One of the world’s oldest cities, Athens is crowned by ancient landmarks, while contemporary street art and café culture thrive at ground level. From museums to beaches, take a city break with a difference, with these top things to do in Athens.

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1. The Acropolis

Atop a rocky hill you will find the iconic Acropolis of Athens, a group of architectural masterpieces from the Ancient Greek period, dating back to the fifth century BC. Monuments include - most famous of all - the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to Greek goddess Athena, as well as the Propylaea, which is the gateway to the Acropolis and the Theatre of Dionysos, a vast 17,000-seater venue whose stage has witnessed masterpieces by Sophocles amongst other performances.

Opening times: (April to Oct) Tues to Sun 8am - 7.30pm, Mon 11am - 7.30pm. (Nov to March) Daily 8.30am - 3pm

Location: Athens 105 58

Price: Adults €12, Concessions €6.

The Acropolis of Athens

2. Acropolis Museum

The long-awaited Acropolis Museum opened in 2009 and was immediately heralded as one of Europe’s best museums. The modern museum explores the discoveries which have been made on the site of the Acropolis; there’s over 4000 objects on display. The collections are divided into five different focuses and eras, such as the Gallery of the Slopes of the Acropolis, where you can peer through the glass floor into the excavation site itself for a glimpse into everyday life, thousands of years ago. Check for temporary shows during your visit.

Opening times: (April to Oct) Mon 8am - 4pm, Tues to Sun 8am - 8pm (until 10pm Fridays). (Nov to March) Mon to Thurs 9am - 5pm, Fri 9am - 10pm, Sat & Sun 9am - 8pm.

Location: 15 Dionysiou Areopagitou Street

Price: €5

3. National Archaeological Museum

The National Archaeological Museum is another of Athens' top things to see and the biggest museum in Greece, containing artefacts which have been recovered from archaeological excavations and Greek antiquities. There are over 11,000 items including pieces of art, metalwork, sculptures, and vases which tell the story of Greece from all the way back to its prehistoric origins in the sixth millenium BC, right up to the Roman conquest.

Opening times: Mon 1pm - 8pm, Tues to Sun 9am - 4pm

Location: 28is Oktovriou 44

Price: €7

4. Mount Lycabettus

You can't miss the looming shadow of Mount Lycabettus, a pine-carpeted, 300 metre-high limestone hill which overlooks the city. Make time for a visit, not only for the superlative views from the platforms, but for the chance to catch a show at the amphitheatre, which regularly hosts music concerts and events in the summer. You can walk up to the top of the hill on a choice of footpaths, or take the Lycabettus Funicular train which takes just 10 minutes and costs €7 (catch it at Ploutarchou and Aristippou Streets). Evening is the best time to visit, when you can watch the sun sink behind the Athens skyline. Did you know Greece made our list of cheapest destinations for 2017? Find more low-cost ideas for city breaks and beach holidays this year.

5. Ancient Agora of Athens

This former political centre and marketplace was once the heart of the city during its Classical period and is now a ruined site, but no less grand for it. Sights to look out for include the Temple of Hephaistos, the Bouleuterion (council meeting chamber) and four huge statues of Giants and Tritons, restored by the Greek Archaeological Society in the nineteenth century. There are also several stoas, or long colonnaded walkways, used as public meeting places and said to have been frequented by Socrates himself.

Opening times: (April to - Oct) Mon to Sun 8am - 8pm. (Nov to March) Mon to Sun 8am - 3pm

Location: 24 Adrianou Street

Price: Adults €8, Concessions €4 (combination tickets for the Agora, the Acropolis and other ancient Athens sites are available).

Ancient Agora of Athens

6. Astir Beach

Athens is traditionally more about city breaks than beach holidays, however just 13km south of the city centre you will find Astir Beach, in the tranquil suburb of Vouliagmeni. As well as miles of postcard-perfect shoreline stretching out on a peninsula in the Med, there’s plenty of leisure facilities with restaurants, jet-skiing and other watersports, and a spa. Unfortunately you will have to pay for the privilege of this private paradise - access to the beach is €28 at weekends in the summer but it's a lot quieter and cheaper during the week (€18). Try the town beaches in Glyfada, slightly nearer the city, if you want a cheaper alternative.

7. Tour Athens' Street Art

In what feels like a world apart from the marble temples of the Acropolis, the streets of Athens have some of the highest concentrations of contemporary art in the world. Public walls and hidden corners of neighbourhoods like Gazi and Monastiraki have been an open-air canvas for political and social messages since the 1990s and since there are over 2000 pieces, the best way to explore them is through a guided walking tour. The perfect alternative experience to cap off your weekend break in Athens.

8. National Gardens

The National Gardens of Athens are a 15-acre park in central Athens, considered a haven from the melee of the city streets. Wander through the park, coming across ancient ruins, mosaics, columns, a duck pond and a turtle pond. The Botanical Museum of the National Garden is a small museum which exhibits dried plants grown in the gardens, the history of the gardens and botanical paintings by P. Kantartzis.

