Filled with ancient monuments and museums dedicated to Greek art, visiting Athens is like taking a trip back in time. The city's recorded history goes back over three millennia, and its impact on Western culture and politics is undeniable. Experience the excitement of walking in the footsteps of Plato and standing in the temples of the Greek gods, all the while enjoying what the modern, cosmopolitan city has to offer.
The most memorable part of your visit to Athens could very well be the ascent to the Acropolis . The magnificent Parthenon, built on top of the hill in the 5th Century BCE, is one of the greatest architectural masterpieces of all time. Within the vicinity, you'll find the Theatre of Dionysus , the world's oldest theater and an architectural marvel. Great plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were first performed in this open-air space with perfect acoustical clarity to crowds of 250,000.
Many major archaeological sites are also located around the Acropolis. A bit to the west, you'll find the Pnyx (the birthplace of democracy), where Athenian citizens assembled and voted on major political issues. If you venture north, you'll be able to stroll through the Attalos Arcade in the Ancient Agora (ancient marketplace) as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle once did. Other famed monuments in the area include the Temple of Olympian Zeus , the Keramikos Cemetery and the Hephaistos Temple.
Syntagma Square is the heart of modern Athens. It is home to the majestic Parliament Building , which was built in 1840 as the Royal Palace. The hourly changing of the guard in front of Parliament by soldiers dressed in colorful traditional costumes is a great photo opportunity. All major attractions such as Plaka, the Acropolis , the National Garden , the museums of Vassilissis Sophias Avenue and the upscale boutiques of Kolonaki and Ermou Street are only a short walk away. The Syntagma Metro Station features an exhibition of archaeological finds.
Plaka, the picturesque old town of Athens, is perched on the north and east slopes of the Acropolis . It has been continuously inhabited for over 5000 years. You will need several days to explore all the treasures hidden in its narrow streets, most of which are closed to traffic. Few other places are so filled with historic sites - ancient monuments, Byzantine churches, mosques and stately 19th-century houses all stand side by side here. Scattered throughout these quarters are sidewalk cafes, tavernas hidden in vine-covered backyards, and shops selling clothes, handicrafts and exotic souvenirs. This lively neighborhood is an inviting place for a leisurely stroll.
One of the most unusual sights in Plaka is the Lysicrates Monument , which dates back to the 4th Century BCE. Anafiotika , a tiny Cycladic village consisting of picturesque white-washed houses, is also a popular attraction. Plaka also features Byzantine churches from the 11th and 12th Centuries, such as the Church of Panagia Gorgoepikoos .
Among other must-see sights is the Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds, which dates back to the 1st Century BCE. The Kanellopoulos Museum and Museum of Greek Folk Art are a great place to learn about ancient Greek and Byzantine art. The beautifully restored old mansions of Plaka also house other museums including the Museum of Popular Instruments, the Greek Museum of Childhood and the Vlassis Frissiras Museum of Contemporary European Art .
The Monastiraki Flea Market is located on the narrow streets between Monastiraki Square, the Ancient Agora and Assomaton Square. Overlooking Monastiraki Square is the Tzisdarakis Mosque , which features a splendid pottery collection. A short stroll away is the Central Market on Athinas Street which offers an overwhelming variety of seafood, meat and vegetables.
Psirri, Thissio & Gazi
Psirri was once a run-down neighborhood, but has been transformed into the trendiest entertainment district in Athens. Its narrow streets are teeming with traditional tavernas, elegant restaurants, fashionable bars and art galleries.
A brief walk towards the Acropolis will bring you to Thissio, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods. Its beautifully restored mansions now house gourmet restaurants, hot nightspots and cozy cafes.
The Gazi district is home to several large nightclubs and impressively styled restaurants. This area takes its name from a former gas factory which was later transformed into the Gazi Technopolis cultural center.
The section of Vassilissis Sophias Avenue between Syntagma Square and the Hilton features several world-class museums that attract thousands of visitors each year. The newly renovated Benaki Museum contains a huge collection highlighting 8000 years of Greek history. The Museum of Cycladic Art specializes in splendid prehistoric works of art from the Aegean Islands, while the Byzantine Museum deals with medieval Greece. The history of warfare from prehistoric times until the 20th Century comes alive at the War Museum . More peaceful exhibits can be found at the National Art Gallery , which features magnificent works of contemporary Greek art.
