The Greek capital Athens is a landmark with numerous historical monuments and sites located in the city center. These monuments reveal their history when you visit them.
Athens' glorious history dates back more than 3,000 years, making it an emblem of Western Civilization at its finest. During classical antiquity, the city flourished, and it was the birthplace of Socrates, Pericles, Sophocles, and many other important philosophers, historians, and politicians. In addition, Athens has been inhabited since the Neolithic era and it was also a significant center of the Mycenaean civilization.
Today, Athens is more than a vestige of its great past; it is a vibrant and sophisticated capital city with some of the country's most prominent tourist attractions. Athens, being the capital of Greece and the classical world, is a must-see destination for anybody interested in culture and history.
However, with hundreds of historical places to visit, seeing them all might be a difficult thing to do in just a few days. The good thing is that most of the sites are near together, so with a little planning and the Athens combo ticket, you can visit them all in one day!
Which are the Major Landmarks in Athens?
From the temple of Poseidon on Attica's southern point to the Acropolis in Athens, Attica is home to some of Greece's most famous archaeological sites. But there's a lot more to this region's archaeology than the Greco-Roman period.
The city of Athens and the Port of Piraeus are part of the Attica administrative region. The Acropolis, which has been occupied since antiquity by the Ottomans, is located in the ancient center of Athens.
The Acropolis is one of the most beautiful ancient monuments in the world, and the city's excellent museums house remarkable antiquities discovered at nearby locations. The city's brilliant Byzantine churches and the village-like suburbs north of the Acropolis are two other hidden gems that you should not miss.
Note that modern-day Attica encompasses a substantial portion of the Peloponnese peninsula as well as the islands of Salamis, Aegina, Agistri, Poros, Hydra, Spetses, Kythira, and Antikythera.
Don’t miss spending some time getting lost in the Plaka and Psirri district's small pedestrian alleyways, lined with lovely bougainvillea-draped buildings, mezedopoleia, and pleasant local taverns.
Let’s now see the major landmarks, historical temples, and cool monuments of Athens!
The Acropolis and the Parthenon
Visiting the Acropolis' rock is like going back in time. The site is home to the most important mythical legends and is the ideal location for a mythology tour in order to learn about the thinking of the people who built this one-of-a-kind monument.
The magnificent Parthenon, one of the most visited attractions in the world, is in the centre of Athens. The Parthenon is a symbol of Greece, Democracy, and all of the principles that the Ancient Greek civilization embodied.
However, the temple of Athena and the Parthenon are not the only important landmarks on the Acropolis. The Erechtheion with the famous Caryatids, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the majestic Propylaea are just a few of the many impressive structures on the site.
The Porch of the Caryatids, with six sculptures of maidens in place of Doric columns, is the most famous element of the Erechtheion complex.
The Temple of Athena Nike near the entrance and the Erechtheion, a complex of ancient sanctuaries built between 421 and 395 BC, are two more remains on the Acropolis.
The view from the top of Acropolis Hill is equally impressive. The entire city of Athens lies at your feet, but you feel as if you're in another world, traveling back in ancient times. The pedestrian street of Apostolou Pavlou is lined with restaurants that look out to the Acropolis.
Combining your visit to the Acropolis site with a tour of the renovated Museum at the base of the Hill will provide you with a more comprehensive experience. The museum houses all of the objects discovered during the excavations on Acropolis, and it will help you better comprehend the importance of the Acropolis in the lives of the ancient Greeks.
Keep in mind that on hot days, it's better to visit the Acropolis in the morning and then spend the afternoon at the air-conditioned Acropolis Museum. Alternatively, you can go to the Acropolis to see the sunset!
Acropolis, Athens - credits:sborisov/depositphotos
The Areopagus (Hill of Ares)
Let’s explore a bit of mythology about the famous Hill of Ares. In the past, the gods are claimed to have tried Ares here for the murder of Alirrothios, one of Poseidon's sons. The trial of Orestes, who was accused of murdering his mother Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus, is also claimed to have taken place here.
The Areopagus was the meeting place for the city's elder council in preclassical times. The members of the council were those who had positions of power in the government. Note that during the Persian siege of the Acropolis in 480 BC, the hill was utilized as an encampment by the Persians.
Today, there are no temple ruins on this hill for visitors to see. There are a few foundation incisions in the rock, but nothing else. The hill, on the other hand, provides a spectacular view of the city, particularly the Ancient Agora, which is right underneath it.
Once you've reached the top, be cautious when strolling around, especially near the sides, as they’re steep, and there are no barriers or protection around the edges to prevent you from entirely going over. If you have small children, it is usually best not to take them up with you.
