You won’t be disappointed if you’re looking for some of the most beautiful churches in Athens. There are so many fantastic options to choose from, many of which are within easy walking distance. Whether you’re interested in classical antiquity or more recent history, these churches (and a cathedral) in Athens offer a little something for everyone and should be on everyone’s list of the top things to do in Athens.
For example, how about a church built around 1050 AD? Or one that is a sanctuary for pregnant women, with a secret door to a tunnel and cave system? In this blog post, I will be talking about these and many more.
I’ll tell you everything you need to know: where the churches and cathedrals are, how to get there, the best things to look for, the best places to take photos and the perfect Instagram. So, sit back, make yourself comfortable, and let’s take a look at the most beautiful churches in Athens.
Church of Panagia Kapnikarea
We kick off our adventure with perhaps the oldest church in Athens. Also known as the Holy Church of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary. It is one of my favourite churches and is a must-see for things to do in Athens.
Built around 1050 AD, the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea is located in the centre of Athens, right in the middle of the high-traffic shopping area of Ermou street, at the edge of the Plaka district, and only two minutes walk from the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens.
It was built over an ancient Greek temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena or Demeter. Thousands of people walk by this church daily, without perhaps realising it is one of the oldest churches in Athens.
It has undergone numerous renovations over the centuries. The most notable renovation was in the 16th century by the renowned architect Andronikos Kaldis.
It has a unique name, “Kapnikarea”, which may refer to the Byzantine tax “kapnikon”, or some say it derives from the word “kapnismeni” which in Greek means “smoked”, due to the marks of fire that are seen on the building.
The church features several striking frescoes, including one depicting the Virgin Mary breastfeeding Jesus. I would also recommend you seek out the Mosaic of the Madonna and child at the south entrance. Finally, stand directly below the dome and look up, as it’s breathtaking. Incidentially, this is an excellent opportunity for a photo.
Church of Hagia Dynamis
Second on my list of the most beautiful churches in Athens is the Church of Hagia Dynamis. Also known as the Holy Church of Hagia Dynamis (Sacred Power), it is just five minutes walk from my top choice church of Panagia Kapnikarea and only two minutes walk from my third choice, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens.
This tiny 16th-century Byzantine Greek Orthodox church is almost surrounded by the sizeable up-market hotel Electra Metropolis Athens. It pays homage to the Virgin Mary and serves as a shrine for pregnant women to go and pray for safe delivery.
In the 1830s, after the Greek War of Independence, the surrounding buildings around the church were demolished to widen the street to serve the city’s growing needs.
During the 1950s, the area was again redeveloped. The Greek government attempted to obtain the land the church was on to build the new headquarters for the Ministry of Education and Religion. However, the Greek Orthodox Church refused to give up the land and the church, so it was decided to build around it. Ultimately, this small single-aisle church found itself almost entirely nestled between large and tall buildings.
Inscriptions on the grounds suggest the church was built on an ancient temple dedicated to Heracles, the Greek demigod famous for his strength and performing “the 12 labours”.
Excavations came across a 50-foot tunnel beginning under the church connecting it to an extensive cave system that reaches the Acropolis and the Kaisariani Monastery on the north side of Mount Hymettus. But, in 1963, a steeple was built over the entrance to the tunnel, prohibiting future access.
During the War of Independence, Greek munitions experts were forced to make bullets for the Turks in the church. But, they also secretly made lots of them for the Greek revolutionaries. Each night they were smuggled with the rubbish.
Take time to admire the murals on the walls. They depict, among others, Agia Ekaterini, Agia Kyriaki, Agia Filothei, Agios Ierotheos, Agios Demitrios, and the Beheading of St. John the Baptist.
Photographs inside this lovely church are not usually allowed, so please ask politely to do so, and be prepared for being asked to take just one.
Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, also known as the Metropolitan Church of Athens, the Metropolitan Church of the Annunciation, and more popularly known as the Metropolis, is the cathedral church of the Archbishopric of Athens and Greece.
Situated in the extremely popular Metropolis Square in the centre of Athens, and with a view of the Acropolis, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens is perhaps the most visited of all the churches in the city, and certainly one of the most photographed.
Construction began on Christmas Day 1842, laying the cornerstone by the then King and Queen of Greece. Marble from 72 demolished churches was used to create the walls. On May 21st, 1862, the completed cathedral was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Inside are the tombs of two saints killed by the Ottoman Turks during the Ottoman period: Saint Philothei and Patriarch Gregory V:
- Saint Philothei built a convent, was martyred in 1589, and her bones are still visible in a silver reliquary.
- Gregory V was hanged by order of Sultan Mahmud II and his body was thrown into the Bosphorus in 1821 in retaliation for the Greek uprising on March 25th, leading to the Greek War of Independence. His body was rescued by Greek sailors and eventually enshrined in Athens.
In the Square in front of the cathedral stand two statues. The first is Constantine XI, the last emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. The second is a statue of Archbishop Damaskinos, who was Archbishop of Athens during World War II.
Since its opening, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens has hosted many significant ceremonies, from royal weddings to funerals of important political and social figures.
The top things to do and see and photograph are:
- Seek out the tombs of the two saints killed by the Ottoman Turks during the Ottoman period: Saint Philothei and Patriarch Gregory V.
