120 Fascinating Facts About Athens

Interesting facts about Athens, Greece

Discover 120 fascinating and fun facts about Athens, the ancient and modern Greek capital!

Athens is one of the birthplaces of Western civilization as we know it. But what else is Athens known for? Let’s find out.

General Athens Facts

  • Athens is the capital and largest city in Greece.
  • Athens is located on the Attica Peninsula, which stretches southeastward into the Aegean Sea.
  • The city sits in the Attica Basin, which is bounded by four large mountains: Mount Aigaleo, Mount Parnitha, Mount Pentelicus, and Mount Hymettus.
  • The weather in Athens is notoriously difficult to predict and varies widely within the city because of its complex landscape build around a number of hills.
  • It is antipodal to (directly across the world from) Mataura in French Polynesia.
  • The Athens city proper has 665,000 people, about twice as many as Thessaloniki (the country’s second largest city) and four times as many as Patra (the country’s third largest city).
A busy square in Athens, with many people walking around, old churches, and the Acropolis in the background
A square in Athens with the Acropolis in the background
  • The greater Athens metropolitan area is home to 3.7 million people, making it the 9th largest city in the European Union, between Rome and Naples (both in Italy).
  • Athens is similar in size to Durban, South Africa. 
  • The highest temperature ever recorded in Athens was 118.4 °F (48°C) in 1977. This was the highest temperature ever in Europe at the time (today the European record is held by Sicily).
  • The lowest temperature ever recorded in Athens was 1.22°F (-17.1 °C) in 1938.
  • The city of Athens takes its name from an older pre-Greek language, and the goddess Athena most likely borrowed the name from the city.
A narrow stone lane in Plaka, Athens with pink flowers and Greek flag on the side
A street in Plaka district, Athens
  • Some common nicknames for Athens are “the Glorious City”, “Bulwark of Hellas”, “City of the Violet Crown”, and “City of Sunlit Splendour”.
  • People from Athens are called Athenians.
  • Athens is considered the birthplace of democracy. The word itself comes from the Greek words “demos” – the people, and “Kratos” – power, or state.
  • Adopted in 1995, the flag of Athens is blue with an inner gold border and an outer red border. There is white cross with a blue disk and a broad white border with gold olive tree branches, with the head of Athena at the center.
The official Athens city flag
The flag of Athens
  • Athens has around 18 sister cities, including Los Angeles (USA), Montreal (Canada), Beijing (China), Buenos Ares (Argentina), and Seoul (South Korea).
  • There are 34 cities, towns, or counties in the USA named after Athens.

