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
Many major archaeological sites are also located around the Acropolis. A bit to the west, you'll find the
Syntagma Square is the heart of modern Athens. It is home to the majestic
Plaka, the picturesque old town of Athens, is perched on the north and east slopes of the
One of the most unusual sights in Plaka is the
Among other must-see sights is the
The Monastiraki Flea Market is located on the narrow streets between Monastiraki Square, the
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
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
The section of Vassilissis Sophias Avenue between Syntagma Square and the
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 cafés after a shopping spree, or lounging in the excellent gourmet restaurants and chic bars at night. Kolonaki lies on the slopes of
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
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
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
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
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
Athens is rightfully considered to be the cradle of Western civilization. It is the birthplace of democracy and home of the world's greatest philosophers and artists, many of whom set the foundations of modern society.
The Greek capital is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe, first settled during the Neolithic period more than 5000 years ago. Archaeological finds prove that a Bronze Age fortification and a palace were built on the Acropolis Hill as early as 1400 BCE.
Athens takes its name from the goddess Athena. According to Greek mythology, there was a contest between Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and Poseidon, the god of the sea, over who would become the guardian of the city. Each deity granted the citizens a gift; Poseidon opened a well on the Acropolis, while Athena made an olive tree grow on the rocky soil of the hill. The citizens considered the gift of Athena more precious and dedicated their city to her, thus gaining wealth and wisdom.
The foundations of the city's explosive economic and cultural growth were laid in the 6th Century BCE, when the world's first democratic rules were introduced. The new laws relieved the poor of their debts, established the equality of all free men regardless of their wealth and gave all citizens the right to vote. A popular assembly of free citizens began to meet on Pnyx Hill to put the city's affairs to vote.
However, the world's first democracy was threatened with destruction following the Persian invasion in 490 BCE. The Athenians and their allies defended their homes with an army of 11,000 against the 100,000 Persian soldiers. Despite being greatly outnumbered, the Athenian army defeated the Persians at Marathon, thanks to the innovative strategy employed by General Miltiades. A messenger was sent to Athens to inform the citizens of the victory, thereby performing the world's first marathon run. This event is commemorated worldwide with hundreds of marathons held each year. One of these is the Athens Marathon, which follows the original route.
A second Persian invasion with an even larger army led to the evacuation of Athens in 480 BCE. The Persian king Xerxes burnt down the abandoned city but witnessed the total destruction of his fleet by the Athenians at the naval battle of Salamis.
The two victorious battles at Marathon and Salamis established the city's position as a naval superpower and marked the beginning of a phase of unprecedented prosperity. Athens flourished and became the commercial hub and cultural center of the Mediterranean during the 5th Century BCE. The wealth was used by the Athenian leader Pericles to rebuild the city on a grand scale. Pericles also introduced new political reforms, which led to the maturity of the world's first democracy. The city's population reached 140,000, with 40,000 male citizens enjoying full political rights. It was the beginning of the Golden Age of Athens.
The destroyed temples of the Acropolis were replaced by some of the greatest architectural masterpieces of all time, such as the splendid Parthenon (dedicated to Athena), which still inspires architects all over the world. The public buildings were decorated with works by outstanding sculptors such as Phidias and Praxiteles, some of which can be seen at the Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum.
A new art form, namely theater, was born here; plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes were first performed at the Dionysos Theater which is the oldest in the world. Athens was also the place where the world's greatest philosophers, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, changed the way we think and perceive the world today. Visitors can stroll through the Agora (the ancient marketplace), retracing the footsteps of Socrates who used to walk around the once-crowded square engaging people in long discussions.
The Golden Age lasted until 404 BCE, when Athens was defeated by Sparta in the Peloponnesian Wars. The city lost its independence once again in 338 BCE when it came under the rule of the Macedonian kings, and was finally annexed by the Roman Empire in 146 BCE. Foreign rule reduced the city's political role but it remained a major cultural center for many centuries. The Romans, who greatly admired the city's cultural heritage, built many monuments such as the Odeon of Herod Atticus, the Roman Agora, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian's Arch. Many Romans came to Athens to study at its renowned schools of philosophy.
The decline of Athens was caused by the first Christian emperors. Initially, in 394 CE, Theodosius prohibited the worship of the ancient gods, to be followed by the closure of the philosophical schools in 529 CE, ordered by Justinian. Athens turned into a small town during the Byzantine era. Monuments from that time include the Church of Panagia Gorgoepikoos and the Kessariani Monastery. A large number of works of art from this period can be seen at the Byzantine Museum.
The Crusaders who conquered the Byzantine Empire in 1204, controlled the city until 1458 - the year the Turks occupied Athens and annexed it to the Ottoman Empire. Turkish rule lasted for almost four centuries, bequeathing the city monuments such as the Tzisdarakis Mosque on Monastiraki Square and the Fethiye Mosque at the site of the Roman Agora.
