Greece is a country full of history, a story of thousands of years. Explore five of the best museums in Athens and live the experience.
Featured Image: © Acropolis Museum. Photograph: Nikos Daniilidis
Athens is not just the capital of modern Greece.
It is the city where ancient Greek civilization reached its peak.
The city that gave birth to Democracy. It is the city of the Acropolis, the Pnyx, and the Parthenon.
The city of the ancient philosophers, Socrates and Plato, and the ancient tragic poets, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.
In such a city, you cannot ignore its museums.
Consequently, Athens has a number of must-see museums that you should not miss.
To guide you through, we have prepared for you the top 5 must-see museums in Athens, which you should definitely include in your schedule.
Do I Need a Guided Tour for the Best Museums in Athens?
Unfortunately, not all museums offer guided tours.
Specifically, guided tours are available only at the Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
However, while booking a tour is not necessary, I highly recommend it for a deeper understanding of the exhibits and the museums’ history.
You will find highly rated recommendations at the end of each museum’s section.
Let’s now take a closer look at the top 5 museums you won’t want to miss in Athens.
New Acropolis Museum
Your tour of the must-see museums in Athens could not fail to begin with the New Acropolis Museum, one of the world’s greatest and most modern museums.
Built in 2009 on the pedestrian street of Dionysiou Aeropagitou, the New Acropolis Museum is opposite the Acropolis’s sacred hill, at the top of which the Parthenon dominates.
The museum houses unique masterpieces, archaeological findings, and sculptures from the Athenian Acropolis.
After visiting the Acropolis Hill and the Parthenon, prepare for an exciting historical journey in ancient Athens.
A journey that spans from the Mycenaean period to classical antiquity, including the golden age of Pericles, and extends to the Roman years.
The New Acropolis Museum is structured on three levels.
On the ground floor, you can see archaeological findings from the slopes of the Acropolis hill, small and large sanctuaries, as well as objects from private residences.
On the first floor, the Acropolis of the archaic era (700 – 480 BC) comes vividly to life with its impressive temples and numerous sculptures.
As you ascend the sloping floor along a circular path, it feels as though you are climbing the hill of the Acropolis, with the emblematic Parthenon soon to be revealed.
Lastly, on the second floor, you enter the imposing Parthenon Hall, home to the Parthenon frieze, the columns, and the Caryatids.
There, you can admire the original marble sculptures next to the plaster copies of those in the British Museum or other museums abroad, awaiting their return to Greece.
At the same time, the glass room provides the perfect view of the Holy Rock of the Acropolis and the Parthenon.
It’s a moment that takes your breath away.
Acropolis Museum Cafe & Restaurant
Before you leave, I suggest you definitely visit the Cafe & Restaurant of the Museum: it operates on the second floor with a panoramic view of the Acropolis.
Opening days and hours and how to get there: The Acropolis Museum Website.
Tickets online: Acropolis Museum E-tickets.
Guided tour: Acropolis, Parthenon, & Acropolis Museum Guided Tour.
More information: The Acropolis Museum Website.
National Archaeological Museum of Athens
Undoubtedly, the National Archaeological Museum holds the second place among the must-see museums of Athens.
The largest museum in Greece, and one of the most important in the world, lists more than 11,000 exhibits.
These exhibits take you on a journey through Greek antiquity, from the Neolithic era to the Roman period.
It also presents a panorama of ancient Greek civilization starting from 6000 BC, featuring findings from every corner of Greece.
The 8000 sq.m. exhibition space is in the impressive building designed by the famous architect Ernst Ziller, built in the late 19th century.
Here, you can trace the history of Ancient Greece from its very beginning and admire its countless treasures.
Some of the collections of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens that stand out and will steal your heart:
- The Collection of Prehistoric Antiquities, with findings from the prehistoric settlement of Santorini, to the ancient Cycladic and Mycenaean civilizations.
- The Collection of Sculptures, spanning from the 7th century BC to the “golden” 5th century BC.
- The Vase Collection, which includes unique works of ancient Greek pottery from the 11th century BC.
- The Collection of Egyptian antiquities, dating back to 5000 BC.
Among the absolute must-sees of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens is the room with the Jewelry exhibition.
Gold and silver jewelry from the entire spectrum of Greek antiquity comprise one of the world’s most important collections, sourced directly from the Museum’s Treasury.
Visiting the National Archaeological Museum of Athens is an exciting experience that should not be missing from your schedule.
Opening days and hours and how to get there: National Archaeological Museum Official Website.
Tickets online: National Archaeological Museum Tickets.
Guided tour: National Archeological Museum Private Guided Tour.
More information: National Archaeological Museum Official Website.
Benaki Museum of Athens
The Benaki Museum is the largest private museum in Greece and definitely one of the must-see museums in Athens that you should not miss.
It consists of seven different museums in various areas of Athens, each featuring different permanent or temporary collections.
However, it is best to start with the basics: the first and historic building of the Museum, located in the “heart” of Athens center.
The Benaki Museum of Greek Culture is housed in one of Athens’s most beautiful neoclassical buildings, near the National Garden and the Greek Parliament.
It is a building from 1895, which was converted into a Museum in 1931 by Antonis Benakis, son of one of the great benefactors of modern Greece.
Here, you can admire an impressive collection of exhibits that reflects the entire course of Greek culture from prehistoric times to the 20th century.
The collection includes ceramics, figurines, vases, jewelry, and sculptures from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages to the Archaic and Classical periods of Greek antiquity, the Hellenistic years of Alexander the Great, and the Roman era.
Benaki’s Byzantine Iconography Collection
The Byzantine iconography collection from the Byzantine Empire’s era is an absolute must-see.
