Travel to Athens?
It wouldn't get into the top ten of Europe's must-see cities, but
Greece's capital has improved dramatically over the last few years. The Metro is excellent, easing city mobility and diminishing pollution, while
people in general and taxi drivers in particular - buoyed by the
Olympics and thumped by the police - have a more positive attitude
The basic sights are as stupendous as always, but are now more or
less connected by a superb, lengthy pedestrian path, while the prime tourist area around the Acropolis
and the Plaka district has been buffed.
- Outside the Acropolis/Plaka area the city is still a dusty mess
and many pavements/sidewalks are a dangerous disgrace, positively
- In spite of publicity to the contrary, a lot of important tourist
streets are still signposted only in Greek characters, making navigation
main station for Thessaloniki, Larisa, recently didn't have a name
plate in any language.
Best: March-June, September-November.
OK: November-March, but sometimes a little cold & wet.
Avoid: July-August, extremely
hot & crowded.
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.
A summary of top sights
- 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
- 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.
Piraeus & Rafina
main ports Piraeus is an easy metro ride, while Rafina is an hour on a bus. Neither
are good for much other than access to Greece's islands.
Voula and Vouliagameni
Athens, 45minutes by metro/bus. Open 8am-8pm, it costs a few €s.
70kms from the city,
this is a much favoured sunset viewpoint, with its Temple of Poseidon
and graffiti from Lord Byron. Buses take about two hours.
a very pretty old town of elegant
houses and huge forts, it makes a good base to explore ancient sites
like Mycenae and Epidaurus. 2.5 hours from the city by bus.
The Oracle at Delphi
180 kms away north-west of Athens
so not exactly a short trip but perhaps over a couple of days?
Meteora mountain monasteries: Another fascinating trip, well worth a couple of days.
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,
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
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
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
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:
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.
Greeks bearing gifts
A common brazen scam perpetrated on single male visitors consists
of a friendly Greek suggesting going for a drink in some great little
bar. A few drinks with a few friends and suddenly the bill appears,
it's monstrous and everyone is suddenly less friendly..
Moral: don't go drinking with Greek people you don't know, and keep
track of costs! (pay after every drink?)
I am from Athens and I have just read your reviews about the city.
In your biased, simplistic and outrageously queer critique I would
juxtapose that Athens is one of the most visited capitals in Europe,
with a historical value that your village would never even dear
to dream of. It might not be as practical or pedestrian- friendly
as its other european counterparts, but still boasts one of the
most vibrant, diverse and aesthetically advanced nightlife scenes
to be found in Europe. Moreover, it is the city with the most theaters
in Europe and the most ancient venues still performing (mind your
flip-flops when climbing to watch an ancient tragedy, you might
fall off if the marbles are wet). As far as the dusty anarchic outlook
of the city is concerned, kindly update your websites with the term
"post-urbanism", emphasizing in the way history, culture
and laography affect the urban development. But anyway, that's life,
some messy and filthy cities produce culture whereas other visitor-friendly ones just commercialize the culture of
Hotels are not cheap. Stay in the Plaka or Monastiraki areas if
you want to walk everywhere, or further away but near a metro stop
if you want a hotel in Athens which is better value for money.
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