Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Athens & Attica
Art, History & Archaeology Sites & Museums

From the sanctuary of Poseidon on the southern tip of Attica, to the Acropolis in Athens, Attica has some of the most well known archaeological sites in Greece. But there is much more to the archaeology of this region than the Greco-Roman era. The administrative region of Attica includes the city of Athens and the Port of Piraeus. At the historic centre of Athens is the Acropolis, occupied since prehistory to the Ottomans. The region should not be confused with the historic region of Attica, the Attic Peninsular. Modern-day Attica is much larger than the historic ancient Athenian state, including a part of the Peloponnese peninsula and the islands of Salamis, Aegina, Angistri, Poros, Hydra, Spetses, Kythira, and Antikythera.

Athens' Top Seven Archaeology Sites

The following seven attractions are the main archaeological sites in Athens. Most of them are sizeable areas, with notable features for visitors to see. They are sites that are part of the established history of archaeology in Athens, and continue to be excavated by archaeologists. Such as the German Archaeological Institute at Kerameikos and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in the Ancient Agora. They are grouped by a combination ticket provided by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sport, which surely helps make these the more popular sites visited. Together, they do not give an outline of the histories of Athens. Rather, they celebrate the Classical period of Athens – often at the expense of other periods, other histories.

The Acropolis

Arguably one of the world’s most iconic archaeological sites, it is certainly the most popular in Athens. Although there is evidence of some 5,000 years of activity on the citadel, it is the ruins of ancient temples and sanctuaries, the most famous being the Parthenon, from the 5th century BCE to the Roman period that are highlighted, and the focus of restoration work. Anything post-Roman, including the Christian church and Ottoman mosque, has been all but obliterated, and this period of the Acropolis’ history receives only passing mention.

Ancient Agora

The Ancient Agora was the civic centre of the ancient city of Athens. A large open square, where various public activities took place, was surrounded by administrative buildings and temples. Overlooking the Agora is the best preserved temple in Greece, the Hephaisteion, dedicated to Hephaistos. The Panathenaic Way passed through the Agora to the Acropolis. Entry to the archaeological site includes the Museum of the Ancient Agora, housed in the restored Stoa of Attalos.

Archaeological Site of Aristotle's Lyceum

The remains of the legendary Gymnasium of Lykeion, the location of Aristotle’s school of philosophy, were discovered during rescue excavations in 1996. The name comes from the sanctuary of Apollo Lykeios, built before the gymnasium; sadly the temple was not found. An area of 0.25 hectares has been exposed, revealing part of the palaestra where athletes trained in wrestling and boxing. The school was founded in 334 BCE and continued to function as such until it was destroyed by the Roman general Sulla 86 BCE.

Kerameikos Archaeological Site & Museum

A walkable distance from the main concentration of ancient sites north-west of the Acropolis is the oldest and largest ancient cemetery of Kerameikos. This was one of the largest districts of ancient Athens, and it was here that the potters who made the iconic ‘Attic vases’ lived and worked. Besides funerary features, you can also see part of the Themistoclean Wall, the Dipylon Gate and Sacred Gate. An onsite museum houses artefacts from the site, mostly dealing with funerary customs and rituals through the ages.

Roman Agora

The site of the Roman Agora, built between 19 and 11 BCE, was the first commercial centre of Athens. Here a large courtyard is surrounded by shops and other commercial buildings. Just beyond the agora, are the remains of the public toilets and the octagonal Tower of the Winds, built for astronomical purposes. The tower has carvings that depict the ‘eight winds’, and during the Ottoman period was used by Turkish Dervishes. In 1458 the Ottomans built the Fethiye Mosque on the site of a Byzantine basilica.

Hadrian's Library

Built in 132 CE, the Library was a gift from Emperor Hadrian to the people of Athens. Hadrian was a committed Hellenophile, and he did much to leave his mark here. Today we enter the site at the imposing Pentelic marble façade, with its monumental Corinthian gateway. A small onsite exhibition room houses a colossal statue of Nike and some other artefacts recovered on the site.

Olympieion - Temple of Olympian Zeus

Although the colossal Temple of Olympian Zeus can be seen from the street (it is one of the largest Classical temples), this is a monument that definitely should be experienced up close. When completed by Hadrian in the 2nd century CE 104 columns made up the temple. Of these, only 16 remain standing today. There are many other features on site, including a Roman bath house, a basilica and the remains of the city’s walls.

Must See Museums in Athens

National Archaeological Museum of Athens

Greece’s National Archaeological Museum in Athens is home to some of the most well known artefacts from all over the modern nation state of Greece. From prehistory to the Romans, with special collections of Cypriot and Egyptian antiquities. The museum has been in the current building with its spectacular Neoclassical façade since the 1889, but has been expanded many times since then. With the richest collection of ancient Greek artefacts anywhere in the world, this is a must for anyone with an interest in ancient Greece.