The streets around Kolonaki Square feature the most elegant boutiques in Athens. The square itself (officially named Filikis Eterias) is the favorite meeting place of celebrities and beautiful people. They can be seen hanging out at any of Kolonaki's numerous cafes after a shopping spree, or lounging in the excellent gourmet restaurants and chic bars at night. Kolonaki lies on the slopes of Lykavittos Hill , the city's best vantage point.
The scenery changes just a few blocks away from elegant Kolonaki. The area around Exarhion Square is dominated by rock music bars, jazz clubs and traditional tavernas which are frequented by students and intellectuals.
Panepistimiou & Stadiou Streets
These two streets connect Syntagma Square with Omonia Square. As well as shops and restaurants, they feature some of the city's most beautiful 19th-century buildings. Among them is the so-called Panepistimiou Street (officially named El. Venizelou Street), along with the university and National Library . The historic Iliou Melathron Mansion now houses the Numismatic Museum and the National History Museum .
Omonia is the busiest square in the city. This once neglected part of Athens has recently been upgraded with the opening of a new metro station. Many of the inexpensive but shabby stores typical of the area have now been replaced by trendy boutiques.
Patission Street (officially named 28 Oktovriou Street) is one of the city's major thoroughfares. At No. 42 is the majestic Technical University, a splendid example of 19th-century architecture. Next door is the National Archaeological Museum , one of the world's greatest museums, housing an outstanding collection of ancient Greek art. Many fine boutiques can be found further north, past Kodringtonos Street. The best place to rest after a shopping spree is in any one of the numerous cafes and tavernas of the Fokionos Negri pedestrian zone in Kypseli.
Piraeus - the port town of Athens - is located on a peninsula, ten kilometers (six miles) southwest of central Athens. It features a busy commercial port and a Sunday flea market in the streets near the metro station. The most picturesque part of Piraeus is the Mikrolimano fishing harbor, with its row of traditional fish restaurants. Other good places for eating fish are the numerous seafood eateries of Akti Themistokleous Street, on the peninsula's eastern coast. Traces of the area's 2500-year-old history can be found at the Piraeus Archaeological Museum .
Glyfada & Vouliagmeni
The city's southern suburbs are located along the Apollo Coast and feature a string of beaches as well as numerous restaurants and nightclubs. One of these suburbs, Glyfada, boasts a golf course, an excellent shopping area on Metaxa Street and elegant restaurants and bars. Further south you'll find the exclusive resort town of Vouliagmeni, renowned for its luxurious hotels, sophisticated restaurants and sailing clubs. The resort also features excellent beaches and water sports facilities at the Astir Beach Club .
The northern suburb of Kifissia is the destination of choice for the wealthy. The real estate prices in this area are actually some of Europe's highest. Visiting the district's historic landmark hotels, excellent French restaurants and exclusive boutiques is the best way to spend money in style! Visit MaxMara on Kolokotroni Street, Boutique Kostetsos on Argiropoulou Street, and pick up a fine bottle of wine to finish off the night at Cellier , one of Athens' oldest and best wine shops.
The Greeks are renowned for their hedonistic lifestyle and the long nights they like to spend eating, drinking and dancing. Few other places on earth can match the city's lively nightlife scene. Late dinners (taken at around 10p) and nightclubs that fill up after midnight are extremely typical here, so don't be alarmed by the empty tables if you show up early for dinner!
Several factors make dining and partying pleasurable in Athens: there is the contagious joy shown by Athenians as they savor their food, their tendency to dance on any available surface including tables, and the endless chats. The picture perfect scenery, be it a traditional taverna located in a vine-covered backyard in Plaka or a seaside fish restaurant in Piraeus, will add to your enjoyment. Finally, the pleasant weather means that you can dine and party outdoors for most months of the year. What better way to end the day than by dining under the stars beneath the Acropolis?
A restaurant that stands out for its great city view is the Dionysos Cafe and Restaurant at the foot of the Acropolis . For a romantic evening, one of the most beautiful dining rooms is G.B. Corner, which shares the old-world charm of the adjacent Grande Bretagne Hotel on Syntagma Square. A large number of nightclubs can be found all over Athens. Some feature live Greek music, while others play the latest international hits and attract the city's clubbers: Wild Rose and Kalua near Syntagma Square are both fantastic options. Symposio offers a grand view of the Acropolis as well, and has a wide selection of expertly seasoned meats that come paired with exotic sauces. While Furin Kazan , near Syntagma Square is ideal for a quick sushi lunch or dinner.
