What is Athens Known For? (19 Things It’s Famous For)

Athens is Greece’s largest city and capital. It’s one of the most popular coastal cities in the Mediterranean. It’s also the European Union’s 7th largest cosmopolitan metropolis, with a population estimated to be around the 4 million mark. In addition, it’s a beta-status city and a giant economic center in the Southeastern European area, with a  significant financial sector and the biggest passenger port city in Europe, Piraeus. An ancient city over 3,000 years of age, its earliest presence of humans starts around the 7th and 11th millennia. 

Athens is known for being a center for philosophy and learning, arts, home to the Lyceum of Aristotle and the Academy of Plato, and known as a powerful city-state in the past. It’s widely recognized as Western civilization’s cradle and democracy’s birthplace due to its political and cultural influence.

Athens is Home to the Acropolis

The Acropolis is an architectural and historical treasure. While it isn’t the only one of its kind in Greece, Athens first comes to mind when you hear of the site. As its namesake suggests, it refers to a city’s highest point. Therefore, the Acropolis isn’t a single building but an entire plateau rising on top of the district of Plaka. Out of all the buildings that it houses, Parthenon and Propylaia, also known as the Erechtheion, Athena’s Temple, and monumental gateway, are the Caryatids’ best-known temples.

The Agora Is Located in Athens

Athens is home to many famous archeological sites, including but not necessarily limited to Propylaia and Parthenon. However, visiting the Agora is necessary to experience what it was like to have lived in ancient Athens. In this ancient space, you’ll find the Tholos, where government representatives used to stay and where they kept the measures and weights. The council house, the house of assembly where governments convened, can also be found here, along with a gymnasium and a few temples, with the Thisseon or Hephaestus’ Temple being the most popular.

Hadrian’s Gate and Zeus’ Temple

You’ll find the Olympian Zeus’ magnificent temple at the National Garden’s edge, predating the Parthenon. While it had begun around the 6th century BC, it was only completed centuries after, during Hadrian’s reign, the Roman Emperor. It boasts over 100 columns, housing many of the ancient world’s biggest cult states. It’s also Greece’s largest temple. Today, many columns remain standing, giving people a good idea of its awe-inspiring structure. For this reason, it’s a familiar sight and a popular tourist attraction in Athens.

The Marathon of Athens

While commonly associated with demanding races of specific lengths, the word Marathon refers to the town where it first began. Its story begins in the 5th  century BC during the Persian wars. The Marathon battle was the first attack of Darius, the Persian Empire, on Greece. But the attack had gone poorly because of the Athenian army’s skill under general Miltiades, and the Persians were defeated. A messenger called Pheidippides had been dispatched to give the victory announcement, running from Marathon to deliver the message. 

Birthed the Modern Olympic Athletics

The idea behind the commemoration of the first legendary marathon and the great victory of the Athenians was an ideal fit with modern Olympic athletics. The Olympics, in 1896, was reborn in their birthplace of Greece. Evangelos Zappas, its prominent benefactor, played an instrumental role in their revival. The Zappeion, a prominent monument of Athens located at the National Garden, had been built to host these games. The stadium that housed the games was also restored beautifully. In 144 AD, the Kallimarmaro, as it’s popularly known, was rebuilt by Athenian and Roman senator Herodes Atticus.

The Country is Widely Known for Philosophy

Another thing that the country of Greece is recognized for is the social nature of its people. They love to pursue truth and debate ideologies. In other words, they enjoy philosophizing. Thus, philosophy plays a critical role in every Athenian’s cultural heritage, and it isn’t uncommon to hear references tapping into timeless wisdom even in the most casual conversations. The word comes from Philos, which is love, and Sophia, which is wisdom. So by definition, philosophy is the abstract and pure love for knowledge and pursuing wisdom.

Ancient Philosophers of Athens

Athenians  created many of the most fundamental concepts and ideologies that have shaped the western world’s thoughts. Furthermore, it’s amazing that so many great minds had lived close to each other for decades, if not at similar points in time. Additionally, Athens boasts many of the great philosophical schools, the most famous being Plato’s Academy, located in an olive grove beyond Athens’ city walls, at a spot primarily dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena. It’s also where Aristotle, a famous philosopher, studied for at least two decades.

Democracy Was Created in Athens

The modern world’s most treasured and valued ideal is the formation of a people’s government. It’s an idea that was created in ancient times in Athens around the 6th century BC. The word democracy was even derived from Demos, an ancient Greek word that refers to a body or group of citizens, and Kratos, which means to rule. This is what makes democracy the people’s government. The great Solon, a statesman, is often cited as the one responsible for laying democracy’s foundation. It was further enhanced by Cleithenes, who made it more democratic.

