The spectacular and enduring Parthenon temple on Acropolis Hill in Athens. View from Filopappos Hill.
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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 traveller mobility and diminishing pollution, while
people in general and taxi drivers in particular have a more positive attitude
The basic sights around Athens' tourist hub are as stupendous as always and are 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.
Athens top attractions are:
• Acropolis Hill (Akropolis), topped by the Parthenon temple (Parthenonas), photo above. At the centre of Athens tourism (though actually on the south border) is this ancient, beautifully engineered and historically important temple complex built on table-top Acropolis hill around 447BC, a literal monument to Classical Greece and a symbol of Greece and Greek democracy.
Originally the hill was home to temple dedicated to goddess Athena destroyed by invading Persians in 480 BC. The Acropolis plateau also includes a large amphitheatre, the Odeum of Herodus Atticus, and the Erechtheion temple alongside the Parthenon. The Erechtheion is mostly about the 'Porch of Caraytis', a kind of balcony supported by six female figures, though none are originals.
• The Acropolis Museum, stylish, interesting and packed with Classical Greek art and information.
• The Temple of Hephaestus in lovely Thiseio Park just down the hill from the Parthenon. This superbly proportioned and preserved little temple in Athens Agora is well worth a visit though visitors cannot enter it, only wander the outsides The Agora space is also of interest as it was the original Greek market place and forum for discussion, though there's not much to see now. It's more about historical association.
• Benaki Museum, a compact, private place displaying gold jewellery, statues, old weapons, paintings, clothing and much more in a fine old building. It's not cheap to enter but still popular with tourists and encompasses a good shop and café.
• National Archeology Museum, a glittering place full of architectural treasures from all over Greece but with a particularly interest in the Minoan culture, the very sophisticated society based on Crete that was wiped out by Santorini's eruption and subsequent tidal wave, the genesis of the lost city of Atlantis, we think. The museum is a bit old-fashioned in presentation but easy to reach by metro, spacious. Note that the museum may shut at 3pm and staff are less-than-helpful.
• Fish-foot spas! Go for a massage or to have your toes nibbled by garra rufa fish. Very amiable staff.
• Plaka dining, shopping and wandering area in the shadow of Acropolis Hill. Home to a million Athens tourists, charming and cute in places but overcrowded, overpriced and overcooked. And overcharged too if you're not careful. Try Psiri instead.
• Psiri district, the best area for eating, drinking and shopping alongside affluent
young locals, as opposed to neighbouring Plaka's tourist herds.
Acropolis Museum 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. Photo by Maarten Dirkse.
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