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.