Athens is widely regarded as the birthplace of democracy and was at the forefront of western civilization.
It’s been the home of great philosophers like Socrates and Plato with countless ancient sites and archaeological ruins to explore, making it a bucket-list destination for history enthusiasts, yet it offers so much more.
Why is Athens so popular?
Athens remains one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations for so many reasons beyond the obvious rich history and world-class museums. Delicious Italian food from fresh markets can be enjoyed on beautiful beaches and all for a more affordable price than most other European capitals.
While many are enticed by the Greek islands, these reasons reveal why you’ll definitely want to put the capital city on your list of must places to visit.
Athens’ rich history can’t be discounted.
Even those who aren’t into exploring the past are likely to be fascinated while wandering Acropolis Hill, discovering iconic monuments that bring long, lost times to life in a way that can’t be experienced by reading a textbook.
The city has been continuously inhabited for at least 3,000 years and landmarks like the Parthenon, the largest temple of the classical antiquity period (447 BC to 338 BC), have watched over the capital for centuries of civilization.
The hill also hosts the Erectheion, the Temple of Athena Nike, and numerous other ruins.
The Agora, which stands testament to Athens’ status as the cradle of western civilization, is home to temples, colonnaded arcades, and a concert hall.
It was an important trading and meeting place during Biblical times.
People came to assemble where they would chat about politics and other current events, the nature of the universe, and business.
It was the heart of public life while Plato and Socrates walked the streets.
The Plaka neighborhood is one of Europe’s most ancient settlements, located beneath Acropolis Hill with a charming atmosphere among its narrow streets.
There are ancient ruins, Byzantine temples, and neoclassical buildings.
The World-Class Museums
There are many world-class museums that really bring the ancient sites to life.
The Acropolis Museum is the crown jewel, hosting one of the world’s most valuable collections of ancient Greek art.
It holds countless artifacts that were uncovered from the famous hill, divided into five key historical periods.
There are two floors devoted to permanent exhibits while the other two include temporary exhibitions, multimedia galleries, cafes, restaurants, and shops.
On the ground floor, the Gallery of the Acropolis Slopes displays finds from multiple historical periods of the settlement, including parts of workshops, homes, streets, squares, and cemeteries along with thousands of artifacts that were used in daily life.
The National Archaeological Museum is the country’s largest of its kind, considered to be one of the great antiquities institutions in the world.
It’s housed in a majestic neoclassical building and includes an impressive collection of ancient Greek pottery, jewelry, and sculpture among thousands of exhibits.
The sculpture collection features sculptures from the 6th to 5th centuries BC, including some rare masterpieces.
The Antikythira Device is one of the most interesting artifacts – a two-thousand-year-old computer, it was discovered in a shipwreck, revealing how advanced ancient Greeks were.
Expect a comprehensive overview of Greek civilization from prehistory through late antiquity.
The Benaki Museum focuses on history, art, and culture from ancient and modern Greece, while the Museum of Cycladic Art features an impressive collection of ancient Greek, Cycladic, and Cypriot works.
The food alone is reason enough to visit Athens.
Enjoy everything from a sweet or savory pastry called bougatsa, loukoumades (Greek honey dumplings), mouthwatering moussaka, succulent souvlaki, and Greek salads with fresh greens and other veggies along with feta cheese.
If you’re a fan of pastries with vegetables, be sure to try the spanakopita or spinach pie.
It’s a pastry with spinach, eggs, feta cheese, and herbs.
There are walking food tours that will bring you around to sample a little bit of it all, complete with fantastic strong Greek coffee to fuel your exploits.
The gastronomic excursions typically visit cafes, delis, bakeries, markets, and hot street food spots with opportunities to taste everything from homemade breads and regional cheeses to donuts and Greek wine.
Athens has some lively markets that provide a great taste of authentic Athenian culture.
By visiting you’ll often be able to chat with the vendors and stall owners to learn about the products and the lives of the people behind them.
The central Athens food market occupies a large block in the heart of the city between Athinas, Sofokleous, Euripido, and Aiolou streets.
A fish market at the center is the largest fish market in Europe with five to 10 tons of fresh fish arriving from various Greek islands daily.
There’s also a meat market and spots to enjoy delicious Greek meze while indulging in great people-watching.
The Monastiraki Flea Market is worth visiting for people-watching alone.
There are cafes overlooking the ancient Agora where you can sip coffee or wine while watching street musicians and the parade of visitors that come and go.
On a Saturday morning, locals come here and lay out blankets with all sorts of items available for sale.
Athens is surrounded by hills that offer magnificent viewpoints of the city.
For an awe-inspiring view over it all, climb to the top of Mount Lycabettus.
If you don’t want to make the effort, it can easily be reached by taking the funicular train to enjoy the view across the Attica basin out to the Aegean Sea. This is the highest point in the center of the city and there are occasional live concerts in the amphitheater here too.
The best time to come is right before dusks as sunsets are fantastic from here.
You can also admire a panorama of Athens, including Acropolis Hill, from the rooftops.
There are many bars and hotels with rooftops that are perfect for taking in this iconic view while sipping cocktails.
Often, you’ll see not only the Acropolis, but the Agora, Plaka neighborhood, or Lycabettus Hill.
You might be surprised to learn that there are beautiful beaches that lie at the southern edge of Athens.
The coastline here is the longest of any European peninsula, known as the Athens Riviera.
It offers many beautiful stretches for sunbathing and swimming with the water warm enough from around May through early October.
There are organized beaches with beach bars, clubs, and water sports facilities, as well as secluded coves that have a romantic feel.
Eden Beach is one of the best places for a swim close to the city, edged by calm, clear turquoise waters.
Water skiing, jet skiing, banana rides, kayaking, and other sports can be enjoyed through Ever Eden Beach Resort which also offers creative cocktails and tasty eats.
It’s More Budget-Friendly Than Many Other European Capitals
While there are plenty of luxuries in Athens, it’s easy to enjoy a budget-friendly experience here compared to other places in Europe.
Greece had largely recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, but the COVID pandemic led to a deep recession
While that’s not great for the Greek people, the result is that prices are more affordable for tourists.
By visiting you’ll also be helping by contributing to the economy.
On the islands, costs can be higher, especially in places like Santorini and Mykonos, but in Athens, it’s easy to find inexpensive accommodation, especially if you book early or travel in the off-season.
Entry fees to museums are minimal and dining out won’t break the bank – you can always find gyros and mouthwatering baked goods for cheap.