View of Acropolis and Odeon of Herodes Atticus
EXPERIENCE

The cultural wealth of Athens revealed in a stroll

chronis-yan
Walking around Athens is like visiting an open-air museum, with some of the world’s most impressive cultural monuments appearing at every turn.
Thrace region-id="pin-13";Macedonia Macedonia Epirus Thessaly Sporades Ionian Islands Western Greece Central Greece Attica Peloponnese Crete Cyclades North Aegean Islands Dodecanese Dodecanese Karpathos Astypalea Tilos Sitia Faistos - Matala Patmos Kastelorizo Kasos Kos Leros Halki Rhodes Symi Sfakia - Loutro Rethymno Elounda - Agios Nikolaos Agia Galini Plakias Hersonissos - Malia Ierapetra Heraklion Chania Nisyros Ikaria Lipsi Tzia - Kea Thasos Samos Lesvos Samothrace Limnos Chios Kalymnos Paros Naxos Zante - Zakynthos Lefkada Corfu Santorini Milos Kythnos Kimolos Serifos Syros Sifnos Koufonisia Ios Kefalonia Mykonos Paxi Ithaca Arta Ioannina Tinos Parga - Sivota Metsovo Anafi Sikinos Folegandros Donousa - Iraklia - Schinoussa Antiparos Zagori Mountainous Arkadia Porto Heli - Ermioni Preveza Amorgos Andros Delos Messolongi Ancient Olympia Aegina Kythira Archea Epidavros Patra Nafplio Kardamyli Kalamata Ilia Corinth Western Messinia Kalavryta Elafonissos Nafpaktos Spetses Poros Hydra Alexandroupolis Pylos Mycenae Monemvasia Loutraki Piraeus Athens Arahova Xanthi Galaxidi Mystra - Sparta Mani Edipsos Delphi Chalkida Karystos Evia Skyros Vergina Alonissos Volos Karditsa Skopelos Skiathos Kastoria Thessaloniki Prespes Agios Athanasios Edessa Serres Veria Larissa - Tempi Elati - Pertouli Trikala Pelion Meteora Drama Ammouliani Mount Athos - Ouranopolis Nymfeo Mount Olympos Katerini Halkidiki Grevena Lake Kerkini Naoussa Kozani Kilkis Kavala Pella Lake Plastira
Duration
Full day
Season
All year round

OVERVIEW

It’s hard to imagine another city that offers its cultural wealth so generously. You just have to take a few steps in Athens and it’s as if a narrator begins to whisper in your ear: There’s Pericles, the 5th-century BC Athenian general, regaling you with stories of his grand designs in the city’s Golden Age, and Hadrian, the 2nd-century AD emperor, telling you how he made Athens the cultural capital of the Roman Empire. You can hear them all…philosophers, politicians, scientists, athletes, statesmen…. Wherever there’s an ancient monument (and it seems like there’s one every few strides), the story starts up again.

Think of an open-sights tour of Athens like a tasting menu. If there’s something that jumps off the plate, feel free to come back and sample it in greater depth. But simply strolling around town is enough to appreciate the culture that’s freely available to everyone in the city. And by the end of it, you’ll understand that the monuments are as alive today as they were in antiquity, giving the city a unique ambience which can be regarded as a monument in itself.

Read More Read Less

DON'T MISS

Acropolis 

As if any cultural tour of Athens couldn’t start with the Acropolis! It’s the city’s Sacred Rock and its cultural trademark. It was also Athens’ standout attraction in antiquity, with the Parthenon (dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom and protector of the city) added by Pericles in the 5th century BC. You’ll see it from different vantage points on your walk, and each time you’ll marvel at how the marble changes shade through the day. The Acropolis has witnessed every changing face of Athens since antiquity and she’s still there, willing to share her story with everyone who wants to listen. 

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Added to the Acropolis complex by the wealthy Roman Herodes Atticus in the 2nd century AD, it’s impossible to contemplate just how many spectators this magnificent theatre has entertained over the years. It is now the centrepiece venue of the annual Athens Festival, seating almost 5,000 people who never fail to be awed by the setting and exceptional acoustics. As you’re walking past, consider that it was once completely enclosed by a wooden roof. 

