Hills and Mountains in Athens
Did you know that Athens is built on and in-between seven ancient hills? In ancient Athens, these monumental natural elevations were usually not inhabited but reserved for sacred, ceremonial or governmental purposes.
Today, they are open to the public, and many are extremely popular with locals and tourists. Not only do they offer a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the city, but they also provide some of the best views over Athens.
So, what are the best hills in Athens to visit? Where are they, and how to get to them. Over the years, I’ve been asked these same questions many times.
Whether your plan to visit Athens for a day, a weekend or an extended holiday, my travel guide answers those questions and a lot more for your holiday plans.
So let’s begin the journey, shall we?
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First on our list is the most popular hill in Athens, the Acropolis of Athens. It is the most visited place in Athens and, almost certainly, at the top of many people’s list of things to do in Athens, simply because the Parthenon sits at the top of the hill.
The name “Acropolis” comes from two Greek words: “ἄκρον” (akron) meaning “highest point” and “πόλις” (polis), meaning “city”.
Home to many of the top things to do in Athens, including the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Theatre of Dionysus, and the Propylaia, the Acropolis has been inhabited since prehistoric times.
It has been home to gods and kings, a citadel and fortress, the centre of many religions, and now a tourist attraction. It has withstood earthquakes, bombardment and explosions, and vandalism.
Still, the Acropolis of Athens stands today as a reminder of the rich history of Greece and a lasting monument to the ancient city. It is even a cultural UNESCO World Heritage site for many of its structures, including the Parthenon, which everyone who visits the Acropolis wants to see.
Next, we move on to one of my favourite places in Athens, Pnyx Hill. This is the place where democracy was born. It’s also where noted politicians, generals, and philosophers, including Pericles, Socrates, Pythagoras, Themistocles, and Aristides, spoke to the crowds.
The Pnyx was used for popular assemblies in Athens as early as 507 BC when the city’s reforms transferred political power to its citizens. Just as it did almost 25000 years ago, it still looks down on the Ancient Agora of Athens, which was the commercial and social centre of the city.
On the top of the Pnyx is a flat stone platform, known as the bema, the “stepping stone” or speakers’ platform, which is still visible today. This was the same platform from which noted politicians, generals, and philosophers, including Pericles, Socrates, Pythagoras, Themistocles, and Aristides, spoke to the crowds. It was the meeting place of one of the world’s earliest known democratic legislatures, the Athenian ekklesia (assembly).
It’s one of the best places to watch sunrises and sunsets and one of the best places to have a picnic. It’s also one of the best spots to enjoy the fantastic views over Athens, including the Acropolis of Athens, the Parthenon, the Ancient Agora of Athens, the Temple of Hephaestus, the National Observatory of Athens, and many more.
In March, the Kathara Deftera, or “Clean Monday” — the beginning of Lent among Orthodox Christians, is the day Greeks fly kites (symbolic of the Resurrection) and go on picnics outdoors. The holiday is also the unofficial start of Spring for the Greek people. This is a great opportunity to mix with the locals and watch them fly kites on Pnyx Hill.
Let’s take a walk to the next hill in Athens, Areopagus Hill. With some of the best views of Athens and the Acropolis, Areopagus Hill is one of the most popular places where locals and tourists gather to watch the sunrises and sunsets.
The exact origin of the Areopagus is unclear. Before the 5th century BC, the Areopagus may have been Athens’s elder’s council. Membership was restricted to those who had held high public office. Or, it may have also begun almost exclusively as a murder court and judicial body. While there is no way to be absolutely certain, it is known that murder trials seem to have been held on Areopagus hill as early as the 7th century BC.
Areopagus Hill was probably named after the ancient god of war, Ares (Mars), hence why it is sometimes called Mars hill. The Ancient Greeks believed the hill was connected to mythological events, including the first murder trial conducted by the gods. As a result, the oldest supreme court Arios Pagos of Ancient Athens, was established on the hill.
It was also the centre of worship and religion for many ancient Greeks in Athens. The ruins of altars dedicated to the goddess Athena and the Eumenides, the deities of vengeance, have been discovered on and around the hill.
The last hill I will mention has the highest point in Athens and some of the city’s best views. Lycabettus Hill (also known as Mount Lycabettus or Lycabettus) reaches 277m (910ft) above Athens. Panoramic views of the city from the observation decks rim the summit.
The hill can be climbed on foot by various paths or by the easier, albeit unsteady, ride in the funicular from the top of Ploutárchou. On foot, it should take about 45 minutes.
The hill may derive its name from the words lýki and vaino, meaning “path of light”. The ancient belief was that this was the gigantic rock destined to be the Acropolis citadel, accidentally dropped by the city’s patron goddess, Athena.
The small whitewashed chapel of Holy Church of Saint George crowns the top of the hill. It was built in the 19th century on the site of an older Byzantine church dedicated to Profítis Ilías (the Prophet Elijah).
On the eve of Easter Sunday, a spectacular candlelit procession winds down the peak’s wooded slopes. The hill has a summit restaurant and café and the open-air Lykavittós Theatre, where contemporary jazz, pop and dance performances are held annually during the Athens Festival.
The hill has a large open-air theatre at the top and has housed many Greek and international concerts. Among the artists who have performed at the Lycabettus theatre included Al Di Meola, B.B. King, Bjork, Black Sabbath, Blackmore’s Night and Scorpions, Bob Dylan, Bryan Ferry, Buena Vista Social Club, Chuck Berry, Dead Can Dance, Deep Purple, Faith No More, Faithless, Gary Moore, Iron Maiden, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, Joan Baez, John Mc Laughlin, Leonard Cohen, Massive Attack, Moby, Morrissey, Nazareth, Nick Cave, Nightwish, Orishas, Paco De Lucia, Patti Smith, Pet Shop Boys, Peter Gabriel, Placebo, Radiohead, Ray Charles, Slipknot, The Prodigy, Tito Puente, Tracy Chapman, UB40, Vanessa Mae, Whitesnake.