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TOP Attractions in Athens

Acropolis

Top choice historic site in Acropolis Area

The Acropolis is the most important ancient site in the Western world. Crowned by the Parthenon, it stands sentinel over Athens, visible from almost everywhere within the city. Its monuments and sanctuaries of white Pentelic marble gleam in the midday sun and gradually take on a honey hue as the sun sinks, while at night they stand brilliantly illuminated above the city. A glimpse of this magnificent sight cannot fail to exalt your spirit.

Inspiring as these monuments are, they are but faded remnants of the city of Pericles, who spared no expense – only the best materials, architects, sculptors and artists were good enough for a city dedicated to the cult of Athena. It was a showcase of lavishly coloured buildings and gargantuan statues, some of bronze, others of marble plated with gold and encrusted with precious stones.

The Acropolis was first inhabited in Neolithic times (4000–3000 BC). The earliest monumental buildings were constructed here during the Mycenaean era. People lived on the Acropolis until the late 6th century BC, but in 510 BC the Delphic oracle declared it the sole province of the gods.

After all the buildings on the Acropolis were reduced to ashes by the Persians on the eve of the Battle of Salamis (480 BC), Pericles set about his ambitious rebuilding program. He transformed the Acropolis into a city of temples, which has come to be regarded as the zenith of Classical Greece.

Ravages inflicted during the years of foreign occupation, pilfering by foreign archaeologists, inept renovations following Independence, the footsteps of millions of visitors, earthquakes and, more recently, acid rain and pollution have all taken their toll on the surviving monuments. The worst blow was in 1687, when the Venetians attacked the Turks, opening fire on the Acropolis and causing an explosion in the Parthenon – where the Turks had been storing gunpowder – and damaging all the buildings.

The Acropolis became a World Heritage-listed site in 1987. Major restoration programs are ongoing, and most of the original sculptures and friezes have been moved to the Acropolis Museum and replaced with casts. Restoration at the site is ongoing and there are almost always hordes of tourists here – visit very early in the morning or last thing at night to avoid the worst of the crowds.

The one modern detail on the hill (aside from the ever-present scaffolding and cranes) is the large Greek flag at the far eastern end. In 1941, early in the Nazi occupation, two teenage boys climbed up the cliff and raised the Greek flag; their act of resistance is commemorated on a brass plaque nearby. From here, you can look down into the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

From November to March, admission is free on the first Sunday of the month. A combo ticket (€30) permits entry to the Acropolis and six other sites within five days.

Acropolis Museum

Top choice museum in Acropolis Area

This dazzling museum at the foot of the Acropolis‘ southern slope showcases its surviving treasures. The collection covers the Archaic period to the Roman one, but the emphasis is on the Acropolis of the 5th century BC, considered the apotheosis of Greece’s artistic achievement. The museum reveals layers of history – from ancient ruins beneath the building, to the Acropolis itself, always visible above through floor-to-ceiling windows. The good-value restaurant has superb views.

Designed by US-based architect Bernard Tschumi with Greek architect Michael Photiadis, the €130-million museum opened in 2009 after decades of planning; it replaced the small museum near the Parthenon.

As you enter the museum, the glass floor reveals the ruins of an ancient Athenian neighbourhood. These were uncovered during construction and had to be preserved and integrated into a new building plan. In 2019, the museum opened up a 4000-sq-metre section of these ruins for closer inspection.

The ground floor’s Gallery of the Slopes of Acropolis emulates the climb up to the sacred hill, while allowing glimpses of the ruins below. Exhibits include painted vases and votive offerings from the sanctuaries where gods were worshipped, plus more recent objects found in excavations of the settlement, including two clay statues of Nike at the entrance.

Bathed in natural light, the 1st-floor Archaic Gallery is a veritable forest of statues, mostly votive offerings to Athena. These include stunning examples of 6th-century kore – statues of young women in draped clothing and elaborate braids, usually carrying a pomegranate, wreath or bird. Most were recovered from a pit on the Acropolis, where the Athenians buried them after the Battle of Salamis. The 570-BC-statue of a youth bearing a calf is one of the rare male statues found. There are also bronze figurines and artefacts from temples predating the Parthenon (destroyed by the Persians), including wonderful pedimental sculptures such as Hercules slaying the Lernaian Hydra and a lioness devouring a bull. Also on this floor are five Caryatids, the maiden columns that held up the Erechtheion (the sixth is in the British Museum).

The museum’s crowning glory is the top-floor Parthenon Gallery, a glass atrium housing the temple’s 160m-long frieze. It’s mounted as it once was, following the layout of the building, and you can stroll along, as though atop the columns, and examine the fragments at eye level. The frieze depicts the Panathenaic Procession, starting at the southwest corner of the temple, with two groups splitting off and meeting on the east side for the delivery of the peplos (shawl) to Athena. (To really understand the reliefs, see the film that is screened on this floor.) Interspersed between the golden-hued originals are stark-white plaster replicas of the missing pieces – the so-called Parthenon Marbles hacked off by Lord Elgin in 1801 and now held in the British Museum in London.

Also on this level are metopes and sculpture from the Parthenon, as well as a plaster replica of a giant floral akrotirion, a decorative element that once crowned the southern ridge of the pediment.

