooftop Cocktails with a View
When you need a break from exploring the best sights in Athens, head for one of the city’s many rooftop bars for a much-deserved cocktail. Athens is bursting with rooftop bars that boast amazing views of the city’s colorful rooftops and the iconic Acropolis. The vistas are impressive at any time of day, but particularly so at sunset and at night.
Many hotels have their own rooftop bar. But if you want to go a little further afield, we’ve got a few recommendations.
Galaxy Bar and Restaurant at the Hilton Athens is an amazing choice if you’re celebrating a special occasion. This spectacular venue treats you to views across Athens, over to the Acropolis, and out to Lycabettus Hill. It’s also where you’ll find a wonderfully creative menu full of everything from innovative cocktails and sushi to classic wines and Mediterranean entrées.
But you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy a drink with a view. Rooftop Bar & Restaurant is a casual place run by Safestay hostels. Here you can enjoy affordable drinks and reasonably priced Greek food, as well as great views of the Acropolis.
7. Step Back in Time at the Museum of Cycladic Art
The Museum of Cycladic Art is where you’ll find one of the most comprehensive private collections of prehistoric art from the Cycladic Islands in the Aegean. The collection is owned by Nicholas and Dolly Goulandris, who began amassing it at the beginning of the 1960s. By the 1980s, they’d compiled enough pieces to open an entire art gallery!
Today, the museum holds more than 3,000 items of Cypriot, Ancient Greek, and Cycladic artwork, with a particular focus on pieces from the 3rd millennium BC. The Cycladic marble statues are the highlight of the museum. Their simple white forms are surprisingly alluring and have since inspired some of the 20th century’s most famous artists.
In addition to the permanent collection, the Museum of Cycladic Art also hosts temporary exhibits throughout the year. From ancient Greek statues of mythical beings to clay sculptures inspired by the works of Picasso, these displays are incredibly varied and always intriguing.
8. Get Your Fill of Addictive Spanakopita
Trying all the delicious local food is one of the most fun things to do in Athens. Out of all the tempting dishes, spanakopita is one you’ll want to order again and again.
These small pies are made of thin, crispy phyllo pastry stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. The best part is you can enjoy it at any time of day – for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a midnight snack!
Pnyka is one of the best places to grab a slice of spanakopita. One of the most loved and oldest bakeries in all of Athens, Pnyka grinds its own flour to make its delicious spanakopita which it bakes fresh several times every day. If you’re not totally sure, they even do tiny bite-sized pieces you can try for free to help you make your mind up.
Although one of the main ingredients of spanakopita is feta cheese, you can find vegan versions of it in Athens. The Bread Factory does a fantastic vegan version that’s totally dairy-free.
9. Step Back in Time at the National Archaeological Museum
If you’re a fan of ancient masterpieces, spending the day at the National Archaeological Museum should be at the top of your list of things to do in Athens. This impressive collection is one of the largest and most interesting in the world, making it an absolute must-visit.
One part of the museum you simply can’t miss is the display of the findings from the Antikythera wreck. These treasures date all the way back to the 4th century BC. and resulted in the Antikythera Mechanism, the contemplative Philosopher’s Head, and the oldest analog computer in the world.
Other items of interest include the Eleusinian relief from the 5th century BC, the Jockey of Artemision racehorse statue from 150-140 BC, Bronze Age frescoes from Santorini and Thera, and the gold funerary Mask of Agamemnon, which was most likely designed for Mycenaean royalty.
10. Watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is one of the best things to see in Athens for several reasons. Tucked under the façade of the Old Royal Palace on Syntagma Square, the cenotaph is dedicated to all the Greek soldiers who lost their lives at war. It was designed in the early 1930s and is a beautiful piece of meaningful artwork.
The second reason the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is worth a visit is because it’s where you can see the changing of the guard. The ceremony takes place every 30 minutes, on the hour, and every 30 minutes past the hour, so you’ve got plenty of opportunities to catch it.
The guards wear their traditional white uniform with billowing sleeves, dark waistcoats, red hats, and pom-pom-decorated shoes during the ceremony, making it unlike any other you’ve ever seen! For the best ceremony, stop by on a Sunday. This is when the guards’ uniforms are at their most extravagant, and the moves are more complex and interesting.