Interesting Facts about Athens Places

  • The most famous place in Athens is the Acropolis. This is the city’s ancient citadel on a rocky outcrop overlooking the city. Acropolis comes from the Greek word ἄκρον, which means “highest point”. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • The most famous structure at the Acropolis is the Parthenon. It was built in the 5th century BC for the goddess Athena and is an enduring symbol of Western civilization.
Close up view of the columns of the Parthenon in Athens
The Parthenon
  • The Elgin Marbles, a collection of sculptures from the Parthenon, were removed and taken by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, in the early 1800s and remain in the British Museum in London to this day. Despite international pressure, the British have no plans to return them.
  • Other ruins on the Acropolis include the Propylaea, Temple of Athena Nike, Erechtheum, Theatre of Dionysus and, on the side of the Acropolis, Odeon of Herodes Atticus.
  • Air pollution, which Athens is well known for, has caused serious degradation on the Erechtheum and other ancient ruins in the city.
  • The Acropolis Museum was exclusively built to showcase artifacts from the Acropolis. It is considered one of the most important museums in the world.
Aerial view of the Stoa of Attalos
Stoa of Attalos
  • Other famous ancient Greek and Roman-era ruins in Athens besides the Acropolis include ruins of the Ancient Agora (including the Stoa of Attalos) and Roman Agora, Temple of Olympian Zeus (which at its time was larger than the Parthenon), Temple of Hephaestus, Ancient Cemetery of Kerameikos, Hadrian’s Arch, and Filopappou Monument.
  • The octagonal Tower of Winds in the Roman Agora in Athens is considered the world’s first meteorological station. It dates to 50 BC or possibly earlier.
  • When the neighborhood built on top of the Ancient Agora was razed for the excavations, the Church of the Holy Apostles, which dates to the 10th century, was the only building that was spared.
  • The Panathenaic Stadium, which sits atop an ancient stadium, was the site of the first modern Olympics in 1896. It is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble.
Two guards in Syntagma Square marching towards each other doing the changing guards ceremony
Changing of the guards in Syntagma Square
  • The Olympic Stadium in Athens was built is 1982 and hosted the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Locally it is called Spyros Louis after the first Olympic gold marathon runner in 1896.
  • Athens has more theatrical stages than any other capital city in the world. 148 stages have been found to date.
  • In Syntagma Square, in front of the Old Royal Palace (where Greek Parliament meets) and the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, a changing of the guards ceremony takes place every hour.
  • The Hotel Grande Bretagne is one of the oldest heritage luxury hotels in the world. Taking guests since 1874, it is sometimes called the “Other Parthenon” of Athens.
Aerial view of Athens, with Lycabettus Hill poking out from all the houses
Lycabettus Hill, the highest point in Athens
  • Countless ancient artifacts, tunnels, and buildings were uncovered during the building of the Athens steam railway (1869), which later became the Athens Metro. Some of these artifacts are displayed in stations such as Monastiraki and Syntagma.
  • There is a lack of skyscrapers in Athens. Mainly this is because they don’t want to block views of the Parthenon, the city is earthquake prone, and construction work can be difficult because digging in the ground often uncovers archaeological remains.
  • The tallest building in Athens is Athens Tower 1, which has 28 floors and stands 103 m (338 ft) tall.
  • Lycabettus Hill is the tallest point in Athens, at 277 m (909 ft) above sea level.
  • Some of the trendiest neighborhoods in Athens are Plaka, Syntagma, Anafiotika, Monastiraki, Acropolis and Thissio.
Aerial view of a peninsula in Piraeus Port, Athens, with boats on the sea
Piraeus Port
  • The urban sprawl of Athens stretches all the way to the Saronic Gulf, where ferries depart from Piraeus to the many Greek Islands, including Crete, Santorini, and many more.

Athens Economy and Society Facts

  • Athens is considered the birthplace of Western civilization, philosophy, democracy, and Classical arts.
  • Athens is one of the only cities in the world to have experienced all types of government, including Monarchy, Democracy, Socialism, Capitalism, and Communism.
  • Athens was the first capital city in Europe to be named “The Capital of Culture”.
A white building with columns and statues in front of a building at the University of Athens at night
The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
  • There are about 7 colleges and universities in Athens, including 3 private universities and colleges, 2 public universities and colleges, and 2 community colleges.
  • According to recent data, statistically speaking, Athens is safer than Rome, Paris, Dublin, Brussels, and Hamburg, all of which are considered to have low crime rates and to be safe for tourists.
  • Following the global financial crisis (2007-2008), the Greek government underwent a major debt crisis of its own. The crisis led to major income and property loss, massive borrowing, a humanitarian crisis, riots, and hundreds of thousands of educated Greeks leaving the country.
  • The population of Athens and Greece as continued to drop since the crisis started, and this trend is expected to continue.   
An alleyway in Plaka, Athens with the walls covered in graffiti
Athens is known for its street art
  • 3.4% of people in Athens live below the poverty line, according to data from 2019.
  • Today, Athens accounts for nearly half of the country’s GDP. Its GDP is similar to that of Bridgeport, Connecticut or Xiamen, China.
  • The Athens International Airport served 25,573,993 million passengers in 2019. In the 2021, the figure was 12.3 million, making in the 15th busiest in Europe.
  • The most popular shopping malls in Athens are The Mall of Athens, Athens Metro Mall, and Athenian Capitol.
  • Athens is considered an LGBT-friendly city, with a major Pride Parade taking place since 2005, and the main gay neighborhood being Gazi.
The Athens International Airport and its huge parking lot viewed from above
Athens International Airport
  • Movies set partially or entirely in Athens include Scoob!, Beckett, Dogtooth, Jason Bourne, Rise, and Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.
  • On Amazing Race Season 9 Episode 6, one team had to rush from the Acropolis to a local restaurant to smash some plates.