Ancient Agora

Top choice historic site in Monastiraki & PsyrriSave Share

Image by Marissa Tejada Lonely Planet

The Agora was ancient Athens’ heart, the lively hub of administrative, commercial, political and social activity. Socrates expounded his philosophy here; in AD 49 St Paul came here to win converts to Christianity. The site today is a lush respite, home to the grand Temple of Hephaistos, a good museum and the 11th-century Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles, trimmed in brick patterns that mimic Arabic calligraphy. The greenery harbours birds and lizards. Allow about two hours to see everything.

First developed as a public site in the 6th century BC, the Agora was devastated by the Persians in 480 BC, but a new one was built in its place almost immediately. It was flourishing by Pericles’ time and continued to do so until AD 267, when it was destroyed by the Herulians, a Gothic tribe from Scandinavia. The Turks built a residential quarter on the site, but this was demolished by archaeologists after Independence and later excavated to Classical and, in parts, Neolithic levels.

Admission to the site is included with the Acropolis combo ticket (€30), which permits entry to the Acropolis and six other sites (including this one) within five days.

National Archaeological Museum

Top choice museum in Omonia & ExarhiaSave Share

Housing the world’s finest collection of Greek antiquities in an enormous neoclassical building, this museum is one of Athens’ top attractions. Treasures offering a view of Greek art and history – dating from the Neolithic era to Classical periods, including the Ptolemaic era in Egypt – include exquisite sculptures, pottery, jewellery, frescoes and artefacts found throughout Greece. The beautifully presented exhibits are displayed mainly thematically.

 It could take several visits to appreciate the museum’s vast holdings, but it’s possible to see the highlights in a couple of hours. The museum also hosts world-class temporary exhibitions.

A joint ticket with the neighbouring Epigraphical Museum, the Byzantine & Christian Museum and the Numismatic Museum costs €15 (€8 for students) and is valid for three days.

Housing the world’s finest collection of Greek antiquities in an enormous neoclassical building, this museum is one of Athens’ top attractions. Treasures offering a view of Greek art and history – dating from the Neolithic era to Classical periods, including the Ptolemaic era in Egypt – include exquisite sculptures, pottery, jewellery, frescoes and artefacts found throughout Greece. The beautifully presented exhibits are displayed mainly thematically.

Tickets & tours

Athens National Archaeological Museum Private Tour$85.63
and upDETAILSPrivate Walking Tour: National Archaeological Museum$58.23
and upDETAILSAthens National Archaeological Museum Private Shore Excursion$75.20
and upDETAILSMORE TICKETS & TOURS

Leaflet | Map data © OpenStreetMapcontributors, CC-BY-SA, Imagery © Mapbox

It could take several visits to appreciate the museum’s vast holdings, but it’s possible to see the highlights in a couple of hours. The museum also hosts world-class temporary exhibitions.

A joint ticket with the neighbouring Epigraphical Museum, the Byzantine & Christian Museum and the Numismatic Museum costs €15 (€8 for students) and is valid for three days.

Temple of Olympian Zeus

Top choice temple in Syntagma & PlakaSave Share

A can’t-miss on two counts: it’s a marvellous temple, once the largest in Greece, and it’s smack in the centre of Athens. Of the temple’s 104 original Corinthian columns (17m high with a base diameter of 1.7m), only 15 remain – the fallen column was blown down in a gale in 1852.

Tickets & tours

Temple of Olympian Zeus Skip-the-Line Ticket with Audio Tour on Your Phone$9.13
and upDETAILSAthens: Temple of Olympian Zeus,Self-Guided Audio Tour on your Phone (no ticket)$9.12
and upDETAILSSkip the Lines: Mythology Tour of Acropolis, Acropolis Museum & Temple of Zeus$67.36
and upDETAILSMORE TICKETS & TOURS


Details

Leoforos Vasilissis OlgasPlaka210 922 6330Visit websiteHours8am-3pm Oct-Apr, to 8pm May-SepPriceadult/student/child €6/3/free

Leaflet | Map data © OpenStreetMapcontributors, CC-BY-SA, Imagery © Mapbox

Begun in the 6th century BC by Peisistratos, the temple was abandoned for lack of funds. Various other leaders took a stab at completing it, but it was left to Hadrian to finish the job in AD 131, thus taking more than 700 years in total to build. In typically immodest fashion, Hadrian built not just a colossal statue of Zeus, but an equally large one of himself.

Admission to the site is included with the Acropolis combo ticket (€30), which permits entry to the Acropolis and six other sites (including this one) within five days.

Final admission is 30 minutes before closing.

Temple of Olympian Zeus

Top choice temple in Syntagma & PlakaSave Share
A can’t-miss on two counts: it’s a marvellous temple, once the largest in Greece, and it’s smack in the centre of Athens. Of the temple’s 104 original Corinthian columns (17m high with a base diameter of 1.7m), only 15 remain – the fallen column was blown down in a gale in 1852.

Begun in the 6th century BC by Peisistratos, the temple was abandoned for lack of funds. Various other leaders took a stab at completing it, but it was left to Hadrian to finish the job in AD 131, thus taking more than 700 years in total to build. In typically immodest fashion, Hadrian built not just a colossal statue of Zeus, but an equally large one of himself.

Admission to the site is included with the Acropolis combo ticket (€30), which permits entry to the Acropolis and six other sites (including this one) within five days.

Final admission is 30 minutes before closing.

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