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 Greece Travel Guide:

Athens, Greece

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 Athens Overview  Best Places to visit in Athens    Detailed Map    Additional Resources

     

 

Athens Travel Overview  
 
Home of Socrates, Plato and the most famous of the Greek philosophers, the history of Athens is one of the touchstones of Western Civilization. 

Once a small village in the shadow of the Acropolis,  modern Athens is a major metropolitan area with a population of over three million. The city spreads from horizon to horizon across a shallow valley that suffers from traffic jams and poor air quality similar to Los Angeles. Leave the driving to professionals (taxis), or take the Metro and walk between attractions when possible.

Touring Athens is exciting, impressive  and truly memorable.  The  major tourist attractions are historical sites and the most famous of these are  tightly clustered around the Acropolis. 

The Acropolis is Athen's dominant attraction Athens is dominated by the Acropolis, one of the world's most recognizable attractions. Mt. Lycabettus in the background, on the right-center, offers great views of the city.

Summers are very warm and you will find the outdoor attractions more enjoyable if you can see them in the morning or later in the day.  Of course, the photo-taking is  much better near sunset.  Due to the intense heat of summer, the pace of life in Athens slows in the mid-afternoon, so consider returning to the hotel for a  snooze.

Dinner starts late, often involves fish or seafood and is usually lengthy. Any meal other than breakfast seems to involve Ouzo (an anise flavored liqueur served either straight or mixed with water) or Retsina (a popular wine in Greece that is infused with resin aroma for additional flavor).  If you are in or near any of the popular tourist areas expect music or other entertainment to accompany your meal.

Although the makeover for the 2004 Summer Olympics  removed years of grit, you may have to work hard to uncover the city's delights.  Many tourists never seem to be able to determine whether they really like Athens or just find it an irritation. You will find that some Athenians, particularly taxi drivers, appear to despise tourists, while others see them as a necessary evil.

Although Athens has its charms, many tourists use it as the starting place for vacations targeting the rural sections of Greece, as these areas are slower paced, less crowded and more pleasant in a variety of ways.  Be that as it may, if you want to experience the Acropolis, you can only do it in Athens.

 

Best Places to Visit in Athens

 

The major attractions in Athens are the Acropolis, the Agora (the center of ancient Athens), the Plaka (for good food in a fun setting and touristy shopping), and the National Archaeological Museum.   The Temple of Zeus, and Hadrian's Arch are worth a glance (both are located between the Acropolis and the National Gardens) .

 

 


Acropolis Walking Tour
 
From Viator Tours

 

To most tourists, Athens connotes an image of the Acropolis standing above the city with the proud Parthenon beckoning us to explore and sample its three millennia of history.  

The Acropolis was dedicated to Athena, its patron goddess.  Although evidence exists that location of the Acropolis has been an important religious site since 4,000 B.C., the view that we have of the site today memorializes Athens in the 5th century B.C., when the extant historic buildings  were erected after earlier buildings were destroyed by the Persians.

 

A detailed view of the Caryatids

The Acropolis (the Sacred Rock) was originally a religious sanctuary restricted to a favored few.  Its buildings were temples honoring the gods important to the Athenians and only "approved" citizens could enter and worship.

 

As the power of Athens and Greece faded, the temples were used by invaders for many purposes, few of which involved attempting to preserve the monuments.  You should not expect to be allowed into the interior of any of the monuments on the Acropolis, as they are very fragile.  Your exploration will consist of examining the exteriors and unless you have a guide or have joined a tour, you will miss hearing the interesting detail and history of the site.

 

Our Athens map shows all of the important locations on the Acropolis.  Use the Satellite option and zoom-in to see the details of the Acropolis.)

  • The Parthenon (5th century B.C. - shown below)), which was dedicated to Athena the patron goddess of Athens, is the most interesting monument on the Acropolis and it visually dominates the rock.  Unfortunately, time has not been kind to the temple and it is in a precarious state, although it is being carefully renovated. 

    The statues  and friezes that originally adorned the Parthenon (known as the Elgin Marbles) were removed and shipped to the British Museum in the early 19th century.  These historical pieces are currently a bone of contention between the Greek and the British governments.  

     

    During the occupation of Athens by the Turks, who allowed the British to remove the Elgin Marbles, the Parthenon was used to store gunpowder.  As the result of a bombardment by the Venetians in the 17th century, a cannon ball caused the gunpowder to explode, nearly destroying the entire structure.

