5 museums you might not know in Athens


Every traveler who visits Athens usually has one main goal: to see the Acropolis. Climbing up this Athenian hill to view the majestic Parthenon in person is almost every visitor’s first stop, followed by a trip to the splendid Acropolis Museum.

While the sprawling Acropolis Museum shares deep insights into the history and daily life of the ancient Greeks, there are many lesser-known Athenian museums most travelers rarely visit. To get a glimpse into other facets of Greek culture and history, and experience fewer crowds and lines, you should visit the following five museums.

The Museum of Cycladic Art

Don’t let the name fool you; though the Museum of Cycladic Art certainly has plenty of Cycladic artworks on display, the exhibits are much more expansive than the name implies. This museum contains some of the most carefully curated and detailed exhibits in Athens.

In addition to Cycladic Art, which differed from the styles of mainland ancient Greece, you will also explore Cypriot antiquities and learn about the historic relations between Cyprus and Greece. Take your time to observe them all, as the Museum of Cycladic Art contains over 800 objects from ancient Cypriot civilizations alone.

Greece’s mountainous terrain and the existence of over 200 different inhabited islands formed geographical boundaries that often led to the formation of different cultures and artforms throughout the country. Visiting this museum will help travelers gain an understanding of the different styles and civilizations that could be found in Greece in ancient times.

Benaki Museum of Greek Culture

The Benaki Museum is actually a collection of six separate museums in different locations, though almost all are a short walking distance from one another. The central museum of the collection is the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture, which covers the different eras of Greek history from ancient Greece to the mid-20th century.

Established by wealthy Antonis Benakis in 1930, who donated the Benakis family mansion as well as 37,000 Islamic and Byzantine objects to create the museum, the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture is situated opposite the National Garden. An avid art collector, Antonis created the museum in memory of his late father, Emmanuel Benakis, a prominent politician and businessman.

When you enter, you initially walk through ancient statues and Byzantine art all the way through to paintings and drawings of a barely populated Athens in the 19th century. The displays are arranged in such a way that they are almost in perfect chronological order as you wander through the museum. One of the most popular, don’t-miss exhibits at the Benaki Museum displays traditional, colorful Greek styles of dress from the different islands and regions of Greece.

Benaki Museum of Islamic Art

The Benaki Museum of Islamic Art was founded in 2004, in order to contain all the Islamic artifacts originally housed in the main Benaki Museum. The original Benaki Museum encompassed many unrelated areas of interest, from Greek culture to Islamic art and even including a toy museum, so the main Benaki Museum wanted to refocus on Greek culture and move most of its non-Greek artifacts to other buildings.

Though Greece Is predominantly Christian, its proximity to North Africa and the Middle East means it has usually maintained close relations and trading partnerships with predominantly Islamic countries. Within the museum you will find displays of intricately woven carpets, detailed ceramics, gold, and metalwork, dating from the 8th to the early 20th century.

The museum complex surpasses 1,000 square meters, and contains one of the most important collections of Islamic Art in the entire world. Displays include artifacts from ancient Persia, India, Arabia, and Mesopotamia. Best of all, after you have finished viewing the exhibits, the rooftop café provides a breathtaking view of the Kerameikos neighborhood.

Athens War Museum

With exhibits that span from the era of Alexander the Great to modern times, the Athens War Museum can seem intimidatingly vast. However, a visit to this enormous museum, which houses plenty of informative and eye-catching exhibits, is definitely worth it.

Situated next to the Byzantine and Christian Museum on the heavily-trafficked road of Vasilissis Sofias, the Athens War Museum is located in the center of Athens, within easy walking distance of several other museums on this list.

In addition to maps detailing Alexander’s routes of conquer, visitors are treated to information regarding many important events and major figures from Greece’s War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire. You will also learn a lot about Greece’s involvement during the Balkan Wars and the country’s occupation and hardships during World War II.