Philopappou Monument & Pnyx 

Before you continue around the Acropolis, along the pedestrianised Areopagitou St, take the time to walk up the hill just by it. You’ll be in good company. This is where every ancient general and orator worth his salt (Pericles, Aristides, Demosthenes, Themistocles…) came to address the Democratic Assembly, in an auditorium known as Pnyx. You can still see the speaker’s platform and seating terrace. Nearby is the monument dedicated to the 2nd-century Roman consul Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos, after whom the hill is named. 

Ancient Agora & Stoa of Attalos 

Carrying on beyond the Acropolis, you reach the Ancient Agora. Imagine the scene of Socrates or Aristotle regaling their followers, or even St Paul preaching to early Christians here in 49 AD. Next door is the Stoa of Attalos, named after King Attalos II of Pergamon who had it built as one of the city’s main marketplaces in the 2nd century BC. What you see is a remarkable reconstruction of the original building, including a fascinating mix of architectural influences, with external Doric columns and an interior Ionic colonnade. You can see where the stalls would have been and, if you feel like returning, it houses an interesting museum.

Temple of Hephaestus 

The Temple of  Hephaestus – or just the Hephaisteion – was built in the 5th century BC as a dedication to the god of fire and craftsmen and is perhaps Greece’s best-preserved temple. It’s a classic example of Dorian architecture by (amongst others) one of the architects of the Parthenon. And it’s surrounded by a beautiful park, so take your time to admire the columns and friezes and the sculptures depicting the labours of Hercules, the Battle of Theseus with the Pallentides and the Fall of Troy.

The Roman Agora & Hadrian's Library

The Roman Agora was the centre of urban life during the Roman occupation of Athens. Originally, there was a Doric gateway that greeted citizens to the marketplace and, still with us, is the Tower of the Winds, an octagonal structure built in the 1st century by astronomer Andronicus that served as a sundial, weather vane and compass. Perhaps its most fascinating function, however, was as a water-powered clock. Nearby is Hadrian’s Library, which wasn’t so much a library as a civic forum in Roman times, with a pool and central courtyard surrounded by 100 columns. 

Arch of Hadrian

This is the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s defining cultural legacy in Athens: An 18m tall triumphal arch under the Acropolis. It was built in 132 AD to delineate the ancient from the new city, with an inscription on the northwest frieze reading, 'This is Athens, the Ancient city of Theseus', whilst the southeast frieze declares, 'This is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus'.

Temple of Olympian Zeus

Again, Athens has Hadrian to thank for this construction – particularly as it had taken some seven centuries to build and still wasn’t finished when he arrived. But finish it he did, in 131 AD, with more than 100 Corinthian columns, a colossal statue of Zeus and (inevitably) an equally grand statue of himself. It was the city’s biggest temple and, although only 17 of the columns are still standing, we can still marvel at its scope. 

Academy of Athens & National Library

As you head past Syntagma Square and on to Penepistimiou Avenue, you reach the pair of buildings regarded as perhaps the finest 19th-century neoclassical designs ever created. The Academy of Athens and the National Library are two-thirds of the so-called Athens Trilogy of Danish-born architect Theophil Hansen. They are astonishing in their grandeur and detail – the Academy being a seat of serious scholarly study and the National Library once housing over two million tomes. You’ll admire at the symmetry of the grand staircases of the National Library and the figures of Athena and Apollo on the pillars flanking the Academy, along with sculptures of the ever-pensive Plato and Socrates below.

Panathenaic Stadium

Heading back past Syntagma and through the National Garden, you reach the horseshoe-shaped Panathenaic Stadium – or the Kallimarmaro, as it’s often referred to because of its tiered marble seating. Originally built in the 4th century BC to host the Panathenaic Games, it was restored for the first Modern Olympics in 1896 and is the epic finishing line for the annual Athens Marathon. It is said that a thousand animals were sacrificed in the arena during Hadrian’s inauguration.

First Cemetery of Athens

Our walk ends just to the south, in Athens’ serene and utterly beautiful First Cemetery, containing the tomb or memorial of so many of Greece’s most notable politicians, statesmen, singers, artists and other historical figures. The Benaki family, archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, architect Ernst Ziller, Nobel Laureate Giorgos Seferis, revolutionary hero Theodoros Kolokotronis… The list goes on. The marble tombs and mausoleums are so intricate, with Romantic, Neoclassical and Renaissance depictions, that it’s more like an open-air museum than a cemetery. Look out for the Sleeping Maiden, the scenes from Troy on Schliemann’s tomb and the statue of Kolokotronis. 

