“Many of our ideas of democracy, so much of our literature and philosophy and science can be traced back to roots right here in Athens.”
– Barack Obama
I visited Athens in September and I have to say that I loved it. Walking the streets of Athens and seeing so many historical landmarks was an incredible experience, so I decided to write an article about them. This article is quite long, but I wanted to share some interesting facts and useful advice. If you ever visit Athens, use this article as a reference when you plan your itinerary.
Athens is amazing! But I want to share something about my experience that might improve yours. I realized that I knew so little about Athens and its landmarks that it was hard for me to appreciate them. Even though we all hear about Ancient Greece and its legacy, I knew almost nothing about Athens itself. I had already forgotten everything I learned about it in school and, for some reason, I didn’t read a lot about Athens and its history before our vacation.
When it comes to other capitals, it is so much easier to recognize and think about iconic landmarks to see. Just think about New York, Paris, London or Rome and I bet you’ll have many pictures and places coming to your head. But I had trouble to think of particular places in Athens. I am definitely not proud of myself for this, but I want to be honest and admit my own ignorance when it comes to the history of Greece and the landmarks of Athens.
If you are like me, I think it would be a good idea to do some research before going to Athens. Try to learn a bit about the city and its history by reading articles, watching videos and movies or even by reading a book. I think that if you have more background information, you will enjoy visiting Athens much more (and probably every city). But now, let me share some of the amazing places that I have seen and a few things I learned about them!
1. The Acropolis
The Acropolis is definitely the most famous historical attraction in Athens. It is a citadel built on a rocky hill. The structures whose remains we can still visit today were built by Pericles’s order in the 5th century BC. Some of the attractions you can see on the Acropolis are the Propylaea, the Parthenon, the Erechteion, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, and the Temple of Athena Nike.
The Propylaea is the entrance to the Acropolis. The construction happened between 437 and 432 BC.
When we climbed the stairs to enter the Acropolis, there were many people everywhere on the stairs. They were either sitting down, hiding from the Sun, taking pictures, or waiting for the rest of the group to join them. However, don’t worry because the crowds disperse after they enter the Acropolis.
The Parthenon is the most famous structure on the Acropolis. It was a temple dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom who is also the patron of Athens. The building was completed in 438 BC. The Parthenon is considered a symbol of Classical Greece. It is also a symbol of Athenian democracy.
It is an impressive building, even though it was going through a process of restoration when we visited it. You can see a crane and some scaffolds in my pictures.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a theatre made of stone. Its construction was completed in 161 AD. The amphitheater is still occasionally used for concerts or festivals.
The Temple of Athena Nike is dedicated to Athena and was built in 420 BC. The word “nike” means victory.
The Erechteion is a temple built in marble between 421 and 406 BC. It was dedicated to Athena and Poseidon. The Erechteion is also famous for its porch that is supported by 6 columns representing 6 female figures called caryatids.
However, the caryatids you see there are replicas. Five of the original ones were taken to the Acropolis Museum and one is at the British Museum in London. The caryatids were cleaned with a special laser beam and are kept inside to ensure they can be properly preserved.
Paula’s Point: When you go to visit the Acropolis, keep in mind that you can easily spend a few hours there. This is the place where you will see the most iconic landmarks in Athens, so you may want to spend some time admiring them and taking pictures of them. These are also the attractions that can be seen on most souvenirs.
The Acropolis is impressive even if you do not know much about its history. The buildings themselves are amazing because they are symbols of the Classical Greek culture that endured for centuries.
Pro Tip: The entry ticket to the Acropolis costs 20 Euros. But there is also a combo ticket you can buy that gives you access to several attractions, including the Acropolis. Read more about this at the end of the article. If you visit Athens just for a day or two, definitely go and see the Acropolis!
2. The Acropolis Museum
This is a relatively new museum (it opened in 2009) that houses objects and artefacts found on the site of the Acropolis. It is a very modern building erected on top of ruins from the Roman and Byzantine Athens.
One of the most exciting artifacts you can find here are the 5 original caryatids. You can also see a replica of the Acropolis made in Lego. The Lego Acropolis also includes some figures that obviously do not belong there, but are part of modern culture. For example, you will see Gandalf arriving at the Acropolis and Elton John singing at a concert.
Paula’s Point: The entrance to the museum costs 5 Euros and you may have to wait in line for a while. You have to pass through a metal detector to enter the museum and then you have to leave your bags at the reception. You cannot take pictures in every part of the museum. The staff will let you know where you should not take pictures.
Pro Tip: If you are visiting Athens in the summer, you can come to the museum at noon, to avoid staying in the sun too long. This is a beautiful building that also has a restaurant and a small gift shop with books and souvenirs. You can see the Acropolis from the museum.
3. The Temple of Olympian Zeus
The construction of this temple began in the 6th century BC, but it was only completed in the 2nd century AD. Initially, the Temple of Olympian Zeus was much greater than the remains we can visit today. It included 104 columns and was the biggest temple in Greece. Now, there are only 15 standing columns and a fallen one. As the name suggests, the temple was dedicated to Zeus, the father of gods and men.
Paula’s Point: Even though only a small part of the initial temple remains, it is still impressive because of its size. I marveled at the beauty of these columns and I would recommend seeing this great monument. Also, this attraction did not draw as many tourists as the Acropolis so visiting it gives you the opportunity to see a beautiful temple while forgetting about traffic and tourists.
