Ancient and modern life exist side-by-side in Athens, regarded as the birthplace of civilization.
Thanks to its warm climate, rain free days, sea breezes, relaxed atmosphere, tasty cuisine, and rich history, Athens is one of the most visited cities in Europe. It’s also among the safest, which encourages residents and visitors alike to savor it day and night.
While the 2004 Summer Olympics and its magnificently designed complex earned wide acclaim, today’s visitors still immerse themselves in the city’s more distant past.
For centuries the Athens skyline has been dominated by the craggy Acropolis plateau crowned by the Parthenon, the sacred temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. A masterpiece of Doric architecture initiated by Pericles in the fifth century BC, the Parthenon rewards visitors with spellbinding views. On a clear day visitors can overlook the city, ships sailing in and out of the port of Piraeus, and the islands and mountains beyond.
Even those who’ve previously visited the Acropolis may want to return now that the small onsite museum has been replaced by one more than twice the size. Designed by architect Bernard Tschumi, it displays sculptures and other relics from the site that few have ever seen before.
The Parthenon is easily reachable from wide, pedestrian-only avenues that border the site’s southern and western flanks. Lined with restaurants and cafes, these streets make the uphill walk a pleasurable experience.
Thanks to improvements and expansion of the city’s Metro system as a result of its staging of the 2004 Olympics, it’s easier than ever to get to the Acropolis and other points of interest in Athens.
Constitution SquareJust about every visitor makes his or her way to Syntagma (Constitution) Square. Parliament, formerly the royal palace, is here, and a changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier takes place daily. On Sundays guards wear a traditional pleated kilt and red shoes topped with pompons.
Determined to bring home evidence of your trip beyond photographs? Shop for gold and silver jewelry, embroidered clothing, pottery, flokati rugs, woolen blankets, and pottery in Athens.
The main shopping areas are clustered around Syntagma, Omonia, and Kolonaki squares.
And don’t miss the world-class boutiques around Monastiraki Square and the old Turkish bazaar, where those merchants still expect you to bargain with them.
While modern Athens radiates out from Syntagma Square, the historic Plaka district, with its 19th-century houses, narrow streets, and welcoming tavernas featuring traditional music remains another must-see.
Like many Mediterranean cities, Athens dines late. That still leaves time to enjoy the nightlife. From energetic folk dance performances to trendy bars and fashionable nightclubs to places where bouzouki and rembetika music—the local version of the blues—are performed live, visitors have their choice of evening diversions.
One shouldn’t expect any less from the city whose Acropolis holds the theatre of Dionysus: god of wine, theater, and ecstasy.