A fierce war of independence broke out in 1821, leading to the proclamation of the infant Greek state in 1829. Athens awakened to a new life in 1834 - the year the capital was moved to the city. Prince Otto of Bavaria, who was appointed King of Greece, brought his architects to plan the new royal city. A number of splendid buildings were constructed during this time, such as the Parliament building (the former royal palace), the University and the Academy.
Athens hosted the first modern Olympic Games, which were held at the imposing Panathenaic Stadium in 1896. The city hosted the Olympics again in 2004. The 20th Century witnessed the city's explosive growth. Its population grew from a mere 200,000 to four million, making it one of the largest and most fascinating cities in Europe, despite its infrastructural and environmental problems. Great population growth in the 1920s was caused by the arrival of thousands of ethnic Greek refugees from Turkey, but the city's growth was really accelerated during the 1950s and 1960s with millions of immigrants arriving from the Greek provinces, impoverished after years of war.
In 1941, German Nazi troops occupied the country, causing the death of hundreds of thousands of people. The liberation of Greece in 1944 didn't bring peace but instead a civil war, which ended in 1949. A period of political unrest led to a coup d'etat in 1967, and the severe oppression of the Greek people. Democracy was finally restored in 1974. Greece became a full member of the European Community in 1981.
The fate of the city is best illustrated by the changes that have occurred to the Acropolis throughout the centuries: the Parthenon was built as the temple of Athena, but was subsequently transformed into an Orthodox church by the Byzantine emperors, a Catholic church by the Crusaders and a Muslim mosque by the Turks. This unique monument was severely damaged in 1687 during the Venetian bombardment of Athens, when the gunpowder stored by the Turks in the Parthenon exploded. Further damage was inflicted during the 1801 plundering by Lord Elgin, who removed its splendid sculptural decoration and sold it to the British Museum in London. A major preservation and restoration project was initiated several years ago, when the polluted air of modern Athens caused additional destruction to the marble buildings of the Acropolis.
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 Café 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.
Athens, a bustling metropolis of four million inhabitants, offers its visitors a huge selection of entertainment options, as well as world-class sightseeing opportunities few other places on earth can match. Athens boasts some of mankind's greatest heritage sites such as the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora and the Dionysos Theatre.
Museums & Galleries
Of no lesser interest are the city's great museums, for example the National Archaeological Museum with its splendid collection of ancient Greek art. Also worth a visit is the "Museum Mile" on Vassilissis Sophias Avenue featuring the Benaki Museum, the Museum of Cycladic Art, the Byzantine Museum, the War Museum and the National Art Gallery.
The city's cultural life is extremely varied. Many concerts and performances take place between May and October in numerous open-air venues such as the Lykavittos Theatre overlooking the city. The major cultural event is the Athens Festival-one of Europe's largest summer festivals held each year from June to September. Younger crowds are attracted by the three-day Rockwave Festival held each July.
The winter season includes great concerts at the splendid Athens Concert Hall as well as opera and ballet performances by the Greek National Opera. Also worth mentioning are the city's rebetiko and jazz clubs, such as the Stoa Athanaton and the Half Note Jazz Club.
Performances at the historic National Theatre truly stand out amongst the dozens of theatrical productions which take place in the city. There are also many art exhibitions to choose from, including those held at Gazi Technopolis Manos Chatzidakis, Athinais Cultural Centre and Artower Agora.
If you fancy watching the latest movie, the language barrier is no problem as all movies are featured in the original language with Greek subtitles (with the exception of some films for children). There is a huge choice of cinemas in Athens including, among others, Village Park (Europe's largest entertainment complex), Village Centre Maroussi and Athinais. Still more enjoyable though, is watching a movie under the stars at one of the city's open-air cinemas - such as the one at Aegli, in the Zappion Gardens.
Children will also have a great time in Athens. They can explore the National Garden, visit the mystical Koutouki Cave and the world's third largest bird collection at the Attica Zoological Park. Try out the hands-on exhibits at the Greek Museum of Childhood or even see the creations of other children, exhibited at the Museum of Greek Children's Art.
At the disposal of both children and adults are the city's excellent beaches and water sports facilities, such as the Astir Beach Club in Vouliagmeni, Schinias Beach and Karavi Beach Club in Marathon and the EOT beach clubs in Alimos and Varkiza. Other sports facilities can be found at the freely accessible Agios Kosmas sports complex in Elliniko and the Glyfada Golf Course. Hikers can head to the Mt Parnitha National Park, just north of the city.
The city's excellent shops present an additional recreational opportunity. Athens is a great place for clothes shopping - women in particular will appreciate both the quality and the attractive prices of clothes sold at the city's elegant boutiques. You can also shop for works of art, antiques, home accessories and exotic souvenirs.
For an up to date program of events, art exhibitions, concerts, performances and cinema screenings, consult the pages of Athens News, a weekly English-language newspaper published every Friday. More detailed information, as well as many dining and nightlife suggestions can be found in the Greek-language magazine Athinorama, which is also published on Fridays.