Let’s face it, the National Archaeological Museum isn’t exactly a walk in the park. It’s more of an intensive workout, although you can be sure it’s worth the legwork. Housed in a majestic building with Ziller’s fingerprints all over it (the renowned German architect was in charge of the late 19th Century remodel), it boasts 8,000m2 worth of galleries, in a veritable what’s what of Greek civilization, from prehistory to late antiquity. The National Archaeological Museum – the NAM if you will, although admittedly Greeks aren’t big on acronyms – is made up of six permanent exhibitions, including Prehistoric Antiquities, Sculpture (both Greek & Roman), Metalwork, Vases & Minor Arts and Cypriot Antiquities, with a bonus Egyptian section. A quick look through the Museum’s comprehensive website will help you get the lay of the land before you set out, although the grinning mask of Agamemnon, displayed front and center after the ticket counter, will most likely lure you towards the gold-ridden Mycenaean Collection.
We recommend you counterbalance the opulence of this exhibit with the quiet elegance of the nearby Cycladic Antiquities, and just let the minimal, off-white figurines cleanse your palette for the wonders still to come. From here on out, it’s often a race against the clock unless you get there pretty early, as you’ll be asked to clear out 20 minutes before lights out. Make sure to hit all your milestones: the Artemision Bronze, an astonishing 7ft tall sculpture of either Zeus or Poseidon about to unleash a thunderbolt, the Antikythera Mechanism, essentially the world’s first computer, the Dipylon Amphora, the most intricate example of geometric pottery design you can ever hope to see and… well, the list goes on! By the end of the day you’ll be reeling with déjà vu, a sensation that is most likely to stay with you for the remainder of your stay in Athens. That’s how you’ll know the NAM truly is one of the greatest museums in the world. Because it’s bound to make you feel you’ve seen it all before – in school books, on postcards, in calendars, on TV, in films, on your travel agent’s brochures. Only know you’ve finally seen it for yourself!