ATHENS is a city full of art and especially of the ancient variety, but not only. Here is a guide to the 10 (+2) main museums in town where you can see some art. Admittedly, there is more ancient art on offer at the museums in town, however the private art galleries and other institutions make up for that by offering plenty of modern and contemporary art shows. That’s why a section at the end gives you some more options to explore:
50 Vasileos Konstantinou str. (nearest metro station: Evangelismos)
116 34, Athens
+30 214 40 86 201
The National Gallery of Greece has recently been renovated, extended (to 20,760m2), revamped and is indeed a most amazing museum. Here, you will be able to learn about the history of Greek art, from the days of the Greek Revolution (1821) and up to the present day. From the more academic style of painting, right up to the contemporary creations. This is a good place to start your art wanderings, seeing as it gives you the most complete picture of the history of Greek art from when Greece gained its independence in 1821, from Ottoman rule. And you will be surprised with the quality and variety of the works. Greek artists might not have been included so often in the ‘European’ art history books, but there have been (and there are), plenty of great artists working here in little Greece, that are definitely worth discovering. The museum’s former director, Marina Lambraki-Plaka managed to complete her task of renovating/extending the museum, before she passed away, actually while she was prepairing an exhibition dedicated to Constantinos Parthenis, which opened to the public in July of 2022 (the exhibition ran till February 28, 2023). The new director, Syrago Tsiara, has already made some interesting changes, such as presenting some of the works by foreign artists in the collection (including a Picasso, which was stolen from the museum years before, but then retrieved again).
National Museum of Contemporary Art (also known as EMST)
Kallirois & Frantzis Streets (closest metro station: Syngrou-Fix)
Now, if contemporary art is more your thing, then head to EMST! This building used to be a crumbling old FIX beer factory, before it was turned into a state-of-the-art museum. The museum has a permanent collection which includes works by both Greek artists and some international greats (eg works by Bill Viola, Mona Hatoum, Jannis Kounellis, Nan Goldin). The temporary exhibitions have also provided the Athenian public with a chance to see many interesting and thought-provoking works that examine our modern-day existence, dilemas, realities etc. Opening on December 15 is the exhibition ‘Modern Love (or Love in the Age of Cold Intimacies) which explores the state of love, and human bonds in the age of the Internet, social media, and high capitalism, probing how the digital sphere, the impact of technology giants, and neo-liberal practices have transformed love, social relations, and the way we interact with one another. The work of 24 contemporary artists from around the world are comprised in this exhibition. Runs till May 28, 2023.
B&E Goulandris Foundation
13 Eratosthenous St (near the Panathenaic Stadium. Nearest metro stations: Acropolis or Evangelismos)
One thing that was missing from this metropolis, was a collection of art open to the public, that comprised the great European modernist masters and other international names. The aim of Basil and Elise Goulandris was to find a space and to present their collection in the heart of Athens. It took a while for this dream to be realized… 27 years. The museum finally opened its doors in 2019, and it is truly one of the great cultural gems of this city. This is where you can see Picassos, Van Goghs, Pollocks, Cezannes etc, but also some excellent Greek modern and contemporary masters. The collection of 800 works is presented on a rotation system. There are also superb temporary exhibitions, and other events such as children’s workshops and jazz evenings. The temporary exhibition ‘Photis Kontoglou and his influence on the younger generation’, followed by the ‘New Realism‘ exhibition were two of the highlights this year.
Benaki Museum of Greek Culture
1 Koumbari St and Vas. Sophias Ave. (nearest metro station: Syntagma)
The Benaki Museum has quite a few annexes around town, and even further afield. But the main building, is the one in the heart of Athens, which houses a collection that spans the Neolithic and ancient, to the byzantine, and reaching up to the 19th and 20th centuries. From beautiful ancient sculptures to rare engravings, precious jewellery and more. There’s lots of different types of art and artefacts to see. Housed in the beautiful stately mansion of its founder, the Alexandrian-Greek businessman and collector Antonis Benakis (1873-1954). There are temporary exhibitions also on show here, such as the exhibition ‘Yannis Moralis: In Private’ (ran till Jan 8, 2023), which presented how this much-loved Greek abstract artist worked in his studio. Although the Greeks didn’t really embrace the abstract art movement, and even today seem to prefer figurative painting, this didn’t stop Moralis (1916-2009) from going forth and continuing his abstract art road. He is the most famous Greek abstract artist. Now running till April 23, at the Benaki’s main annex, is the photographic exhibition accompanied by a historical documentary, ‘Athens and the Great Idea 1896-1922′.
