This post is a free, self-guided walking tour of Athens's historic centre.
You can complete this tour in about 90 minutes, but you may want to take more time to explore the area.
Athens is an ancient city and the modern capital of Greece.
This city has a history dating back thousands of years, so there are a number of notable landmarks worth visiting.
This tour will take you to dozens of the most historic locations in the city centre and some of the most photographed.
Experience both the hustle and bustle of large public squares and quieter streets of small neighborhoods.
We will begin the tour at Syntagma Square and circle around the centre of Athens, returning at the end to the same location.
You can expect to visit at least 17+ historic sites along the way.
Or, why don't you join us for one of our pay-what-you-wish walking tours of Athens?
1. Syntagma Square
Syntagma (meaning “Constitution”) Square sits in the heart of Athens. We start our tour in the center of this Square.
It was designed in the 1830s when King Otto moved the capital from Nafplio to Athens.
Otto was a 17-year-old Bavarian prince who the powers-that-be crowned King at the end of the Greek War of Independence.
Originally called Palace Square, the spot was chosen because it was the highest point in central Athens.
Its name was changed to Constitution Square in 1943 when the Greeks revolted, demanding a liberal constitution.
Today the square is full of trees and statues, a fountain, and marble benches.
Over the years, one has found everything from a concert to a festival to a demonstration or simply a spot to meet up with friends.
Other buildings on the square include a 5-star hotel with a rooftop bar, a terminal for the Athens Coastal tram, and even a Mcdonald's restaurant.
Within the surrounding blocks are museums, restaurants, hotels, banks, and government buildings.
Our next stop takes us across the square to Vasilissis Amalias street.
You'll see a massive and imposing building on the other side.
Cross the street to the square in front of it.
2. Hellenic Parliament
This is the Hellenic Parliament or Greek Parliament building. The cornerstone of this neoclassical building was laid in 1836.
Royals occupied the building into the early 1900s where, after a fire, it served as a museum and hospital, eventually becoming the Parliament building in 1929.
Our next step is there in the center front of the building.
3. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
In front of the Parliament is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The tomb honors all who died, without a name, defending their country.
Evzones guard the tomb 24/7. These are members of the military who wear a traditional uniform that includes a fustanella (a stiff white kilt) and a red baize hat with a black tassel.
They stand in pairs in perfect stillness until it’s time to change the guard.
This is something they do every hour of every day except on Sundays when there is a bigger and more popular procession called the Grand Change.
At 11:00 (am), this procession begins, requiring blocked-off streets as all of the Evzones gather and march together to music.
Go back to Vasillisis Amalias Avenue.
Turn left and head down the street.
4. National Garden
On the left is the National Garden, a 28-acre green oasis in the center of Athens.
The garden was originally commissioned by Queen Amalia, the first queen of Greece, in 1838 and was called The Queen's Garden.
It was designed by the German horticulturist Friedrich Schmidt and was initially known as the Royal Garden.
The garden was opened to the public in 1923 and was renamed the National Garden in 1927.
The National Garden features a wide variety of trees, plants, and flowers, including species from all over the world.
Some of the highlights include the botanical museum, a duck pond, a small zoo, and a children's playground.
The garden is also home to several ancient ruins, including the remains of a Roman aqueduct and a small temple dedicated to the goddess Nemesis.
The Garden is large and peaceful and a perfect place to find shade on a hot day.
Keep heading south on Vasillisis Amalias Avenue.
As you walk further on you’ll come across the Zappeio Roman baths on the edge of the park
The Roman baths at Zappeion were built in the 1st century AD during the Roman period and were used for bathing and socializing.
The complex included hot and cold rooms, a swimming pool, and a system of underground heating to warm the floors and walls. The baths fell into disuse and were abandoned after the decline of the Roman Empire.
In the 19th century, during the reconstruction of Athens as the capital of the newly established Greek state, the Zappeion conference center was built over the ruins of the Roman baths.
Keep heading south on Vasillisis Amalias Avenue.
As you're nearing the corner of Vasillissis Olgas Street, in the park on your left, you’ll see a statue of the famous British Poet Lord Byron.
And on your right, you’ll find our next stop.
5. Equestrian Statue of Alexander the Great
This bronze statue was created by sculptor Giannis Pappas in 1993 and was unveiled here, in its new location in 2019.
This is young Alexander, atop his beloved horse Bucephalus.
Alexander the Great and Athens had a difficult relationship.
In spite of taking the city in 335 BC and establishing a pro-Macedonian administration, he was respectful of Athenian tradition and learning.
Alexander rescued Athens from destruction following the city's takeover and permitted the Athenians to maintain their democratic system of government.