Read More Read Less

We’ve envisaged a tour that starts at the Acropolis metro station and takes you along Areopagitou Street and into the Anafiotika and Plaka districts, before heading towards central Athens and then back around to the Panathenaic Stadium and First Cemetery. 

Of course, you can visit the monuments in any order, depending on where you’re staying, and there are other cultural sites that can be added.

Below are the distances to the Acropolis from Syntagma Square and the airport:

From Syntagma Square: 

  • On foot: 1.5km (20 mins)
  • By car/taxi: 2.2km (8 mins)
  • By metro: Red Line towards Elliniko (Acropolis station)

From the airport: 

  • By car/taxi:  36km (35 mins)
  • By metro: Blue Line towards Agia Marina (Monastiraki station and then walk 700m, 8 mins) 
  • You can enjoy an open-sights tour of Athens all year round, with each season having a different atmosphere as the route includes plenty of green spaces. 
  • It’s the perfect way to appreciate the cultural wealth of Athens if you are on a stopover and only have a couple of days in the city.
  • If you visit in June-August, it’s best to set out in the morning or afternoon to avoid the midday heat.
  • The sites mentioned are open all year round, but check the opening times and entry fees if you want to visit any of them as they may vary throughout the week and year.

Opening hours & tickets:
 

  • Acropolis 
    • Open daily from 8:00-20:00 
    • Tickets are €20 (€10 reduced) and are reduced for visitors from 1 November to 31 March
    • More info
  • Odeon of Herodus Atticus 
    • Open daily from 8:00-22:00 from 1 April to 31 October and 8:00-15:00 from 1 November to 31 March. Free of charge from the Areopagitou St, otherwise according to cost of the performance
  • Philopappos Monument & Pnyx 
    • Free and open all day long
  • Ancient Agora & Temple of Hephaestus 
    • Open 8:00-20:00
    • Tickets are €10 (€5 reduced)
    • More info
  • The Roman Agora & Hadrian's Library 
    • Open from 8:00-20:00 
    • Tickets are €8 (€4 reduced)
    • More info 
  • Arch of Hadrian 
    • Free and open all day long
  • Temple of Olympian Zeus 
    • Open from 8:00-20:00
    • Tickets are €8 (€4 reduced)
    • More info
  • Panathenaic Stadium 
    • Open 8:00-19:00 from March-October and 8:00-17:00 from November-February
    • Tickets are €5 (€2 reduced)
    • More info
  • First Cemetery of Athens
    • Free of charge, 8:00-20:00 
  • Academy of Athens
    • Free and open daily 8:30-15:00 
  • National Library 
    • Free and open 9:00-20.00 Monday-Thursday and 9:00-14:00 Friday-Saturday
    • More Info
  • Autumn
  • Spring
  • Summer
  • Winter
  • To pass by all the sites mentioned here, including grabbing a coffee and a bite to eat, will take the whole day.
  • You might prefer to join an organised tour that includes specific cultural monuments, in which case your walk will likely last 3½-4 hours.

If you want to explore the monuments in more detail, you’ll need a second day, 

Plan your trip

 

TRAVEL RESPONSIBLY

Let’s all try to keep the magic of Greece’s villages, towns and cities alive for future generations.

Keep the streets as clean as possible by using the bins provided or, if necessary, keeping your rubbish with you until you find one.
Use a refillable water bottle to try to minimise your use of plastic.
Respect the cultural monuments and relics.
Respect the plants and animals.
Do your best to support small, independent family-owned stores and local producers, taking home something handmade and local.
Be inquisitive and definitely ask the locals for tips.
YOU NEED TO KNOW ·

See also

You might be interested in
You can appreciate the museum’s stature even before you enter, with its imposing 19th-century neoclassical facade

Journey through time at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

The Museum of Cycladic Art presents us with artwork so elegant that it still influences fashion trends today

A tour of the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens

Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum

A tour of the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki

View of traditional tavern in Pythagoreio

Village-hopping in Samos, from mountain to coast

The crown jewels of the main town are the Byzantine Kastro and even older monastery

A walking tour of Skyros’ main town

Sunset in Poros island

A day cruise to the islands close to Athens

You can appreciate the museum’s stature even before you enter, with its imposing 19th-century neoclassical facade

Journey through time at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

The Museum of Cycladic Art presents us with artwork so elegant that it still influences fashion trends today

A tour of the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens

Streets of Plaka, Athens

Feeling the vibes of Athens around the Acropolis