The mention of landmarks in Athens probably automatically causes your mind to conjure up images of the ancient Acropolis. Afterall, the magnificent Parthenon is essentially the postcard image of Athens.
However, notable historical sites and landmarks in Athens go way beyond Acropolis hill. They are abundant.
This is the birthplace of democracy afterall. At various points throughout history, Greece has been home to the most important and developed civilisation in the world.
- 1 A Little History of Greece
- 2 Athens Famous Landmarks
- 2.1 The Stoa of Attalos
- 2.2 The Temple of Hephaestus
- 2.3 Filopappou Hill
- 2.4 Socrates Prison
- 2.5 Zappeion
- 2.6 Tzistarakis Mosque
- 2.7 Temple of Olympian Zeus
- 2.8 Cathedral Church of Athens
- 2.9 Hadrian’s Arch
- 2.10 The Panathenaic Stadium
- 2.11 Syntagma Square
- 2.12 The Acropolis
- 2.13 The National Library of Greece
- 2.14 The Academy of Athens
- 2.15 The Temple of Poseidon, Sounion
- 2.16 Melissa Douglas
A Little History of Greece
Greece has been inhabited for more than 4,000 years. Yet the “golden” era of Greek civilisation took place around 2,500 years ago.
During this time, Greece was the birthplace of some of the most notable writers, philosophers, poets, artists, athletes and architects that the world has ever seen. To this day, they remain unparalleled.
Periods of Ancient Greek History
The very first ancient Greek civilisation was the Minoans who resided on the island of Crete. After the Minoans came the Mycenaean civilisation of mainland Greece – famously known for their battle of Troy. Even if you know little about Greek history, you have probably heard of the battle of Troy, made famous by numerous books and movies.
Greece entered a dark age in 1100BC, before re-emerging in 800BC. This period, known as the “Archaic” period, saw Greece play host to the world’s very first Olympic games.
The “Golden” age of Greece started in around 480BC. This is when grand marble temples were constructed, democracy was founded, and the infamous Greek plays and tragedies soared in popularity.
The Romans took control over Greece (and much of Southern Europe) from 323 to 30 BC. This period was known as the “Hellenistic” period.
“Modern” Greek History
Ancient Greek history is fascinating but so too are the more modern events in Greece. For years, the Greeks struggled under the control of the Ottoman Turks.
Indeed, the Greeks did not gain their independence until 1821. That’s only 200 years of “Greece” existing as we know it today.
The war of independence, the struggles under Turkish rule, and years of dictatorship have shaped Greece. This history is arguably just as fascinating as that of the Classical and Hellenistic periods of Greece. Famous landmarks in Athens enable you to experience and learn about Greek history through the ages
Athens Famous Landmarks
The famous landmarks in Athens detailed below help you to really scratch beneath the surface to understand the history of Athens, and why the city is as it is today. You should try to see as many as you can during your Athens itinerary.
Some are deserved of several hours of your time. Others can be simply admired from the roadside as you pass them.
The Stoa of Attalos
The Stoa of Attalos is a grand, collonaded building that sits within the confines of the Ancient Agora site in Thissio. Today, the building functions as a museum. It contains an array of sculptures, busts, and interesting artefacts that were excavated from the area surrounding the Ancient Agora.
The building as it stands today was built in the 1950s following the destruction of the original. However, the original Stoa site was constructed here in 150 B.C. It was built by King Attalos II Philadelphus of Pergamon as a gift to the Athenians.
Despite being reconstructed, the Stoa is impressive nonetheless. Those involved in the rebuild used as much of the former structure as possible. Experts found the marble and raw material to make the site into an exact replica of that which previously stood here.
The Temple of Hephaestus
The Athens Parthenon may steal all of the glory as the most renowned Athens temple. However, the nearby Temple of Hephaestus was built at the same time as its more famous relative and is equally spectacular.
This is the best-preserved Dorian temple that exists in the Greek world. It was constructed in 450BC. mostly from Pentellic marble, by an unknown architect.
