Athens! What a city! Its long, fascinating history, starts from the first settlement in the Neolithic age, has its culmination in the 5th Century BC in the “Golden Age of Pericles”, suffers occupation of a multitude of conquerors over the years, and in 1834, it becomes the capital of the modern Greek state.
A large part of the town’s historic center has been converted into 3 km long pedestrian zone, which makes it the longest in Europe.
It was also one of my smartest travelling choices, since I decided to visit it for the first time on January 2. While my country was frozen and covered with snow, Athens offered me the nicest spring weather that I could only imagine.
Its bitter orange trees (Νεραντζάκι) left an immediate impression on me, since the whole city seemed painted in orange and green. They are mostly used for decoration, as their fruit is too bitter to be eaten raw, or for the making of marmalades and sweets, in alcoholic beverages and in aromatology.
I would highly recommend a longer stay in this beautiful city, but trying to stick to the original idea, I will give you the itinerary of the most beautiful and the most famous sites that you really should not miss.
- The National Library of Greece
- The Academy of Athens
- The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
- Syntagma Square
- The Greek Parliament
- The National Garden
- The Zappeion Mansion
- The Panathenaikon Stadium
- The Temple of Olympian Zeus
- The Arch of Hadrian
- The Acropolis
- The Acropolis Museum
- The ancient Theatre of Dionysos
- The Odeion of Herodes Atticus
- The Parthenon
- The Erechtheion
- The Areios Pagos
- The Temple of Hephaestus
The best point to start our tour in order to save time and steps is the National Library of Greece (Ethnikí Vivliothíki tis Elládos).
The building is situated near the city center and was designed as a part of the famous Trilogy of neo-classical buildings by a Dutch architect Hansen, also including the Academy of Athens and the original building of the Athens University.
The present building has been inconvenient due to limited space and technology demands and although it will continue to house some of its current functions, the bulk of the library has already been relocated to a new building.
The Academy of Athens is one of its major landmarks, with the figures of Athena and Apollo with lyre on the side pillars, and the seated marble figures of Plato and Socrates.
The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens usually referred to simply as the University of Athens, is a public university continuously operational since its establishment in 1837 and the oldest higher education institution of the Modern Greek state, with over 100,000 students.
We will soon get to Syntagma Square, one of the main squares of the town, with the Greek Parliament building dominating it. There is the Monument of the Unknown Soldier in front of it, guarded by the Evzones in their traditional costume. The Change of the Guards takes place every hour right in front of the building and it is quite impressive.
From this square starts the beautiful National Garden (covering around 40 acres and full of the palm trees, the acanthus plants, and noisy birds), south of which stands the impressive Zappeion Mansion.
It was erected for the revival of the Olympic Games in the modern world, and now is generally used as Congress and exhibition hall, for meetings and ceremonies, both official and private.
From there we will continue towards the Panathenaikon Stadium (Kallimarmaro), the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble, where the first Olympic Games in modern history were held (1896). It was firstly built for the Panathenaic Games in 330 BC, then rebuilt in marble by Herodes Atticus, an Athenian Roman senator, in 144 AD with a capacity of 50,000 seats, and finally excavated and refurbished in 1869.
We will continue to the Temple of Olympian Zeus (Naós tou Olympíou Diós), also known as the Olympieion, which used to be the largest temple in Greece during the Roman period, with 104 colossal columns and one of the largest cult statues in the ancient world. Its construction began in the 6th century BC, but it was completed only in the 2nd century AD.
The Arch of Hadrian (Apsida tou Adrianou), or simply Hadrian's Gate (Pyli tou Adrianou), is a monumental gateway built to celebrate the arrival of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and to honor him for his benefactions to the city, in 131 or 132 AD. It offers a great view of the Acropolis and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Walking along Dionysou Areopaghitou Street (on the south side of the Acropolis) we will first see the impressive Acropolis Museum on the left, one of the most important contemporary works of architecture in Athens. Made of steel, glass and concrete, it houses 4,000 exquisite finds from the Acropolis monuments.
On the right, we will first encounter the ancient Theatre of Dionysos from the fifth c. B.C, the first theater ever built and the place where most of the works by Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes were performed.
Continuing, we will reach the Odeion of Herodes Atticus, which was built in 161 A.D. and is nowadays the venue of the performances of the Athens Festival and a fantastic place to enjoy Operas due to its excellent acoustic.
From there we will climb up to the Acropolis, the site of some of the most important masterpieces of worldwide art and architecture. The most famous ones are certainly the Parthenon temple , the temple of the Athene Nike, the Erechtheion, and the Propylaea, that we will actually walk through as we arrive at the top to the Acropolis and again as we leave it. When it was built, the Propylaea was a magnificent entry point to the temples on the top of the Acropolis.
We owe this place to Pericles (495 – 429 BC) who coordinated the construction of the site's most important building in the fifth century BC. Much later, they were seriously damaged during the 1687 siege by the Venetians during the Morean War when a cannonball hit gunpowder stored in the Parthenon.
The Parthenon (Parthenónas) is an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece, Athenian democracy and Western civilization. It is a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, the patron of the citizens of Athens. Its construction began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the peak of its power and it was completed in 438 BC. Its sculptures are considered some of the high points of Greek art.
The Parthenon replaced an older temple of Athena that was destroyed in the Persian invasion of 480 BC.
The Erechtheion is probably the most elegant part of the Acropolis.
The building had two porches. The roof of the north porch was supported on six Ionic columns. At the south porch, which was the most well-known, the roof was supported by six statues of maidens known as the Caryatids, instead of the typical columns. One of the sculptures from the western section was removed by Lord Elgin in 1801 and is today located in the British Museum.
A visit to the Museum, located close to the Parthenon is also highly recommendable, and the view of the city from the rock is absolutely impressive.
Coming down from the Acropolis we will arrive at the Areios Pagos, a prominent rock, located northwest of the Acropolis and the most ancient law court of the world. Philopappou Hill stands opposite it with its beautiful cobbled roads and with the Roman monument on its top, and the Pnyx, where the citizens of ancient Athens used to gather to discuss their democratic rights.
Following the pedestrian road, we will get to the Ancient Agora, the ancient Athens' commercial, political and religious center and to the well preserved Temple of Hephaestus.
The area that developed around the Ancient Agora of Athens is called Plaka and it is considered the oldest district in Athens, as it has been continuously inhabited since antiquity. It is the heart of the historic center and one the most picturesque neighborhoods of Athens with its narrow streets, lovely neoclassical buildings, small cafes, traditional taverns, souvenir shops and ancient ruins in almost every corner.
It is very commercial and popular with tourists, because there are plenty of things to do and see there.
Continuing from Plaka we arrive at Monastiraki, our final destination, a characteristic area with narrow streets, and the city’s traditional bazaar full of very attractive shops, local food, restaurants and coffee shops. It is a nice place to walk around and it has an amazing view to the Acropolis.
Turning to what I said in the beginning, I would highly recommend a longer stay in Athens, because these 20 sites are only the most important ones, that you would really regret not seeing.
I sincerely hope that you will find my itinerary helpful. If so, I will be happy to read your comment below. If you have a suggestion for the next one, you can send me an email in the “contact” section.