138 Pireos St (nearest metro station: Kerameikos)
Down on Pireos Street, you will find another annex of the Benaki Museum. This is a modern building which has a lovely atrium. There are usually many temporary exhibitions going on here. For the Xmas season there will be the exhibition ‘Routes of Icons, 17th-19th century’ (December 5, 2022-February 5,2023). Now, not everyone is into icons, but the art of these religious artefacts is amazing and definitely worth exploring. On a more historical note, the exhibition ‘Asia Minor Hellenism: Heyday – Catastrophe – Displacement – Rebirth’, runs till Feb 12, 2023. You might be interested in checking out some of the other annexes around town, such as the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art, which houses a most beautiful collection of ceramics, or the Benaki’s Ghika gallery, which presents temporary exhibitions. Running till July 23 is the awesome Nelly’s retrospective which presents the work of this talented photographer.
Museum of Cycladic Art
4 Neophytou Douka St, (nearest metro station: Evangelismos)
The little Cycladic figurines that have inspired many a modernist artist in particular (eg Brancusi, Modigliani, Giacometti, Hepworth and Moore), are indeed worthy of praise, and definitely worth checking out for real. Here, you will find the most complete private collection of Cycladic art worldwide, but also a wonderful collection of ancient Greek art and Cypriot art. The museum opened in 1986 to house and display the private collection of Dolly and Nikolaos Goulandris. Furthermore, down the road at the Cycladic Museum’s Stathatos Mansion annex, wonderful contemporary art exhibitions have been held over the years, including international names such as Ai Weiwei, Lynda Benglis and Mike Kelley, but also exhibitions organized by the Deste Foundation. Definitely worth seeing if there is an exhibition running there while you’re in town. Currently running at the museum are the exhibitions ‘Identities, Conflicts, Craftsmanship’, (till May 8) and ‘Homecoming: Cycladic Treasures on their Journey’ (runs till October 31, 2023). However, the Cycladic Art Cafe Project at the museum is also currently hosting a very interesting contemporary exhibition by artist Dimitrios Antonitsis, called ‘Family Matters!’. Runs till May 8.
The Acropolis Museum
15 Dionysiou Aeropagitou St (nearest metro station: Acropolis)
Let’s face it, you can’t visit Athens and not go to the Acropolis Museum. Because it is here that you will be able to marvel at what ancient Athens was all about. All the findings on the Ancient Rock are housed here. From the early history of the Acropolis, to the Parthenon marbles (except for those located at the British Museum…) and those awesome Caryatids (except for the 6th one which is in the British Museum…), you will be able to get an idea of the ancient ‘power and glory’ of this city, and the Hellenic spirit which inspired civilisations around the world. From the smallest of ornate bronze artefacts to the monumental marble sculptures, there’s just so much to see. And don’t forget, that these sculptures are now ‘bare’, because in their ancient heyday, they were in fact painted upon with colours.
The National Archaeological Museum
44 Patission Str (nearest metro station: Omonoia or Victoria Square)
With over 11,000 exhibits, this museum offers visitors a panorama of ancient Greek culture from prehistory to late antiquity. Some interesting Egyptian and Eastern antiquities, plus Cypriot and Roman artefacts. The Mycenaean collection includes the famed gold death-mask of Agamemnon, but there are many other ancient ‘greats’ to see here, such as the imposing bronze statue of Zeus or Poseidon (c. 460 BC) that was found in the sea near Northern Euboea. When contemporary art is added to the mix of ancient art, the results are spectacular. Such was the case when the exhibition of works by contemporary artist George Lazongas were presented at this museum, in an exhibition entitled ‘The Past is Now.George Lazongas: Myths and Antiquity’ (which ran till Nov 30, 2022). The museum’s café also hosts some interesting contemporary art exhibitions.
Byzantine and Christian Museum
22 Vas. Sophias Ave, (nearest metro station: Evangelismos)
Here you will find out all about the Byzantine Empire and its intricate art. Throughout human civilization, art and religion went hand in hand for centuries, and especially during the Byzantine Empire, the first emperor of which (Constantine I), was crowned in 306AD, while the last (Constantine XI), ruled 1449-1453, when the Ottoman Empire took over the city of Constantinople. But going beyond the Byzantine, this museum in recent years has been presenting all the more temporary exhibitions which focus on contemporary art. And the mix is beautiful! For example, the exhibition ‘The Byzantine World of Tassos Mantzavinos’ which ran till Jan 12, 2023, presented the work of one of Greece’s most well-known contemporary artists. Currently the exhibition of religious works by Polykelitos Rengos is running till May 31.
