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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe Greek capital city, home to more than a third of the Greek nation’s population, with the inescapably impressive, crumbling remnants of ancient civilization is a must-see. It's also the most convenient gateway to the beautiful Greek islands and to the rest of the country, since it's the hub for most buses, trains, ferries, and air carriers. Athens got its name from Athena, the Greek Goddess of wisdom. The city was the birthplace of democracy, theater, and Western civilization. The first traces of Athens date from the Mycenaean period, while it reached its peak after the 5th century BC, known as the ‘Golden Century of Pericles’. The city became the official capital of Greece in 1834. Surrounded by mountains and sea, the city enjoys rays of sunshine almost all year round, yet its natural beauty is undermined by a lack of environmental policies.
Most attractions are located within the city center, which is dominated by the Acropolis where renowned ruins like the Parthenon and the Theater of Dionysus are located. A large part of the city’s historic center has been converted into a zone of Europe’s longest and most stunning pedestrian promenade. But Athens has much more to offer than the the ancient monuments. You'll be impressed with its vibrant street life and relaxed lifestyle. Don't miss the climb up Mount Lycabettus which has an awesome view across the Attica basin and the Aegean Sea. Twilight is the best time to venture up this peak.
Athens has lively and varied nightlife, ranging from urban-chic, cocktail bars to glitzy, waterside dance clubs. The city is best avoided during the summer season with its heavy heat and crowds. Sunny and warm days make spring or autumn the best times to visit.
AcropolisThe Acropolis, also called the ‘Sacred Rock’, is the most important ancient heritage of Greece and is dedicated to Athena, the Goddess of wisdom and protector of the city. Most of the notable structures dates from the 5th century BC and is crowned by three ancient Greek temples, the best known of which is the majestic Parthenon, which has been proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage site. To achieve perfect form, its lines were ingeniously curved to create an optical illusion – the foundations are slightly concave and the columns are slightly convex to make both look straight. But, the Acropolis contains a number of other fascinating things to see, including the Erechtheion , the Propylaia, and the temple of Athena Nike. After dark, the hill is spectacularly floodlighted, creating a scene visible from many parts of the city.
New Acropolis MuseumThe New Acropolis Museum, located on the archaeological site of Makrygianni, was opened in 2009. The five-level museum exhibit archaic and classical finds from the Acropolis site and from some other excavated sites around Attica. All the artifacts recovered from the excavation site date back to the Greek Bronze Age, the Roman, and the Byzantine era. Permanent exhibitions include the Parthenon Frieze, Athena statue, Color the Peplos Kore, Parthenon Gallery and Athena Nike. There's also an excellent restaurant on the second floor with a wonderful view of the Acropolis.
Ancient AgoraThe Ancient Agora, located to the northwest of the Acropolis, was the commercial, trading, administrative, and social center of Athens. During the classical age, Athenians, stall holders, and merchants mingled with officials, politicians, and philosophers. The site is dominated by the Temple of Haephaistos, one of the best-preserved, ancient temples in Greece. The fascinating Museum of Agora, housed in the 2nd century BC Stoa of Attalos, contains an array of everyday artifacts found in the area.
Theater of DionysusTheater of Dionysus, the stone auditorium from the 4th century BC, was home to the original performances of the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripedes and the comedies of Aristophanes. The theater was a place to honor God Dionysus and the plays were performed as part of these celebrations. People came from all over Attica, with their expenses met by the state. The theater held 17,000 spectators and the ruins remain one of the most atmospheric of Athens' ancient sites.
PlakaThe picturesque and historic Plaka, located under the Acropolis, is the city's oldest residential quarter and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Athens. The area boasts authentic Greek culture with several taverns, shops, cafés, ancient trees, and stone walkways. The most beautiful part of Plaka is definitely the settlement of Anafiotika with pretty Cycladic houses leading to Acropolis. Beware though, it can be easy to get lost in the winding streets of Plaka, so get hold of a map of central Athens.