- The 12 marble columns supporting the roof.
- The mosaics, marble and bronze sculptures, and murals.
- The most famous feature of the cathedral is the mosaic of the Annunciation, which is located on the eastern wall of the central nave.
- The cathedral also has a treasury that houses a collection of ecclesiastical items, including vestments, books, icons, and silverware.
Holy Church of Saint George on Lycabettus Hill
Fourth on my list of the most beautiful churches in Athens is the small whitewashed Holy Church of Saint George located on Lycabettus Hill. Built in 1870, it is one of the most popular things to do in Athens.
Also known as the chapel of Agios Geórgios, it was built on the site of an older Byzantine church dedicated to Profítis Ilías (the Prophet Elijah). Both saints associated with the site are celebrated here on their name days (July 20th and April 23rd, respectively).
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.
You should definitely check out a few things when you visit the Holy Church of Saint George on Lycabettus Hill. First, look at the church’s exterior, as it is covered in beautiful mosaics that will catch your eye. Then, head inside to see the stunning frescoes and icons adorning the walls and ceiling. Don’t forget to visit the crypt – it’s said to be one of the most atmospheric places in the church.
Since you are also on Lycabettus Hill, I would recommend:
- View the stunning view of Athens from the summit, including the Acropolis of Athens
- Take a walk through the beautiful gardens that surround the peak.
- Enjoy a coffee or a bite to eat in one of the charming cafes located on the mountain.
- Take a hike through the forest that surrounds the hill.
- Stroll through the ruins of an ancient monastery on the hill.
- Enjoy a concert at the open-air amphitheatre that is located on the summit.
- Watch the sunset over Athens from the peak of MountLycabettus.
- Marvel at the city lights of Athens from the top of the hill.
Apart from the fantastic photo opportunities of the church, especially the inside, I also recommend:
- The top of the mountain, with panoramic views of Athens and the Aegean Sea.
- The Temple of Zeus, perched atop the summit.
- The amphitheatre offers dramatic views of the cityscape below.
- The cafes and restaurants, for a drink or meal with a view.
- The pathways and hiking trails for a nature escape in the heart of the city.
- The sunset spot, to watch the day turn to night over Athens.
- The viewpoint near the Lycabettus TV Tower for an overview of the city’s layout.
- The Christmas tree in winter, when the slopes of Lycabettus are blanketed in snow.
- The Easter sunrise service is one of Athens’s most beautiful religious ceremonies.
Church of the Holy Apostles Athens
Last, and by now means least on my list of the most beautiful churches in Athens, is the Church of the Holy Apostles Athens. Also known as the Holy Church of the Holy Apostles of Solakis, it is located in the Ancient Agora of Athens, next to the Stoa of Attalos.
Built around 1000 AD, the church was restored to its original form between 1954 and 1957.
The church is particularly significant for two reasons. Firstly, it is the only monument in the Ancient Agora of Athens, other than the Temple of Hephaestus, to survive intact since its foundation.
Secondly, for its architecture. It was the first significant church of the Middle Byzantine period in Athens. It marked the beginning of the so-called “Athenian type”, successfully combining the simple four-pier with the cross-in-square forms. The altar and floor were initially made of marble.
One of the names it is known by is “Solakis”. This could be the family name of those who sponsored a renovation of the church in the Ottoman period or from “Solaki” for the densely populated area around the church in the 19th century.
It was undoubtedly the focal point of an extensive neighbourhood in the Byzantine period, the remains of which were recorded and removed during various excavations.
The eastern half of the church was relatively untouched. Still, several additions, the latest dating to the late 19th century, had damaged and obscured the western end. After excavation, these later additions were removed, and the church was restored to its original form.
A few surviving wall paintings in the central aisle date to the 17th century, and paintings from nearby churches were also placed elsewhere within the church.
It is one of the most important historical sites in Athens, and should be one of the top things to do in Athens. It is a testimony to the city’s rich history and cultural heritage. Visitors to the church can explore its beautiful architecture and learn about its significance in the history of Christianity. The festival of the Twelve Apostles is still celebrated at the church every June 30th.
Well, look at what you have to go away with from this post. I bet you didn’t know of all the things to do in Athens; it would be the churches and the cathedral I mentioned.
- The oldest church in Athens – the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea
- A church for pregnant women which also has a hidden entrance and tunnel system – the Church of Hagia Dynamis
- The best cathedral in Athens, which holds the tombs of the two saints – the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens
- A church high on a hill that has perhaps the best views over Athens – Holy Church of Saint George on Lycabettus Hill
- A 1000-year-old church was built in the Ancient Agora of Athens – Church of the Holy Apostles Athens, the same place where Socrates, St. Paul, and Plato used to walk.
All but the Holy Church of Saint George on Lycabettus hill are within a few minutes’ walking distances of each other. There you have it, the most beautiful churches in Athens.
If you need more information on all of the churches and cathedrals I’ve mentioned in this post, then just follow the links below:
- Church of Panagia Kapnikarea
- Church of Hagia Dynamis
- Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens
- Holy Church of Saint George on Lycabettus Hill
- Church of the Holy Apostles Athens
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