On the hunt for the best fun facts about Athens? Let’s embark on a tour of the captivating Greek capital and birthplace of democracy!
From architectural masterpieces like the Acropolis and ancient Agora, to the booming nightlife and buzz of the modern city, Athens is a place that has so much to offer.
With these fun facts about Athens we’ll take a journey from the ancient origins of the city to the impressive metropolis of today.
From the first schools of philosophy, to the invention of modern sport, the history of Athens is rich and fascinating.
If it wasn’t for Athens, Western civilization might have been a lot different today. Did you know Athens had the first democracy and first Western university in the world?
Today, Athens is a city of contrasts. Modern apartment buildings are interspersed with ancient structures. For example, you can be up at the 4th century BC Acropolis one minute and touring the ultra-modern Acropolis Museum the next.
Another thing you’ll notice on any trip to Athens is the incredible amount of marble throughout the city – and it’s not just columns and statues, marble is literally everywhere!
So what do you say, should we discover all that Athens has to offer together? This list of Athens facts may just have you booking your next holiday here!
21 Fun Facts About Athens
1. Athens, an ancient city
The Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Panathenaic Stadium, these are just a few of the ancient sites of Athens that can’t be missed.
Considered the birthplace of democracy, Athens was the first city to allow its citizens (except slaves and women) to vote on important matters.
2. A modern metropolis
While Athens may have ancient roots, the city today is a bustling metropolis. The central core of Athens nears 700,000 people and the metropolitan area has an abundant 3.7 million.
Athens is Greece’s most populous city by far. It’s twice as large as the second most populous city, Thessaloniki.
3. A city of marble
When you travel to Athens, you’ll see a lot of marble. It’s not just the temples of the Acropolis that are built from it. In fact, up until the 1990s, the streets were even paved in marble.
While marble is valued as a luxury in most countries, in Athens everything from cobblestones, to park benches, to bird baths are made of marble.
4. The battle of the gods
There’s an epic mythological tale about how Athens got its name. Initially, there were two gods competing to become the patron god of the city, Poseidon and Athena.
Poseidon offered the citizens a saltwater spring. Athena offered an olive tree. When the king of Athens chose the olive tree, the city was named after the goddess of wisdom. We can’t imagine the city being called Poseids!
5. How many world heritage sites does Athens have?
Being an ancient city, it comes as no surprise that Athens is filled with some of the most enduring and epic heritage sites in the world.
In fact, there are 18 UNESCO Heritage Sites in Greece, with the Acropolis in Athens being the most visited with 16,000 visitors everyday!
6. The philosophers of Athens
It can also be said that Athens is the birthplace of philosophy. The greatest philosophers, most of whom are still revered today, traveled to Athens to learn, study and debate in an effort to make sense of the world using reason.
These influential philosophers included Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Epicurus.
7. The mountains surrounding Athens
Athens is located in the Attica Basin and is bordered by four picturesque mountains, Mount Aigaleo, Mount Parnitha, Mount Pentelicus and Mount Hymettus.
And we can’t forget about Mount Lycabettus, the pine-covered limestone hill that sits in the center of Athens and can’t be missed while touring through the city.
8. Is Athens the oldest capital city?
Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world with its origins going back over 3,400 years. Though it didn’t become capital of Greece until 1834.
While other cities around the world like Jericho in the West Bank and Aleppo in Syria may have older roots, Athens is Europe’s oldest city.
9. An unobstructed view of the Acropolis
Athens is a metropolis that avoids building skyscrapers. The reason for this? To not block the view of the Parthenon, of course.
Currently, the tallest building in Athens is Athens Tower 1, a 103 m (338 ft) highrise with 28 floors.
10. The oldest hotel in Athens
The Hotel Grande Bretagne was built in 1842 as a mansion for wealthy Greek businessman Antonis Dimitriou and converted into a hotel in 1874. Today, the 5-star hotel has 320 rooms and 8 restaurants.
One of the Athens facts that surprised us was that the hotel was the headquarters of the Nazi occupation of Greece during World War II. We bet you didn’t know that one!
11. The ancient Olympic games
While most people believe Athens hosted the ancient Olympic Games, they actually were hosted in Olympia in the Peloponnese west of Athens.
However, the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 did take place in Athens. The 1896 Games had 241 athletes competing in 9 sports. Including, athletics, cycling, tennis and wrestling.
12. The modern Olympic games
In 2004, the Olympics returned to their birthplace in Athens. While the event was a huge success, improving infrastructure throughout the city, the financial cost of the event may have led to the debt crisis in the country a few years later.
13. Athens ancient stadium
When visiting Athens you can’t skip the Panathenaic Stadium. Built in the 6th century BC as a racecourse, the stadium was rebuilt in limestone in 330 BC, then in marble in 145 AD.
One of our favorite fun facts about Athens is that the Panathenaic Stadium is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble.
14. A shocking discovery underneath Athens
When the new Athens Metro underground system was being built in anticipation of the 2004 Olympic Games some incredible discoveries were made.
Over 30,000 ancient artifacts were recovered including vases, oil lamps, coins, gold, and a perfectly preserved 1st century BC bronze statuette and 5th century BC bronze head.
15. Athens vs Sparta
The largest rivalry Athens had in the ancient world was with Sparta. The violent and bloody rivalry pitted the democratic Athenians against the oligarchic Spartans.
The largest battle between the two factions was the Peloponnesian War of 431-404 BC. The Spartans would secure victory installing Spartan hegemony over Greece until 371 BC.
16. Does Athens have any nicknames?
Being one of the most important cities in the ancient world, Athens has been known by many other names from locals and visitors alike.
Some of our favorites include the Glorious City, the Bulwark of Hellas, City of Sunlit Splendor and City of the Violet Crown. And let’s not forget the classic, Birthplace of Democracy.
17. The Parthenon marbles
The Parthenon was looted by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin between 1801 and 1812. Elgin removed over half of the sculptures and sent them to Britain to set up a private museum.
Today the artifacts are held in the British Museum in London. In 1983 Greece officially asked for the marbles to be returned, but the negotiations are still ongoing.
18. Famous athletes from Athens
Being a city with some of the greatest sporting history it should come as no surprise that many of the biggest names in sport come from Athens.
The “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo is an NBA superstar with 2 MVP awards and a 2021 NBA Championship. Two star tennis players also come from Athens – Stefanos Tsitsipas and Maria Sakkari.
19. Athens can be unbearably hot
You can definitely hear the hum of air conditioners during summer in Athens. In fact, Athens once held the record for the hottest recorded temperature in Europe with a day of 48°C (118°F) in 1977. The record was broken in 2021 in Sicily, Italy, with 48.5°C (120°F).
20. Athens and higher education
In 385-387 BC, preeminent Greek philosopher Plato founded the Academy in Athens. While it was open to the public, the main patrons were upper class men.
The Platonic Academy is widely considered the first university in Western civilization.
21. Athens almost disappeared completely
Before it became the capital of Greece, Athens fell on some really hard times. Did you know that at the time of the Greek War of Independence in 1821, Athens was a dilapidated village of 4,000 people?
This was definitely one of the fun facts about Athens that blew our minds!
Who wants more fun facts?
If you’re looking for some recommendations, these are a few of our favorite fact books to buy. We use these when planning fun trivia nights with family and friends!
We really hope you enjoyed all our fun facts about Athens! Did you learn something new?
If there’s any Athens facts we missed, you can let us know in the comments below and we’ll add them to this article!