Despite financial difficulties in recent years, Greece is still a popular tourist attraction that is a must for any world traveler to visit. The capital of Greece, Athens, is known for its rich historical and cultural relics of the past. Ruins, ancient architecture, and a beautiful landscape make this journey to the cradle of civilization a breathtaking one. Athens is surely a place that you have to see at least once in your life.
The best part about Athens is that many of the things you can do there are absolutely free. You don’t have to spend a dime to enjoy the natural and architectural sights of this ancient city. If you find yourself hesitating to go because you’re afraid you won’t have enough money to get a truly amazing experience, then don’t worry. Some of the most interesting places in Athens won’t cost you a single euro. To prove it, here are just a few of the best fun and free things to do in Athens.
1. Syntagma Square
No trip to Athens would be complete without a trip to Syntagma Square. Also known as Constitution Square, Syntagma Square is the central square of Athens, and was named after the constitution that King Otto, the first king of Greece, was required to sign after an uprising in 1843. The square is right in front of the Old Royal Palace, where the Greek Parliament has convened since 1934. Syntagma Square is the core of commercial and political activity in Greece.
At Syntagma Square you can find traditionally dressed guards in short kilts and pom-pom shoes standing watch at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watch as they perform a ritualistic changing of the guard every hour on the hour. On Sunday mornings an entire group of them marches to the tomb along with a band.
2. National Gardens
Right behind the Old Royal Palace sits a little peace of nature. The National Gardens are also located at the city square and provide a little peace and quiet in an otherwise bustling part of the city. These gardens were designed by Queen Amelia and feature palm trees, orange trees, and ornamental trees. The gardens also feature a children’s playground and a café that sits comfortably beneath the shade of trees. Here you can take a moment to relax and unwind. Bring bread to feed the ducks or admire the turtles in the nearby fountain. You can also just sit back and do a little people watching if you’re so inclined.
3. The Lyceum
Athens is a city with immense history. This means that you can hardly throw a rock without finding a few ancient ruins. The Lyceum is one of those ruins, and it was discovered relatively recently in a park behind the Hellenic Parliament. The Lyceum had been used as a gathering place for philosophers to discuss and debate ideas. Philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle have taught there. It was here that Aristotle founded his school The Lyceum, and he was best known for having his students walk with him to discuss philosophy. A student of Aristotle, Alexander the Great sent animal and plant specimens to Aristotle which allowed the philosopher to create the very first botanical garden and zoo in existence.
Now, all this history can be yours to explore. The Lyceum has been opened to the public since 2009, and now tourists and locals alike can walk the same path Aristotle once did. If you’re a lover of philosophy and history, then the Lyceum is worth a visit.
4. Monastiraki Flea Market
If you want to take a look and be immersed in local culture the Monastiraki Flea Market is the perfect place for you. There are a variety of shops that are open every day of the week, but on Sunday there are also open air stalls that have interesting items on sale. Like all flea markets, you’ll never know what you’re going to find. Vendors there sell book, stamps, coins, trinkets, and furniture. You might even be lucky and see something of historical significance.
The most popular spot of the flea market is Abyssinia’s square. Go there on a Sunday and you’ll feel like you walked into an ancient bazaar. Best of all, you don’t have to buy anything if you don’t want to. Entrance to the Monastiraki Flea Market is completely free and buying anything for the vendors is optional. You can have the best time just by exploring the market and doing a little window shopping. If you want a glimpse at how the people of Greece shop, then visit the flea market. You’ll never know what you’ll find!
5. Lycabettus Hill
Lycabettus Hill, also called Lykavittos Hill, is the highest point in Athens. Sitting perched upon the summit is the church of Saint George, build in the 1800s. This church is a popular spot for weddings and for good reason. The nearby Lycabettus Theater holds concerts and performances every summer, and from its parking lot you can see incredible views of the city and its ruins. You can even catch a glimpse of the famous Acropolis and Ancient Agora (which aren’t free to tour, by the way).
You can either reach the summit by cable railway from a station in Aristippus street, or if you’re a nature lover you can high there. The slope is gentle and easy for beginner hikers.
6. Free Tour of the City
The municipal government of Athens actually organizes free tours of the city. These tours are led by locals who can tell you facts and stories that only a local Athenian would know. You’ll see ruins, free museums, and the best places to grab souvlaki, meat and vegetables grilled on a skewer and other typical Greek food, much of which is vegan-friendly.
Because of the history that can be found in Athens, museums are everywhere and many of them are free. There are art museums such as the Gounaropoulos Museum, there are historical museums like Athens University History Museum, and there are even music museums like the Museum of Popular Instruments. All of these museums are free and there are plenty to explore in Athens.
Ruins, tours, parks, and hills are all on the table when you visit this ancient city and you don’t need to fork out any cash to see them! This is just the tip of the iceberg as there are dozens more free things to do in Athens. So if you only have enough for airfare and a hotel and not much to spend during your actual visit, you don’t have a thing to worry about. Everyone should visit this city and admire its rich historical and cultural sights and significance.
Youssef Azerdi is a travel maniac, freelance writer, and contributor The Mediterranean Gu