If you find yourself in Athens on May Day (May 1, International Workers Day) or on one of the other public holidays, you might feel disappointed that the Acropolis and museums aren’t open. But there are plenty of things to do in the city when tourist Athens is closed…
1. Visit the Roman Agora
Fair enough, you can’t go inside on public holidays. But the Roman Agora is surrounded by public streets and a low fence, so you can see a lot of the site from outside. The bonus is, that with the site empty, you won’t have any random people in your picture of the Tower of the Winds.
The stepped streets and narrow lanes of the Plaka district under the Acropolis are open 24/7, including on bank holidays. Take your time and let yourself get lost, discovering churches and street art before sitting down in a shady restaurant (yes, they’re open!).
3. Agios Eleftherios Church
You won’t be able to see the inside of this mini, Byzantine-era church made of bits of ancient temples, but you can walk round the outside and see the contrast between its tiny size and its big brother, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, next door.
4. Arch of Hadrian
Even when other sites are closed, you can still get up close with Athen’s history. The Arch of Hadrian, or Hadrian’s Gate is right next to one of Athen’s busiest roads in the centre of the city and is free to visit any day of the year.
The magnificent Temple of Olympian Zeus archaeological site next to Hadrian’s Arch is closed on May 1 but you can look through the fence to get a sense of the huge scale of the temple, once the largest in Ancient Greece.
5. May Day protests
Not all visitors will be comfortable doing this, but it’s interesting to see the protests and parades which happen on Syntagma Square on May 1. As always, trust your gut, but we found the May Day protests to be peaceful and it gave us a good insight into the political environment in Greece.
6. Greek Presidential Guard (Evzones)
We didn’t see the changing of the guard in Syntagma Square because of the May 1 protests but after a walk through the National Garden (which is open on public holidays) we found ourselves opposite the Presidential Palace which has Evzones in their traditional uniforms stationed outside. Their ceremonial changing of the guard outside the palace lasted around 15 minutes with only a handful of us watching.
7. Panathenaic Stadium
This beautiful horseshoe-shaped marble stadium is closed on public holidays, including May Day, but is only separated from the public area by a low fence, so you can see the whole thing without needing to go inside.
8. Lycabettus Hill
This Athens tourist attraction is open 365 days/year, including Christmas Day, Easter and all bank holidays. You can either get the funicular railway up to the top or walk, but you’ll already have climbed a good part of the hill to get to the teleferik station for the funicular, and it is expensive at 7.50 Euro each (cash only, no cards). The train runs through a tunnel for its entire length so you don’t even get a good view on the way.
At the top, you’ll find a couple of bars and restaurants, a tiny church, and a stunning view over Athens and the Acropolis, to Piraeus and the Aegean Sea beyond.
9. The Acropolis and Parthenon
Not visiting them of course – Athens’ most famous sights lock their gates for public holidays, but you can get a great view from the many rooftop bars in the city. We were lucky enough to be staying in a hotel with a bar on the roof but there are loads of others, including the Athens Gate hotel bar and the 360 cocktail bar in Monastiraki. Try to be there in the hour before sunset to see the Parthenon change colour from white to warm yellow, before the nighttime illuminations switch on.
(Bonus 10.) Eat and drink
Don’t worry about eating and drinking in Athens on May 1 or other public holidays. Restaurants and bars throughout the main tourist areas including Plaka, Monastiraki and Psirri are open and busy with Athenians enjoying their day off and visitors enjoying the city.
Have you visited Athens on a public holiday?