First Timer's Guide to Athens, Greece
Journey to the past and explore the ancient city of Athens, Greece. An ode to the goddess Athena, the city is built with impressive structures that have been long preserved to remind the world of the city’s intriguing history.
There’s no city quite like Athens, and its striking beauty will remain engraved in your memory for a long time. So, step back into history and discover one of the oldest civilizations in the world.
Klook Activities in Greece
It’s considered a crime to travel to Athens without dropping by the Acropolis. The city is deeply rooted in its past, and the Acropolis is at the very heart of that history. Among the many historical structures that you’ll see in the Acropolis area is the Parthenon - one of the most integral structures of Greek history.
Completed in 438 BCE, this temple was dedicated to the goddess Athena Pallas and previously housed a monumental statue of the goddess made out of gold and ivory. It’s perched on top of the highest hill in the city, so no matter where you wander, you’re guaranteed to catch a glimpse of this structure.
Klook Tip: Enter the Acropolis to get access to the Parthenon through the Southeast gate. Many tour groups get dropped off the West gate, so the aforementioned entrance allows for better photo chances and faster entry.
Just before climbing up to see the Parthenon, visitors would have to pass by the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Simply called “Herodeon” by the locals, this open-air theatre was created by Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife. Due to his Roman heritage, the building is reminiscent of Roman architecture and differs greatly from the other two Odeons built before it, including the Theatre of Dionysus.
The Herodeon seats a capacity of over 6000 people, and is still used for concerts and events! Legendary performers like Frank Sinatra and Queen have held concerts on this stage once before, in addition to the ballets and plays that are continually done here. If you’re interested in attending a performance, check out the Athens events page for a schedule of performances between May and October. If you’re visiting around June to August, the Herodeon also happens to be one of the sites for the Athens & Epidaurus Festival!
Amidst the city’s century old structures, the ultra-modern Acropolis Museum stands at the foot of the Acropolis showcasing archaeological gems from the Archaic and Roman periods. The Acropolis Museum opened only in 2007, as discoveries of an ancient Athenian neighborhood were uncovered during the construction of the museum.
If a visit to the Acropolis area piqued your interest in the city’s history, a visit to the Acropolis Museum will definitely satisfy your curiosity! Some notable pieces from the Acropolis Museum include the original Caryatids, clay statues of Nike, and portions from the Parthenon frieze, which can be found at the Parthenon gallery.
It may not look like it, but the Temple of Olympian Zeus, or Olympieion, was once the largest temple in Greece. Dedicated to Mount Olympus’ supreme ruler, Zeus, the temple took over 700 years to complete due to several halts in production. It was initially made up of 104 columns, but today, only 15 of those remain. The temple also previously housed a statue of Zeus, however, due to natural disasters, the statue and a huge part of the structure were destroyed in 1852.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus is located at the center of the city, accessible through Hadrian’s Arch. Beyond this arch, tourists can find a number of shops and restaurants they can visit after visiting the temple!
The Athenian Trilogy is made up of three institutions celebrated for their neoclassical design - the Athens Academy, Athens University, and the National Library. It is situated in the middle of the buzzing city and is guarded by statues of Athena and Apollo.
Apart from its magnificent design, the three structures serve a greater purpose in the city. The Academy is considered the most prestigious research institution in the country, the University houses several government offices, while the National Library stores over 2 million volumes of books, including the first ever printed book in Greek language. Once you’ve explored the depths of these buildings, tourists are welcome to relax by the courtyard gardens surrounding the area.
Whether or not you’re a sports enthusiast, a visit to the Panathenaic Stadium is a must! This site was the location of the very first Olympic Games, which was held in the year 1896. As you walk through the stadium, you can picture over 50,000 sports fans and athletes gathered in the area cheering and taking part in the most anticipated sports festival in the world!
Though it was the site for the first modern Olympic Games, the stadium was built way back in 300 BC, specifically for the Panathenaic Games. However, at that time, the stadium was yet to be remodeled to the completely marble structure that it is highly acclaimed for today.
