Horse and cart racing, victory wreaths made of olive trees and Mediterranean barbecue lunches marked the original Olympic Games, somewhat different to the international affairs we’ve come to know and love in the 21st century. Commencing here in Olympia in 776BC, you don’t need to be the sporty type to appreciate the magnificence of the first ever Olympic Stadium. Less than 4-hours drive from the centre of the city, Athens day trips don’t get much more awe-inspiring than this.
Wander around the colourful neighbourhood of Gazi
Once an industrial gasworks district and low socio-economic housing region, Gazi has evolved into the city’s hub of multiculturalism, nightlife, lax attitudes, and progressive culture. The colourful streets are home to numerous pokey bars, boutiques and cafes. A walk around Gazia is the perfect way to waste a day when you wake up clueless as to what to do in Athens. Let your visit fall over a Sunday and you’ll have a flea markets of treasures to sift through, coffee in one hand and spanakopita in the other.
Enjoy a traditional Athens affair via the Plaka area
In a city already so intimately associated with history, visiting the historic neighborhood of Plaka is one of the most essential things to do in Athens. A maze of streets weaving over the slopes of the Acropolis, the warmly coloured neo-classical buildings and stone alleyways are home to countless alfresco restaurants. Perch yourself under an umbrella beside an overflowing bush of pink bougainvillea and dive into some traditional Greek cuisine.
Walk around the Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Built in the year 161AD, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus is another nod to the Greek’s love of theatre and music. Though much of the building has now been destroyed – including its Cedar of Lebanon roof – what remains is a majestic stone amphitheater that whispers of days gone by. In more recent times some of the stages have been reconstructed with smooth marble allowing its use to carry on, hosting everything from ballet recitals to the Miss Universe Pageant and even a couple of concerts by Frank Sinatra.
Dive into a time capsule and explore the iconic Acropolis
The ancient fortress town of Acropolis is home to the crumbly remains of numerous significant ancient buildings, most notably Goddess Athena’s temple of Parthenon, once the city’s treasury. Spend a day ohhing and ahhing around Acropolis and you’ll be amidst statues, marble tombs, a palace, and unfathomable history. Some evidence suggests the rocky hill was inhabited a mind-boggling 6,000 years ago.
Things to do in Athens
Open-Air Film Festival
Held in various iconic locations across Athens, the Open-Air Film festival is a free festival held every summer. It has grown into a much anticipated festival in Athens for both travellers and locals, with ancient marvels transformed into cinematic settings complete with historic films and humid night air.
Art & Culture
There is such a robust culture of art in Athens that the Greek Hellenic Art Galleries Association decided to host an annual art fair in which gallery owners could come together and admire each other’s curations. Now bringing together over 58 galleries from 11 different countries, it’s one of the greatest things to do in Athens for art lovers during June.
International Comics Festival
Awaken your inner geek at the Athens International Comics Festival, held over 10-days each November at the Greek Manufacturing Society Diplareios School. Each year comes paired with a thought-provoking theme set to music, cinema showings, discussions, exhibitions, and more.
The inaugural Rockwave Festival was held in 1996, making this homage to rock music held in 110 acres of forest land a Greek institution. After trekking just 37-kilometres out of Athens to TerraVibe Park Malakasa, rock fans will be treated to 3-days of camping, music and madness. Past acts have included The Prodigy, Placebo and the Arctic Monkeys.
Technopolis Jazz Festival
Shiny instruments, energetic tempos and international jazz musicians collide for 7-days of fun and music known as the Technopolis Jazz Festival. With almost two decades under its belt, this Athens festival has grown in size and popularity, now attracting music lovers of all ages from countless corners of the world.
Top 5 Festivals in Athens
Proving itself a culturally diverse and broad-minded European city, the festival line-up of Athens is an all-encompassing calendar of inspiration. You might catch yourself watching international films beside some of the world’s most ancient monuments or listening to alternative rock music whilst camping in a nearby Greek forest.