Classic Greek cuisine is also served in the elegant Daphne's in Plaka. Bakaliarakia is a comfortable Greek tavern with a large crowd of regulars. For delectable ham and pork dishes, try Xynou , where your meal will be accompanied by live music. There is also a backyard garden for those interested in dining outside. Eden Vegetarian Restaurant isn't just for vegetarians, they have many menu items that contain fresh seafood. For a sampling of some traditional Greek fare, try Akropol Resaturant Tavern , where there is live music from local bands. Scholarheion is a family owned and operated restaurant that focuses on serving guests quality meals at reasonable prices. Taverna Tou Psarra features a lovely rooftop garden with stunning views of Plaka. Among the numerous tavernas of the old town of Plaka are Damigos and Xynou , the latter serving food in its garden during the summer.
Great alfresco dining is offered on the terrace of Ta Kioupia in Kifissia, with its splendid view of the city and the culinary cluster of around forty traditional dishes you will find on your table. For some Mediterranean food with a modern twist, try Beau Brummel . There is a large selection of cigars and cognac for those who enjoy a smoke after dinner. Cuisine of the highest quality is served at the elegant French restaurant Vardis . Souvlakia Kifissias is a popular take out restaurant where you can go to get some souvlaki on the go. Be sure to try the garlic pie, one of the restaurants specialties. Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone represents classic Italian dishes like lasagna and risotto with truffles and foie gras. The wine list also offers selections from Italy.
Try Le Grand Balcon in the St George Lycabettus Hotel in Kolonaki. Kafenio in Kolonaki serves traditional Greek fare. Athens boasts a large selection of ethnic restaurants featuring cuisine from every continent. These range from informal eateries to gourmet temples such as the sophisticated Italian restaurant Boschetto , the excellent Polynesian restaurant White Elephant and Kiku , the best Japanese in town.
A major component of each dining experience is not just the food but also the excellent Greek wine, which has played an important role in the Athenian way of life for thousands of years. The Attica region is actually one of the oldest wine-growing regions of the world. Vintners have been providing Athenians with their elixir for thousands of years and wines range from the simple retsina to excellent reds and whites. Excellent pasta and other Italian specialties are served at Casa di Pasta.
Eating out in one of the traditional tavernas is a must for any visitor. These serve tasty Greek dishes (made from meat, seafood and vegetables) that are preceded by mezedes. These mouth-watering appetizers are varied and can constitute an opulent meal in themselves. A good place for sampling mezedes is the Psirri district, where there are several tavernas such as Silfio , located on Taki Street, as well as Athinaikon near Omonia Square and Vlassis near Mavili Square. Fans of modern cuisine should try the innovative Kouzina Cine-Psirri. Athens also features several elegant wine bars such as Aspro in Psirri, and Thirio .
Visitors interested in a more authentic experience should opt for a club featuring rebetiko music, such as the Stoa Athanaton . Meanwhile, the cuisine of ancient Greece has been revived by Archeon Gevsis , a restaurant chain with branches near Omonia Square and in Piraeus. Neon Omonia was built inside what was once one of Athens' oldest hotels. Serving coffee and breakfast food, it's a popular place for people in the hurry in the morning. Olive Garden shares its name with the American chain, but the food here is Mediterranean, Greek, Italian, French and Moroccan all rolled into one. For a rustic dining experience, try Athinaikon , a tavern that serves traditional, hearty Greek dishes such as stuffed spleen.
The best way to explore a city is on foot. This is especially true of Athens, which has a number of sights located in close proximity to one another.
National Archaeological Museum
World renowned museum, the National Archaeological Museum should be at the top of your list of museums to visit. Although you will face a crowd due to its popularity, it is for good reason. This museum houses artifacts that date back to the 6th Millennium BCE. Art from the Aegean islands and Mycenaean art is showcased, including the funeral masks that were used to cover the deceased Mycenean leaders. In addition, the earliest known Greek sculptures dating from 2000 BCE and an Egyptian Art collection are on display. Another must see attraction is the Benaki Museum . This classic museum was established in 1930 and is home to rare collections and hosts conservation workshops. Items from the Prehistoric period are featured as well as work from the Roman Empire. Then quench your thirst and appetite at the nearby Neon cafe, the perfect stop before continuing on. Also, don't miss the Museum of Cycladic Art which is near the Benaki Museum, and features the ancient cultures of Aegean and Cyprus (3000 BCE).
