Prior to visiting Athens and during my stay in Athens I’ve read quite a lot of travel guides – both online and printed – and looked for various ideas and tips for visiting the most important archaeological sites in Greece’s capital.
I would start by saying that although it’s possible to visit most of the important sites during a single day, if you want to dig a bit deeper and actually spend time among the ruins, I’d suggest planning at least a 3-days stay in Athens.
The Acropolis of Athens is the most important archeological site in the capital. If you only plan to stay a day in Athens, start by walking towards the New Acropolis Museum and enter the site via the entrance opposite the museum.
The site is open , during the summer, daily (except Mondays) from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Mondays from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. In the winter, it is open every day from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The entrance fee is €12 but it also includes the entrance fee to the other 6 sites within the “archaeological park” of Athens.
There are people who can visit the entire site in about 45 min, but there are others (yours truly) who can spend 3 hours taking photos and soaking in the atmosphere. It’s nothing wrong with either approach but you’ll probably want to stick to the 1 – 1 ½ h time frame if you plan to visit the sites in a single day.
Personally, I consider the Ancient Agora the second most important site in Athens. From the North Slope exits, you can get to the Agora very easily. Follow the signs or go to Monastiraki square and make a left (when you have the metro entrance to your left, just take the street before the square) and keep walking until you see the entrance to the Agora.
During summer, the Ancient Agora is open daily (except on Monday) 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and on Mondays from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. During winter , it’s open daily from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Please note that the museum only opens at 11 a.m. (and yes, it’s worth your time and it’s included in the ticket). An adult ticket is €4 but you can use the combined ticket you got at the museum.
The best preserved building within the Ancient Agora is the Temple of Hephaestus. It is a Doric peripteral temple and until 1834 it served as a Greek Orthodox church. The museum is housed in the Stoa of Attalos (a building which has been restored). You can spend anything from 30 min to 2 hours visiting the site (without the museum, which takes another ½ h).
Make use of your combined ticket and then visit Hadrian’s Library, the Tower of Winds and the Roman Forum. From the Ancient Agora’s main entrance make a right and follow the street to Monastiraki square. Now take a look in front of you: there’s the entrance to Hadrian’s Library. The site is open daily. It’s probably where you’ll spend the shortest amount of time (can be easily visited in 30 min).
The Tower of Winds and the Roman Forum can take anything from 30 min to 1 ½ h. During summer, the site is open daily (except on Mondays) from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and on Mondays from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. During winter , it is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The adult ticket is €2 but you can use the combined ticket you bough at the Acropolis.
Temple of Olympic Zeus
If you allow more than a day in Athens, then make your way to the street which leads to the Acropolis Museum and then look right. You’ll see Hadrian’s Arch and to its right the Temple of Olympic Zeus.
During summer, the site is open daily (except on Mondays) from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and on Mondays from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. During winter , it is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The adult ticket is €4 but you can use the combined ticket you bough at the Acropolis. It doesn’t take long to visit the site (maybe 15 min).
Kerameikos was the potters’ quarter in the city and also the site of an important cemetery. You can use the combined ticket to visit this site but many travelers choose to skip it altogether. The excavations continue to the present day and, as it happens when digging to build the metro in Athens, when they were working on the station a plague was discovered.
The ticket also includes a visit to the Kerameikos museum, which is housed in a small building accessible through an entrance on the last block of Ermou Street, close to the intersection with Peiraios Street. The museum houses the most extensive burial-related artifacts in the entire country.
Syntagma Square and the National Gardens
You cannot exactly explore Athens – on foot or by public transportation – and not end up in Syntagma Square at one point or another. Ermou Street – the shopping street of Athens – starts opposite the Parliament and behind the Parliament there are the National Gardens.
They used to be the Royal Gardens and you’ll feel as you were hiking somewhere very far from the bustling city. A walk within the gardens can recharge anyone especially during a hot summer day.
Athens is filled with museums and visiting them depends on what you actually like to do on your vacation. I favor the smaller museums and gladly skip the big and very crowded ones.
The Ancient Agora museum – although small – was an interesting place to visit and learn a lot about the artifacts. The War Museum is free to visit and although I saw only its courtyard, the planes were stunning and totally worth your time.
The Museum of Cycladic Art (entrance fee: €7, €3.50 on Mondays) , the National Archaeological Museum (entrance fee: €7) and the Acropolis Museum (entrance fee: combined ticket) are definitely worth your time and money. But if you only have a day in Athens, choose one of them and leave the others for another time.
Photo credits: Cristina Puscas and may not be used without permission