Featuring historic findings from as early as 5th Century BC, the Acropolis Museum is one of the best things to do in Athens for the history buff or culturally curious. The expansive space is home to almost 4,000 significant archaeological pieces that span the ages. With a general admission fee of just 5 euros there’s really no excuse to miss it.
A former temple cum shrine dedicated to the goddess Athena, it’s no surprise the marble beauty of the Parthenon attracts so many of Greece’s 18million visitors each year. Despite being partially destroyed in 1687 there are still parts of this monument standing from its original construction, which started in 447BC.
The Museum of Islamic Art
The neo-classical building complex housing the Museum of Islamic Art is often declared one of the most important religious art collections in the world. Found in the Kerameikos district, it features relic from various countries and eras, from a Turkish medical journal written in 1743 to a pair of 19th Century Iranian enamel earrings. The intricacy and beauty found here is nothing short of magic.
Theatre of Dionysus
With seating for 17,000 and an acoustic set-up of musical perfection, it’s a shame we can’t use the Theatre of Dionysus space for a Greek Coachella. Known as the first theatre ever built and the birthplace of the theatre form referred to as Greek tragedy, it’s worth a visit even if Beyoncé and the Fleet Foxes won’t be present.
A trip to the Kerameikos Archaeological Museum is the ultimate nod to the magic of pottery. Found in the region of Kerameikos, the museum stores a range of ceramics, statues, and geometric pots, many of which highlight the significance of the afterlife in ancient times. An internal garden with olive trees is the cherry atop this Athens attraction.
Top 5 Attractions in Athens
Athens is arguably the epicenter of the world when it comes to history, making its collective of museums a pilgrimage to days gone by. Boasting endless archaeological significance and dates that will make your mind boggle, it would be wise to leave time on your itinerary for all of them.
Horiatiki Salata, Greek Salad
Chunky cuts of crumbly feta, olives, red onion, tomato, and a whole lot of olive oil. How can such a small curation of salad ingredients give so much taste and acquire so much popularity? Sit yourself at the leafy alfresco tables of Atitamos Mezedopoleio for Horiatiki Salata with a side serving of sunshine.
Best eaten at Atitamos Mezedopoleio, Kapodistriou 2
Is there such thing as an average puff pastry dish? We think not. And of all the incredible puff pastry dishes out there, the Greek savory delight of spanakopita might very well be the best. Settle in at Ariston on Voulis and devour your bodyweight in this cheese and spinach stuffed delight.
Best eaten at Ariston, Voulis 10
Psarosoupa is a heart and body warming family tradition of many a Greek family. Hotel Grande Bretagne Roof Garden Restaurant will ladle up this fish soup specialty in an elegant setting complete with views over Athens. Best teamed with a swim in their pool overlooking Lycabettus Hill.
Best eaten at Hotel Grande Bretagne Roof Garden Restaurant, Constitution Square
Fried cheese: it’s a reason to visit Greece all on its own. Using numerous cheese varieties such as salty halloumi and smooth sheep's milk feta, it’s commonly served with a light shower of lemon and finished with pepper. Filema tout themselves as the best Mediterranean food in the area, and they serve their saganaki golden fried to perfection.
Best eaten at Filema, Romvis 9
Slowly gaining a devout following across the globe, moussaka – an exotic cousin of the outdated lasagna – features layers of saucy eggplant topped and baked with a creamy béchamel sauce. Moussaka isn’t hard to find, but the version served on the rooftop terrace of Strofti Restaurant is well worth hunting down.
Best eaten at Strofi Restaurant, Rovertou Galli 25
Food in Athens
If you think Greek food doesn’t stretch far beyond salad and yoghurt, a stint in Athens will quickly shake up your misconceptions. Take in the ancient sites with a cheesy spanakopita puff-pastry in hand, and experience rich moussaka on a sunny rooftop terrace.