However, despite these actions, there were multiple uprisings against the Macedonian government since Alexander's rule in Athens was not well-liked by all Athenians.
Cross Vasillissis Olgas Street and continue walking a bit further down Vasillisis Amalias.
You can’t miss our next stop, which is there on your left.
6. Arch of Hadrian
The Arch of Hadrian, built in the second century AD, once spanned an ancient road as a gateway to Athens.
It made for a symbolic transition between old Athens and a new Roman suburb, Hadrianopolis.
In the 18th century, it became one of the main gates to the city, part of a defensive wall built around Athens by the Turks.
It’s believed that the citizens of Athens originally commissioned the arch’s design and construction, possibly in honor of the Roman emperor Hadrian.
Hadrian was an admirer of all things Greek and generously sponsored many projects in the city.
The design is similar to typical Roman arches of the time, built with solid marble although the top is similar to Greek arches.
The marble was mined from Mt. Pentelikon, 5 miles away, from the same quarry which supplied the marble used in the Parthenon.
There are two inscriptions on the arch.
On the western side facing the acropolis, it reads “This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus”.
On the eastern side, it reads, “ This is the city of Hadrian, not of Theseus”.
Just behind Hadrian's Arch is The Temple of Olympian Zeus
The Temple of Olympian Zeus was started just shy of 650 years before Emperor Hadrian eventually completed it.
The original plan was to make it the grandest of temples in the world, in honor of the Greek god Zeus.
Money issues, invasions, and the belief that the size was too big prevented the project from being completed back in the 6th century BC.
The site originally stood with 104 Corinthian columns (although the design at large is doric).
The floor of the temple measured 5,000 square meters, about the size of a football pitch.
The columns stood 15 meters high, or 50 feet and the site was adorned with statues of gods and a number of bronze statues of Hadrian himself.
There was a massive statue of Hadian facing the Acropolis at the back of the Temple and, of course, one of Zeus.
Sadly only 15 columns remain.
Some columns were taken to Rome, some were used in other projects, an earthquake destroyed others, and a few came down in a storm in the 1800s.
Our next stop is about 5 minutes away.
Cross Vasillisis Amalia Avenue, the street which runs just in front of Hadiran’s Arch. It’s a busy street, so look for the crosswalk a little further down so you can safely get across.
Once across, you’ll want to get on Lisikratous.
Following Lisikratous, you’ll walk for about three blocks through the Plaka neighborhood.
7. Plaka Neighborhood
The historic district, which is bordered by the neighborhoods of Monastiraki, Syntagma, and the Acropolis, is situated at the foot of the Acropolis hill.
It is one of the city's oldest and most scenic neighborhoods, with quaint, winding streets and classic buildings.
Neoclassical, Byzantine and Ottoman architectural styles are mixed throughout the neighborhood, and many of the structures are from the 19th century.
It’s also known for its many historic sites and landmarks.
Shopping and dining options are also plentiful in the Plaka district.
Tourists can browse the numerous gift shops, art galleries, and boutiques while dining at one of the many tavernas, cafes, or restaurants serving traditional Greek food.
At the end of the three blocks, you’ll run right into our third stop.
8. The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates
In the Plaka neighborhood, one finds a 2.7 meter (9 ft.) tall monument (a pedestal with a tripod) on what used to be a street lined with them.
These were prizes awarded to choregos.
A choregos was a wealthy citizen, appointed as an honor, who sponsored dramatic productions in ancient Athens.
As a patron, they paid for everything from costumes to the training of chorus members, to props, to feasts for winners of competitions.
When a drama they had sponsored scored a victory in a competition, one of these tripods would be erected in their honor.
Lysicrates received a prize for his play and commissioned a monument to set it on.
The pedestal base is of marble. Corinthian-style half-columns stand above, and at the top are friezes of scenes from the play including Dionysus turning pirates into dolphins.
The tripod, long ago lost to history, would have stood atop.
As mentioned, the street, Tripodon street, used to be full of these tripods, although sadly only Lysicrates's remain.
It is thanks to some French Capuchin monks who incorporated it into their monastery library that it was protected.
Although the monastery was destroyed in the 1800s during the Greek War of Independence, and the monument was buried in rubble, the French government paid for its eventual restoration.
At the south end of the square is Epimenidou street. Take the staircase there up towards the Acropolis.
At the top, turn right onto Stratanos street.
Follow Stratanos north, veering to the left just outside of the Holy Church of Saint George of the Rock where the street splits.
Keep walking along that street, which has no name, for a few minutes.
The neighborhood of Anafiotika, part of Plaka, sits below the Acropolis and is one of the most charming in Athens.
Its narrow cobblestone streets and quaint semi-ramshackle homes look out over the ceramic tile roofs and skyline of Athens.
