Athens is a city of incredible age and history. Walking around the city provides you the unique ability to see the modern stacked Greek apartment buildings with laundry drying on their balconies nestled up next to Hadrien’s arch. It’s pretty weird and pretty cool.
With that in mind, staying in a fancy hotel and visiting the Parthenon once before going off to the islands is a sore misuse of Athens really REALLY cool attractions
So here is a list of 10 other things to do… before you see the Parthenon.
CLIMB TO PHILOPAPPOU HILL
Philopappou hill is an amazing hill top where you can get an unreal view of the Acropolis and the sprawling city of Athens. From this hill top you can see all the way to the sea and the very edges of Athens.
The Philopappou was an easy albeit up mountain-like hill walk through some lushes greenery from our hostel near the south slope. If you go just after dinner, to work off that gyro meat, you will also have the pleasure of seeing the sun set over the city and watching the lights of the Acropolis illuminate the night.
GO TO A ROOF TOP BAR
If you’re lucky, like me, your hotel will have a lively and worldly bar. People from around the world come to Athens and it’s a super chill place to make traveling friends over a game of bar trivia. Though my hostel bar was sorely planted on the ground many of my friends were staying at a Backpackers hostel just around the corner from the south slope of the Acropolis which had a small but fantastic roof top bar that was open to the public. There we drank Greek Mythos out of plastic cups and enjoyed the sight of the Acropolis at eye level. Making the whole thing even more lovely is the fact that the entire Acropolis is lit up colorfully at night.
If you can’t make it to Backpackers there are several other rooftop bars in Athens that are open to the public and boast a beautiful view of the Parthenon.
SEE A SHOW AT THE ODEON OF HERODES ATTICUS
Located on the south slope of the Acropolis, this is a theatre that was built 161 AD and you can still go see plays and operas there. Sitting in stands that ancient Greeks sat in. How fucking cool is that!? My first trip to Athens I saw a German opera at the Odeon called The flying Dutchman.
I am not an opera fan, I do not speak german, and I had forgotten my glasses so I could not see the subtitles they were projecting onto screens near the stage. And I still had a blast sitting in the ancient theatre with my friends and hundreds of other travelers and Athenians.
These shows happen quite often especially during festivals, tickets can be bought in person and online for a pretty small fee. I believe we paid something like 12 euros.
WALK THE STREETS AT 2AM (AND MAYBE JOIN AN IMPROMPTU SOCCOR MATCH)
If going to a roof top bar in Athens made you weary about the possibility of being on the streets at night, have no fear. Because everyone is on the streets at night. Greece is a country of night owls and Athens is a prime example. Midnight in the states is abandoned streets and sketchy people. Midnight in Greece is a block party with kids playing soccer (football) in the street, people drinking, and old ladies getting late night baklava.
Restaurants and cafes pull their seating out into the roads for more room and honestly you couldn’t sleep if you wanted to. So you may as well join the party.
WATCH SOME STREET PERFORMERS
Athens is full of performers and sales people. The walk to the Acropolis and the Acropolis museum is littered with street performers and women trying to sell you roses (don’t buy them). Unlike the children who play music on the trains, these street performers will not steal your wallets. So, buy some cooked nuts at the kiosk near the mouth of the Acropolis museum and enjoy the music, whether it’s a woman in victorian clothing beat-boxing on a flute or a child playing a tuba you will not be disappointed.
GET AN AUTHENTIC GREEK GYRO
And that’s gyro, like yee-row. None of this j-eye-roo shenanigans! Athens has dozens of small gyro and souvlaki store fronts, they are easy to find just follow the delicious smell and look for rotating meat. The most common gyros contain shaved chicken or shaved pork along with toppings like tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and of course tzatziki sauce (which is mostly greek yogurt and cucumber).
Pair with some fries and a carafe of wine for best results
VISIT THE SOUTH SLOPE
The South Slope is a good way to start the educational portion of you trip. For Tourism, the south slope is sort of the lesser known sister of the Acropolis and for that reason it is much less crowded, has very few lines, and does not require much stair climbing like the trek to the Acropolis does. Making it an ideal space to spend your first touring day.
The South Slope boasts the modest theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus. Which you are welcome to walk on, sit on, and pretend like you are an ancient Athenian in.
There’s also the giant Odeon of Herodes Atticus (as seen above!), as well as a number of other sanctuaries, and enough spare pillar material to satiate you for the whole trip
And of course, like most place in Athens, there is a lovely view of the Acropolis
VISIT THE PNYX HILL
There are a lot of great hills in Athens so bear with me on this one. The Pnyx, like Philopappou, is a great look out spot and a good hill to climb if you want some awesome pictures. The Pnyx was also the home to ancient Athenian gatherings dating back to nearly 500 BCE and played a really important role in Greek democracy. I won’t go too far into it for fear that my Greek Archaeologist friends will be forced to correct me but it is a very historically significant place.
If you look close enough at the rubble you are walking on you can even still find pieces of pottery that have been left behind from gatherings that took place over a thousand years ago. But if you do find anything, please leave it where it is!
TAKE A SELF GUIDED GRAFFITI TOUR
Many people call Athens a dirty city because of all of the graffiti, I personally love it. So, take an afternoon, grab a gelato or a coca-lite, and take yourself on a graffiti tour. Find art and political commentary and learn a little about the street art scene in Greece.
FINALLY VISIT THE ACROPOLIS (AND DON’T JUST TAKE A PICTURE IN FRONT OF THE PARTHENON)
Instead, take a picture at the look out point (which is on the opposite side of the entry way and marked by a Greek flag). I told you there are a LOT of good look out points in Athens.
Or, take a photo impersonating the Caryatids women (insider secret, most of the Caryatids on display are actually replicas. The real one’s are being repaired/restored and can be viewed inside the Acropolis museum (This is not an ad for the Acropolis Museum (yet))).
AND ONCE YOU’VE DONE ALL TEN
Feel free to sit in awe of the Parthenon like me and so many people before me did
Thanks for reading and as always let me know if you have any questions about planning your own trip to Athens!