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.
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
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
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.
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.
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)
To most tourists, Athens connotes
an image of the Acropolis standing above the city with the proud Parthenon beckoning us to explore
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.
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
see the details of the Acropolis.)
The Parthenon (5th century B.C. - shown below)), which was dedicated to Athena
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
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
The Old Museum of the Acropolis
contained statues and friezes from the site, but has been replaced by a new,
expansive and impressive Acropolis Museum.
The excellent 150,000 square foot Museum is located just to the south east of the Acropolis and is
served by the
(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 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
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
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
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
The area features several interesting temples
(particularly the well-preserved Temple of Hephaistos), various statues and
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.
"This is Athens" is new 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
Additional information on travel in Greece can be found at
Visit Greece, the official tourism website for the
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
Destination Guide Index
or Googling the web.
Entrance to the Little Mitrorpolis Church in Cathedral
Front of the Temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis
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The Erechtheion on the
Acropolis and its famous porch of the Caryatids.
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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
The Temple of Zeus, near the National Gardens, although not well-preserved, remains an impressive
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