Athens Pictures, Greece

Parthenon temple on Acropolis Hill in Athens. View from Filopappos Hill. Greece

The spectacular and enduring Parthenon temple on Acropolis Hill in Athens. View from Filopappos Hill.

Athens Tourism

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 to foreigners.

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

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 3 mile long Archaeological Promenade is a delight, a tree shaded pedestrian walkway skirting the base of Acropolis hill and linking all Athens’ main attractions, making the city centre tourist experience infinitely more pleasant.

• 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.

• Athens is a good base from which to launch a thousand tours to the popular archaeological site of Delphi, home of the oracle.

New Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece

The New Acropolis Museum. 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.

Athens Map

Ancient Agora and Athens view, Greece

A view of Athens with the Ancient Agora, a forum and market place, in the foreground, seen from Acropolis Hill.

Just west of the Acropolis/Parthenon is the Agora, a popular second-string tourist attraction after visiting the Parthenon. This ancient market area was Athens’ social as commercial centre since before the Acropolis was built, and has felt the weight of both Socrates’ philosophy and St Paul’s proselytising.

On the left the Temple of Hephaestus is visible, a Doric temple in praise of metalworking, while on the right – only just visible – is the Stoa of Attalos, known as the Attalos Mall 2, 000 years ago. This is an American reconstruction of the early shopping centre.

Parliament and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Athens, Greece

Parliament, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and some funny footwear in Syntagma Square.

the Academy of Athens, Athens, Greece

Plato and Socrates musing in front of Athens’ premier research establishment, the Academy of Athens.

Adrianou street, Athens, Greece

Adrianou street.

Pedestrianised Adrianou is Plaka’s main artery and the departure lounge for much of Athens’ least interesting, overpriced rubbish.

Aimed at tourists with unsuccessful taste transplants or two bottles of Ouzo under their belts, it’s not an unpleasant experience walking the walk, just tediously repetitive. Originality was stamped out years ago in the blind rush for easy tourist bucks.

For utility and/or creativity, try the Athens Flea Market at the Monastiraki end of Adrianou.

When to go there

Athens can be visted throughout the year but the most comfortable seasons are spring (March-May) or autumn (September-October) when the weather is warm and the skies will probably be blue. July-August is particularly busy and overheated while November-February may be cold, or wet, or both.