Athens Sports Facts

  • The ancient Olympics were not held in Athens but in Olympia in the Peloponnese, the large peninsula to the west of Athens.
  • The ancient Olympics saw rivals from the various Greek city states come together to compete in the Sanctuary of Zeus.
View of expansive inside of Panathenaic Stadium with empty seats
Panathenaic Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held
  • Sports in the ancient Olympics included running, jumping, discus and javelin throwing, wrestling, pentathlon (a combination of the latter 5), boxing, pankration (another battle sport), and horse and chariot racing.
  • All wars/conflicts paused during the ancient Olympics. The Games were considered sacred and included ritual sacrifices.
  • The Panathenaic Stadium, dating to the 6th century BC, was excavated and rebuilt in 1869 to host future Olympic games, including ones in 1870 and 1875.
  • After the International Olympics Committee was founded in Paris in 1894, Athens was selected to host the first official Modern Olympic Games in 1896.
Some runners racing in a stadium at the 2004 Olympics in Athens
The Athens Summer Olympics of 2004
  • Athens so far has only hosted the Olympics one more time, in 2004.
  • The most popular sport in Athens today is football.
  • Milwaukee Bucks (Wisconsin state) basketball player Giannis Antetokounmpo is Greek-Nigerian and was born in Athens. He is nicknamed the “Greek Freak” for his mad skills and is one of the most decorated players in NBA history.
  • Stefanos Tsitsipas and Maria Sakkari are two very high ranking tennis players from Athens.

Famous People from Athens

  • Some famous ancient Athenians include Sophocles, Plato, Socrates, Solon, Isocrates, Hippocrates, and Pericles.
  • Actors Aris Servetalis, Michael Antonakos, and Yorgo Voyagis were born in Athens.
  • Actresses Alexandra Ordolis, Suzi Simpson, Zeta Makrypoulia, and Daniela Amavia were born in Athens.
  • Singers Demy, Elli Kokkinou, Savina Yannatou, and Aris Makris were born in Athens.
A mosaic of famous people who were born in Athens
Famous Athenians ancient and modern: Socrates, Plato, Hippocrates, Arianna Huffington, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Tommy Lee (clockwise from top-left)
  • Tommy Lee, drummer of the heavy metal band Mötley Crüe (formed in Los Angeles) was born in Athens. His father was in the US Army and his mom was Greek. His sister, who is also a drummer, is named “Athena”.
  • The writers Margarita Karapanou, Amanda Michalopoulou, and Margarita Liberaki are/were also from Athens.
  • Arianna Huffington, co-founder of Huffington Post and author of 15 books, was also born in Athens. Her name has graced the Times 100 Most Influential People list.
  • The poets Jenny Mastoraki, Miltos Sachtouris, and Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke were also from Athens.

Athens Food Facts

  • In Ancient Athens, bread, cheese, figs, olives, legumes, and grapes were popular foods, and of course wine. Back then, meat was rarely part of the menu.
  • Some of the most famous dishes Greek dishes found everywhere in Athens are souvlaki (also known as Kalamaki) and gyros, choriatiki (Greek salad), moussaka, dolmades, baklava, and spanakopita.
  • Although “saganaki” traditionally refers to a number of dishes cooked in a small pan, the tradition of adding flames to saganaki cheese and shouting “Opa!” started in Chicago’s Greektown, not in Greece.
A gyros wrap on a blue plate on top of a checkered table cloth
Gyros, a staple food in Athens
  • There are only around a dozen McDonalds in Athens. What’s far more common is the local chain, Goody’s Burger House.
  • Attica, the large peninsula where Athens is located, is the largest wine-producing region in Greece. With over 4000 years of production, it is one of the oldest wine regions in the world. Savatiano is the most common grape variety and goes into Retsina wines.
  • Athens is home to 9 Michelin star restaurants, with 8 of them receiving 1 star and only 1 receiving 2 stars: Delta, inside the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre.

