Athens is one of the most walkable cities in Greece, and similar to most European cities, the best way to see the sites is on foot. You may see "more" by hopping around to the most famous sites, but you'll miss out on immersing yourself in the city and its unique culture.
Visiting Greece emerged from a very stressful period in our lives. Not exactly a spontaneous trip, but definitely one not planned well in advance. Wanting more control and needing a project, we opted to organize the epic island-hopping adventure ourselves. In the end, we created a rough itinerary that landed us in Mykonos, Delos, Naxos, Santorini, but it all started in Athens.
One Day Walking Itinerary for Athens, Greece:
We researched and plotted the all the sites of Athens that we were particularly interested in, creating our own one day walking itinerary for Athens. You can see the route we chose and follow in our footsteps by downloading this free one-day walking tour, but if you prefer to have someone with you, you can opt to be guided by a local for a minimal cost. Either way, to truly experience Athens, it is best explored on foot.
A large number of the sites of Athens, Greece are located within walking distance from one another, but it is the lesser known sites of Athens; the hidden monuments, buildings and parks that will amaze you. If you're interested specifically in the mythology of Greece and the mythological sites in Athens, we would recommend this tour, which includes a number of the lesser known sites listed here.
When researching a trip to Athens, most tourists undoubtable opt first to visit the Acropolis (and rightfully so), but the lesser known sites of Athens often get overlooked or pushed aside due to time restraints.
The Lesser Known Sites of Athens, Greece:
1. The Temple of Olympian Zeus & The Arch of Hadrian
After a delicious complimentary buffet breakfast at The Athens Gate Hotel, we set off just across the street to visit The Temple of Olympian Zeus and purchase our combo ticket, which allowed us entry into a wide variety of ancient sites around Athens.
TIP: You can purchase the Athens combo ticket at any location included on its long list of sites. By purchasing the combo ticket at The Temple of Olympian Zeus, we are able to use it automatically. You can get more information on the combo ticket on the official website.
Words cannot truly convey the size of the pillars of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. From a distance, the marble looks ancient and fragile, but up close the massive pillars are thick and solid, piercing a full 57 feet into the sky. Impressive is an understatement.
TIP: The Athens Gate Hotel has rooms that face the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which are less expensive then the rooms that face the Acropolis. The ancient site is literally across the street and illuminated at night. It is a much more spectacular view than the Acropolis option, which is further away.
Just outside the Temple of Olympian Zeus stands The Arch of Hadrian, free to visit. Unclear why and for whom it was built, it is theorized that it was first erected in honour of the Emperor Hadrian to commemorate the Temple of Olympian Zeus, but some scholars disagree. Unfortunately graffitied many times, it still stands strong overlooking the street.
2. The Panathenaic Stadium
We walked a mere 10 minutes to the Panathenaic Stadium. Entirely built of marble, this massive structure was played host to the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Entry allows you the freedom to walk/sit in the stands around the massive structure. Tourists took turns standing on the podium, imagining their Olympic dreams have come true. Some even attempted to race around the stadium.
If you truly want to feel like an Olympian, you can opt for this unique experience: a group workout and race in the Panathenaic Stadium. We purchased coffee and cookies from the kiosk outside of the stadium and sat in wonder and awe.
TIP: Entry to the Panathenaic Stadium is not included in the combo ticket, but is a minimal fee of $10 Euro.
3. The Hellenic Parliament & The Changing of the Guard
Slowly walking in our comfortable shoes, we headed towards the Archaeological Site of Lykeion, but were detoured through the nearby National Park and ended up at the Hellenic Parliament after 20 minutes, where we happened upon the changing of the guard ceremony. The ceremony takes place every hour on the hour, but on Sundays at 11am, the official changing of the guard occurs with the official costumes.
The cleverly dressed guards, with their large spear guns and heavy pompom clogs, moved with angry precision; both impressive and terrifying. A must-see if you can time it correctly.
4. The Archeological Site of Lykeion
Backtracking from the Hellenic Parliament, we arrived at the Archeological site of Lykeion (also known as Aristotle's Lyceum). The site exposes excavations of an ancient palaestra (gymnasium), revealing areas where athletes trained in wrestling and boxing. It is a fascinating and well organized site, with information points to guide your visit and point out where to look among the ruins.