The Sunshine of Athens

The sunlight of Athens has beauty and clarity like no other, inspiring generations of writers and poets. For many, it’s not unlike therapy that banishes the blues and resets circadian rhythms. It doesn’t only come out in the summer, either. Because it’s situated in the European mainland’s southernmost area, it ranks among the continent’s sunniest cities. However, a few times a year, the sun fails to break through. Some estimate that it gets almost 3,000 hours’ worth of sunshine yearly.

The Riviera of Athens

Speaking of sunshine, it’s also worth mentioning the Riviera of Athens. The locals know they don’t have to travel so far to get their classic, Greek-style beach holiday. While it’s known as an urban metropolis, it also boasts a splendid seaside. Athens’ gorgeous coastline has full-service and immaculately groomed beaches, fine dining restaurants, beach bars, cafes, and many activities for those looking for an adrenaline boost. If you’re looking to experience it, you should use a vehicle and drive to the coastline at Poseidon’s temple at Sounion. As a bonus, the temple has the best sunsets in Greece.

Herodes Atticus’ Odeon

Arguably the best preserved and most famous theater in Athens, the Herodes Atticus’ Odeon was built around 161 AD and is the city’s most popular amphitheater. Even today, performances are still held in the Odeon during the Epidaurus and Athens festivals. Some of the most well-known artists and musicians who have performed at this legendary theater include Diana Ross, Elton John, and Luciano Pavarotti. The Odeon is situated on Acropolis Hill’s southwest slope and is a place that every tourist should visit at least once in Athens.

A Lively Nightlife 

Athens tends to rank high when it comes to its nightlife scene, which often lasts longer than most cities in the world. The city center of Athens hosts many clubs and bars, so the locals and tourists will always have options. You can find many drinking establishments all over Athens. However, many are situated in the Gazi neighborhood, Monastiraki Square, and other central areas. Because of this, there’s likely to be a bar wherever you are in Athens.

Athens Has Many Bakeries

You don’t need to look too hard in Athens to find bakeries. In the city, almost every neighborhood is bound to have a few. Moreover, they’re often filled at all times of the day, with loyal patrons supporting their local bakeries for their spanakopita and bread. These days, you’ll also be able to find more upscale bakeries in the city, offering various pastry products ranging from intricate tarts and cakes to vegan and gluten-free options.

The Picturesque Neighborhood of Plaka

Plaka is situated just below the Acropolis, its picturesque neighborhood free of motor vehicles and transporting tourists to a time long forgotten. On its old narrow streets is a line of neoclassical buildings and museums peppered with historic ruins, including the Wind Tower, the first meteorological station, and the Roman Agora. 

It’s Synonymous with Souvlaki

For many Athenians, the city is best known for souvlaki. A popular snack even during ancient times of Greece, this timeless snack remains popular as street food. Souvlaki generally refers to meat pieces of skewers that are wrapped in a piece of pita bread. Often, they’re filled with chips, onions, tzatziki, and tomatoes to enhance their flavor profiles. While they’re enjoyed for their tastiness, many people in Athens enjoy souvlaki because they’re a cheap and affordable option. Because of this, you’ll often see many people snacking on souvlaki all over the city.

Hellinikon Project of Athens

While many of the things that Athens is famous for are historical, there are also future developments underway that not only maximize the potential of the city but are putting it in the limelight. One such development is the Hellinikon project, which is the most significant project in urban regeneration in the European continent. It aims to build a metropolitan park that combines avant-garde architecture and seaside beauty. Because of its scale, this smart city is getting a lot of attention and is expected to be completed by 2026.

A Paradise for Cat Lovers

Athens is a paradise for many, especially cat lovers. Those who are fond of these feline creatures will undoubtedly enjoy the city, as it presents many opportunities to be around and pet cats. You’re bound to find more than a few cats almost everywhere in Athens, from ancient temples to parks. Stay outdoors for any period of time, and you’ll find yourself quickly surrounded by these wonderful animals who will try to charm and attract you for some food. More often than not, they tend to succeed.

A Strong Coffee Culture

The soul of the Athenian people will always be embedded with coffee. Caffeinated beverages are popular with generations, both young and old, and it isn’t uncommon for coffee shops to be busy every day. Because of this, it isn’t surprising that Athens is a favorite tourist location, especially for coffee lovers.

Athens is Popular for Open-Air Cinemas

It’s quintessentially Athens to have open-air cinemas. They remain as popular today as they once were, with over sixty outdoor cinemas around the city where you can enjoy the perfect summer entertainment. You can pick a chair and see a film at the Cine Thisio, with bougainvillea surrounding the screen and the fresh fragrance of jasmine in the air. You can also enjoy the movie over a glass of your preferred whiskey or sour-cherry juice. With its atmosphere, it’s not surprising that open-air cinemas still attract people.