Pnyx, Athens - credits:26101962costas/depositphotos
Theatre of Herodes Atticus
The ancient amphitheater of Herodion, also known as the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, was built at the base of the Acropolis and is now one of the best sites to see a live classical theatre performance.
Herodes Atticus, a Roman philosopher, teacher, and statesman, constructed this antique theater around 161 A.D. It was constructed in honor of his wife Aspasia Regilla, who died in the year 160 AD.
The magnificent Odeon of Herodes Atticus was the final monumental edifice completed in the Acropolis area throughout antiquity. When you visit this monument, you will notice niches on the walls that were once used to contain statues but are now empty. It's on Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, and it's impossible to miss if you're visiting the Acropolis.
If you're in Athens during the summer when the Odeon is hosting a live performance, don't miss it! Seeing a play in this old odeon while standing beneath the illuminated Acropolis is simply stunning.
Theatre of Herodus Atticus - credits:bloodua/depositphotos
Filopappou Hill, to the southwest of the Acropolis, is Athenians' favorite promenade, with spectacular views of the Acropolis, the entire city of Athens, and the Aegean Sea that surrounds Attica!
The marble for Philopappos' funerary monument came from Mount Pentelikon and Mount Ymittos, which are located southeast of Athens. A stone structure with iron gates is close to the monument but hidden from view. Also, in the Filopappou area is the prison where the great Greek philosopher Socrates was imprisoned and killed.
From Philopappou, a paved walkway leads to Pnyx Hill, where the finest orators of Greek antiquity gathered to discuss political matters. The Dora Stratou theatre, on the other side of the hill, features folklore dancing events. Lastly, the National Observatory, a scientific facility for the study of astronomy and seismology, as well as the church of Agia Marina, are both located near Philopappou.
Fipopappou Hill, Athens - credits:karnizz/depositphotos
The Ancient Agora and the Stoa of Attalos
In ancient Athens, the Agora was the marketplace and the heart of daily life. The Greek word "Agora" means "to gather and orate," implying that this was a public speaking area. There were also athletic activities and theater performances held there.
The north gate off Adrianou Street is the finest place to enter the Agora, near the Church of Apostle Philip. And, in order to get a glimpse into the lives of ancient Athens' diverse inhabitants, stroll around the Agora and visit the Stoa of Attalos, a 2nd century BC "shopping mall," which displays signs of the Athenians everyday activities.
The Stoa of Attalos, established by King Attalos II and restored in the 1950s, is one of the most outstanding elements of the Ancient Agora. In 399 BC, the stoa may have been the site of Socrates' trial.
Consider visiting the Stoa of Attalos Archaeological Museum which houses artifacts discovered at the Ancient Agora's archaeological site. Marble statues, portions of columns, coins, ceramic vases, everyday goods, and other artifacts dating from the Neolithic period to the 6th century AD are among the discoveries.
Lastly, don’t miss heading to the north wall of the Acropolis or the roadways from the Areopagus for a spectacular view of the Agora from afar.
Stoa of Attalos, Ancient Agora, Athens - credits:davidzfr/depositphotos
The Temple of Hephaestus
The awe-inspiring Temple of Hephaestus is another important landmark of Athens. The temple, which is a classic example of Dorian architecture, was built approximately 450 B.C. on the western side of the city, on top of Agoreos Koronos hill, according to archeologists.
The temple was designed by Ictinus, a skilled architect who previously worked on the Parthenon, but many other craftsmen contributed to this magnificent structure. It is made of Pentelic marble, and the statues are made of Parian marble. A cella, pronaos, and the opisthodomos are all present and the temple is surrounded by columns, which encircle the enclosed cella. Friezes can be found on both of them.
The temple stands in Thissio, directly above the Ancient Agora and the Stoa of Attalos, and is close to the Acropolis and Monastiraki.
Note that the conversion of this fifth-century BC Doric temple into a Christian church protected it from destruction, making it one of the best-preserved ancient Greek temples.
Temple of Hephaeustus, Ancient Agora, Athens - credits:pajche/depositphotos
Temple of Olympian Zeus
In Greek antiquity, this enormous temple was a shrine to Zeus, a structure that housed his worshipped statue rather than a place of worship for believers, as it is in the Christian world.
For sacrifice and worship, the devotees used to congregate in the surrounding area outside the temple, where there was also an altar. Only 16 of the original 104 gigantic columns remain today, yet they are enough to dominate the space and make you feel small if you stand next to them.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus, also known as the Olympieion, was the biggest temple in ancient Greece. Note that the Temple was an even more massive construction in its day than the Parthenon, despite its greater preservation. The temple was built in the 6th century BC, but Emperor Hadrian did not complete it until the 2nd century AD. Also, Hadrian's Arch stands at the end of Dionysiou Areopagitou in front of the Olympieion, not far from the entrance.