Opening times: Daily, 7am - dusk

Location: Cnr Leoforos Vasilissis Sofias & Leoforos Vasilissis Amalias

Price: Free.

9. Psirri

Psirri is the Boho neighbourhood of Athens, lying between Mount Lycabettus and the Acropolis, neighbouring the popular Plaka and Monastiraki. The area remains relatively unspoilt by tourism and offers bundles of Greek charm, quirky bars, typical Athenian coffee shops and independent stores. One of the best things to do in Athens is to enjoy a cooling Greek-style frappe at an outdoor cafe, along with a game of backgammon in the sunshine, and Psirri's just the place to come.

10. Experience Dinner in the Sky

Psirri is also home to some of the best restaurants and bars in Athens such as Gostijo, Beer Time and the exceptional Dinner in the Sky. Like a cross between a theme park ride and a top-notch restaurant, you'll have to strap into your seat at the table, as you're hoisted 50 feet in the air, to enjoy your cocktails and fine dining as you slowly rotate with a unique, open-air view of the city's most recognisable landmarks. Book a package in advance on the website; the full 5-course menu starts from €120 per person.

11. Thission Cinema

Watch classic movies in front of the unrivalled backdrop of Athens by night, at this outdoor cinema in Thission. While you might not normally make a beeline for the cinema on weekends away, this one has often been declared the best in the world, and with front-row views of the Acropolis, it's hard to argue. The cheese pies and other surprising movie snacks get a special mention, too.

Opening times: (May to Sept only) Sun to Sat 8pm - 1am.

Location: 7 Apostolou Pavlou Street, Thission.

Price: €6-€8

12. Plaka

Too touristy for some, this old quarter of the city, clustered on the slopes of the Acropolis rock, is still one of Athens' best sights. Strings of red-roofed buildings with balconies dripping with bougainvillea sit alongside Neo-Classical mansions, all connected by a tangle of streets that are a joy to get lost in. There are plenty of arts, crafts and pottery shops to browse, and although it can be somewhat commercial, you'll still find authentic tavernas and street cafes where you can rest your weary heels (and gulp down a glass of chilled retsina wine, of course). Bakaliarakia, on Kidathinaion Street, is the oldest tavern in Athens and specialises in traditional cuisine.

Plaka, Athens

13. Monastiraki Flea Market

This Sunday market around Monastiraki Square is perfect for rounding up some souvenirs before your weekend in Athens is over. Feeling at times more like a local jumble sale, you can find everything from old antiques to handmade musical instruments. Get there before 11am to beat the worst of the crowds.

14. Go island-hopping

Athens' port of Piraeus is just a metro ride away from the city centre, and provides the gateway to a flock of idyllic islands just off the coast. There's Aegina, a charming home away from home for many Athenians, at just an hour's boat ride away. Or there's Hydra, once the haunt of Picasso and Chagall, its pretty port lined with marble flagstones and elegant townhouses. Or there's even tiny Angistri, a pine-clad beauty loved by hikers and a haven for anyone who just wants to potter around quiet coves and drop in at local tavernas on their weekend break. Take your pick, or read our full guide to 20 gorgeous Greek Islands if you want to hop a little further...

Hydra, Greek Islands

15. Get a proper kebab

Greece is the birthplace of this quintessential late-night snack, but the authentic souvlakia you'll find in Athens are a million miles from the greasy meat kebabs you get at 2am on a Saturday night, back in the UK. Watch out for the differences as well: a pitta-kebab is specifically minced lamb or beef, while a pitta-souvlaki contains pork cooked on a skewer, and a pitta-kotopoulo is the chicken variety. All usually come with salad, tzatziki and onions, or whatever combination you like. Thanasis on Mitropoleos Street is said to boast the best kebab in town but we'll let you be the judge...

How to get to Athens

You can reach Athens from the UK directly via London Stansted, Gatwick, Manchester and Edinburgh airports, as well as Dublin airport. easyJet and Ryanair run the cheapest connections, with slightly longer KLM flights also going from the UK via Amsterdam.

Athens International Airport is connected to the city centre by Metro Line 3, the railway and public buses, around 33km to the southeast of Athens.

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Where to stay in Athens

If the Athens Atrium Hotel & Suites - complete with rooftop terrace and jacuzzi tubs in some rooms - doesn't sound tempting enough for you, the price tag of as little as £69* a night should do it. Athens is a good place to stay on a budget, as you also can get doubles at the Dioskouros Hostel right in the heart of Plaka, from just £38.

At the other end of the scale, splash out at the luxurious King George, with little extras like iPod docks, pillow menus and a pool-with-a-view (of the Acropolis). Rooms from £184.

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*Published March 2017. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.

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