15 best museums in Athens

15 best museums in Athens, Athens, Greece (D)

As one of the oldest cities in Europe with a famous and glorious past Athens has a lot to explore. Thousands of years of history, arts and culture can be found around every corner. To make discovering this amazing past easier we've selected 15 top museums full of breathtaking sights and beauty which will tell you what Greece is all about. All of the museums are in the city centre and easily visited in a couple of days.
How it works: The full article is featured in the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" on iTunes App Store and Google Play Store. Download the app to your mobile device to read the article offline and create a self-guided walking tour to visit the sights featured in this article. The app's navigation functions guide you from one sight to the next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Sights Featured in This Article

Guide Name: 15 best museums in Athens
Guide Location: Greece » Athens
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (D))
# of Attractions: 15
Author: Neil Middleton
Author Bio: Originally born in England I developed a passion for history early on. After studying Greek history and archaeology for several years I moved over to Athens to be closer to the places I loved. When ever I can I visit every corner of the city looking for ruins or museums to keep on learning more. Athens is a fantastic city to live in and even after several years I'm still not bored exploring it.
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Acropolis
  • Acropolis Museum
  • Ancient Agora
  • National Archaeological Museum
  • Roman Agora
  • Kerameikos
  • Hadrian's Library
  • Temple of Olympian Zeus
  • Byzantine and Christian Museum
  • Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art
  • Kanellopoulos Museum
  • Museum of Islamic Art
  • Benaki Museum
  • Numismatic Museum
  • Panathenaic Stadium

1) Acropolis

A Unesco World Heritage site, a symbol of Athens and western civilisation the Acropolis is unmissable. Every ancient Greek city had an acropolis, normally the highest point, where the most important temples were built. The Athenian acropolis, a huge rock outcrop in the city centre, still houses the most beautiful and important ancient Greek structures. Today you can see, the Proplyaea, Temple of Nike, Erechtheion and the Parthenon, which all date from the Golden Age of Athens (5th century BC) and are reminders of the city's greatness.

You enter the acropolis through the ancient gateway called the Proplyaea. On a raised platform before the Proplyaea is the temple of Athena Nike, the goddess of victory. Once passed the Proplyaea on the left is the Erectheion. The centre of religious life in ancient Athens it is exceptional for the Caryatids- six elegant statues of women which hold up a small porch. On the right is the famous Parthenon. Despite its current ruined state it is still a spectacular sight. Dedicated to Athena Parthenos, the patron goddess of the city, it once housed an ivory and gold statue of the goddess. More than just a temple it was a work of art, the most beautiful the Greeks ever produced. Built entirely out of marble the sophisticated design makes it look perfectly straight whilst in fact there are no straight lines on the building. The Parthenon later became a Christian cathedral, a Muslim mosque and even a gunpowder store.
Acropolis Museum

2) Acropolis Museum

Opened in 2009 the new Acropolis Museum is one of the most modern and fascinating museums in Greece. Housing objects from the acropolis and the surrounding area a visit is essential to get a full understanding of the acropolis. Surviving parts of the Parthenon and artefacts covering the complete history of the acropolis are laid out across four floors. Videos, models and in-house archaeologists give context and explanations for the thousands of beautiful objects and statues on display. The museum attempts to copy the lay-out of the acropolis itself. After passing through the entrance a ramp representing the slopes of the acropolis leads the visitor up to the main exhibitions. The first hall displays amazingly preserved artefacts from the early history of the monument. The top gallery is designed to align with the Parthenon temple and displays the surviving sculptures in as authentic a way as possible. The remaining space is given over to the other buildings of the acropolis and includes the original Caryatid statues from the Erectheion temple. The building itself is intriguing as it is built above an extensive archaeological site. The remains discovered are preserved beneath glass floors which give the visitor a glimpse of Roman and Byzantine Athens.
Ancient Agora

