Monuments built by the ancient Mediterranean civilization are the main reason why people visit Athens. Many take a day trip before heading off to an island getaway. In our opinion, Athenian sights deserve an extended stay. Here is an overview of our favorite places you can explore outdoors.
Acropolis of Athens
Archaeological research showed that the citadel above the city had been inhabited for several millennia. Today, the hill stands guard to the white rooftops of the Greek Capital. The highlight of the fascinating outdoor museum is the temple dedicated to goddess Athena, the Parthenon.
The beginning of its construction more than 2000 years ago marks the zenith of the Athenian empire. Until this day, 50 Doric columns bear witness to the beauty of antique architecture. However, smaller structures deserve attention as well. Be sure to pass by the Theatre of Dionysus and Odeon of Herodes Atticus and admire sculpted details of the Porch of Caryatids.
A word of advice: Visit early in the morning. Arrive at the entrance before opening time. Not only will you beat the crowds but also the sun illuminates the Parthenon nicely.
Did you know? The Parthenon had been a sacred place for many religions. The originally Athenian temple was converted into a Christian Church in the 6th century AD. Later after an Ottoman invasion, the Parthenon became a mosque. You can learn more about the history of the temple in the Acropolis museum.
Ancient Agora of Athens
Agora once served as the social, political and commercial center of Athens. The place hides remains of many important buildings. Excavations uncovered a Council House created by Solon, the founder of Athenian democracy. However, the most memorable monument is the grand Stoa of Attalos, probably the first shopping mall in the world! Thanks to reconstruction in the middle of the 20th century, the Stoa is very well preserved. Visitors can vividly relive the hustle of the ancient market place.
On the north-west side of the Agora, you’ll notice another eye-catcher, the Temple of Hephaestus. The shrine dedicated to the Greek God of blacksmiths, carpenters, and fire, is one of the best-preserved Doric temples of ancient Greece. You can catch the first glimpse of the temple through Stoa’s windows. Then, get a closer look at the impressive columns mainly standing as built after walking up the Agoraios Kolonos hill.
Good to know: You can easily walk to the Ancient Agora from the Acropolis Hill in less than a quarter of an hour. On the way, you’ll pass by the Roman Agora, which used to be the city’s center during the Roman period, so don’t get confused.
Before visiting the antique shopping mall, take a break in one of the cafés on Adrianou Street. Almost all of them have a great view over the Agora and the Acropolis. Although the prices are touristy, the view is worth it.
Temple of the Olympian Zeus
It took almost 700 years to build the colossal shrine. It was the largest temple of ancient Greece. The temple was dedicated to the head of the Olympian gods, Zeus. Only 15 Corinthian columns of once 104 are left nowadays. It’s hard to imagine entire proportions of the massive construction at the time of its glory.
The Roman Emperor Hadrian finished the temple. His presence in the city of Athens is commemorated by Hadrian Arch, a Roman-style triumphal arch. It is located just next to the Olympieion.
Tip: The temple’s marble columns shine splendidly in the morning sun. Start your day early, beat the crowds and enjoy some alone time before the next cruise-ship tourist group will roll you over.
The construction located just a few hundred meters from Olympieion is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. The initially simple sports field dates back to the 4th century BC.
Two hundred years later, a Roman senator rebuilt it into a vast arena with 50 000 seats. After that, the building fell into oblivion for centuries, until archaeological excavations rediscovered it at the end of 19th century. In 1896 the stadium hosted the first modern Olympics.
Good to know: A small museum inside the stadium is worth a visit. Besides presenting the arena’s history, there’s a room with a display of original Olympic torches, which transported Olympic flame on the relay to its designated destination.
Also, don’t be lazy and climb to the top seating row. The view over the area and Acropolis is phenomenal.
Tickets & entrance fees
With the Acropolis Pass, you can enter main ancient sites of Athens. Also check the days, when the admission to some places (including the Acropolis) is free.
In winter (November 1st – March 31st) free admission day is every first Sunday of the month. We visited in November, so there was no need for pre-ordering entrance tickets online. However, if you want to visit in the peak season, check the online ticketing portal.
Because major ancient sights are within walking distance from each other, it is possible to see all of them in a day. But rushing through them is not a good idea. You’d miss the best light (both Acropolis and Olympieion are perfect in the morning) and may get sick of yet another Doric column. For the outdoor sights, two to three days at your own pace should be sufficient. Taking many tzatziki and wine breaks in-between also belongs to an Athenian adventure.