It won’t come as a shock to tell you Athens is one of the most historic cities on the entire planet. With a recorded history spanning an incredible 3,400 years, it’s first thought to have been settled as far back as the 11th millennia BC, and is quite literally considered the cradle of human civilisation.
It’s no surprise then, that signs and relics of ancient civilisation rise from every hill, cove and corner. While a fascinating, modern metropolis in its own right, most visitors come to Athens to soak up its monuments and landmarks. There are so many in and around Athens that it’s impossible to visit them all – so which sites are truly unmissable?
Without doubt Athens’ most iconic and photographed landmark, the Acropolis dominates the skyline. It’s not one building in itself but a whole collection, housing highlights such as the Parthenon, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike inside its walls. Constantly growing throughout the Hellenistic, Macedonian and Roman periods, it’s perhaps the greatest collection of ancient architecture anywhere on Earth.
Just south of the site, a dedicated, newly-built museum will help you take stock and understand the importance of what you’re looking at. It also houses smaller artefacts and sculptures found at the sites, offering you a historical journey in different scale to the towering columns of the temples.
A short walk east of the Acropolis is the Panathenaic Stadium, also known as Kallimarmaro (which translates as ‘Beautiful Marble’). No guesses, then, as to what this stadium is built from – the only one of its kind in the world. Constructed for the Panathenaic Games in 330BC, the marble incarnation we see today arrived in 144AD and seated 50,000 at its peak – impressive even by modern standards.
It’s taken on a new role since the re-emergence of the Olympic movement. It hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern games in 1896, and is the venue where the flame is handed over to the host nation at each Olympiad.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
Found between the Acropolis and the Panathenaic Stadium is the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Once a colossal structure; very little remains today – but what does is well worth a look. It took some 600 years for the structure to be completed, with work spanning between the 4th century BC and 2nd century AD. Sadly, it was pillaged during invasion in the 3rd century and its 104 monumental columns began to fall. 16 remain, and give you an idea of just how vast and incredible this temple would have been in its glory days.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
On the south-western edge of the acropolis, this is perhaps one of the best preserved ancient sites in the world. Often known simply as the ‘Odeon’, this stunning Greco-Roman theatre seats up to 5,000 in its grand, semi-circular bowl. So intact is it that it still functions today as it did then, for music concerts and visual entertainment. It really comes into its own between May and October, when it’s the main base of the Athens Festival, hosting world-class international performances night after night.
The Ancient Agora of Athens
The Acropolis isn’t the city’s only grand collection of ancient architecture. The Agora lies to the northwest, and is the best-known example of its kind in the world. In its heyday, it would have been the thriving heart of Athens’ political, commercial, administrative and social activity, and its many structures tell the city’s story. In varying states of repair, highlights include the beautifully intact Doric Temple of Hephaestus, which was completed in 415BC, and the entirely reconstructed Stoa of Attalos, which offers an immersive experience.
It may seem a world and a couple of millennia away, but a journey back in time to ancient Athens could become reality with flights to Athens from Manchester Airport.