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.
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.
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, cafés 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/ )