Also noteworthy is the collection of Byzantine jewelry, which includes gold necklaces and earrings adorned with sapphires, amethysts, emeralds, and pearls.
The museum also showcases elaborate bracelets and rings, all bearing Christian symbols.
Furthermore, the fascinating collection of the Benaki Museum of Athens extends into Greece’s recent history.
This includes historical relics from the late 18th century to the 20th century.
Particularly noteworthy is the emphasis on the struggle for Greek independence, highlighted by the Revolution of 1821 against the Ottoman Empire.
A unique journey through almost 8000 years of Greek history!
Opening days and hours and how to get there: Benaki Museum Official Website.
Tickets online: Benaki Museum Tickets.
Athens City Museum
A unique museum that can easily be added to your list of must-see museums in Athens is the Museum of the City of Athens.
The museum offers a look at the city’s recent history during the 19th and 20th centuries through diverse collections totaling 40,000 exhibits.
Among them, you can find sculptures, stamps, manuscripts, porcelain, musical instruments, coins, furniture, paintings, engravings, and photographs.
But its most impressive feature is the building itself: a magnificent two-story structure of early neoclassical style, built in 1834.
Along with its adjacent building, it formed the First Palace of Athens.
The first kings of modern Greece, King Otto and Queen Amalia, resided there during the early years of their reign.
The Old Palace, now in the heart of the historical center of Athens, was isolated at the time of its construction.
Its gardens, personally landscaped by Queen Amalia, were once expansive.
In fact, they extended over the entire area that today is Klafthmonos Square, one of the most central squares of Athens.
Black Duck Garden Bistro
Nowadays, within its beautiful garden, the Museum of the City of Athens hosts the Black Duck Garden.
It’s one of the nicest café bistros in Athens, operating every year from spring to autumn.
Its menu specializes in aromatic Greek coffee with spoon sweets.
Additionally, it offers a variety of coffees accompanied by handmade cookies or cakes, and a selection of teas.
Moreover, it also serves fine Greek wines and main dishes for lunch.
Don’t miss out!
Opening days and hours and how to get there: Athens City Museum Official Website.
More information about the café-bistrot of the Museum: Athens City Museum Café-Bistrot.
Cycladic Museum of Athens
The top 5 of the must-see museums in Athens are completed by the Museum of Cycladic Art.
This museum invites you to travel back 5,000 years to discover one of the first leading civilizations of mankind, the Cycladic Civilization.
In the region where the Cyclades are located today, home to popular Greek islands like Mykonos, Santorini, and Paros, a significant culture emerged around 3000 BC.
The Collection of Ancient Greek Art at the Cycladic Museum traces a journey through time, beginning with the Cycladic era.
The journey extends to Minoan Crete and Mycenae, showcased through objects, 3D visualizations, and multimedia.
A special place in the museum’s impressive permanent exhibition is given to the proto-Cycladic figurines, the majority of which represent naked female figures.
As some of the oldest works of art, these figurines influenced 20th and 21st-century artists like Brancusi, Modigliani, and Giacometti, even millennia later.
It is also worth seeing the Collection of Cypriot Antiquities, featuring unique archaeological finds from the island of the ancient Greek goddess, Aphrodite.
Additionally, on the Museum of Cycladic Art’s fourth floor is an exhibition titled “Scenes from Everyday Life in Antiquity.”
Here, in addition to various exhibits, you can watch two short films with snapshots from the life and death of a man, Leo, from a coastal municipality of Athens.
After the two films end, a three-dimensional representation of his grave will come to life before your eyes.
Opening days and hours and how to get there: Cycladic Museum Official Website.
Tickets online: Cycladic Museum Online Tickets.
Other Must-See Museums in Athens
If you have the time and are in the mood, you can continue your exploration with other museums.
Athens offers you a series of exciting options:
Check-in at the National Historical Museum and sit in the old Greek Parliament.
More information: National Historical Museum.
Stop by the recently renovated National Gallery of Athens and discover more than 1000 works by top painters of modern Greek art.
More information: National Gallery of Athens.
Experience a bit of the glory of the Byzantine Empire at the Byzantine Museum of Athens through icons, frescoes, mosaics, and paintings.
More information: Byzantine Museum of Athens.
Step into one of Athens’ most innovative museums, the Hellenic Motor Museum, with an impressive collection of antique cars.
More information: Hellenic Motor Museum.
Learn about the legend of the global opera icon Maria Callas in her birthplace, Athens. The museum is filled with archival material and precious objects of the international soprano.
More information: Maria Callas Museum.
More of Athens
I hope you’ve found this guide to the best museums in Athens both enlightening and inspiring.
For more insights into exploring Athens, be sure to check out my step-by-step guides: Athens in 1 day, Athens in 2 days, Athens in 3 days, Athens in 4 days, and the Hidden Gems of Athens, perfect if you plan to stay even longer.
You might also be interested in comparing the best day trips from Athens.
Make Your Trip Easier
I always book my accommodation with a reliable service like Booking.com. Besides their price guarantee, you can rest assured that you will have 24/7 support in the event of any problems with your hotel. Always make sure you read reviews from other guests before booking.
If you want to get to and from Athens Airport with peace of mind, I recommend pre-booking your taxi with Welcome Pickups. Their flat rate is a few euros more expensive than random taxis, but they are totally worth it. They use local English-speaking drivers, wait for you at the arranged meeting point, even if your arrival is delayed, and introduce you to the city along the way.
Don’t forget to use Skyscanner before booking your flights as it compares different airlines to provide the cheapest and fastest solutions. Moreover, you can save a lot of money if you are flexible with your dates.
Nobody wants to think about all the things that could go wrong on a trip. However, these things can happen, so do not miss taking out travel insurance: SafetyWing is the one I use, as its plans are affordable and can save you a lot of trouble.
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