Athens History Facts

  • The oldest traces of human habitation in the Athens basin go back to the 5th millennium BC.  
  • Around the Acropolis, remains go back to the 4th millennium BC.
  • By 1400, Athens had become a center of the Mycenean civilization, the last Bronze Age civilization in the area.
Several ancient ruins in Athens in the same shot, lit up at night
Ancient ruins in Athens
  • Around 1300 BC, a palace and other structures were built on the Acropolis, with a city built at its base on today’s Agora.
  • In the 13th or 12th century BC, according to Greek mythology, the king Menestheus ruled Athens and led the Greeks in the Trojan War.
  • From 1100 to 900 BC, Athens underwent a dark ages.
  • The first Olympic Games in history were held near Athens in 776 BC. The Games were dedicated to the Greek Gods, and the winners of the Games were awarded with palm branches. The Games continued for around 1,200 years thereafter.
  • In 594 BC, Solon implemented some of the earliest institutions of democracy as the population of Athens was rising quickly.
  • The enormous Temple of Olympian Zeus was completed in 529 BC.
Remaining columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus with a blue sky in the background
What’s left of the Temple of Olympian Zeus
  • The period from 510 to 323 BC is considered Classical Greece, when Athens achieved new heights in art, architecture, philosophy, theater, and democratic institutions including a system in which citizens could vote for new laws.
  • In 480 BC, the Persians attacked Greece and burned the Parthenon.
  • Construction of the Temple of Athena (Parthenon) started in 447 BC and ended in 432 BC.
  • In 385 BC, Plato founded the Educational Academy (also called the Platonic Academy or just “Academy”. Just outside the Athens city walls, it is considered the first university in Western civilisation.
  • In 323 BC, Alexander the Great died, bringing the Classical Period to and end. The city came under rule by the Macedonians and its power declined.
  • Around 150 BC, the Stao of Attalos was built, after King Attalos II of Pergamon (in modern day Turkey).
Tourists walking among the ruins of the Roman Agora in Athens
Ruins of the Roman Agora
  • In 86 BC, Romans sieged and destroyed Athens, bringing it into their empire.
  • In 267 AD, the Heruli invade and destroy Athens and the Parthenon.
  • Athens was smaller after that, and remained a center of learning for 500 years during Roman rule.
  • In the 6th century, under the Byzantines, the Parthenon was made into a church.
  • Athens was later taken over by Slavic tribes, Saracen pirates, Florentines, Venetians, Ottomans, Turks, and more in the following centuries.
  • From 1801 to 1812, Lod Elgin removed the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon.
  • In 1834, Athens became the capital of the Kingdom of Greece.
A long strip of the Elgin Marbles on a museum wall showing people riding horses
The Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon on display in the British Museum
  • The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens was established in 1837.
  • In 1869, steam railways began running in the city. They went electric in 1904. It would later become the Athens Metro.
  • The 1896, the first modern Summer Olympics were held in Athens.
  • Kathimerini, the nation’s leading newspaper, was first published in 1919.
  • During WWII, Athens was occupied by Germany and underwent famine.
  • The city developed quickly after Greece was admitted to the EU in 1981.
A tram driving by a station in Athens
Athens Tram
  • In the 1980s, the population of Athens city proper reached a peak of around 800,000, before dropping to its current 640,000.
  • In 2001, the New Athens International Airport opened.
  • The 2004 Summer Olympics and Paralympics were hosted by Athens, and the city had failed to win the bid in 1996.
  • The enormous Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center was completed in Athens in 2016, with facilities including the National Library of Greece, Greek National Opera, and Stavros Niarchos Park. US president Obama gave a talk there when he visited the city.
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens shot from above at night with cars driving by on the roads beside it
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
  • In 2019, the city approved a plan to do major restoration work on the Parthenon, which remains ongoing.
  • In March 2021, British PM Boris Johnson rejected a request to return the Elgin Marbles to Athens.

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