Thinking of traveling to Athens anytime soon? Check out our guide to the important but underrated tourist attractions in Athens.
Athens is a tourist destination with monuments of cultural and historical significance all over the world. Who does not know Acropolis? Despite this, there are many monuments unknown to its visitors that have played an important role in its history.
Although these Athens attractions are often underestimated, visiting them can help you form a more complete picture of Athens and its history.
Related reading: A guide to Athens, Greece
Check out these attractions in Athens
Athens is a city full of historical sights. While it is important to include the usual list of Things to do in Athens On your itinerary, be sure to also check out a few of these underrated Athens attractions.
The Greek mathematician, astronomer and geometer Meton lived in Athens in the 5th century BC and is known for his invention Meton Sundial. Ancient historians claim that Metona built the first helioscope (sundial) in Athens. Its foundations can still be seen directly above the Pnyx platform. Based on the exact location of his heliscope, Meton calculated the times of the equinoxes and solstices.
From this vantage point, the summer sunrise can be seen from the top of Lycabettus Hill. Also, a winter sunrise can be seen from the summit of Mount Hymettus. The 60-degree arc formed by the apparent movement of the sun over the horizon is bisected by the rock of the Acropolis.
In this way, the sunlight at the equinoxes coincides with the rock of the Acropolis. The summer solstice was important to the ancient Athenians because it marked the beginning of a new year. Meton’s accounts helped create the Attic calendar.
the Antikythera MechanismBuilt in the second century BC, it is the oldest known astronomical computer in the world and uses the Metonic circuit to perform calculations. Every year, thousands of tourists come to Pnyx, but hardly any of them realize the significance of this modest structure above the main platform.
Location: Pnyx, Thissio
Many archaeologists believe that a cave-like structure at the base of Phillopappos hill and just a few meters from Herodium, was where Socrates was imprisoned before he was poisoned. According to a historical study, it is difficult to associate the archaeological site with the prison of ancient Athens.
However, there is some evidence consistent with the descriptions of imprisonment in Plato’s dialogues that support this theory. The facts that it was constructed in the middle of the fifth century BC, on a main road, and that it was in a ditch containing baths, suggest this conclusion. Also, a broken statuette of Socrates was one of the items found in the building’s remains.
The carved masonry was most likely a component of an impressive two- or three-story building, which some researchers believe was part of a house. The National Archaeological Museum used these caves as a storage facility for artifacts during World War II.
The museum buried many artifacts there to prevent theft by the Nazi occupation forces. Whether or not it was the famous philosopher’s prison, this is an interesting site that is often overlooked by visitors to the nearby Acropolis and rarely known to locals.
Location: Philopappos Hill
In a very central part of the city a very important archaeological site of world importance was discovered in 1996. It is the remains of the mill of one of the first gymnasiums of ancient Athens, the Aristotle’s Ballroom. According to ancient testimonies, the Lyceum was an idyllic and green location east of Athens.
The Palestra was a large building with a longitudinal axis from north to south that was established in the second half of the fourth century BC. The building consists of an inner courtyard surrounded by arcades, behind which develop symmetrically large rectangular rooms. In later years a cold bath for athletes was built on the north side of the courtyard, with narrow arched sides.
Aristotle’s Lyceum was, and ultimately still is, one of the most important places in the world for the history of the human soul. It was the embodiment of Aristotle’s philosophy of an educational institution for young people based on the idea of ”kalos kagathos”.
Also, Aristotle himself taught at the Lyceum for 12 years, spreading his philosophy, which strongly influenced all subsequent ancient ideas. The huge intellectual edifice of Aristotle and his school summed up all the philosophical and scientific endeavors of the ancient world. Elements of Aristotelian philosophy are found in Christianity as well as in the Renaissance.
Location: Regels 11, Syntagma
Vatrachonisi (meaning “frog island”) was located in the Ilissos River in Athens under Zapion, where the current church of Agia Fotini now stands. Between the two sides of the Ilissos River is a fertile and open piece of land. The riverbeds converge here, creating a small island with waterfalls on either side.
The holy spring of Kaleroi was located on the small island, and the area was known as Neraidotopus (literally “home of the fairies”). When King Otto was in power, the area was first settled by “café anvil” companies. These venues hosted cabaret acts and other similar shows, and also served as a meeting place for promiscuous couples.
One of the two branches of the river was grounded during a devastating flood at the end of 1896. Now, a small, inactive part of the exposed river bed next to the church of Agia Fotini has been preserved and classified as an archaeological site. A three-arch stone bridge was finally built over the river during the reign of King Otto.
The bridge is now hidden under the intersection of Ardittou and Athanassiou Diakou Streets. The Vatrachonisi area is the perfect place for a relaxing stroll in the city centre.
Location: Intersection of Athanasio Diakou Street and Ardito Street, Mets
Agios Nicholas Rangavas
This Byzantine church in busy Plaka is one of the most historic churches in Athens. Unfortunately, few visitors to the city know about this. It was probably built in the eleventh century AD in the center of the most aristocratic quarter of Byzantine Athens. It was built by the wealthy Ranghavas family, originally from Constantinople.
The importance and radiance of the temple in medieval Athens was so great that it gave its name to the surrounding area and the nearby entrance to the defensive wall of Athens. It was visited by members of the imperial family and prominent townspeople.
Since some ancient building materials were used in its construction, it is evident that it was built over an ancient temple. In 1687 A.D., during the siege of Athens by Morosini, a shell hit the altar of the Holy Temple. Also, in the second half of the nineteenth century, major demolition and expansion works were carried out on the church. These works had the effect of changing the original Byzantine elements of the church. But in the 1980s archaeologists restored most of the church to its original form.
This is the image of the church we admire today, and the elements added later are evident. The most obvious of these is the high bell tower and the entrance with the Ladies Quarter. The church is important for another reason. Its bell rang during the liberation of the city from the Turks. This bell is preserved inside the church to this day.
Location: Prytaneiou 1, Plaka
If you pass by Cowray Street, you can notice the distinctive sign that says “Memorial Sight 1941-1944”. This is the Koray 4 Commandantor Prison. It is the place where thousands of Greek resistance fighters were tortured along with some German dissidents during the Nazi occupation.
The cellars, built as an anti-aircraft shelter, housed the cells. The site’s story has been pieced together using surviving inscriptions, names inscribed on the walls, small artefacts, private notes, and pages from a German diary, as the Nazis left no records.
Most of the patterned papers left by the detainees have disappeared as a result of the Germans’ frequent painting of the cell walls. However, some graffiti on the second basement floor, dating from 1944, appears to have survived. Perhaps because the Nazis had to flee quickly after their defeat in the war. A visit to these historical cellars will fill you with emotions and thoughts. At the same time, you will get acquainted with an important part of the modern history of the city.
Where: Koray Street, Syntagma Square
Each city, apart from its well-known attractions, also hides secrets that a visitor deserves to discover. Oftentimes, they are before our eyes without us knowing their true meaning. These six monuments, though underrated, are six aspects of Athens’ history worth discovering.