Culture is without a doubt the strongest selling point of Athens, and rightly so. The ancient city has known art, science, philosophy, mythology, theatre and democracy for millennia, and this mind-boggling heritage is now safely housed in its countless museums. They vary in size and theme but they all have their own charm and allure. Here are the museums that you shouldn’t miss if you’re visiting the Greek capital.
1. Acropolis Museum
The crown jewel of the Greek capital’s cultural scene and one of the most important museums in the world, the Acropolis Museum welcomes more than 1.5 million visitors each year. All surviving artefacts from the Acropolis – in Greek possession – are exhibited under its roof, divided into five key historical periods. The building’s “orchestrated simplicity”, according to its architects Bernard Tschumi and Michalis Photiadis, serves the purpose of focusing the visitors’ emotions and intellect on the works of art. On the balcony cafe, directly facing the sacred rock, you can enjoy what may well be the most uplifting coffee or snack in Athens.
2. National Archaeological Museum
Another must-see museum in Athens is no other than the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, the largest one in Greece and a top tourist attraction! The museum is housed in a beautiful neoclassical building designed by L. Lange and Ziller in the 19th century. It is located on Patission Street, with the closest metro stations being Viktoria and Omonoia. The National Archaeological Museum of Athens offers the visitor a panorama of ancient Greek culture and art from prehistory to late antiquity. The collections are exhibited in two floors, so you will need time to check out everything. Some of the exhibits in this museum are quite famous and you may have seen them in your history books!
3. National Museum of Contemporary Art
The National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) in Athens was first established in 2000, however the reconstruction and opening of the old Fix Brewery as the main museum building took place only in February 2014. Nonetheless, it is one of the most interesting and well-organised museums in Athens, aiming to exhibit and promote contemporary Greek and international artists.
The Fix Brewery building, originally constructed in 1961 as a beer brewery (my Greek beer of preference by the way), is still undergoing restoration, in order to house additional art facilities, educational programs and activities, workshops, as well as the permanent and temporary exhibitions. At the moment, the museum does not have a permanent collection, rather the museum organizes temporary ones with the aim to include parts of them in the future permanent collection of the EMST, with a focus on many different types of contemporary art such as painting, photography, video art, installations and new media.
4. Benaki Museum
This is actually a complex of five fine museums. The central neoclassical building in Kolonaki – the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture – with its vast and well-organised collection, will take you down the path of Greek history, from ancient times through Byzantium to the mid-20th century. The industrial Pireos Annexe hosts contemporary and international art exhibits and boasts one of the best museum shops in the city.
5. Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation
Picasso, Monet, El Greco, Kandinsky, Degas, Chagall, Matisse, Bacon, Pollock, Miro, Warhol and the crème de la crème of the Greek masters, all under the same roof! It sounds like a dream museum for every capital in the world and it certainly was for Athens, until October 2019 when the vast and magnificent collection of Basil and Elise Goulandris, who devoted their lives in collecting contemporary masterpieces, opened its doors to the public. This museum offers 11 floors of sheer visual pleasure right in the heart of the hip Pangrati neighbourhood.