The museum’s guides recommend that visitors start on the top floor and work their way down. As a final stop outside in the yard, visitors will find real retired Greek army planes on display dating from the beginning of the 20th century onwards.

Numismatic Museum of Athens

Situated in a famous three-story private residence on Panepistimiou Street called the Iliou Melathron, the Numismatic Museum of Athens houses a rich collection of coins spanning from ancient to modern times. Though originally established in 1834, the museum moved to its current address in 1999. It contains a staggering collection of over 500,000 objects, including not only coins but also medals, dies, and stamps.

The oldest coins in the museum date back to the 6th century BC. Impressive displays help visitors understand not only the coins of the ancient world, but also how coins were created and minted in ancient Greece, and in various regions of the world throughout time as well.

If visitors wish to brush up on their knowledge of coins, they will also find a library with over 12,000 books focused solely on coins and the study of coinage. Thanks to its enormous inventory, the Numismatic Museum of Athens is currently considered one of the most important numismatic museums in the world.

These lesser-known museums show visitors a deeper, more complex view of ancient and modern Greek history. Visit these incredible buildings to gain fascinating insights into Greek culture and society, while venturing into Athenian neighborhoods you might not have otherwise encountered.


Comments (6)

  1. Jim says:

    The Benaki Museum of Greek Culture definitely seems like one not to miss. Being able to see Greek costume from the islands sounds a good way of getting a flavour of the Greek Islands.

    I like these cultural museums as they can give a sense of what life was like for the average person back in history. Recently I visited a similar type of venture in Copenhagen which had rooms of a house set up to show the typical family life from that era which was absolutely fascinating.

  2. Steve Nicholson says:

    It must have been about a dozen years ago that we did Athens, all the big sights like the Acropolis etc.

    We’d love to go back as we enjoyed the food and the lifestyle. Interesting to read about all these museums as they would give us something new to see.

    For us a museum or sight in the morning for a bit of intellectual stimulation, leisurely lunch, then relaxing in the sun in the afternoon makes for a perfect day. I’m thinking of May of June so there should be plenty of sun.

  3. Lauren says:

    I wouldn’t have thought about visiting museums in Greek, like this. It’s interesting to think about the variety of cultures surrounding Greece as well as all of the country’s ancient history. I would love to see the artifacts associated with minted coins from so long ago. Very cool!

  4. Paula Harris says:

    I’m a sucker for museums so I’d happily go to all of these. I particularly like ones that display cultural artefacts, so something like Benaki museum of Greek culture would be especially of interest. You can learn a lot and it gives you an insight into a country and culture in a way you can’t get by simply reading about it. I’d find the war museum a bit daunting, anything war related just makes me very sad. I’ve never been to a numismatic museum before but having other items, not just coins, on display makes it a little more appealing.

    Are all of these paid for museums with an entrance fee? If ever I make it to Athens, which I hope I will one day, I’d like to check out as many of these as I could.

  5. Maggie says:

    Interesting that there are two Benaki museums in this listing. I’m guessing that the generous funding is from the same person or family.

    It’s probably true that patronage of the arts by wealthy people has gone out of fashion. It would be interesting to know what percentage of art throughout the world has been the result of either a bequest from its one time owners or whether the generosity of a patron has either bought it outright or helped to buy it. It would be nice to see the world’s wealthy doing more to support the arts with their millions and billions.

    Which reminds me of the magnificent Getty Museum in California, a museum originally built as a Roman Villa with fantastic views over the Pacific. That place is a wonderful example of what patronage can do for the arts.

  6. Beatrice Weaver says:

    Even if Athens is like one big museum in my opinion, it’s still wise to visit a proper one so you can get more historical background. The quietness and methodical display of the artifacts also make for a restful break from the outdoor sightseeing. Like others, I also try to get into a museum whenever I visit a new city or country. I like to take my time browsing and perusing interesting artifacts. It’s a joy.

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