9 Vas Sophias Ave (nearest metro station: Syntagma)
Situated close to the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture, the Cycladic Museum and the Byzantine and Christian Museum (with the National Gallery of Greece also in close proximity), it’s worth checking to see if there is an interesting exhibition on at this beautiful venue. Many wonderful art exhibitions have been curated here. The works of Basil Theocharakis (the founder of this institute), were on show in an exhibition until Jan 19, 2023. Currently running at the exhibition is a great retrospective exhibition of the work of Yannis Gaitis, which also incorporates works by his wife, artist Gabriella Simossi. Interesting workshops, lectures and concerts are also on the agenda here.
Athens Municipal Gallery
Corner of Leonidiou and Myllerou sts (nearest metro station: Metaxourgio)
Situated near the Benaki Pireos and the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art, this is a gallery which could well be combined with a visit to these other two museums also. Further down on Pireos Street, you will also find cultural complex Technopolis, where other interesting cultural events take place, and even further down, there is the Athens School of Fine Arts where exhibitions also take place. The building of the Athens Municipal Gallery used to be a silk factory till 1875. The gallery owns about 3000 works, but they are not always on show, and when they are, it would be a selection. However this museum has been hosting some excellent temporary exhibitions in recent years.
Athens City Museum (Vouros-Eutaxias Foundation)
5&7 Paparigopoulou sts (nearest Metro station:
Come and marvel at the beautiful neoclassical mansion that part of this collection is housed in, which is also known as the ‘old palace’. This is the museum where you will learn about the history of Athens, whilst also perusing the fine art and artefacts on display. The museum’s Black Duck bistro (which operates in the summer months) is also a lovely place to enjoy a meal or a drink.
But wait! There’s a lot more!
There are also many galleries in the centre which present contemporary artist’s works which are definitely worth the visit. Some which are located in central Athens are: Ekfrasi-Gianna Grammatopoulou Gallery, Evripides Gallery, Citronne Gallery Athens, Allouche Benias Gallery, Alma Gallery, Zoumboulakis Gallery, Skoufa Gallery, Genesis Gallery, Kalfayan Gallery, a.antonopoulou.art gallery, Artzone42 gallery, Astrolavos gallery, Bernier-Eliades gallery, Chili art gallery, Depo Darm, Eleftheria Tseliou gallery, Eleni Koroneou gallery, Gagosian gallery, Gallery7, Ikastikos Kyklos Sianti, Ileana Tounta gallery, Kappatos gallery, Rebecca Camhi gallery, Roma Gallery, The Breeder, Technohoros gallery, Peritechnon Karteris, The European Centre/Contemporary Space Athens, Felios collection /16 Fokionos Negri. Furthermore, artist-run spaces such as FokiaNou art space, Phoenix Athens and Communitism have added an alternative art scene to Athens.
Be sure to also check out Art Athina, the annual art fair, if it is on during your visit (in September), or the Athens Biennale (usually runs Sept-Nov every two years). Cultural institutions such as the SNFCC (Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre) and the Onassis Stegi Cultural Centre also include art events in their programmes. The Hellenic-American Union and the Hellenic-French Gallery/Hellenic-French Association (League), the Goethe Institute and the French Institute in the centre of Athens also hold art exhibitions. The British School at Athens the Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies also host art exhibitions. The Athens School of Fine Arts on Pireos Street holds interesting exhibitions in its grand Kessanlis Hall, the Museum Alex-Mylonas-Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in the Psyrri district not only presents the magnificent work of sculptress Mylonas, but regularly hosts temporary exhibitions.
Organisations such as the Deste Foundation, and the Neon Organisation are also involved in organising spectacular art events around town (such as Neon’s ‘Dream On’ exhibition which took place at the former tobacco factory on Lenorman Street). Further afield, towards the northern suburbs (Maroussi/Kifissia), there’s the Economou Collection, the Michalarias Gallery, the Tsichritzis Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Yannis Tsarouchis Foundation Museum. Down south, there’s Domus Art Gallery and Blender Gallery. An excursion to Tritsis Park in Ilion, will allow you not only to enjoy the park, but also the exhibitions that run there. ‘Earth Song’, with works by Chryssa Verghi, Kostas Panakikolaou, Manolis Charos and Achilleas Christidis, ran till Jan 15 there.
- Be sure to check times and days that the museums are open, and a phone call wouldn’t be a bad idea.
- This article has been written by artist/journalist Stella Sevastopoulos, who runs Art Scene Athens. You can check out her online portfolio here