4. The Temple of Hephaestus
The Temple of Hephaestus is one of the best preserved buildings we have seen. It was built between 449 – 415 BCE. Hephaestus was the god of metalworking and fire. He was the son of Zeus and Hera. He was the only god who was unattractive and he was also lame. He made many buildings, devices and weapons for the other gods.
The Temple of Hephaestus is located very close to the Ancient Agora and there were fewer tourists here too.
Paula’s Point: The Temple of Hephaestus was one of my favourite attractions. It is smaller than other buildings, but it is still impressive. I would recommend adding this to your list.
5. The Ancient Agora
The Ancient Agora was a place that was used for gatherings where people discussed commercial, political, administrative and social affairs. It was built in the 6th century BC and it is said that Socrates talked about philosophy here.
Paula’s Point: To be honest, this was not an impressive attraction for me. That’s because the Ancient Agora is now mostly an ancient site of ruins. You won’t see any intact or partial buildings here, just parts of foundations, an altar and some “piles of rock”.
If you are passionate about archaeology or Greek history, it may be interesting for you. Otherwise, you will probably not be impressed (or I am just ignorant about this and I don’t know how to appreciate history and historical sites).
6. The Stoa of Attalos and The Museum of the Ancient Agora
The Stoa of Attalos was built in the 2nd century BC and was fully reconstructed in the 20th century. It is a beautiful building with many columns on one side.
It also houses The Museum of the Ancient Agora. Inside the museum, you can see many coins, amphoras, statues, plates, jewelry and other objects from centuries before Christ.
Paula’s Point: The Stoa of Attalos is a beautiful, symmetric building. The museum has many objects that are impressive because they were preserved for so long. The museum does not include many artifacts, so you don’t need a lot of time to visit it. If you have the time, put this on your list.
8. The Panathenaic Stadium
It is famous for being the only stadium in the world that is made only of marble.
A stadium was built on this site in the 4th century BC. Herodes Atticus rebuilt the stadium in marble and its construction
was completed in 144 AD.
The Panathenaic Stadium was also the place where the opening ceremony for the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games was held.
Paula’s Point: I never went on the actual stadium. This is the type of attraction that you can easily admire from the sidewalk. I think you can get inside, but you may need to buy a ticket.
8. The Arch of Hadrian
This arch was built in 131 AD, in honor of the Roman emperor Hadrian. It is said that the arch may have been built to celebrate Hadrian’s visit to Athens.
Paula’s Point: Although every historical landmark is impressive because of its history, some are more impressive than others. To be honest, I did not find the Arch of Hadrian very awe-inspiring. It could be because it does not seem to be a part of a bigger construction and it is situated on a
sidewalk next to a busy boulevard.
Even though I did not add this attraction to my list, I’ve passed it by several times. You may see it as well since it is very close to the Temple of Zeus and it is relatively close to other attractions as well. You can definitely put it on the list, but don’t expect it to amaze you.
10. Hadrian’s Library
Hadrian’s Library was built in 132 AD by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. This was the largest library in Athens. In the next centuries, people also built 3 churches on this site.
Paula’s Point: I would say that Hadrian’s Library is one of the more underwhelming monuments. It is a small site and only parts of the buildings are still standing. You can put in your list if you are spending several days in Athens. But if you are only there for a day, you can visit something more impressive. Plus, you have to be here earlier than at other attractions (I think the last entrance is at 2 or 3 pm).
Extra Tip: Buy a combo ticket
If you plan on visiting some of the most famous attractions, I would strongly suggest buying a combo ticket. It costs 30 Euros (the price may depend on the season). With this ticket, you can get access to several landmarks. You can use it only once per each attraction and it is valid for 5 days.
The ticket includes the entry to:
- The Acropolis and its slopes
- The Ancient Agora
- Hadrian’s Library
- Aristotle’s School
- Olympeion (The Temple of Olympian Zeus)
- The Roman Agora
I bought it at The Temple of Olympian Zeus. I did not have to wait in line at all. This way, you also skip the lines at other monuments (especially at the Acropolis), since you just scan the ticket and enter. Otherwise, you may have to wait for quite some time at some attractions.
Did you know this?
Athens is named after the goddess Athena. It is said that Poseidon and Athena both wanted to be the patrons of the city, so there was a competition between them. The one among them who gave the citizens the best gift would win. Poseidon gave them a salt water spring and Athena gave them an olive tree. Athena was declared the winner by the judge of the competition and she became the patron of the city.
As you know, the Greeks had many different gods and goddesses. Even if you do not believe in them, it is interesting that Athens, the city of the goddess of wisdom, became a symbol for democracy and philosophy. One might think that Athena was indeed real and she inspired the people in Athens to be wiser and influence the world in a positive way.
In case you are looking for a travel destination, I would recommend thinking about Athens. It is obviously one of the most famous capitals in Europe and for good reasons. The historical significance, the architectural treasures and the warm climate are some of the reasons that make it worth visiting.
There are many more things I could share about my trip to Greece, so I’ll probably write one or two more articles with interesting and useful information. Let me know if you found this useful or if you have any question.
Have you ever been to Athens? Or are you planning to go there some day?
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- Lonely Planet
- “Greek Mythology” by Katerina Servi