An Uncreepy Tourist’s Guide to The First Cemetery of Athens
It probably sounds weird to go visit a cemetery as a tourist attraction, but that’s because there aren’t many graveyards out there like the First Cemetery of Athens.
It’s described by many as an “open-air museum” and once you see the photos I have to share with you, you’ll completely understand why. The cemetery opened in 1837 and became the resting place of the wealthy and famous.
How do you get there?
The easiest way to access it is off of Logginou and Anapafseos. (When you’re done, my favorite restaurant in Athens, The Olympian, is less than a 5-minute walk down Anapafseos on the right-hand side.)
I like taking Ubers when I am in foreign countries because I can just type in where I want to go and there’s less opportunity for miscommunication like I had with my cab driver on my first outing in Athens. If you opt to walk to the First Cemetery, there are some pretty steep hills in every direction, so you’ll be either going uphill to get there or uphill to get home.
What’s so special about the First Cemetery?
In Greek, the First Cemetery is called Próto Nekrotafeío Athinón. There are 3 churches, numerous tombs, and spectacular sculptures throughout the cemetery. The setting is garden-like, with towering cypress trees, palms, olive trees, and flowers tumbling everywhere.
Atlas Obscura says of the site:
The cemetery pays homage to the city’s architectural history and boasts gorgeous examples of Neoclassical and Romantic features. Striking sculptures guard equally beautiful tombs. One of the most noteworthy is I Koimomeni (The Sleeping Girl), a sculpture of a dead young girl created by Yannoulis Chalepas, who also happens to be buried in the cemetery.
It’s a rather prestigious place to be interred. The graves of important politicians, including a handful of prime ministers, can be found there. The bones of prominent Greek artists, actresses, poets, and musicians also now call the cemetery their eternal home. Heinrich Schliemann, the archaeologist who excavated the city said to be Troy, was buried beneath a particularly impressive tomb. (source)
Some people believe that the cemetery is haunted by the ghost of Nikolas Batsaris, a wreath bearer who worked in the cemetery until he passed away.
My visit to the First Cemetery
I went to visit the cemetery on a sunny but not-too-hot afternoon. I had stopped at a market before visiting the cemetery and had a few goodies in my backpack, but not enough to weigh me down or make it a struggle to see everything.
Most areas of the cemetery are extremely well-maintained, but some of the further points have crumbling sidewalks and more leaves on the ground. The first thing I noticed about the site was how incredibly peaceful it was. I sat on a bench to take it all in and the atmosphere was only made more harmonious by the many birds who apparently reside there. If Disney movies had cemeteries, this would be the kind of cemetery they’d have.
While I was sitting there, a couple of cats came up and stared at me suspiciously. I decided to make friends and pulled a can of Pringles out of my backpack to lure them closer. (You must try Paprika Pringles when you come to Europe.) I tossed a couple to the cats nearby who pounced on the chips immediately. It wasn’t long before there were about a dozen cats at my feet, eating my Pringles.
And when I got up to tour the cemetery, they…umm… began to follow me.
It was me and a parade of 12 or so felines, walking through maze-like paths. A couple of elderly ladies in black glared out me and my cat parade but at this point, there was nothing I could do – we were buddies for life. Or at least for the next 15-20 minutes.
Some of the highlights
I took photos of some of the graves, which you can see in the slideshow below. Simply click on the photo to enlarge it, and then you can go through using the arrows.
Some First Cemetary Trivia
I found this to be a very interesting tidbit of trivia about the First Cemetery.
Cremation is not allowed by the Greek Orthodox Church. You are only allowed three years in your grave then they dig you up and put your bones in an ossuary to make room for the next guy. Unless you have your own mausoleum, that is. (source)
What you should know about the First Cemetery
Here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions about visiting the First Cemetery.
How physically challenging is visiting the First Cemetery?
Even if you aren’t extremely fit, if you are mobile, you’ll find the First Cemetery reasonably easy to visit. Most of it is flat aside from a few short stairways of about 5-6 steps each. There is no hand railing on the stairways.
If you are mobility-challenged, you should know that the walkways are not exceptionally smooth in all places, so they could pose some difficulty.
What’s the bathroom sitch?
There is no public bathroom at the First Cemetery.
Is there food?
There is no food at the cemetery but if you walk straight out of the gate down Anapafseos, there is a number of bustling restaurants.
Is there anything tourists should be warned about in the First Cemetery?
The First Cemetery is very safe. Please note that this is an active cemetery where people are still being buried and where people come to visit lost loved ones. It’s important to be respectful of this fact while visiting.
How expensive is the First Cemetery?
There is no charge for admission to the First Cemetery.
Have you been to the First Cemetery?
Do you have any tips for new visitors to the First Cemetery? Or any questions? Please let us know in the comments.