by Katherine Poseidon
It’s always hard to know what to do first when you visit a new place, and in Greece, where there is something for every kind of traveler, it may be even more difficult! From island hopping to exploring the best rooftop bars in Athens, to checking out the newest cultural exhibits or exploring with one day excursions, we can promise you’ll never get bored.
However, when you visit Greece, you have to spend at least a little time with history – and you definitely don’t need to be a history buff to enjoy yourself (though obviously Greece is paradise if you are!). The best part about exploring Greece is that you can get up close and personal with history while you’re here, and without showering you with Ancient Greece facts (stay tuned for future posts!), here are some of the best things to do in Greece to travel back to antiquity!
#1 Celebrate Ancient Democracy
Greece is well-known as the birthplace of democracy, and you can visit the literal epicentre of it all, the Pnyx. This Athens must-see was where Ancient Athenians held their public assemblies, and famous figures like Pericles delivered some of history’s most important speeches. Getting here is an easy walk from the Acropolis, and takes you through the beautiful urban oasis of Philopappou Hill (for more green spaces in Athens, see here!). Just be sure you don’t get so absorbed in channeling Classical Greece that you miss the incredible city view! If you join the Classical Athens eBike tour, there is a built in stop here, and your electric bike even helps you get up the hill!
#2 Get your Hands Dirty at an Archaeological Site
Some of the top Greek tourist attractions can be found in the country’s plentiful archaeological sites, and you can really get to the artefacts in their original habitat. One of the top ancient things to see in Athens is the cemetery of Kerameikos. Stroll through the site and it’s easy to lose track of time. Plus, it’s located in the hip area of Gazi, perfect for a drink at one of Athens’ best hidden bars. If you really want to get your hands dirty and embrace your inner Indiana Jones, you can actually take part in a real dig in Marathon - for more, click here!
#3 Get up Close & Personal on a Tour
Ancient history can be a little overwhelming, and one of the best ways to get an overview of the highlights is to join an ancient Athens sightseeing tour. There are lots of options for every kind of tourist - from creative tours for families, to tours that hit the ancient Greece landmarks. For the hard-core historians, let a pro guide you through the best things to do in Athens to get in touch with Ancient History, and stop at all the highlights, then reward yourself with dinner overlooking the Acropolis - and enjoy the modern technology that makes that incredible night-time view a reality!
#4 Explore Ancient Artefacts at Top Museums
After you’ve explored an archaeological site or two, Athens ancient sightseeing continues in some of the world’s best museums. For ancient goodies, the Acropolis Museum is an Athens must-see, as is the National Archaeological Museum. Outside the capital, there are some incredible archaeological sites and museums worth exploring too. For more adventurous things to do, check out the newly reopened Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, in Crete, or the classical site of Vergina in northern Greece, near Thessaloniki, where Alexander the Great’s father was buried in full imperial splendour.
#5 Sample the Best of Ancient Greek Cuisine
We couldn’t leave out something for the foodies, both ancient and modern, and enjoying Greek cuisine (which we have previously praised here) makes time travel a multi-sensory experience. Visit the Museum of Greek Gastronomy to find out more about the history of Greek eats, join a food tour to sample some of the best of modern fresh ingredients, or you can even try the real food of the ancients at Archaeon Gefsis. This restaurant specialises in researching and recreating real food of Ancient Greece, and eating here is a truly unique experience!
#6 Walk in the Footsteps of the Ancients – Literally and Figuratively
While taking in a walking tour of ancient Athens, or even just strolling through the historic areas of Plaka or Monastiraki (we have a guide to some ancient landmarks besides the Acropolis here!), definitely puts you in the footsteps of the Ancient Athens. To go one step further (pun intended), explore the Athens’ shopping scene for a pair of your own sandals. Check out either Melissinos sandals for a custom made pair (joining customers like John Lennon and Jackie O) or opt for a designer pair from Ancient Greek Sandals. This is one of the best souvenirs from Greece - and we have some other suggestions here!
