Greece Travel Secrets lists the ten best museums in Athens, with the top two being the National Archaeological Museum and the Acropolis Museum.
Athens has many fine museums, with our favourites including the National Archaeological Museum, the Acropolis Museum, the Benaki Museum, the Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments. and the Museum of Cycladic Art. But there are many more fine museums, including the Jewish Museum, children's museums, folk art museums, religious museums, art museums, and a very interesting war museum.
Here, in no particular order, is our list of the ten best museums in Athens.
If you only have time to visit one museum when you're in Athens then make it the National Archaeological Museum. It's the finest collection of Greek art and artefacts in the world, and it's one of those rare national museums whose collection is so rich that it doesn't have anything on display from beyond the country's own borders.
You should allow at least half a day to visit, though if you
are pushed for time consider booking a guided tour before you go, which will
make sure you don't miss any of the highlights. For more information read our
full page on the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
Time for two of the best museums in Athens? Make this the second one, after the National Archaeological Museum. It tells the fascinating story behind the building of the Acropolis, with marvellous views of the Acropolis and Parthenon across the road.
In all it has over 4,000 items on display, all of them found on the Acropolis rock or the surrounding slopes. There are also glass floors in some of the rooms so that you can see the archaeological site on which the museum was built. For more information see the Acropolis Museum website.
A short walk from Syntagma Square stands the grand mansion that once belonged to the Benakis family. It now houses the Benaki Museum, a spectacular collection of over 100,000 items covering Greek history. It began with the Benakis family's own collection, but further acquisitions since it opened in 1930 have meant that satellite museums have been opened, showcasing Asian and Islamic art, leaving the main museum to concentrate on Greece. For more details see our full page devoted to the Benaki Museum.
This is a little further on from the Benaki Museum, on the other side of the road. It isn't the best-known of Athens' museums, but it's long been one of our favourites. That's partly because of the buildings and the grounds, but also its displays of over 25,000 icons, paintings, frescoes, ceramics, manuscripts, and many other items. We like it so much we wrote a full page about the Byzantine and Christian Museum.
This is also definitely on our list of the top museums in Athens, a few minutes further on from the Benaki Museum on the same side of the street. It dramatically and very effectively displays the graceful sculptures of the Cycladic civilisation, which influenced modern artists such as Picasso and Modigliani. In fact Picasso was the subject of one of the museum's ongoing series of special exhibitions, which have included Ai Weiwei, El Greco, Dali, and Caravaggio. Check what's on when you're in Athens, and read our full page about the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art.
This museum is housed in what was the Greek Parliament Building from 1858 to 1934. That's reason enough by itself for a visit, as you get to see the very grand debating chamber. Other highlights include a room devoted to Lord Byron, containing some of his belongings, and a vast archive of charming old photographs. See our full page about the museum here.
We both love music and play instruments so naturally we rate this as one of the best museums in Athens. However, we've also sent non-musician friends to visit and everyone has loved it. As with some of the other museums, one of the attractions is to see inside the building it's housed in, in this case a Plaka mansion.
It displays a collection of over 600 musical instruments spanning a period of about 300 years. The real fun thing is that the display cases have headphones so you can hear the instruments being played. They include bouzoukis, Cretan lyras, drums, flutes, and bagpipes. The museum doesn't have a website but you can get all the information you need here.
This museum is housed in a neoclassical mansion, with the outside remaining as it was but the inside was completely and stylishly redone to house this collection of over 6,000 items. It tells the history of Jewish people in Greece, not flinching from the horrors of the holocaust when Athens, like other places in Greece, lost most of its Jewish population. There are also temporary exhibitions, a modern art gallery, and a comprehensive photographic archive. For further information visit the website of the Jewish Museum of Greece.
This newer museum was purpose-designed to better display over 8,000 items of Islamic Art that were originally part of the main Benaki Museum collection, which didn't have space to put everything on display. It's in a neoclassical mansion not far from the Kerameikos cemetery. It's a superb collection, one of the most important in the world, and the items are beautifully displayed. It covers Islamic art from India, Asia, the Middle East, Egypt and North Africa, Sicily, Spain and elsewhere. For information about visiting see the main Benaki Museum website.
A war museum might sound like it could be a sombre experience, and in places it is, but it's an enthralling place too. It tells the story of Greece through the lens of armed conflict, but it's much more than a series of displays about wars and battles. Outside the entrance are some military vehicles old and new, and inside are model ships, weapons, miniature cities, temple friezes, and an engrossing telling of the role Greece played in World War II. See our full page on the War Museum of Greece.