Athens may be the cradle of western civilisation, but the appeal of this Grecian capital goes beyond its historic ruins. History is palpable everywhere you go in Athens. Ancient ruins showcase the ingenuity of humankind and are still well-preserved despite dating back thousands of years. The Acropolis is the crown jewel of it all, with the facade of the Parthenon overlooking the city.
A visit to the Agora offers a glimpse at ancient common areas, while the Temple of Poseidon is perfect for a day trip. Of course, there's more to Athens than its past. The district of Psiri is a modern Athens snapshot – its trendy selection of shops, bars and small hotels bustle, and taverns hum. The nightlife in the city generally doesn't reach its peak until early in the morning.
There are more than a handful of things to do in Athens. Where to start? From above it all: with the view from Lycabettus Hill, reached by foot for funicular railway. Or, at the city's beginning, at the ancient fortified town of Athens: The Acropolis.
There's a plethora of art galleries and museums here, naturally, but one of the most striking is the City of Athens Technopolis, an industrial museum and major cultural venue in Athens' former gasworks.
See a play at the renowned, ancient world Herodes Atticus Theatre and, if your visit coincides with the Athens and Epidaurus Festival, be sure to attend at least one event. If you've wandered Athens new and old, enjoy respite in the beautiful, central National Garden of Athens.
Experience the beauty of...
- Views from Mount Lycabettus
- The National Gardens of Athens
- Sunsets from Filopappos Hill
The Greek love of all things olive is alive and well in Athens. Along the spectrum of green (unripe) to black (ripe) olives are the plump and juicy versions of many varieties, haloed by vinegar, oil, brine, oregano and orange peel – to name a few.
Olive oil is drizzled heartily; no salad should be seen without feta and meze; and souvlaki, moussaka and baklava are among the Greek treats that should be sampled on home soil. For a taste of the traditional consider going to Doris (best for lunch); Karavitis (popular with groups) or Vassilenas (for the foodie inside you).
Socialise over coffee at...
- The modern TAF
- Trendy A is for Athens
- Sophisticated Black Duck
The revitalisation pre-2004 Summer Olympics was welcomed by visitors seeking a variety of Athens accommodation options. You'll find simple hostels to flash hotels in Athens' neighbourhoods. July and August are peak times, but don't shy away from looking for a discount at the top establishments; there are enough rooms to go around.
A very rough guide: Plaka is a charming historic district, at the northern foot of the Acropolis; Monastiraki is its bohemian neighbour. Kolonaki is the upmarket area of central Athens. Gazi and Psiri are the epitome of the modern city (transformed from an industrial area).
A short stroll through the narrow streets of the city reveals a vibrant culinary scene with charming cafes, restaurants and 'ouzeries', while burgeoning neighbourhoods such as Kolonaki, Gazi and Psiri show the city's inkling toward trendy nightlife venues and chic boutiques.
The city itself is a marketplace. Athens Central Market is a sensory feast and little slice of gastronomic heaven. Monastiraki Flea Market is an Athens shopping delight – you could literally find anything for sale here.
For a first-hand look, touch and taste of the products from the rare mastic tress on the Aegean island of Chios, swing by Mastiha Shop. If you need a fashion fix, be sure to seek out Christoforos Kotentos' creations at his workshop – his casual clothing is sold in Milan, New York and Tokyo.
Spend your holiday budget at...
- The varied and vibrant Plaka
- Monastiraki's Flea Market
- Kolonaki 's upmarket boutiques
Athens like a Local
If you want to raise a drink with the locals and enjoy some of the best cocktails in town, make your way to Au Revoir. Another tiny hotspot is Inoteca – a small bar on Abyssinia Square in Monasteraki. If you're shopped out, have eaten your fill and seen enough ancient archaeology to last a lifetime, get out of the city.
You won't need to go far to recharge though: try the traffic-free island of Hydra. A hydrofoil leaves for Hydra from Athens' port, Piraeus. Donkeys and boats are the only form of transport allowed on the island and Hydra is officially a national historic monument, so the old-world charm abounds.
Consider a day trip to...
- The old port city of Piraeus
- The ancient city of Corinth
- Delphi's historic ruins