But beneath its fast-paced metropolitan exterior is a city oozing with history waiting to be discovered and places to explore.
Here’s our top five places to get you off to a flying start.
1. The Acropolis
High on top of a rocky outcrop stands the ruins of the ancient stronghold, Acropolis. It overlooks all of Athens and contains the remains of several great buildings including the world-renowned Parthenon.
There is evidence the hill was inhabited as far back as the 4th millennium BC, however the buildings were mostly constructed in 5th century BC. The Parthenon was a temple dedicated to Athena, patron goddess of the city. Its elaborate decorative sculptures are considered to be the zenith of classical Greek art. It is currently under substantial restoration, but still a beautiful site with phenomenal 360° city views.
Entry Cost - For the Archaeological areas of Athens (Acropolis, Acropolis Museum, Ancient Agora, Theatre of Dionysus, Kerameikos, Temple of Olympian Zeus and Roman Agora) there is one ticket for €12. Kids under 18 are free.
Location - Acropolis Hill – hop-on-hop-off stop or red line metro.
2. Plaka Flea Market
Plaka is the city’s oldest neighbourhood and every Sunday it hosts a bustling flea market. You’ll find anything and everything here accompanied by the intoxicating aroma of fresh Greek cuisine.
Try and arrive before 11am though, it’s a popular tourist spot as well as a local favourite so it gets super busy.
Location – Under the Acropolis and stretches almost to Syntagma.
3. National Archaeological Museum
Said to be one of the greatest museums in the world, this place is outrageously large. I don’t know if I even covered half of it in the several hours I was there.
You’ll find pieces here dating as far back as 6800 BC! If you’re travelling with kids, realistically, they are not going to have as much fun here so consider splitting the visit over separate days.
Entry Cost - €7. Kids under 18 are free.
Location - 44 Patission Street, Athens. Get off at Omonia or Victoria Metro Stations for a short walk.
How can you go to Greece and not have a Gyro? These delicious classic Greek lunch snacks have made their way around the world and it all started here.
Right in the centre of town around Syntagma Square is where you’ll find some of the most wicked and delectable gyros in Athens. My favourite was a small out-of-the-way hole-in-the-wall called ‘Kostas’, which claims to have the best souvlaki since 1950.
5. Temple of Olympian Zeus / Arch of Hadrian
This temple was built between 472 and 456 BC and dedicated to Zeus. A little way from the Acropolis, it’s a convenient stop on the hop-on-hop-off bus. The most amazing thing about this temple was that it housed a 43-foot statue of Zeus - one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - until its eventual destruction during the 5th century AD.
The Arch of Hadrian is a monumental gateway spanning an ancient road from the centre of Athens to the Temple of Zeus and built around 130AD.
Entry Cost - For the Archaeological areas of Athens (Acropolis, Acropolis Museum, Ancient Agora, Theatre of Dionysus, Kerameikos, Temple of Olympian Zeus and Roman Agora) there is one united ticket for €12. Or €2 by itself. Kids under 18 are free.
Location - Vasilissis Olgas & Vasilissis Amalias Avenue, about 500m from Syntagma Square.
The great thing about all these locations is the easy access via train, tram, bus or walking. Since it’s such an ancient city, streets aren’t quite as uniform as most modern cities so take your map (or Google maps) to ensure you end up in the right place.
There’s really a lot to adore in Athens, and if you weren’t a history enthusiast before you arrived, you sure will be by the time you leave.
Published under license from Well Travelled.