A short distance away are the restaurants, shops, hotels, museums, and historic sites that dot Plaka.
These were once the homes of the workers who came to help refurbish King Otto’s palace.
Many of the workers were from the island of Anafi, so named their little village on the hill Anafiotika (little Anafi).
The homes are similar to those on the islands, with white-washed walls and flat roofs.
These homes were quickly erected under nightfall while during the day they built grand homes for the elite of the city.
Sadly many homes were destroyed in the 1950s during archeological excavations and less than 50 remain today.
Today the residents of this quiet neighborhood are mostly owned by the descendants of those who originally built the homes.
This was directed by a law stating they can only be passed on to family members (or sold to the Greek state).
Bright colors mark some doors and walls.
Flowering bougainvillea and other colorful plants line the walkways, making this a truly picturesque neighborhood.
If you’ve gotten off the unnamed road you came in on, to take a closer look at some of the neighborhood, get back onto it.
Follow it west, away from the direction in which you came.
At the first corner turn left, and follow that street until you hit Prytaneiou.
Turn left on Prytaneiou and follow that.
That street turns into Tholou just past the Athens University History Museum.
Follow Tholou to Pansos, just past Orange Pub.
Turn right onto Panos following it until you come to Polignotou.
10. Roman Forum of Athens (Roman Agora)
A significant public area in antiquity was the Roman Forum of Athens, often called the Forum of Caesar or the Forum of Augustus.
The Roman general Julius Caesar began construction on it, and his successor, Augustus, finished it in the first century BCE.
Many Classical-era structures had to be demolished in order to make room for the Forum.
Public speeches, court cases, and business dealings have all taken place there as well as other events intended for civic and commercial usage.
It also hosted the Temple of Caesar and a number of significant festivals and events, such as the birthday of Augustus.
Also on the site is the Tower of the Winds, which features sundials, a water clock, and a wind vane. It's considered the world's first meteorological station.
The site of the Roman Agora was partially restored in the 20th century.
Walking on, turn left and walk a block to Dioskouron.
Turn right here.
Take Dioskouron up a block, turning left before you get to the Gate of Athena, onto Pikilis.
Stop here on the corner and look ahead.
11. Stoa of Attalos
The large building you see ahead is the Stoa of Attalos, a covered walkway donated by Hellenistic Kind Attolos II of Pergamum as a gift to the city of Athens.
The walkway was colonnaded, running along the bottom of this marble and limestone two-story building. In ancient times, the upper level had a covered gallery with rooms for shops and offices.
The Stoa was part of the Ancient Agora, as are a number of other ruins in the area such as the Temple of Aphrodite Urania, and the Monument of the Eponymous Heroes.
The Agora was the location of significant political and cultural occasions over time, such as the assembly of the people, where residents would assemble to discuss crucial topics and make decisions that had an impact on the city.
Today the Stoa itself serves as a museum, holding an impressive collection of ancient Greek statues and giving visitors a sense of what ancient Athenian life was like.
Moving on, across the street, just a short jog over to the left, you’ll see Areos street.
Turn right there.
Stay on Areos for just a block and a half.
On the right, you’ll find our next stop, the Library of Hadrian.
12. Library of Hadrian
The Library of Hadrian was yet another of Hadrian’s grand projects in his attempt to bring pride back to Athens.
The library was styled after the Temple of Peace in Rome, with a portico of 100 columns.
It had large walls, and a garden with a pool in its center, all of it covering an area of about 10,000 square meters.
It’s hard to imagine today how impressive it appeared, with its white exterior walls and columns made of pink marble and green cipollini marble.
It’s believed that statues of gods stood atop the columns, sculpted out of white marble.
The interior was airy and peaceful, with a courtyard for relaxing. There were also reading rooms and amphitheaters for holding meetings or lectures.
Under the porticos, there was room for philosophical walks.
And there was a“bibliostasion”, a place where reading materials were kept inside wooden cupboards.
It’s believed to have housed over 17,000 documents made up mostly of papyrus scrolls.
Over the centuries the library saw damage due to an invasion, became part of a fortification wall, and was renovated by various rulers.
There were also multiple churches and basilicas built/destroyed/and rebuilt within its courtyard.
At one point it became an administrative center for the Turks and was the site of bazaars, mosques, army barracks, and a prison.
Today very little remains of what was once a truly magnificent structure.
The next stop on our tour is close by.
Get back onto Areos, continuing north and downhill, past Tzistarakis Mosque and into the center of Monastiraki Square.
Stop and take a look around you.
13. Monastiraki Square
The Monastiraki neighborhood gets its name from the monastery that occupied the area during Byzantine rule.
