Athens, the capital of Greece is not a city that you would probably describe as attractive. It’s a metropolis struggling with all the typical problems of a modern city: smog, heavy and chaotic traffic and just too much concrete all around. How come it still captivates the hearts of millions of tourists every year? Discover the many faces of this exciting city and I bet you will fall in love with Athens too.
With a history of nearly 3,500 years, Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world and is often referred to as the cradle of Western civilization. It has an incredibly rich cultural heritage especially from the classical era: its ancient monuments are known worldwide and its museums hold fascinating antiquities. Its landmark monument, the Acropolis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and so is the eleventh-century Daphni Monastery nearby.
Athens is a lively and bustling city, and its famous sites are of course crammed with tourists, but it also has many quiet places perfect for relaxation and meditation: little squares with charming cafes (“cafenion”), nice parks and old Byzantine churches where you can enjoy the calm with the history surrounding you. You might also choose to relax on one of the several nice beaches near Athens.
Athens has an amazing array of cultural events: great concerts, theatrical performances and music festivals. The Athens Hellenic Festival held in June and July is a real treat for theater lovers. Also, Athens nightlife is one of the most vibrant in Europe offering clubs and events for all tastes.
If you are visiting in summer, you might prefer to spend some of the midday hours relaxing in your hotel, and go out for the evening, since between June and September Athens can get terribly hot. It’s best to take advantage of the relatively cool morning period and the time after 6 pm to explore the city and look for somewhere cool to survive the hours around noon – for example in one of the many excellent museums and art exhibitions Athens offers.
Top things to do and see in Athens
Visit the Acropolis
The absolute highlight of Athens is the Acropolis, which has earned titles like “the most important ancient site in the Western world” and “the symbol of Classical Greece”. The word “Acropolis” actually merely stands for “upper city” and can denote any of the several citadels or high fortified areas throughout the country, but the Acropolis of Athens has been such a prominent site that it has come to be referred to as “The Acropolis.”
The Acropolis, this stunning complex of several ancient buildings is located on a rocky mountain in the center of Athens and is visible from virtually everywhere in the city. Its sight is just breathtaking, whether you see it in the daylight or at sunset (when the white marble is glowing golden) or at night when it’s all beautifully illuminated.
The most famous building of the Acropolis is the Parthenon, a majestic temple dedicated to Athena Parthenos, the patron goddess of the city. It is the largest Doric temple in Greece and used to house a wonderful gold and ivory statue of Athena created by Phidias. The other monuments of the Acropolis include the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheum and the remains of the Theatre of Dionysus.
The climb up the hill is rather steep, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes. Once you’re up, you will definitely find the effort worth it! Soak in the ancient spirit and enjoy the wonderful view of Athens below.