Athens is known for its marbles — although, admittedly, over the years it's lost some of them. But carved rock isn't all the city has to offer the discerning museum-goer. Athens has not escaped MMS (Major Museum Syndrome), where grand museums get so important and renowned that they overshadow smaller ones. The new Acropolis Museum, immaculately designed by Bernard Tschumi, the architecturally less-than-impressive but still not-to-be-missed National Archaeological Museum, and the Byzantine Museum hoard much of the attention. But if you're willing to branch out, there's a diverse bounty of smaller collections that will more than reward you for exploring.

Benaki Museum Collection of Islamic Art

Until recently, Greece's connection to the great tradition of Islamic art didn't get all that much attention here. But the Benaki Museum's Islamic art collection, housed in a beautiful neoclassical building near the Acropolis, is showing Athenians what we've been missing. The museum has one of the most important Islamic art collections in the world, and houses amazing objects, tapestries and ceremonial weapons that date from the 10th century. See pieces from the Middle East, Egypt, Spain, North Africa, India and beyond.

Where: 12 Dipylou st., Thisseio
When: Thurs.-Sun., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
More info: 
+30 210 3251311; benaki.gr

 

Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika Gallery

The guy with the unwieldy name remains, more than 20 years after his death, maybe the most important and influential Greek painter of the 20th century. His work was influenced by early cubism, mixed with the images and light of the island of Hydra, where he spent much of his childhood. In 1991 he donated to the Benaki Museum his residence on Kriezotou street (100 meters from Syntagma Square) to be made into a museum that showcases his work and that of his contemporaries. Two of the museum’s six floors contain the rooms that the artist lived and created in, arranged by him before his death. For admirers of modern painting and the avant-garde of the 20th century, this is unmissable.

Where: 3 Kriezotou st., Syntagma
When: Fri. & Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
More info: 
+30 210 3615702; benaki.gr

 

The Frissiras Museum

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The Frissiras Museum houses the private collection of its founder, Vlassis Frissiras, which comprises some 3,500 works of art. It's the only museum of contemporary European art in Greece, and the focus of its collection is unique in Greece, and rare even in the centers of world art. Vlassis Frissiras, an avid collector, acquired art by young Greek visual artists, with two things in mind: modernity and the human form.

Where: 3 & 7 Monis Asteriou st., Plaka
When: Weds.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
More info: 
+30 210 3234678; frissirasmuseum.com

 

The Goulandris Natural History Museum

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For those who want more than a glimpse into the natural history of the region, the Goulandris Natural History Museum has a multitude of specimens on display, ranging from mammals, reptiles and marine life to plants and minerals. Deepen your appreciation for the natural world and our relationship to it by exploring the many permanent collections, exhibitions and interactive technologies. The museum — along with the Gaia Centre for Environmental Research & Education, in the same complex — will help you unlock the secrets of Greek flora and fauna.

Where: 
13 Levidou st., Kifissia
When: Tues.-Fri., 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
More info: 
+30 210 8015870; gnhm.gr

 

National Glyptotheque

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Though Greece built a vibrant sculpture tradition in 20th century, the National Gallery’s sculpture exhibition is a late addition to the Athens museum scene, having opened in 2004. The collection is built around recent works — no ancient kouroi and maidens here — so it starts with folk sculpture and continues through neoclassical works to the vaunted Yannoulis Chalepas and then to modernism, pop art and beyond. The museum is housed in the former royal stables and the surrounding area, in two renovated buildings in one of the greenest parts of the city. The first houses the 19th- and 20th-century sculpture collections, and the second is home to various temporary exhibitions.

Where: Army Park, Goudi (entrance on Katechaki)
When: Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
More info: 
+30 210 7235857; nationalgallery.gr

 

Museum of the City of Athens

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If Athens were an evil queen, this museum would be the mirror that tells her she's the fairest in the land. Located in two of the first major buildings to be built after the Revolution, it's dedicated to showcasing the history of the city, focusing on the years after it became the capital of the modern Greek state in 1834. It contains more than 40,000 objects, ranging from stamps to photographs to manuscripts. By far its most impressive exhibits are the faithfully reconstructed living rooms of Athenian aristocracy over the years. It is here where you will get a glimpse of the (un)real Athens.

Where: 5-7 Paparrigopoulou st., Panepistimio
When: Mon. & Weds.-Fri., 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
More info: 
+30 210 3246164; athenscitymuseum.gr


By Panagiotis Gavriiloglou

Panagiotis is an ex-nerd, ex-employee, ex-traveler kind of guy, living in a post-everything society. He aspires to make a living by trading the next exoplanetary ore to reach Earth or by reading postmodern novels (whichever first achieves financial viability). He has a wide variety of interests and hobbies and not nearly enough time and attention span to keep track of every single one.