This ancient, characterful metropolis wows with archaeological stunners, glorious panoramas, vibrant neighbourhoods and wallet friendly bars and restaurants.
The Acropolis and the Parthenon
You’d be crazy to visit Greece’s capital city without flexing your calves on a 20 minute ascent to the top of the Acropolis. This rugged hilltop towers above the centre of Athens, and once you huff and puff your way to the summit, you’ll find the stunning remnants of an historic marble citadel. Gawp at the magnificent Parthenon which dominates the site, its soaring columns a masterpiece of Doric architecture. Built in honour of the goddess Athena, the temple dates back to the 5th century BC, known as Athens’ ‘Golden Age’. Whilst you’re up there, drink in the wonderful views across the city.
Before you clamber up the hillside to the Parthenon, visit this fascinating archaeological museum which showcases the findings from the site of the Acropolis. The contemporary glass walled building houses over 3,000 ancient relics spanning the Archaic, Classical and Roman periods. Exhibits include marble statues, several original columns from the Acropolis site, the Parthenon marbles, and a section of the Parthenon frieze. Located on the slopes at the foot of the Acropolis, the museum’s huge windows look onto the archaeological site. This excellent collection is sure to whet your appetite before you explore the actual ruins.
The National Gardens
Adjacent to Syntagma Square and the National Parliament lies a huge 24 hectare expanse of greenery in the heart of the city. Completed in 1840 for Greece’s Queen Amalia, the verdant tranquillity of these former royal gardens stands in wonderful contrast to the bustling thoroughfares that surround them. Stroll leafy walkways and chill out on benches shaded by oleander, eucalyptus, carob and cypress trees. The gardens nurture over 500 species of plants and trees, along with numerous statues, a café, a library, and several serene lakes frequented by chattering ducks. Look out for the remains of a Roman villa, unearthed in the 19th century.
The Changing of the Guard
Don’t miss a chance to witness the pomp and formality of the Changing of the Guard. The painstakingly choreographed ritual takes place outside the elegant and neoclassical Greek Parliament building in Syntagma Square. Here, the Presidential guards or ‘Evzones’ protect the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The handpicked Evzones are elite soldiers, highly trained and extremely tall (a minimum of 6ft 2 inches)! Their traditional handmade uniforms, including pleated kilts and nail studded shoes topped with pompoms (designed to conceal a sharp blade), date back to the 19th century. The ceremony takes place on the hour every hour. If you’re around at 11 am on a Sunday morning, the spectacle goes into overdrive, featuring the whole platoon complete with obligatory marching band.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
In a city replete with historical wonders, don’t miss the ruins of this vast white marble temple which began construction in the 6th century BC. Dedicated to the Greek god Zeus, the once colossal structure took almost 700 years to build! The original building featured an impressive 104 Corinthian columns each 50 feet high. 15 columns survived the last two thousand years, and tower impressively against the skyline.
Explore the vibrant, scenic neighbourhood of Plaka located on the north eastern slopes the Acropolis, a maze of narrow cobblestone streets filled with shops, restaurants, museums and neoclassical and traditional Greek architecture. Visit the site of Athens’ ancient commercial centre, the 2,000 year old Roman Agora. Don’t miss Anafiotika, a delightful cluster of 19th century whitewashed houses with verdant gardens. The original occupants were labourers from the Greek islands, who came to the mainland for work, and built this tiny community of Cycladic style houses in the heart of the capital to remind them of home.
For the ultimate panoramic view of Athens, make for the city’s highest point. At 908 feet, the pine clad limestone outcrop of Lycabettus Hill draws locals and visitors alike for its superb vistas, which reach as far as the coastline. A circular walk winds up the hill, or for less effort, take the funicular which ascends through a tunnel and arrives at the peak in a mere three minutes. At the summit you’ll find a viewing platform, a swanky restaurant and coffee bar, plus Agios Georgios, a traditional 19th century Greek chapel. Get to the top just before sunset and admire the sprawling city, the Acropolis and the Temple of Olympian Zeus bathed in golden rays, whilst the Aegean Sea glimmers tantalisingly in the distance.
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