Discover the Oldest Capital City in All of Europe

Written by Patrick MacFarland
Updated: September 29, 2023
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Human civilization has been around for thousands of years. When the dinosaurs were wiped out of this earth, a new organism popped up that would give way to a new life that would transform this world. Humans are the most intelligent mammals to ever exist on this earth. And when it comes to some of the most influential humans on this planet, they lived in the oldest capital city in Europe.

That’s right, Ancient Greeks are known to have invented a laundry list of things like automatic doors, central heating, and democracy. In Athens, everything was possible. After all, Athena, whom Athens is named after, was the Greek goddess of wisdom. Let’s take a look at Athens, the oldest capital city in Europe. You’ll also learn some fun activities if you decide to visit the city.

Where in the World is Athens?

Athens is the capital of Greece. But where in the world is it? The city is located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the southern region of the country. From Athens, you can head to the thousands of islands that have put Greek relaxation on the map. 

For a better understanding of where Athens is, take a look at the map below.

Greece Flag

Athens was the first city in the European Union to receive the designation “European Capital of Culture.”


History of Athens

Athens was a Greek city-state that had an immense amount of power. It was the center of innovation, education, philosophy, and the arts. It later became part of the Macedonian Kingdom before becoming a part of the Roman Empire. For thousands of years, the Romans ruled Athens, but it was in 1458 when it fell to Ottoman rule. They held on to control for almost 400 years until a new Greek nation was established. Athens was declared the capital and has been ever since.

Geography and Climate of Athens

Athens is located in a prime location in Greece. On the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, it borders the Athens Basin, which has historically been an important military and cultural spot. Several hills surround the city, which was perfect for spotting invaders back in ancient times. Because of where Athens is located and how the Greek government has handled the environmental problems that have plagued the city, the city experiences a lot of pollution.

In terms of climate, Athens has a Mediterranean climate where it gets quite hot in the summers. In fact, Athens is known as the hottest city in Europe, which is perfect for those who crave the sun and the heat. But in the winter it cools down. Although the city does not get too cold, it is not immune to snow. Athens has been hit with blizzards in recent years. 

The Acropolis of Athens, Greece, with the Parthenon Temple on top of the hill during a summer sunset

Athens recorded a whopping 118 degrees Fahrenheit on July 10, 1977, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the city, the country, and even Europe.

©Sven Hansche/

Wildlife in Athens

Athens and the whole of Greece in general are rich in biodiversity. Whether it’s the flora or the fauna, species are abundant. Let’s take a look at the wildlife in Athens.


The flora in Athens is diverse. Walking in the national parks or gardens, you can spot olive trees and fig trees. But you can also see firs, cedars, and pines, as well as cypress and willow trees in Athens and the surrounding areas.


In an urban metropolis of 4 million (sidenote: Athens city proper has 463,452 people), animals and humans coexist beautifully. Hedgehogs are a common animal to spot, especially around hills and forested parks. There are also squirrels, foxes, and owls, too. But fascinatingly enough, if you’re going back to the hotel after a night out, you may be able to spot bats. There are also a host of reptiles like salamanders, snakes, and turtles. 

Since Athens is sitting on the Athens Basin, marine life is abundant. Dolphins and sea turtles can be spotted every once in a while, especially en route to other Greek islands. Just be careful and watch out for sharks if you’re in the water!

What Is Athens Known For?

Sunset at Temple of Poseidon near Athens, Greece.

There are 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Athens.

©Songquan Deng/

Athens is the birthplace of democracy and that is what the city is known for, first and foremost. But the city is the oldest city in Europe and one of the oldest in the world. There are ancient ruins that are thousands of years old where innovators, philosophers, and great minds lived. While in Athens, the main focus of our time there will be learning about Ancient Greeks and the gods and goddesses that were so important to them.

Athens is also known for its markets like the Monastiraki Flea Market where you can buy so many things — jewelry, fruits, olives, souvenirs, clothes, and many more. Athens is known as the heart of Greece and thus Greek food is the best here. Try as much Greek food as you can, it will warm your stomach and put a smile on your face. Lastly, Greek culture is lively, it’s passionate, it’s free and you should go dancing just like Zorba the Greek. The nightlife in Athens is fun and one thing you should experience.

Things to Do in Athens

Steeped in rich history, Athens is a city for history lovers. Everywhere you go, you will see something steeped in historical value, from buildings and fountains to statues and roads. You will not run out of things to do in Athens, either.

First on the itinerary, go to the Acropolis. The Acropolis served as an important cultural and religious center for Ancient Greeks. It is a citadel dedicated to the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece. Located on a hill, there are ancient buildings there like the Parthenon. Continue your historical tour of Ancient Athens by going to the National Archeological Museum. Afterward, head to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Zeus was the head of the Olympian gods, the god of the sky, thunder, and lightning.

For those hikers and nature lovers, you can climb up to the top of Mount Lycabettus, where you will see stunning views of the city. You’ll need a refreshing drink and something good to eat after, so walk down and sit down at a Greek restaurant to eat typical Greek food. Order some courgette balls as appetizers and souvlaki with pita bread as your main course. Then delight yourself with baklava for dessert. That will get you some energy to walk around and explore the rest of the city. You’ll get to witness the unique character of Athens — from the vibrant Greek culture, music, and fun way of life!

Fast Facts About Athens

Skyline of Athens with Monastiraki square and Acropolis hill during sunset. Athens, Greece

Athens is not the original capital of Greece, that title goes to Nafplio.

©Nick N A/

  • Population: 643,452
  • Mayor: Kostas Bakoyannis
  • Country: Greece
  • Flower: Bear’s Breech
  • Animal: Owl
  • Named After: Athena, goddess of wisdom


And there you have it, the oldest capital city in Europe is Athens. The city is the birthplace of democracy. Athens is the center of philosophy. It is home to so many inventions that we use today. We have a lot to thank the Ancient Greeks for and it all started in Athens. 

If you have the chance to visit Athens, wherever you look, you will see history. The famous landmarks, the statues, the roads, and the churches have all seen thousands of years of innovations, stories, and wisdom. It will be a wondrous time for you to experience where the founders of so many important things we use now lived. Athena will be proud of all the things you learn when you visit.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © sborisov/iStock via Getty Images

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About the Author

Patrick Macfarland is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering travel, geography, and history. Patrick has been writing for more than 10 years. In the past, he has been a teacher and a political candidate. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science from SDSU and a Master's Degree in European Union Studies from CIFE. From San Diego, California, Patrick loves to travel and try new recipes to cook.

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