Visiting Athens: the must-sees

The Parthenon at the Acropolis in Athens
The Parthenon at the Acropolis in Athens © Laure M.

The advantage of living in Greece is that friends and family are happy to visit Athens. Also, from April to October, the house is always full. When people come for the first time, the same question always comes up: “So, what should we see in Athens? What do you recommend?“. So here’s an article in which we’ll try to condense the must-see places to visit during a stay in Athens. Which archaeological sites, museums or monuments should you visit? What should you see to discover the Greek capital for the first time? What family outings are there? Our best guided tour solutions… Let’s go for our best-of list of Athens’ must-sees!

What to visit in Athens?

There are many monuments, walks and museums of interest in the Greek capital. Athens is particularly a surprising city. In fact, it is home to ancient treasures, monuments full of history and is also very modern, urban and lively. There is something for everyone: mythology enthusiasts will be delighted as well as street art fans. Then take the time to discover this city on foot, by tourist bus Hop-On Hop-Off or by public transport. It deserves much more than a quick visit before embarking on the Greek islands.

To help you out, we’ve also put together some must-see tours for you: for those taking a long city break in Athens or one week-long vacation in the Greek capital.

A 5-step itinerary to discover Athens for the first time

1 – Monastiraki Square in the heart of Athens

Usually, when my friends come for the first time, I start by taking them to the bustling Monastiraki Square. To me, it is a perfect summary of the diversity of Athens: a place full of energy where you can see all the different periods of Greek history. Just look up to admire the Acropolis. On this square, a Byzantine church, an old mosque converted into a museum, the archaeological site of Hadrian’s library, and street vendors coexist harmoniously. From here, narrow streets are the starting point for many walking tours: strolling through the old town and Plaka district, browsing the boutiques and flea markets, discovering churches and ancient remains along the way, visiting the Greek Agora, another of Athens’ must-see sites…

2 – Introducing yourself to Greek pleasures

I take my visitors to drink a coffee on one of the terraces in height allowing to admire the city and they are conquered! With a koulouri to share, it’s the perfect moment!

view of the Athens Acropolis from Monastiraki Square
© Laure M.

3 – Discover Athens off the beaten path

Then, I suggest a walk in the central market area . This allows you to discover the popular, authentic and lively Greece. The visit to the Athens market with its incredible stalls of meat and fish is always a great success. But beware, sensitive souls, refrain! To regain some strength, I suggest a stop in a Greek restaurant like Kalamanlidika Tou Fany for example or in the hidden gargote Di Porto Agoras. And I invite the greediest to Krinos to taste some loukoumades.

4 – Watch the changing of the evzones and stroll through the National Garden, 2 not-to-be-missed events

To continue, direction the Syntagma square one of the symbols of modern Athens, to admire the irresistible evzones (Greek guards) and the changing of the guard that takes place every hour. Just next door, the National Garden an oasis of greenery and freshness in the heart of the Greek capital, allows you to take a well-deserved break.

5 – Enjoy beautiful walks to admire Athens

Finally, to admire superb views and enjoy enchanting sunsets, there is nothing like climbing to the top of the various hills. The Mount Lycabetta offers a 360° view of Athens. And the hill of Philoppapos with its exceptional panorama, is the ideal place to get the most beautiful shots of the Acropolis.

View of Athens with the Acropolis and Mount Lycabette

© Laure M.

Visit Athens with a guide

If you want to fully discover Athens, its great classics, but also its little secrets off the beaten track or its street-art, we recommend you to take a guided tour. We have tested (and validated) several guides and formulas. It is up to you to make your choice according to your desires:

What monuments and sites to visit in Athens?

1 – The iconic Parthenon on the Acropolis

If you were to visit only one monument in Athens, it would of course be the Parthenon, which stands proudly a top the sacred rock of the Acropolis. It is the emblem of Athens, absolutely unavoidable, even for those who do not like “old stones”! I advise you to go in the morning, before it gets too hot and the site is overrun with tourists, or at the end of the day. Also worth seeing: the Erechteion, this temple located on the Acropolis, north of the Parthenon, and its superb statues, the Caryatids.

children visiting the Athens Acropolis
The Athens Acropolis with children © Sibel C.

2 – The Areopagus, also known as Mars Hill

Coming down from the Acropolis, I advise you to go to the Areopagus or Mars hill This large flat rock offers a superb view of the Acropolis and Athens. It attracts visitors and Athenians alike in the evening to enjoy a beautiful sunset before taking in the Athenian nightlife.

3 – Anafiotika, Plaka and the Roman Agora

For a walk off the beaten path, I also encourage you to make a detour to Anafiotika. This tiny neighborhood, in the heart of Athens, has a Cycladic feel to it. Then return to the Plaka district. Take a break at the Yiasemi cafe, one of our favorites. And admire the Roman Agora and its Tower of the Winds in the heart of this tourist district.

4 – The Ancient Agora

Concerning the archaeological sites, I strongly advise to visit the ancient Agora. Cradle of democracy, heart of the political and social life of ancient Greece. It houses an interesting museum and the very nice temple of Hephaestus, one of my favorites because it is remarkably well preserved.

5 – The Temple of Zeus or Olympeion

For the amateurs of ancient sites, I also recommend the Temple of Zeus. Only its columns have resisted time. But they allow to imagine the greatness of the site at the time of the ancient Athens.

6 – The Marble or Panathenaic stadium

It is next to the grandiose Panathenaic Stadium which hosted the first modern Olympic Games. A very interesting site to discover, with the added advantage of a multilingual audio guide at the entrance.

Which museums to visit in Athens?

As for the museums, it is not easy to choose as they are so numerous and of such quality. It all depends on your tastes and what you want to discover.

In my opinion, one of the must-see museums in Athens is the Acropolis Museum. The ancient treasures are superbly displayed in a modern setting. The must of the visit is the top floor, entirely glazed and facing the Acropolis. It also presents an impressive frieze of the Parthenon of more than 150 meters long.

I also recommend visiting the National Museum of Archaeology. It houses the most majestic collection of Greek antiquities in the world. Even if you are not a big fan of archaeology, this museum is fascinating for the richness and beauty of its collections.

I also love the Benaki Museum. It is indeed a simple and pictorial tour of the history of ancient Greece until the beginning of the 20th century.

On a very personal note, I have a soft spot for the Museum of Cycladic Art and its ancient figurines with pure lines.

Finally, the Byzantine and Christian Museum is also superb!

Find all the practical information in our article Our Top 10 museums in Athens.

Visit the best of Athens and its must-sees in just a few hours

If you only have a short time to visit Athens, the tourist buses can be a good option. They allow you to tour the city and see all the main monuments and sites of interest. Ticket prices start at 15€ for the day. As an option, they even serve Piraeus and the Athenian coast.

The strong points of this formula: the route that serves the main sites of the city, the audio-guided tour in French, the freedom to get on and off when you want. According to our relatives who tested the yellow and red. The red bus is much better, especially in terms of audio commentary, but more expensive than the yellow bus.


For more information, see also our tour ideas : for those who stay only few days in Athens ; or for the lucky ones who spend an entire week in Athens.

Laure M. and Virginie W.

Updated February 16, 2024

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