The temple is dedicated to Hephaestus, patron of metal-workers, and Athena Ergane, Patroness of potters and crafts. From the 7th century up until 1834, the temple was repurposed and served as a Church of St George.
Today, the temple of Hephaestus is one of the most famous landmarks in Athens. Excavation work in the area is still ongoing. Who knows what other secrets and treasures lie beneath the surface?
Filopappou Hill, or the “Hill of Muses” is the tallest of the hills of Athens. (The others being Lycabettus, Acropolis Hill, and Areopagus).
An ancient monument awaits at the top. This was built between 114 and 116 AD in honour of Julius Antiochus Filopappos, an important Roman Consul.
Sadly, the elements and vandalism has seen the structure deteriorate over the centuries and many of the statues are without heads! Regardless, it is worth following the uphill path from Dionysiou Areopagitou to Filopappou Hill, not least for the magnificent panoramas of Athens from this point.
On a clear day, you can see all the way to Piraeus from up here. The ascent to the top is neither difficult or challenging. It bypasses several other interesting sites – the quaint wooden church of Church of Agios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris, Socrates prison, and the hills of Pnyx and Nymphs.
Socrates prison is a mysterious little cave complex carved into the rocks of Filopappou hill. For a period, it was believed that this was where the infamous Greek Philosopher was imprisoned and then executed. However, time has revealed that that is not the case.
Regardless, the site is interesting nonetheless. During World War II, the caves here were used to hide important artefacts from the Acropolis from the invading Germans.
Three rooms have been carefully carved into the rock face using skilled masonry techniques and wooden beams. Nobody is yet sure of the original purpose of this site – it was perhaps a bath house, storage, or a tomb.
The Zappeion is a beautiful pale yellow mansion that awaits within the National Gardens on the outskirts of town. It was designed in the 19th century by architect T. Hansen.
Today, the Zappeion is an important meeting point for political and cultural events. It is encompassed by stunning gardens and floral arrangements. A scenic water fountain can be found in front of it and is a popular place for young Athenians to meet, and sit outside drinking coffee.
Tzistarakis Mosque is one of the lesser-known landmarks in Athens. However, it is one that you are sure to pass by during your time in the city. The mosque stands today, without its minaret, in the heart of Monastiraki square.
The structure dates back to 1759 when the Ottoman Turks ruled over Greece and Athens. There was much controversy in the mosque’s construction.
Marble from the ancient sites of Hadrian’s Library and the Temple of Olympian Zeus were used to build the site. This caused uproar among Greeks for the desecration of their historic monuments, and concern among Turks who were convinced that a vengeful spirit would seek revenge on them for destroying the sites. When a plague broke out in Athens later that year, many believed it was due to the construction of the mosque.
Today, Tzistarakis Mosque contains a museum of ceramics. However sadly it has been closed for several years, with no visibility provided on when it will open again.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
The Temple of Olympian Zeus sits just outside the centre of Athens city, close to the National Gardens and the peaceful “Mets” district. As the name suggests, it is dedicated to Zeus – Chief of the Olympian Gods.
In its finest hour, the temple boasted a phenomenal 104 columns. Today, only 21 remain.
They tower above you in all of their grandeur as you explore the grounds of the ruined site. It is easy to envisage how impressive this temple once was.
Initial construction on the temple began in the 6th century. The architects Antimachides, Antistates, Callaeschrus, Porinus were tasked with creating the largest temple in all of Greece, using only the finest limestone they could find.
Sadly, due to political disputes, construction was paused. It was resumed again in 174 BC by King Antiochus IV Epiphanes until he died and the project was again paused. Finally, the Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered its completion in 125BC.
Cathedral Church of Athens
The Cathedral church of Athens is one of the most important churches in Athens and in Greece, generally. It sits at the heart of Mitropoleos Square, close to Monastiraki.
This church dates back to 1842, and is presently the headquarters of the Archbishop of Greece. It is possible to enter the church and admire its vibrant frescoes, provided that a service isn’t taking place inside.
Mitropoleos Square is one of the many Athenian squares that act as a rendezvous point among locals. Historically, Ottoman commercial buildings stood here.