If you'd like to dive deeper and walk in the footsteps of Aristotle, you can opt for this unique experience, joining an immersive Philosophy Workshop that studies the master's wisdom at Aristotle's Lyceum. A one of a kind experience.
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5. The Holy Church of the Virgin Mary Pantanassa
From The Archeological site of Lykeion, we casually walked for another 10 minutes, heading to the Holy Church of the Virgin Mary Pantanassa, one of the oldest and lesser-known churches in Athens, Greece. It’s small structure does not diminish its architectural beauty. The church now sits lower than the modern road, with a surrounding wall that many stop to rest upon, as it is located in a busy tourist area in Monastiraki Square.
TIP: It is free to enter Churches in Athens, but be sure to dress and act respectfully, covering your knees and shoulders and being mindful of religious patrons.
6. Hadrian's Library
A few minute walk from the The Holy Church of the Virgin Mary Pantanassa, is the entrance to Hadrian's Library. Built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, the large complex of now ruins, was intended to be a place of great academic study. If you choose not to enter and explore the site, you can walk around it and see the ruins from afar. Many shops and open air restaurants are in the area.
If you're looking for a unique way to focus on Greek food, there are many cooking classes and restaurant hops available, but we would recommend this private Greek Walking Food Tour, which would allow you to immerse yourself in the culture and visit the markets.
7. The Roman Agora
A 5 minute walk from Hadrian's Library brings you to the Roman Agora (also known as the Roman Forum of Athens). It encompasses a large open space with ruins of multiple buildings, columns and shops. Among the ruins stands clock tower, gifted by Lord Elgin after the British Museum looted many sculptures from the Parthenon. Similar to Hadrian's Library, one may enter and explore or wander around the streets, snapping photos of the beautiful structures and the many cats who lounged upon the marble.
8. The Ancient Agora
From the Roman Agora, walking 5 minutes to the west, and you will reach the Ancient Agora of Athens. This massive site is brimming with temples and ruins sitting in the shadow of the Acropolis. Unlike the Roman Agora, it is best to purchase a ticket and enter to fully explore. In addition, there is also a museum housed inside the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos.
If you're looking to combine a few sites, this combo ticket includes the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora and the Agora Museum. A great price for three very unique and picturesque ancient sites of Athens.
TIP: Visiting the Ancient Agora of Athens is best in the late afternoon, as the sun begins to set. The statues among the trees, as well as the Acropolis in the distance, glow in the golden sun. It is magical.
9. The Plaka District
The Plaka district is well known, for its small town feel and photographic qualities. The Plaka area is beautiful but can be very confusing if you don't know where to turn. It is filled with narrow streets that venture up steep hills and an obscene number of steps. It is best experienced on foot, wandering through the narrow streets without purpose and stumbling upon a hidden restaurant or café to sit and watch the world go by.
If you're looking for a guide to help you navigate the confusing streets and point out the important sites along the way, this walking tour includes the Plaka district and surrounding monuments.
10. The Zappeion and The National Gardens
From the heart of the Plaka District, it is a 10 minute walk to the Zappeion and the National Gardens. The Zappeion building was the first erected to aid the revival of the Olympic Games in the modern world. After a long day of walking and exploring, sitting near the beautiful fountains is most relaxing.
11. Socrates' Prison
Located a short 15 minute walk from The Athens gate Hotel or The Temple of Olympian Zeus is a stone structure buried inside a park. Socrates' Prison is located in an oddly peaceful location. Small rooms, carved into the bedrock with iron gates, are said to be where Socrates was held before his trial in 399 BC. The site is free, and there is a park bench nearby where one can sit and admire.
12. The Pynx
Just a few minutes further down the path from Socrates' Prison is the Pnyx. Seemingly unimpressive, it is a site of great importance, as it was one of the earliest sites where ancient Greeks would have gathered and one of the most important sites in the creation of democracy. Many tourists overlook this site, which is free to visit, unaware of its significance.
If, like us, you prefer privacy to large group tours, but don't want to research, opt for private excursions with local guides around Athens. Locals would undoubtedly provide information and places to visit that are not easily discovered by tourists.
Athens is filled with popular tourist spots, ancient sites and not-so-secret places to visit. Whether you choose to plan your own itinerary, opt for a guided walking tour of Athens or just wander and enjoy the rhythm of the city, be sure to spend at least one day walking this ancient and modern city. Visiting Athens for one day (or ten), will leave you impressed and amazed.