Athens is definitely worth visiting; this ancient city serves as an immortal reminder of all that mankind can achieve and sustain. Whether you’re there for a day or five, or more, read our top travel tips for things to do in the Greek capital
Via the airport or the port of Piraeus, Athens is mainly known to foreign sun worshipers as the gateway to the Greek islands. But the capital shouldn’t be overlooked – this ancient wonder of a city is worth a holiday in itself. Here is our rough travel guide to Athens: its history, the best places to go and the most striking things to see.
Practical advice: the best time to go and how to get around
June to September is the busiest time to visit Athens; housing prices are highest in the summer. July and August are the hottest months, when temperatures peak well into the 30(C)s. In the meantime, be aware that due to higher rainfall in winter, some sites and tourist information centers may close earlier and sea travel is more likely to be disrupted. Temperatures are always pleasant in May and October, with much less rainfall than in the winter months.
Athens International Airport is a major hub, with flights from all over the world. From there, you can take an express bus or metro line number 3 directly to the city center. The center itself is well served by an integrated transport system consisting of buses, trams, trolleybuses and metro. For more details on using this function, see OASA official website.
What makes Athens so unique
Walking through its streets, one cannot miss the variation of the faces of Athens. With its tall buildings and contemporary shops, you might finally feel like you are in Europe, if you come from the East. Yet, in the opposite direction, its food, music and bustling street life can feel unmistakably Middle Eastern. It would be wrong to call Athens simply a memory of the Byzantine or Ottoman Empire, as it would be to call it Western or Eastern. Athens is the epitome of unique Greek: demonstrably Athenian.
Although their societal development has been interrupted a few times in history, Athenians have always managed to start where they were forced to stop, to rebuild their heritage and place it on a podium so that the world can to see him. In the mid-19th century, Athens was just a few villages scattered around the ruins of ancient temples. Today, the capital of Greece has more than 3.7 million inhabitants in its metropolitan area, almost a third of the country’s population.
The metropolis now serves as the political, economic, educational and cultural center of the country and attracts a large number of visitors and expatriates.
With a plethora of temples, archaeological sites and museums all over the city, Athens is a paradise for true history buffs.
Dionysiou Areopagitou is a long pedestrian street lined with trees and shrubs, which offers easy access to the main historical sites of Athens. Tour the Acropolis Citadel and the Ancient Agora (to name a few), and you’ll walk in the footsteps of Pericles, Socrates and Plato.
Like other ancient Greek hilltop sites, the Acropolis – which means “Upper City” – was built in the 5th century BCE and became both a place of worship and refuge from attack. Crowned by the Parthenon temple, the Acropolis overlooks present-day Athens as its historical, cultural and well-known site, literal high point. Once dedicated to Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom and war, the Parthenon could easily have been the most powerful temple in the ancient world, but it now relies on the support of modern cranes. Still, it’s a masterpiece to behold – not in every city you can see structures of this magnitude that are over 2,000 years old.
At the foot of the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora – a sort of multipurpose public space – extends from the Temple of Hephaestus. Athenians gathered here to trade goods as well as news and gossip, making it the bustling center of daily life in ancient Greece. Believe it or not, this grassy patch of ruins is precisely where the roots of Western philosophy, politics, culture and science emerged.
Like many great civilizations, ancient Greece reached its peak and then slowly disappeared under the rule of its usurpers. To find a majestic facade, Athens experienced enormous development in the 1800s. To browse the neoclassical architecture of this period, you must head to Plaka.
Plaka presents a quieter and more intimate side of Athens, with pleasant and colorful streets with lush flora, pretty restaurants and modest souvenir shops. You’ll notice that the relaxed pace of Plaka is mostly due to the lack of traffic in the area, and yet it’s still a stone’s throw from the city center. Nestled beneath the walls of the Acropolis, Anafiotika is one of the quieter areas of Plaka, originally populated in the 19th century by workers from Anafi Island – hence its name. This quaint collection of small white stone houses makes the hustle and bustle of the city seem miles away.
To soak up the full meaning of the modern Greek state, head to Syntagma (“Constitution”) Square. A place worthy of national importance, it was here that the first Greek constitution was established after independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. Guarded by flamboyant soldiers dressed in peculiar uniforms, the former royal palace now serves as the seat of the Greek parliament.
Today, Syntagma Square is the busiest place in Athens. It has the city’s largest metro station and is dotted with bustling restaurants and cafes, as well as tree-shaded benches that offer great views of life passing by.
Wellness is all the rage now, but Athenians have been taking care of themselves for centuries with the concept of Kalokagathos — the delicate balance between a healthy mind and a healthy body — and you’d expect nothing less from the birthplace of the Olympic Games. The city boasts a multipurpose sports center made entirely of marble, the only construction of its type in the world. After being renovated, the Panathenaic Stadium (or Kallimarmaro) hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, and four of the nine events were even held here. The site was again used in this way during the 2004 Games.
And of course, a visit to Athens would not be complete without tasting the colorful national dishes. Greek cuisine is renowned for its flavor and health, with the nation’s high life expectancy being proof of that. The diet is underpinned by typically Mediterranean fresh ingredients such as vegetables, olives, cheese and fish. Feast on mouth-watering souvlaki, moussaka or dolmades from just about anywhere in the city, and don’t forget your side of fresh salad made with the juiciest local vegetables smothered in the richest olive oil. These delights alone will have you coming back.
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