Acropolis Hill, Athens, Greece
Best: March-June, September-November.
OK: November-March, but sometimes a little cold & wet.
Avoid: July-August, extremely hot and crowded.
Things to Do
Sights are clustered in an easy 8 sq km (5 sqm) rectangle, running from Syntagma (NE) to Temple of Olympion Zeus(SE) to the south corner of Acropolis hill (SW) to Thiseio metro/Keramikos cemetary (NW).
Syntagma Square is where you get to see guards in fluffy bobble shoes outside parliament (picture above right) or catch the metro or airport bus.
The Temple of Olympion Zeus (aka Olympeion) is not wildly impressive but heralds the start of the excellent new pedestrian walkway that will take you to Acropolis Hill – along with hordes of other visitors of course- to see the Parthenon temple. Try to avoid the Acropolis when it’s wet, paths are polished marble and will be slippery. n. b. all remaining carvings/statues are plaster.
From there you have three good alternative routes. Either a) continue on to tranquil Keramikos cemetery and its magnificent funerary monuments, b) go round the corner to see the little whitewashed houses of Anafiotika or c) dive down into the ancient Agora (market), the Temple of Hephaestus or varied Roman remains.
The New Acropolis Museum is a work of art itself and deserves a half-day visit at a modest cost.
Some sights involve little more than a couple of Romanesque columns, a partially dissolved face and a pile of rocks but the top floor is spectacular.
Outside these sights tourists with time on their hands may enjoy the views from Lykavittos Hill, a little north-east of Syntagma; cable car available.
• Acropolis Hill including the Theatre of Dionysos, the little Erechtheion temple and the main attraction, the Parthenon.
• Ancient Agora, an old market place, including the Agora Museum inside the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos, and the Temple of Hephaestus. Up the hill there’s expensive dining and cute little Anafiotika village.
• Syntagma Square, a metro station, the Parliament building and guards in pom-pom clogs.
• Temple of Olympian Zeus, aka the Olympeion, though not much is left barring a dozen massive Corinthian columns and the Arch of Hadrian.
• Monastiraki district/metro stop, once home to Lord Byron now home to Athens flea market, the Ceramic Museum, a terrific atmosphere and downmarket shopping bargains galore. Near Plaka.
• Filopappos Hill, a calm green walk, some great views (the photo at top was taken there), the Dora Stratou Theatre and a pleasant café.
• Thision district/metro stop and access to fashionable, non-touristy Psiri district and Keramikos cemetery.
• lovely, tranquil, Kerameikos cemetery.
• Benaki Museum displays the historical and cultural development of the Greek nation through collections that cover eras from Roman domination to the medieval period, the fall of Constantinople and the struggle for Greek independence in 1821, Clothing, jewellery, wood carving and much more. Near Parliament.
• National Archaeological Museum is well organised and houses some wonderful exhibits, especially art and artefacts from the ancient but advanced Minoan civilisation (possibly the original Atlanteans, wiped out by a Santorini eruption) and staff that are dull, disinterested, noisy and smoke inside the museum.
Displays include statues, masks, pottery, coins, ornaments. The museum is a bit out of town in an area that is quite shabby and unsettling so take a cab if that would bother you.
• Psiri (Psyrri) district, the best area for eating and drinking alongside affluent young locals, as opposed to neighbouring Plaka’s tourist herds.
• Plaka district, home to a million Athens tourists, charming and cute in places but overcrowded, overpriced and overcooked. And overcharged too if you’re not carefu. Try Psiri instead.
• Syntagma Square, metro station, Parliament building and guards in pom-pom clogs, not hugely attractive but everyone has to go there once.
The city outside the centre is not very foot-friendly, save for a couple of parks, but the best place to give the legs a beating is up one of Athens’s hills – Lykavittos and Filopppos are especially good destinations.
On a hot day you may need a plunge, and in the city centre hotel pools are your only choice. However, not far away by bus and/or metro are a couple of decent pay beaches. . . Voula and Vouliagmeni – arguably the best.
Tennis & Golf
Tourists can use Glyfada Golf Club near the airport.
From December-March at Mt Parnassos, 3hrs north-west.
The New Acropolis Museum, Athens, was fully opened to the public in 2009. This magnificent new building is a work of art itself and deserves a half-day visit at a cost of €1.
Many tourists will wish to see antiquities in the National Archeological Museum.
The other must-see collection is at Benaki Museum, an old family house revamped as an eclectic private museum, showing pottery, jewellry, furniture and ethnic clothing from the region.
Discos shut up shop as locals go to work in folk dances May -September. The most famous group is the Dora Stratou Dance Company performing on Filopappos Hill every evening.
Music, Opera and Ballet
Concerts and performances are regular at Athens Concert Hall, Pallas Theatre and Olympia Theatre. Also June-August sees the city festival, some of it in Acropolis’ Theatre of Herodes Atticus.
Some tavernas in Plaka, Monstariki and Psiri have live Greek music. Keep you eyes open for promotional material and your ears open as you wander.
Bars tend to eurodrab but a couple in the Plaka zone are well different: Brettos in Kydathineon and Stavlos in Iraklidon are long-standing oddities.
Discos close for the summer or move to coastal suburbs.
Souvenirs: most tourists stagger along Adrianou after a few ouzos and blow their €s in the tourist shops lining the street, but a bit further along, near Monastiraki metro is the Athens Flea Market. Not as good as it was, perhaps, and not open late, but more useful products, more originality and better prices than Adrianou, that’s for sure.
220v, 2 round-pin plugs.
Plaka is where most newly arrived tourists eat, but beware ridiculous prices in romantic locations, such as on steps up the hill.
Food variety and quality is generally good, though seafood comes at very silly prices and local taramasalata tastes horribly like pink mashed potato.
Budget travellers will enjoy kebab/ salad/beer deals for around €6, while more adventurous tourists escape to stylish Psiri.
Feb/March, Carnival. Various local festivities during the 3 weeks up to Lent.
Easter: Good Friday eve procession, esp. good on Lykavittos Hill. Also Saturday night candle Mass and more processions.
mid June – end Aug, Athens Festival. Ancient Greek drama, music and dance in scenic settings such as Acropolis’ Theatre of Herodes Atticus.