Athens, the capital of Greece, is more than a concrete jungle with thousands of years of history and mythology under its belt. It’s an affable city enlivened by outdoor cafes, pedestrian streets, gardens and characters aplenty. Though its streets buzz with a unique and chaotic blend of east and west, the city, once known as the “Paris of the Mediterranean’, is experiencing something of a European Renaissance. With European Union-driven modernization and the successful 2004 Olympics propelling the city forward, there is a refreshing optimism in the air. Add the fairly new metro system and airport into the mix and you have an old Athens with a sparkling new sheen.
No trip to Athens would be complete without a visit to the most important ancient monument in the western world. The Acropolis hill, the so-called ‘Sacred Rock’ of Athens, is the site of architectural masterpieces of an ancient civilization. The Parthenon temple is the largest Doric temple ever completed in Greece and the only one built (apart from its wooden roof) of Pentelic marble. The new Acropolis Museum, a beautiful glass structure, lies on the archaeological site of Makrygianni and the ruins of a part of Roman and early Byzantine Athens. It opened to the public on June 21, 2009 and houses in three galleries nearly 4,000 objects excavated from the Athens Acropolis. Athens has many other great museums among them the National Archaeological Museum and Benaki Museum.
The most charming part of Athens is Plaka, the old quarter below the Acropolis. It is filled with shops, restaurants, old tavernas, and the occasional archaeological treasure. The center of Athens is Syntagma (Constitution Square) where the Parliament building is guarded by the evzones, soldiers marching back and forth in traditional short skirts and shoes with pompoms. Behind Syntagma is the upscale Kolonaki area, the city’s most chic neighborhood that is home to ambassadors, the wealthy, and designer boutiques.
Things to do:
Tour the Acropolis and the Parthenon
Visit the new Acropolis Museum
Explore the plaka (old historical section of Athens)
Visit the Benaki Museum famous for its Greek art
Tour the National Archaeological Museum filled with Greek antiquities
Take the tram to the top of Mount Lycabettus for a great view of the city