Today, coffee shops and offices encircle the square. Locals sit around the square sipping coffee, and young kids whizz through its centre on their skateboards, come day or night.
Hadrian’s Arch is one of the most famous landmarks in Athens. It sits at the end of Dionysiou Areopagitou, besides the ruined Temple of Olympian Zeus.
The arch was built i n 131-132 A.D. in honour of Roman Emperor Hadrian. It appears as a Roman triumphal arch and once acted as a gateway between the ancient city of Athens and a “new” city of Hadrian that the Emperor had named after himself.
The Panathenaic Stadium
A short walk through the National Gardens, past Zappeion brings you to the Panathenaic Stadium. Locally, this is affectionately referred to as “Kallimarmaro”.
Not only does the stadium hold the accolade as being the place where the very first Olympic games were hosted (1896), it is also the only stadium in the world that has been made entirely out of marble.
For centuries, the stadium hosted events where nude male athletes would compete in track competitions (gymnikoi agone). The sprawling 50,000 seater site dates back to 330BC.
Musical performances are still hosted here occasionally today. Admission to the stadium also includes entrance to the on-site museum which contains an array of Olympic torches, posters, and memorabilia from around the world.
Syntagma is the main central square of Athens. The square is a popular rendezvous point among Athenians and acts as an excellent transport hub providing connections across the city.
Subway services to the Athens Riviera, metro lines and buses around the city, and connections to the airport can all be found here. Some of Athens’ most luxurious hotels are based here and provide an excellent jump-off point for exploring the city – Most notably the exclusive Hotel Grand Bretagne, and the Plaza.
The pale yellow building that sits directly opposite Syntagma Square at the top of the steps is the Greek Parliament building. Look out for the Evzones – a uniquely dressed faction of the Greek elite forces that guard the tomb of the unknown soldier. A changing of the guards ceremony takes place here every hour.
The Acropolis is undoubtedly Athens’ most famous site. At first glance, the Acropolis may seem that it simply consists of the Parthenon perched atop its craggy hilltop. But the site is actually very expansive.
Once upon a time, almost every Greek city had an Acropolis. The majority of these were built for defensive purposes. However, the purpose of the Athens Acropolis was mostly religious.
The Temple of Athena Nika, the Pandroseion, the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Athena are all worth looking out for on your ascent to the Parthenon. The Acropolis, like many Greek landmarks, is steeped in Greek mythology and mystery.
Legend has it that Goddess Athena and the God Poseidon had a battle to decide who would become the patron God of Athens. Athena gifted the Athenians with an olive tree, representing prosperity.
Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and gave them a spring of water. However the water was salty, and the locals chose Athena as their goddess.
It is said that the large crack that runs along the ground near the Erechtheion is where the gods had their battle. The olive tree that grows beside the ancient building, is said to stand in the same place as where Athena’s did, all those centuries ago.
The National Library of Greece
The impressive National Library of Greece is one of the grandest structures in the Greek capital. It holds over a million books and magazines and was designed by Danish architect Theophil Freiherr von Hansen. The library has 4,500 Greek manuscripts, along with many archives of the Greek Revolution.
The Academy of Athens
The Academy of Athens sits adjacent to the National Library of Greece. It is another structure designed by Theophil Hansen, along with the National Library, and the University of Athens.
The construction follows the ancient ionic order of architecture, with porticos and pediments decorated with statues and gildings in polychromy. Statues of Socrates and Plato sit at the entrance to the building, welcoming those that enter.
The Temple of Poseidon, Sounion
The temple is dedicated to Poseidon, god of the sea. Its dramatic location – perched atop a craggy cliff overlooking the Aegean, is fitting.
The structure dates back to 444 BC – the same year that the Acropolis’ Parthenon was made. On arrival, you will note that there are some similarities between the two structures.
Historically, this was an important landmark in Greece for travelling merchants and sailors. When they saw the columns of the Temple of Poseidon, they knew that they were close to home.
Do you have any additional questions about landmarks in Athens or about planning a trip to Greece in general? I have lived here since 2017. I am happy to assist with any questions you may have.
Safe travels! Geia sou, Melissa xo