#7 Get Out on the Water!
You may not know it, but ancient Athens was known for its navy, which allowed it to be a dominant force in the ancient world. For one of the top fun things to do in Greece, get out on the water too - check out some unique activities at Yabanki Beach (like windsurfing & SUP) or explore some of the best Athens’ beaches on your own. To really channel the ancients, visit the Marina of Faliro where you can check out a trireme, reconstructed exactly as it would have been built in ancient Greece. This is one of the more quirky things to do in Athens, and also brings you down to the southern suburbs, perfectly situated for exploring some of the best bars along the tram line by the Athens riviera.
#8 Visit One of the Ancient Outposts throughout Greece
Classical Athens is definitely not the only Ancient Greece must see, and you can find incredible sites throughout the country. Visit ancient Mycenae, a citadel on a hill, or the site of Marathon where the ancient Athenians defeated the invading Persians. A little further afield, the spiritual centre of the ancient world, Delphi, is one of the best things to do in Greece - its setting is magical and the site is huge. You can join a day-trip from Athens to take care of the logistics and surrender to the magic! If you’re visiting Mykonos, take a trip across to the island of Delos, which was one of the most important spots in the ancient world and one of the most significant landmarks in Greece.
#9 Join the Audience in an Ancient Greek Theatre
One of Ancient Greece’s contributions to western cultural is theatre - both tragedy and comedy - and indeed the ‘amphitheatre’ itself was an Ancient Greek invitation. There are more than 50 amphitheatres throughout the country. A visit to one of these sites is one of the top things to do in Greece on its own, but taking in a performance there makes for a really unique travel experience. The ancient theatre of Epidaurus, a few hours outside of Athens, as well as the Odeon of Herodes Atticus right below the Acropolis offer life performances throughout the year. Make sure to catch one if you can!
It may seem counterintuitive to think about looking at the stars to get in touch with the ancients, especially in Athens, but the constellations are actually named after stories from Greek mythology, and astronomy was another discipline that originated with the Ancient Greeks. For one of the best things to do in Athens, visit the National Observatory for a night of stargazing. On the other hand, if you find yourself further from the lights of the Greek capital, take a moment to look up at the sky. Use the mobile app ‘Sky Guide’ to learn more about what you’re seeing, including some of the stories behind the stars. (For more useful apps for travel in Greece, see here!)
#11 Dive into an Ancient Greek Classic
To get in touch with ancient cultures in a different way, visit Greece with one of the classics of ancient Greek literature in your pocket. We recommend Homer’s The Odyssey, if you’re looking to feel totally inspired. (Check out the thematic exhibit at the National Archaeological Museum too while you’re at it!). For lighter reading, D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths is a classic, and a great way to get the whole family excited about ancient tourism. We have more ideas for things to do in Athens with kids here!
#12 Get Inspired by Ancient Greek Science
We already mentioned ancient Greek astronomy, but incredible gains in science were almost standard for the classical Greeks. They used the stars for navigation, and also developed the mysterious Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient analogue computer. Visit the Herakleidon Museum in Athens for incredible interactive exhibits focused on math, technology and art, including a model of the Antikythera mechanism.
#13 Embrace the Healing Power of Greek Nature
Yet another discipline that was significantly advanced by the ancient Greeks is medicine, and we still benefit from lots of their developments. Visit Ancient Epidaurus, the most well-known centre for healing in the ancient world, and one of the top landmarks in Greece. Just getting out into nature will give you a boost. Otherwise, pick up some Greek mountain tea - a folk remedy for all kinds of colds, or visit Korres or Apivita (which both have shops in the airport!) for modern cosmetics inspired by the bounty of Greek nature.
During a visit to Greece it's hard not to feel a little inspired by the ancient history all around you - and some of the best things to do in Greece focus around classical heritage. We hope this list has convinced you that exploring Ancient Greece is not only for the historians - try some of our ideas and let us know your favourite way to time travel!
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