11. Wander the Quaint Streets of Plaka
When all the action-packed Athens activities get to be too much for you, take it easy and wander around the streets of Plaka. One of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city, Plaka is mostly pedestrianized, with twisting alleyways, restaurants spilling out into the streets, cute souvenir shops selling handmade goods, and gorgeous flowers adding even more color to the already vibrant street.
This mostly residential area is much quieter than the bustling tourist parts of Athens, allowing you to slip away for a quiet drink or lunch without having to go too far. Spend your morning shopping for little trinkets to remind you of your stay before relaxing on the terrace of a taverna and enjoying a glass of wine with a plate of mezze.
For somewhere even more peaceful, seek out Anafiotika. A tiny part of Plaka, this neighborhood is filled with whitewashed houses, wonky passageways, and fragrant fruit trees. It’s a great place to discover a part of Athens few visitors ever get to see.
12. Eat Your Way through the Athens Street Food Festival
Street food is huge in Athens and one of the best times to try all the tempting flavors the city offers is during the Athens Street Food Festival. Held over several weekends each May and September, this is one of the top things to do in Athens for foodies!
Throughout the drool-worthy festival, you’ll get the chance to savor classic street eats from all around the globe. Each weekend, the streets of Pireos and Ermou come to life with countless food stalls dishing up plates of Greek gyros, Czech trdelnik, Mexican tacos, and Thai curries to hungry visitors. In addition to all the classic street eats you’ve heard of, the festival also aims to introduce you to new cuisines you’ve never even considered before.
With more than 100,000 visitors each year, the Athens Street Food Festival is the biggest food festival in Greece and one of the most important events of the year in Athens.
13. Ride the Funicular to the Top of Mount Lycabettus
The second most famous summit after the Acropolis, Mount Lycabettus is another amazing spot to soak up views of the city. The peak rises up to almost 1,000 feet, and although it’s perfectly possible to walk to the top, a much more laid-back option is to ride the funicular to the summit.
The funicular is indoors, and it’s a bit of a spooky ride in the dark, but it’s a much better alternative than walking, especially during Athens’ scorching hot summers. At the top, you can stop for a drink at the cafe while pointing out all the different landmarks you can spot!
If you’ve got time to spare, we recommend you take the mellow walk down the hill. The pathways are covered in thick trees, providing some much-needed shade, and if you take the time to hunt them out, you might be able to see some of the cicadas that buzz loudly throughout the year.
14. Party the Night Away in Psiri
Psiri has deservedly earned the reputation as the nightlife hotspot for Athens. Throughout the neighborhood’s streets, you’ll stumble upon countless trendy wine bars, cool cocktail lounges, rustic tavernas, homey pubs, and buzzing nightclubs. On the weekend, places stay open well until the early hours, so don’t make plans for the next morning!
Before the bars get going, Psiri is a great place to go for dinner. There’s not enough space to go around in Athens, which is why some restaurants transform nearby parking lots into outdoor dining spaces. When they’re decorated with candlelit tables and twinkling fairy lights, they really do look beautiful.
Some of the best places to stop by in Psiri include 7 Times for fantastic cocktails, A for Athens Cocktail Bar for amazing views of the Acropolis, The Party for excellent mezze platters, and the Jolly Club for live music performances.
15. Eat All of the Choriatiki Salata
Sometimes the foods we think of as being authentic are far from the real thing. Thankfully, this isn’t the case with Greek salad. Known in Athens as choriatiki, horiatiki, or xoriatiki salata, this delicious and healthy dish is a true delicacy you’ve got to try again and again during your visit.
A traditional choriatiki salata is made from plump red tomatoes, chunks of juicy cucumber, sweet bell peppers, fiery raw onion, flavor-packed olives, and a generous slab of feta cheese, all drizzled with top-quality olive oil and a sprinkling of dried oregano. The texture of the crunchy veggies and soft cheese work wonderfully together and will have you craving this dish for every meal.
Thankfully, choriatiki salata is so popular that you can find it at practically every restaurant in Athens. The award-winning Liondi Traditional Greek Restaurant is one of the best places in the city to try Greek salad. If you’re looking for something a bit more budget-friendly, Kalamaki Bar is a great choice, and it’s only a few blocks away from the Acropolis.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Athens. What’s your favorite thing to do in Athens?
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