Benaki MuseumGreece's oldest private museum houses the collection of Antonios Benakis. Displayed in a neoclassical mansion, the collection traces the development of Greek art, from the Stone Age up to the 20th century, with jewelry, ceramics, painting, sculpture, furniture, and costumes laid out in chronological order. A number of satellite museums operate within the Benaki framework, including a children’s toy museum in Kouloura House, Palaio Faliro, and the Museum of Islamic Art.
Arch of HadrianThe Arch of Hadrian is a triumphal arch which lies in a walking distance from Syntagma Square, right between the rock of the Acropolis and the Temple of Olympian Zeus . The construction of this temple started in 131 BC to celebrate the arrival of the Roman Emperor, Hadrian, and to thank him for his benefactions for the city. Symbolically, the location of the arch was to mark the line between the ancient part of Athens and Hadrian's new city.
Cape SounionFor truly spectacular views, visit the Temple of Poseidon at the Cape Sounion, the southernmost spot of Attica. It was built as a place of worship to the God of the sea and originally made up of 34 white marble, Doric columns, 15 of which remain. It offers amazing views over the Aegean Sea, which are especially picturesque at sunset. It’s roughly an hour out from Athens and there are loads of tour options available.
Food & DrinkWhether it's Mediterranean cuisine in cozy restaurant or a takeaway gyros; good food is taken for granted in Athens. Areas like Psyrri, Monastiraki, Thissio, or Gazi are where the locals go for a meal out; lively and fashionable. If you're looking for a great traditional meal away from the tourist crowd, head to Exarhia, Neapoli, Ano Petralona, Pangrati, or Koukaki. One of the more traditional must-try dishes is 'moussaka'. In Monastiraki, on the edge of Psirri, you’ll find plenty of places which offer snacks and fast food, many staying open well after midnight. When dining out in Athens, keep in mind that most Athenians do not sit down to dinner until later in the evening, sometimes as late as 10 PM. If you have a sweet tooth, make sure to try some of the country's famous desserts such as 'baklava', alongside a strong cup of Greek coffee.
ShoppingIf you're in town on a Sunday, head to Avisinias Square between Monastiraki and Psirristroll, the huge flea market, where there are bargains to be had on everything from old antique jewelry and furniture to antique books. Around the side streets in Plaka and Monastiraki are various shops where you can find everything from traditional Greek sandals, T-shirts to antique folk and costume jewelry. For more high-end shopping, Kolonaki is the designer boutique area. Everyday clothing and accessories can be found on Athens' busiest shopping street, the pedestrianized Ermou.
AccommodationsAthens has a wide range of accommodations, from the luxurious, designer chic hotels to small pensions, basic budget hotels and hostels. Accommodation in Athens improved markedly with the 2004 Olympics though service is not always up to expectations. Athens' hotels have some of the lowest average room prices in Europe, so even during peak season you can often find good deals. Midrange hotels can be found in the area around the Acropolis, in the neighborhoods of Plaka, Makrygianni, and Koukaki. The squares of Omonoia and Metaxourgio also have some hotels, but crime rates are higher there. Kolonaki is the most cosmopolitan and trendy area in Athens and hotels are usually a little pricier there.
Getting AroundAthens has one airport, Athens International Airport.
Athens’s city center is easy to explore on foot and most of the main attractions lie within walking distance. Public transport is cheap and extensive but often overcrowded. In 2000, Athens opened its new metro, many of whose gleaming stations function as mini-museums, displaying ancient artifacts found on-site. A tram line is running from the city center to the south-coast beaches. Taxis are cheap, plentiful and most drivers speak basic English.
SafetyAthens is known as one of Europe's safer cities for visitors, although, as in all major destinations, pickpockets do exist. Avoid Athens' districts of Monastiraki and Omonia, or the area around the two railway stations of Larissa and Peloponissos after dark.
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Author: Ayda. Last updated: Jan 12, 2015