The wide and beautiful landscapes of the National Gardens are fit for a king, and rightfully so since the gardens were the property of the Royal family before opening to the public. The serene area offers refuge from the city’s busy atmosphere and as well as shade from the brutal Athenian heat. Additionally, the park also has several cafes to grab a snack from, and as well as a library which is public for all.
Spend an afternoon walking through the stunning gardens and lake of this public park and possibly chance upon peacocks and ducks as you explore! Despite its luxurious beauty, the National Gardens is not lost it the city’s history. It also houses structures of famous Athenians, and as well as the Zappion Building, which has transcended over 150 years of Greek history.
Also known as the Constitution Square, Syntagma Square is undoubtedly the most important square in all of Athens - and perhaps in all of Greece, as well. Enclosed by the Parliament building and several 5-star hotels, this square is the ultimate hub for all socio-political life. Apart from that, it also happens to be the oldest square in the city as it has experienced quite a lot of history from the induction of the constitution by King Otto in 1843 to the Anti-Austerity movement in 2002.
The Syntagma Square is located at the center of the city, making it easy accessible to majority of the attractions in Athens like the National Garden and the Acropolis. While you’re in the area, take a free tour of the Parliament house, or wait for the changing of the guards ceremony!
Set aside a day to explore the magnificent neighborhood of Plaka. Once you step foot on this side of town, you will be lured in even further down the maze of colorful buildings that are disguised as boutiques and restaurants. Though it is one of the main tourist destinations in the city, Plaka is undeniably beautiful and is also favored by the locals.
If you’re looking to shop or dine, this is the place to go. The small alleyways of Plaka are home to many artisanal boutique shops that you can check out for any souvenirs and trinkets. Once you’ve worked up an appetite from all that shopping, you’ll be glad to know that the best Greek cuisine could be found in the area as well! We suggest al fresco dining so you can enjoy a glimpse of the local life as you devour your meals.
The Greek term “Agora” simply means “marketplace” - which is exactly what the Ancient Agora was 5000 years. Today, tourists would not make this out with the current state of the area. But despite being an excavation site, the Ancient Agora is still a must-visit site for its incredible history.
As it was once the center of public life, amongst the ruins, tourists will see temples, a concert hall and colonnades that were a famous meeting place for friends and acquaintances. If you’d like to learn more about the Agora’s rich history, visit the Temple of Hephaestus and the Stoa of Attalos! Though these structures aren’t as extravagant as the temples in the Acropolis, its history is arguably richer than any other attraction in Athens. Apart from these two structures, tourists are also welcome to roam the grounds of the Ancient Agora freely.
What to eat
It’s hard not to love gyro when it literally has everything you could ever want rolled into a pita bread! Though the restaurants in Athens are likely to produce multiple variations of this signature dish, the classic gyro includes meat, onions, tomato, lettuce, fried, and tzatziki sauce! This is conveniently wrapped in a pita bread so you can devour it while walking around Athens! If you’re looking for the best gyros in Athens, check out The Greco’s Project and Smile Cafe Restaurant!
Not exactly a dish, but Tzatziki is a popular dip served with many dishes in Greece! You might mistake this dip for sour cream, but Tzatziki is a blend of yogurt, garlic, cucumber, and olive oil! This can be prepared simply with bread for an afternoon snack, or along a hearty meal of meat and vegetables like the aforementioned gyro! This dip is a staple in any greek restaurant, so you’ll surely be able to try this tasty dip!
The moussaka is the Greek’s version of the typical American casserole! The dish is eggplant based and is made with minced lamb, olives, tomatoes and onion! For an extra creamy touch, it’s topped off with a generous amount of cheese and baked in the oven. Check out Arcadia Restaurant or Liondi Traditional Greek Restaurant for some fabulous moussaka! Both restaurants serve their own variations of moussaka, but are just as delicious!
Photo Credit: Jules:Stone-Soup on Flickr