     

    The Old Museum of the Acropolis , contained statues and friezes from the site, but has been replaced by the new, expansive and impressive Acropolis Museum.   


    • The new 150,000 square foot Museum is located just to the south east of the Acropolis and is served by the Athens Metro (head to the Akropoli Station).

    • Statues and other art from the "old" museum and from the temples on the Acropolis have been transported to the new museum, which provides an enhanced viewing experience and is a very worthwhile visit.

  • Other artifacts from the Acropolis and surrounding areas are stored in Athens's National Archaeological Museum, which is the largest museum in Greece and one of the best archaeological museums in the world.  This noted museum contains impressive collections of prehistoric finds, as well as treasures from the Golden Age of Greece, including sculptures, pottery and bronzes.  

      The Parthenon is the crown of the Acropolis

  • The Plaka, sitting below the Acropolis, is a pedestrian-only zone that caters to shoppers and features many cafes/restaurants and shopping (mostly mementoes) .  The Plaka's architecture is mixed and not especially old, but this is a fun section of Athens. Consider having a meal at one of the many restaurants on the streets leading to the Plaka.  Meals here can be "touristy", but the fish and seafood are often excellent.  

    • While we are on the subject of food, we advise you to skip any meal opportunities at the port of Piraeus  We note this because most cruises depart from Piraeus and manage to lure cruisers in with the thought of a romantic dinner at the harbor.  Our suggestion - skip it!  You will find better meals almost anywhere in Athens.

        The Agora Museum in Athens, Greece

        The Agora Museum in Athens

  • The ancient Agora (a place for public meetings and markets) was once the historical core of Athens. It was conquered and destroyed several times and reached its peak around the Second century B.C.  The area was excavated over the past one hundred and fifty years, although archeological digs continue today.

  • The area features several interesting temples (particularly the well-preserved Temple of Hephaistos),  various statues and numerous altars. 

  • The Agora Museum, housed in a reconstructed building (a stoa - that is a building with two rows of columns, covered by a roof and open on the front) of the Agora, is well worth a visit.  The museum's holdings are mainly treasures recovered from the  Agora and provide a glimpse of life in the birthplace of democracy.

 

 


  • If you have time, visit Mt. Lycabettus, the highest spot in Athens.  Take the funicular to the top for a panoramic view of the city.  You can also climb the steps, if you prefer to make it a workout. The hill is topped with a small chapel and a touristy, but competent restaurant. 

  • Of course, there is more to do in Athens than we have covered, but you will be sorely pressed to find anyone who would prefer to remain in Athens when they could be exploring the rest of the county, especially the Greek Isles.

Additional Resources

"Breathtaking Athens" is the official tourism website of the city of Athens.  It provides additional details on the the best places to visit in Athens described above, as well as additional attractions that did not make our list.

Check our recommendations for the best places to visit in Greece for more details on this vacation paradise

Additional information on travel in Greece can be found at Visit Greece, the official tourism website for the country.

For country facts on Greece, as well as travel information related to visas, driving rules, safety, medical conditions, visas and other travel-related information, see this page on Greece Travel from the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the U.S. State Department.  Regardless of your home country, we think you will find the information provided to be useful when planning a trip to Greece.

If you need information about another travel destination, try our Destination Guide Index or Googling the web.


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Entrance to the Little Mitropolis Church in Cathedral Square Entrance to the  Little Mitrorpolis Church in Cathedral Square Square

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Front of the Temple of Nike Athena on the Acropolis Front of the Temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis

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The Erechtheion on the Acropolis and it porch of the Caryatids The Erechtheion on  the Acropolis   and its famous porch of the Caryatids.

 

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  The Herold Atticus Theater, dating from the 2nd century, still hosts concerts The Herod Atticus Theater, at the foot of the Acropolis, was built in the 2nd century.  It has been renovated with marble benches and is an active venue for entertainment.

 
When dining in Athens, consider fish or seafood for your meal.  In many  local restaurants, your waiter will suggest that you allow him to have the chef prepare a special meal for you.  This can result in a terrific feast, but determine the cost and the contents before you agree.

The Temple of Zeus, near the National Gardens, although not well-preserved, remains an impressive structure.

 

 

 

 

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4-Day Santorini Excursion
From Viator Tours

 

 

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