People have been living in the area for almost 6,000 years. Today Monastiraki Square stands at the center of this neighborhood.
The square is surrounded in and around by restaurants, cafes, bars, and hotels and is the perfect spot for people-watching.
It’s bustling with tourists and locals, street food vendors, and second-hand clothing sellers.
The Monastiraki Flea Market runs along a side street making the square one of the main shopping areas of the city.
It’s not really a flea market in the traditional sense.
It's more like a line of stalls that for the most part sell cheap touristy items (t-shirts, flip-flops, hats, trinkets, etc).
One has to dig to find the better quality items - although they are there if you look.
On the square is the Tzistarakis Mosque, the one you just passed when leaving Hadrian’s library.
It was built in 1759 and named after the Ottoman military leader ruling the city. Today it’s a museum of folk art.
If you’re interested, you might stop at the Monastiraki Metro Station to see excavated ruins uncovered when the metro station was built.
These ruins date back to the 8th century BC, during Hadrian’s rule.
Moving on to our next stop, at the north end of the square is Ermou Street.
Turn right there and walk two blocks.
There in the middle of the street is our next stop, the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea.
11. Church of Panagia Kapnikarea
This tiny Orthodox church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is one of the oldest in Athens. It was built around 1050, in the middle Byzantine period, on the site of an ancient temple.
There are three parts: a main church, the chapel, and the outer narthex - and unique red tiles on the exterior, covering the dome.
The icons in the church were painted by Photis Kontoglou and his students in the 1940s. They were hired to replace those that had been destroyed over time.
The mosaic of the Madonna and Child over the entrance was created by Elli Viola in 1936.
Visitors are welcome although proper attire is required.
Inside it is dark and quiet - with tall arches, hanging lamps, and candelabras.
One can pay a donation for a candle which can be lit and placed in a candelabra while saying a prayer.
The little church was firebombed by the Ottomans in 1689 but survived.
In 1832, after Greek independence and a focus on the rejuvenation of Athens, there was talk of demolishing or moving the church.
Instead, it was decided to leave the church and build a thoroughfare around it.
Continuing on, heading away from Monastiraki Square, stay on Ermou for one block and turn right.
At the end of that block, just across Mirtopoleous is our next stop.
4. Mitropoleos Square
Mitropoleos Square sits in the Monastiraki neighborhood of Athens.
The main attraction is the domed cathedral referred to locally as the “Mētrópolis“.
It is the epicenter of the Christian faith in Athens and was dedicated in 1842, although it feels more modern.
Inside it’s bright and simple in comparison to most cathedrals, with exquisite artwork and marble carvings along with the tombs of two highly revered saints.
Its marble came from 72 other churches that had been demolished. All are welcome although guests are asked to dress respectfully.
Also on the square stand two statues.
One is of the last reigning Byzantine emperor of the Roman Empire, Constantine XI.
Constantine XI rallied Constantinople's defenders and led the charge against the invading Ottoman forces.
Once the city fell, the Ottomans began their rule throughout the former empire, including Athens. They at times interfered in the affairs of the Christain city and the church itself.
The other is of the Archbishop of Athens and All of Greece who served during World War II, also known as Archbishop Damaskinos.
He was particularly notable because he ordered that churches distribute baptismal certificates to Jews fleeing from Nazis.
Thousands of Jewish lives were saved from sure death due to his courage.
Turning back towards the cathedral, walk to the right side of the church.
Here you’ll find our next stop.
16. The Church of Agios (St.) Eleftherios, also known as the “Little Mētrópolis.
This tiny little Byzantine church was built in the 13th century, also on the ruins of an ancient temple.
The church's façade is made of marble blocks, some of them embellished with inscriptions and reliefs.
Its interior is simple and made of stone, with a few icons on the walls. What used to be elaborate frescoes have all but faded away with only one remaining.
We’re nearing the end of our trip.
Trace your steps back up Evaggelistrias, to Ermou.
At the corner, turn right.
You on walking on Ermou Street, the primary shopping district in Athens
It is a pedestrian-only street that connects Syntagma Square and Monastiraki Square in the middle of the city.
A wide range of stores and boutiques, including both national and international chains, fill the streets of Ermou.
It is a well-liked spot for both locals and visitors searching for a variety of shopping alternatives, from high-end fashion and luxury goods to more budget-friendly apparel and souvenirs.
There are also some monuments and landmarks there, as well as street performers, and at times holiday decorations.
Ermou, as a whole, is a bustling and lively street that provides visitors to Athens with a distinctive shopping and cultural experience.
If you’d like to do some shopping, you could stop here. Or, you can continue back to where we started.
Ermou street runs right into Vasilissis Amalias, and just across that, you’ll find Syntagma Square.