3) Ancient Agora

The birth place of democracy and stomping ground of philosophers the agora is one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece and the biggest in Athens. With some extraordinary surviving and reconstructed buildings it's also the best place to get a feel for the ancient city. The word agora has come into modern Greek as market place but the ancient agora was much more than this. This was the political, commercial and social heart of the classical city. With law courts and government building the world's first democracy ran its day to day business from here. Characters such as the philosopher Socrates wondered around here asking questions, debating and forming their ideas. The most remarkable building in the agora is the temple of Hephaestus. As the god of fire and metal work Hephaestus was the patron god of the blacksmiths who used to work in the area. Sitting on a low hill overlooking the whole site this 5th century BC temple is one of the best preserved ancient buildings in the world. On the opposite side of the agora is the Stoa of Attalus. A modern reconstruction based on an orginal 2nd century BC building it gives the visitor a glimpse of what the orginal marbled buildings would have looked like. Inside the stoa is the museum of the agora which houses many of the fascinating finds uncovered at the site.
National Archaeological Museum

4) National Archaeological Museum

The biggest museum in Greece with the world's largest collection of Greek archaeology covering all areas and periods of the country's history. Many of the artefacts on display are iconic images instantly recognisable from TV, postcards and copies across the world. Highlights include golden masks from Mycenae, statues of gods and goddess and an ancient Greek computer.

The collection of gold masks, daggers and jewellery found at Mycenae are some of the most spectacular discoveries ever made in Greece. The fine and intricate objects are more than three thousand years old and date from the time of the Trojan war when heroes such as Agamemnon, Achilles and Hercules walked the earth. The visitor will see some of the most famous pieces of Greek art such as the bronze life-size statue of the god Zeus/Posiedon. Make sure not to miss the Antikythera mechanism. This rusted metal object was found at the start of the twenth century in a shipwreck off the island of Antikythera. More than two thousand years old the device was a type of analog computer used to make astronomical calculations. These are just the highlights of a vast and stunning collection.
Roman Agora

5) Roman Agora

This small but compelling site houses monuments from the city's Greek, Roman and Turkish periods. For the Romans this was the centre of Athens with baths, temples and markets. Today the visitor enters the site through the monumental arch constructed by Caesar and Augustus in the first century BC, one of Athens' oldest Roman remains. The most important building in the agora is the octagonal Tower of the Winds. The tower, which dates from the 2nd century BC, gets its name from the sculptures representing the winds along the top. With a water clock, weather vanes and sundials the tower was an early public clock. Much later the tower was used by the Turkish dervish religious order. Another reminder of the Turkish period is a 15th century mosque just across from the tower. It is one of the only Turkish buildings still standing in Athens.

6) Kerameikos

The Kerameikos was the burial ground of ancient Athens. Originally the area was the potter's quarter(the word Kerameikos gives us the English ceramic) and later a formidable wall and gate were built here. In ancient Greece people were not buried inside the city and so a cemetery grew up just outside the city walls. Many of the beautiful grave sculptures have survived and the site is worth visiting for the museum alone. One of the most important roads in Athens, called the sacred road, which carried pilgrims to the temple of Eleusis ran through here.
Hadrian's Library

7) Hadrian's Library

The Roman emperor Hadrian loved Athens for its legacy of philosophy and learning. To show his appreciation for the ancient world's centre of learning he constructed a huge library in the centre of the city in AD 132. The outer walls of the library still stand in some places and once inside you can see the size of the building and imagine the thousands of books it would have contained. As well as a library the building also contained lecture halls where the most famous philosophers and scientists of the day spread their wisdom. Just off Monastiraki square the front wall of the building still stands with a set of elegant columns which give some idea of the splendour of the library. In the following centuries the library was heavy damaged and several churches were built on the site. The library site still contains the remains of some of the oldest Christian buildings in Athens.
Temple of Olympian Zeus

8) Temple of Olympian Zeus

Today only 15 of the original 104 columns of this temple to Zeus, the most powerful of the Greek gods, still stands. The columns which still stand are impressivly high and when complete the temple would have been one of the biggest buildings in the ancient world. Not surprisingly it took over six hundred years to complete. The gaint project was begun by a family of tyrants called the Peisistratids in the sixth century BC. However the tyrannts were overthrown and democracy began not long after. For centuries the temple was left as a monument to the arrogance of the tyrannts who tried to build such a huge temple. It was only finished by the Roman emperor Hadrian in AD 132. Massive statues of Zeus and Hadrian adorned the temple and it would surely have been the most extraordinary sight in Greece as it towered above everything else. Just over a hundred years later the temple was damaged during a war and likely abandoned as it was to big to repair. During the following centuries the stones were quarried for building material leaving just the 15 columns today.

Outside the site, just by the road, is Hadrian's Arch. Finished at the same time as the temple this arch was designed to mark the end of the old city of Athens and the start of the 'new' city built by the emperor Hadrian.
Byzantine and Christian Museum

9) Byzantine and Christian Museum

With over 25,000 artefacts this museum covers Greek culture from the end of the ancient world in the 4th century AD until modern times. The collection is made up of significant works of art such as sculptures, icons, ceramics and architectural remains. Through these objects the museum explains how Athens and Greece evolved and changed after the end of the ancient world to become the Christian nation it is today. This is one of the most important museums of Greek history in the world as it focuses on an often over looked but hugely influential era.
Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art

10) Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art

This museum houses a fine collection of objects mainly from the famous Cycladic islands. A 19th century mansion holds the collection donatated by Nicholas and Dolly Goulandris. The exhibts contain some of the oldest artefacts discovered in Greece with some dating back over 4,000 years. In prehistoric times the Greek islands were home to one of Europe's first civilisations and this museum shows some of its finest achievements. The most memorable objects are the stone figurines which are characteristic of the Cyclades. These figurines are some of the earliest and most beautiful depictions of humans in a vary of activities and poises.
Kanellopoulos Museum

11) Kanellopoulos Museum

Housed in a neoclassical mansion nestled beneath the slopes of the acropolis this museum is a hidden gem. Not as large as many of the more well known museums it still manages to display the full range of Greek art from the prehistoric up to the medieval in an easily manageable space. Pavlos and Alexandra Kanellopoulou were able to use their wealth to build up a large private collection which they later donated to the state to form this collection. Exquisite and rare gold jewellery from the classical period are among the highlights as well as examples of the famous ancient Greek bronze helmets. Superbly decorated pottery showing famous myths and stories from ancient Greece in perfect detail can be found on the bottom floors. The upper floors are reserved for an important collection of Byzantine religious Icon paintings.
Museum of Islamic Art

12) Museum of Islamic Art

Giving the visitor a break from ancient Greek history the Museum of Islamic Art remains us that the Middle East and North Africa are not too far away. Greece has long had a connection with the East and Islamic civilisations which is wonderfully demonstrated in this fascinating museum. The collection traces developments in Islamic art from the 7th century onwards with examples from all across the Muslim world including Iran, India, Turkey and Egypt. Ceramics, textiles, gold and metalwork and weaponry form an important part of the large collection. The views from the rooftop café should not be missed nor should the preserved section of the ancient wall which still runs under the museum.
Benaki Museum

13) Benaki Museum

Spanning the entire history of Greece but with an easily manageable size this museum should not be missed. A grand mansion in the centre of Athens hosts the main branch of the Benaki group of museums. Starting with ancient and prehistoric artefacts the collection moves on through the Byzantine Empire all the way to the 19th century struggle for independence and the creation of modern Greece. The weapons, battle standards and personal objects of many of the great independence figures are of huge importance to an understanding of present day Greece.
Numismatic Museum

14) Numismatic Museum

The Numismatic museum holds one of the greatest collections of coins in the world. The collection displays coins, medals and stamps covering the whole history of money and exchange. In particular the coins from the Greek cities of the 5th and 6th century are of great importance. The museum is housed in one of the most interesting and beautiful buildings in Athens. The Iliou Melathron was built in the 19th century by the famous German architect Ernst Ziller. Originally the house was for the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, the man who discovered ancient Troy and Mycenae. Decorated with murals depicting scenes from Greek history and myth this building would once have been the most lavish residence in Athens.
Panathenaic Stadium

15) Panathenaic Stadium

The birth place of the modern Olympics and the world's only all marble stadium. A stadium has been on the site since the 4th century BC with the Roman's building a stone arena in the 2nd century AD. What you see today is from the 19th century. The first modern Olympic games were held here in 1896. Today the stadium still plays an important part in preparations for the Olympic games. The Olympic torch is formally handed over from Greece to the host country before each games in the stadium. An audio tour reveals much more about the history of the stadium and the games.

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