As you venture towards Vassileos Konstantinou Street, the Panathenaic Stadium will make you stand in awe as you gaze up at this impressive structure. The Panathenaic Stadium is built on the remains of an ancient stadium dating back 330 BCE, and was host to the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Today, this 70,000-seat venue is used for concerts and other large-scale events. On nearby Vassilissis Olgas Street is the entrance to the Temple of Olympian Zeus , one of the largest temples ever constructed. Today, only some of the temple's columns can be seen. In better shape is the adjacent Hadrian's Arch , built in 131 CE in honor of the Roman emperor Hadrian. For a traditional Greek cuisine experience as you tour this area, try Eden Vegetarian Restaurant .
The ascent to the Acropolis , with its architectural masterpieces dating back to the 5th Century BCE, is the most famed symbol of Athens. You can reach the top of this hill by entering through the monumental Propylea in order to admire the magnificent Parthenon and the graceful Caryatid statues at the Erechthion Temple. The museum features splendid examples of ancient Greek art. Next, check out Lysicrates Monument , a cyclical tower from the 4th Century BCE. From here, it is just a brief walk along Dionysiou Areopagitou Street to the southern slope of the Acropolis - the site of the Dionysos Theatre . Constructed in the 6th Century BCE, it is one of the world's oldest theaters and the place where the great works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes were first performed. Walking down the street towards the entrance of the Acropolis, you will come across a more recent theater, the Odeon of Herod Atticus from the 2nd Century BCE, which is still used for concerts and performances. A great place for Greek cuisine in the area is Taverna Xynos .
Opposite the entrance of the Acropolis stands Philopappou Hill . From the monument on the hilltop, built in the 2nd Century CE, you can enjoy a magnificent view of the Acropolis. Nearby is Filistron , a great place to dine at while you take in the view of the Acropolis. On a lower hill lies Pnyx , the birthplace of democracy and the venue of the world's first popular assembly. Not far from here you can visit Arios Pagos , a small hill that was used as the seat of court during the 5th Century BCE. This is the place where the Apostle Paul preached to the citizens of Athens 2000 years ago. The stairs next to the Arios Pagos will take you down to the Ancient Agora marketplace. Among the numerous sights in this archaeological park are the well-preserved Temple of Hephaistos and the reconstructed Stoa Attalou. A short stroll away is the more recent Roman Agora from the 1st Century BCE, and the landmark Tower of the Winds.
Plaka is one of the city's major attractions. Many interesting sights such as ancient monuments, Byzantine churches and beautifully restored mansions can be found in its narrow streets, most of them closed to traffic. There is also a good choice of tavernas, cafes and souvenir shops in the area, among them is Restaurant Taverna Plaka . Upon entering Kydathineon Street from the Filellinon end, you will come across the 11th-century Agia Sotira Church, one of the few remaining Byzantine churches in Athens. Opposite the church is the Museum of Greek Folk Art . Its exhibits include a wide range of artifacts such as traditional costumes, wood carvings and pottery. Turning left at Monis Asteriou Street, you will come to the the Vlassis Frissiras Museum of Contemporary European Art , although the children would probably prefer a visit to the Greek Museum of Childhood at 14 Kydathineon Street. One of Plaka's most interesting churches is the 11th Century Agios Nikolaos Rangavas on Prytaniou Street. Down the street stands the Agii Anargyri Monastery, which was built in the 17th Century, and the Museum of the History of Athens University , housed inside the stately mansion on Tholou Street. Next to the museum is the Panagia Chryssokastriotissa Church in Aliberti Street, made famous by its miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary.
With so much to see and do, Athens is best seen on wheels or by foot, just make sure to pack comfortable walking shoes.
Athens Walking Tours ( +30 210 884 7269/ http://www.athenswalkingtours.gr/ )
Car and Bus Tours
Greece Taxi ( +30 694 013 1734/ http://www.greecetaxi.gr/ )
Interdynamic ( +30 281 030 0330/ http://www.ellada.net/ )
Sightseeing Bus ( http://www.oasa.gr/ )
Chat Tours ( +30 210 322 3137/ http://www.chatours.gr/ )
Hop-in Zion Tours ( +30 210 428 5500 / http://www.hopin.com/ )
Experience Plus! ( +1 800 685 4565/ http://www.experienceplus.com/ )
Cycle Greece ( +30 210 921 8160/ http://www.cyclegreece.gr/ )
Pame Volta ( +30 210 675 2886 / http://www.pamevolta.gr/ )