There’s a rich list of things to do in Athens for culture lovers. Remarkable ancient sites mix with new mega art and culture venues, while fantastic independent galleries all add to the experience. Mirroring its ancient past as the birthplace of Western culture, Athens is entering a new era as a mecca for contemporary culture and art.
Besides taking in the best views of Athens, dining on delicious Greek cuisine and enjoying a Greek beach, here are some of the best things to do in Athens for culture lovers:
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
Massive and impressive, the brand new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) was designed by famous Italian architect Renzo Piano and bears the late Greek shipping magnate’s name. The Niarchos Foundation donated €560 million to make its vision a reality for Greece. The result is a new home for the Greek National Opera. The National Library of Greece has been relocated here with a two-million-book capacity.
Lush outdoor spaces have redefined the neighborhood of Kallithea, including a 170,000-sq-metre green park with playgrounds, a man-made river with recycled sea water, café space, rolling lawns for events and concerts and views to the Acropolis. The SNFCC hosts free public events dedicated to the arts, culture and music.
Where to Stay: Intercontinental Athenaeum Athens – for modern, contemporary design in the heart of the city.
Visit the independent galleries
Stroll through Kolonaki, the city’s upmarket neighborhood of boutique shopping and well-to-do flats, which also lends space to some of the city’s fantastic new independent galleries. Head to the Depot Gallery for international and Greek artist exhibitions. The Pulse offers the same with a hotel and restaurant designed for visual artists coming soon. Elika Gallery, Medusa Gallery also bring in a following interested in painting, sculpture and photography exhibits.
Where to Stay: Coco-Mat Athens – an understated luxury, design hotel that sits in the heart of the exclusive Kolonaki district
In up-and-coming Metaxourgio refurbished art spaces sit between crumbling 19th- and 20th- century homes. Check into the Breeder’s contemporary space and pop-up restaurant, the Breeder Feeder. Neighboring Rebecca Camhi Gallery always has a great exhibition from a local or international artist.
Check out the buzz behind the new National Museum of Contemporary Art
The National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) occupies the once crumbling FIX beer factory and the restoration is impressive to see. After years of work, the museum is open to the public with spacious galleries and fantastic outdoor rooftop views to the Acropolis.
International press coverage is already helping to solidify the museum’s role in the world. It is Athens’ answer to a Tate Modern (London), Centre Pompidou (Paris) and Museum of Modern Art (New York). Check the Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens website for updates on exhibits and events.
Where to stay: The Herodion – an elegant, contemporary style 90 room hotel with a spectacular view of the Acropolis
Head to the best museums in Athens
These museums may not be new but they are some of the best in Greece and in Europe. The National Archaeological Museum in Athens is home to some of the most significant artifacts from around the country dating back to prehistory.
The Acropolis Museum which opened in 2009 is often touted as one of the best museums in the world, displaying the impressive marbles from the Acropolis. The Cycladic Museum focuses on the unique art and sculpture from the Cycladic islands. The fine private collection of Antonis Benakis, accumulated during 35 years of collecting works from Europe and Asia, is on display at the Benaki Museum.
See a performance at the ancient Herodion Theatre
Seeing a show at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, widely also known as Herodion, is one of the best things to do in Athens for culture lovers. Imagine a night enjoying the performing arts in a beautiful marbled venue just as the ancient Greeks once did. With the excellent Mediterranean climate, Herodion performances take place right under the stars. It is a unique cultural experience to plan for in Greece.
Some of the most famous singers have taken to the stage here. There are seasonal plays, concerts and operas too. Check the Athens and Epidavrus Festival program for annual special events.
Where to stay: Athens Was – classic modernism with clean, uncluttered lines and natural materials of Greek marble and walnut
Explore the Amazing Archaeological Sites of Athens
One of best things to do in Athens for culture lovers is to explore the archaeological sites. They lend so much importance compared to much of the world, structures built on the foundations of democracy. Walking through the city center is very much like an open-air museum. Some of the top sites to keep in mind include the Acropolis, the Theatre of Dionysus, the Ancient Agora, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch in the city center. Head to the Athens Riviera for breathtaking sea views from the Temple of Poseidon built on the cliff at Cape Sounio.
More articles about Athens
Visitor Information for Athens
About the author: Native New Yorker Marissa Tejada is an author, travel writer and freelance journalist living in Athens, Greece and founder of Travel Greece, Travel Europe blog. Expat life also inspired her acclaimed romantic comedy novel Chasing Athens which is available on Amazon. You can find her on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook.