Studying abroad in Greece and living mere blocks from the Acropolis lent me the unique opportunity to know ancient Athens on an intimate level. On a student’s budget, I dedicated my free time to uncovering the secrets of the city, and unearthed some amazing experiences along the way. For those of you on a strict budget, here is the best list of FREE things to do Athens, in no particular order…
1. Monastiraki Flea Market
Handcrafted goods, fresh fruits and stacks of soccer jerseys and jewelry dominate the stalls of Monastiraki’s bustling flea market. Literally meaning “little monastery” Monastiraki is named for the Pantánassa church monastery located in the center of the neighborhood’s square. Here more than bargain goods are to be found; Monastiraki is also home to the ancient ruins of the Roman Agora and Hadrian’s library.
2. Mars Hill At Night
Mars Hill, known as Areopagus by the Greeks, has been the site of many speeches, trials and meetings over history. St. Paul the Apsotle preached here, and The Council of Nobles and the Judicial Court met on this hill. After thousands of years of weather damage and earthquakes, it’s now a low, rocky hill located just below the Acropolis and the perfect spot to go on a warm summer night to listen to acoustic guitar, split a bottle of store-bought wine and revel in the splendor of the Parthenon lit up at night.
3. Witness the Changing of the Guards
Dressed in kilts, donned in pom-poms and kicking impressively high are the stoic Evzone Guards at The Greek Parliament building in Syntagma Square. Every Sunday at 11 a.m., the changing of the guard takes place in an elaborate parade starting from the Evzone camp at Irodou Attikou Street, marching down to Vasilissis Sofias to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at Syntagma Square.
The Evzones are the cream of the military crop. Every Greek man is required to serve two years in the Greek military, and the Evzones are chosen based on their height, fitness level and are trained to stand motionless for hours on end. They’re also known as the Presidential Guard, after all, that is their duty.
4. Stroll Through Plaka
Nestled in the heart of Athens, in the shadow of the Acropolis, is it’s oldest district, Plaka. Reminiscent of the bygone era of Turkish-rule, Plaka’s antique charm, pedestrian-only streets, and al fresco dining make for a most pleasant stroll.
5. Head to The Beach
30 minutes outside of the city are beautiful stretches of Attica coastline, posh resort towns and plenty of beach bars. Though some are privatized and charge an admission fee, free beaches such as Kavouri and Vouliagmeni offer a getaway from the hustle and bustle of Athens.
6. Watch the Sunset at Cape Sounion
The crown jewel of the Attica coastline is undoubtedly the serene sanctuary dedicated to Poseidon, the God of the sea. Little is more magical than witnessing the sunset over the Aegean Sea.
7. Explore the Museums
Athens is host to many museums, including several free ones. Music-aficianandos should head to The Popular Musical Instruments Museum which showcases antique instruments from 18th-20th centuries, and history-buffs should stop by The War Museum featuring uniforms and weapons from ancient times through the present.
8. Hike Lycabettus Hill
For a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of Athens, hike to the top of Lycabettus Hill behind the posh Kolanaki neighborhood. It’s a great spot for taking pictures, but can be a hot, sweaty climb during the day. Reserve it for sunset, or make it an early morning sunrise hike.
9. Visit the Panathenaic Stadium
Like any sight in Athens worth seeing, this stadium is chock-full of history. It was originally built in xxx B.C. and was renovated to host the first modern Olympics in 18xx.
10. Have a Picnic in the National Gardens
Athens’ sprawling concrete jungle isn’t for the faint of heart in the heat of summer. Find refuge from the sun in The National Gardens, which in the time of the Greek monarchy, were the private gardens of the king.
11. Take Advantage of the Free Admission Days
There are several days during the year that the most popular archeological sites (The Acropolis, The Ancient Agora, Kerameikos, Olympeion, and The Roman Agora) are free.
These days include March 6, June 5, April 18, May 18, National Holidays, every Sunday from November 1-March 31 and the first Sunday of every month (except for July, August and September when it is the second Sunday.)
12. Enjoy the view of the Parthenon from the Athens Centre roof garden!