During the Roman era, the temple also housed the statue of Hadrian, the Roman Emperor who was a great benefactor of Athens and was regarded as a god by many. Enjoy the view of the Acropolis and its structures in the background, as well as the ancient monument's remaining columns!
Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens - credits:marinaplug/depositphotos
Hadrian’s Library and the Roman Agora
Hadrian’s Library was built in 132 AD as a gift to the inhabitants of Athens by Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian was a devout Hellenophile who left his imprint on the city. The towering Pentelic marble façade, with its enormous Corinthian entrance, is the place where you will enter the historical site. Note that a gigantic statue of Nikeand other objects discovered on the site are housed in a modest onsite exhibition room.
Keep in mind that the Roman Agora is located next to the Ancient Agora. It is, in fact, connected to the Ancient Agora in Thissio by a paved path. Although the Athenians used the Ancient Agora for assemblies, the Roman Agora was actually an open market. While it may appear that everything is in one location, these structures were built later, and development finally went on to the Ancient Agora site.
The Tower of the Winds is one of the most easily recognized landmarks in the area. From the street, you can view one wall of Hadrian's Library and the ruins of the Roman Agora, but if you wish to go further, you can purchase a ticket and stroll among the ruins.
Wind Tower in Roman Agora, Athens - credits:Brigida_Soriano/depositphotos
Plaka and Anafiotika Districts
The scenic Plaka district, located between the northern slopes of the Acropolis and Ermou Street, is a popular tourist destination. The pleasant village atmosphere is the main draw of this ancient area. Beautiful bougainvillea-trimmed pastel-painted houses, cafés, and local stores adorn the area’s narrow pedestrian streets and bright tiny squares.
There are several classic Greek eateries with enticing patio seating in the Plaka area and surrounding Anafiotika, which are snuggled into the slopes north of the Acropolis. In the evenings, Anafiotika's winding medieval streets are also a treat to explore. On Mnisikleous Street, you will find some traditional tavernas and small cafés.
Anafiotika Sistrict, Athens - credits:Theastock/depositphotos
Kerameikos Archaeological Site
The oldest and largest ancient cemetery of Kerameikos is a short walk from the main concentration of ancient sites northwest of the Acropolis. This was one of ancient Athens' greatest districts, and it was there that the potters who created the famous "Attic vases" resided and worked.
There, you will observe parts of the Themistoclean Wall, the Dipylon Gate, and the Sacred Gate in addition to funerary elements. Artifacts from the site are housed at an onsite museum, with the majority of the exhibits dealing with shifting customs and rituals associated with death and burial.
Keramikos Archaeological Site, Athens - credits:czgur/depositphotos
The Panathenaic Stadium, Ancient Athens' greatest structure was built around 335 BC under Herodes Atticus' reign. This is where the Panathenaic Games have held in which runners competed in races around the track.
Note that Herodes Atticus updated the stadium with new marble seating around AD 140. The current edifice, which was rebuilt for the 1896 Olympic Games, is a reproduction of the ancient stadium. With 47 layers of seating and a rounded southeast end, this modern-era Olympic Stadium was built in the same style as the Panathenaic Stadium.
If you visit Athens during the summer, look for concerts or for a performance in the stadium; an enjoyable way to spend your evening!
Panathenaic Stadium, Athens - credits:topphoto/depositphotos
National Archaeology Museum
The National Archaeological Museum of Athens, founded in the 19th century, is Greece's largest archaeological museum and one of the world's greatest antiquities museums.
The museum is built in an imposing Neoclassical structure with an exhibiting space of 8,000 square meters. In other words, there are five permanent collections with more than 11,000 items on display, providing a comprehensive overview of Greek civilization from prehistory to late antiquity.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens - credits:saiko3p/depositphotos
Archaeological Site of Eleusina
Eleusina, along with Athens, Olympia, Delphi, and Delos were one of Ancient Greece's five sacred towns. Eleusis is derived from the Greek verb "eleftho," which means "to come," and refers to the site of arrival, presence, and revelation.
This small village, 21 kilometers from Athens through the Sacred Way, which began at Kerameikos, was the site of the Eleusinian Mysteries. The Mysteries were the most sacred and oldest of all the religious rites practiced in Greece, and the religion lasted for more than 1500 years. Note that Eleusis can be visited on a half-day excursion from Athens. The town has been designated as the European Capital of Culture for 2021, with a number of cultural events planned, including a restoration of the holy procession from Kerameikos' Sacred Gate and along the Sacred Way!
Eleusinian Archaeological Site - credits: livadask/depositphotos