Acropolis Museum

Opened in 2009, this award winning museum displays over 4,000 objects from the nearby Acropolis. These range from the Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine periods on the citadel. One of the reasons for the construction of this state-of-the-art museum was the reunification of sculptures taken by Lord Elgin from the Parthenon. The museum was constructed above the archaeological site of Makrygianni. Visitors can follow walkways in a space under the museum to see in situ features of Roman and early Byzantine Athens.

Museum of Cycladic Art

Established in 1986, the Museum of Cycladic Art houses Nicholas and Dolly Goulandris’ extensive collection of Cycladic and Ancient Greek art. The couple had been collecting prehistoric and ancient art since the 1960s. The museum also has one of the largest collections of Cypriot antiquities in the world outside of Cyprus. There are three permanent exhibitions: Cycladic art from the Cycladic Islands (3200 – 2000 BC), Greek art (2000 BC to 395 AD), and art from Cyprus (3900 BC to the 6th century BC).

Combo Ticket Pass for Sites & Museums in Athens

Save yourself time and money with this combination ticket for entry to the best archaeological sites and museums in Athens. Includes the Acropolis and the New Acropolis Museum, the Benaki collection of museums and the Panathenaic Stadium. The pass is valid for three days, and comes with 48 hours of unlimited use of hop-on-hop-off buses.

More Sites & Museums In Athens & Attica

Remains of the ancient Bema on Pnyx Hill in Athens.

Prehistoric & Ancient Athens

Athens has been inhabited since at least the Neolithic period, some 5,000 years ago. But it was not until much later that, during the Classical period, Athens became a powerful political centre in the region. During the 5th century BC, the Age of Pericles, the city became the foremost centre of the arts, learning and  philosophy. This was when most of the magnificent monuments were built, such as those on the Acropolis. These ancient temples, which continue to attract visitors in their millions to the modern-day Greek capital, stand as a testament to the achievements and influence of ancient Athenian civilisation. 

Roman Athens

The sacking of Athens in 86 BC by the Roman general Sulla is generally thought to be the beginning of the Roman period in the ancient city. Most buildings, including defensive and domestic structures, were destroyed, with the exception of monuments and civic buildings. Athens lost much of its political power under the Romans. It was Corinth that became the provincial capital, while Athens prospered as a cultural centre of philosophy and education, attracting intellectuals and scholars from all over the Mediterranean. During this time many public buildings were erected by emperors and the wealthy elite. 

Byzantine Athens

As the Roman Empire began to be governed from Constantinople in the 4th century AD and Christianity took over paganism, Athens’ fortunes began to wane. Many of the monuments we see now as inherently Classical, such as the Parthneon and the Hephaisteion, were converted into churches. Athens became a provincial town of little importance. Until its fortunes changed towards the end of the 11th century when Venetian traders from their posts in the Aegean were attracted to developing industries. During the 11th and 12th century Athens once again flourished, with many Byzantine churches being built at this time.

The carved doorway to what was a Madrasa in Athens during the Ottoman period.

Ottoman Athens

From the mid 15th century to the early 19th century Athens was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Although it is often said that Athens held little importance for the Ottomans,  the city saw a number architectural additions, such as mosques and a madrasa, fountains and hammams. Many of these Ottoman buildings have been destroyed, and often obliterated with historians favouring the city’s Classical heritage. Despite this, there are still traces of the Ottoman period scattered about the Greek capital. Especially in the Plaka area where the Ottoman town thrived. 

The entrance to the Acropolis Museum in Athens just after closing.

Museums & Art Galleries in Athens & Attica

From the city’s earliest artefacts, to a spirited body of modern and contemporary art. A national archaeological museum and a national art collection. From prehistory to Classical. From Christian, Byzantine and Islamic, to the contemporary. Including such themes as war and criminology, design and jewellery, the theatre and toys. Besides the well known archaeological sites, Athens has an alluring range of museums and art galleries to visit. Whether you are in the Greek capital for a day or two seeing the main sites, or spending a bit more time, Athens will not disappoint. With over 70 museums open to the public there is something that will interest everyone, of all ages and all interests in Greek history and culture.

Archaeological artefacts on display in Athens metro stations.

Archaeology in Athens Metro Stations

The construction of the Athens metro system between 1993 and 2000 facilitated the largest programme of archaeological excavations ever carried out in Greece. Builders were warned of the consequences from the start, and so were forced to adopt special measures. In all 50,000 ancient artefacts in numerous archaeological features were recovered from all periods of Athens’ past. Artefacts include all manner of objects used in daily life, such as ceramic vessels and toys. Excavators encountered wells, funerary structures and even parts of one of Athens’ oldest bridges. A number of metro stations now display some of these finds.