Athens is home to some of the world's most amazing archeological sites, plus alfresco cafés, galleries, and tavernas — all of which are just a short ride from the port of Piraeus. Here are our top picks for what to see in this ancient city.
1. Ascend to the Acropolis.
This spectacular ancient citadel is Athens' crown jewel. The temples and monuments represent the golden era of Greek civilization, notably the Doric-columned Parthenon, dedicated to the goddess of Athena. Although many of the original treasures have been removed from the grounds, there’s no parallel experience to climbing this rocky slope — once only a privilege to the gods.
2. Get the full picture at the Acropolis Museum.
This marvel of a museum combines contemporary architecture and ancient artifacts with plenty of natural light and views of the Acropolis. Don’t miss the ruins near the entrance of the glass façade, and the top-floor Parthenon Gallery, which recreates the temple’s interiors with marble friezes.
3. Explore the plaka.
Wander the labyrinthian streets of the charming Plaka neighborhood, which are especially beautiful when the bougainvillea are in bloom, and stop in a local taverna for lunch. This is the place to try spinach pie, fresh grilled fish, and shots of anise-flavored ouzo. After lunch, browse in the gold shops and check out the second-century Arch of Hadrian, a major archeological site.
4. Wander through ancient Agora.
This open square was once the commercial, civic, and social hub of classical Athens, where potters and bronze workers sold their wares and elections and religious processions took place. Highlights include the colonnaded Stoa of Attalos, which was reconstructed in the 1950s, and the circular Tholos, the seat of the government.
5. Watch the changing of the guard at Syntagma Square.
This solemn ceremony takes place each morning at the Hellenic Parliament in front of the marble Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Presidential Guards wear traditional Greek uniforms — red caps, pleated skirts, tassels, and pom pom-topped shoes — as they march to the military music.
6. See the treasures of the National Archaeological Museum.
Touring these galleries, which are brimming with riches, will make you forget for a moment the current state of modern Greece's economy, and bring you back to a time when Greece was the seat of Western Civilization. The museum showcases the time periods from prehistory to Late Antiquity, and the artifacts run the gamut from Minoan frescoes to Mycenaean gold and Cycladic marble figures.
7. Explore artifacts from the Byzantine Empire.
After the fall of the Greek and Roman empires, Greece became part of the Byzantine Empire and a Christian stronghold. The Byzantine and Christian Museum is housed in a restored villa that displays a variety of items, including frescoes, manuscripts, ceramics, and textiles from the early Christian and medieval eras.