Visit Athens, The City of Legend
Athens is one of the world’s oldest cities, with a history that spans more than four millennia, so it should come as no surprise that there’s plenty to discover. Athens became the leading city of Ancient Greece in the first millennium BCE, and its cultural achievements during the 5th century BCE laid the foundations of western civilisation.
Anyone wishing to learn more about Athens’ rich past can take a leisurely stroll through the city’s historic centre, a 3km pedestrian path that takes you to the most remarkable historic sites in Athens. It’s not just a journey through the metropolis, it’s also a journey through time, letting you see how the city’s architecture has evolved throughout the years, from the Archaic period right through to the 21st century.
The route takes you past the Acropolis, the symbol of Athens, which features monuments so old they date back to prehistoric times. Here you’ll find the Temple of Athena Nike. This landmark isn’t a tribute to trainers, but a centuries-old celebration of the Greeks’ victory against the Persians. The temple is known as Apeteros Nike, or Wingless Victory, as the statue of the eponymous goddess was designed with no winds, to ensure she’ll never leave Athens.
You’ll also find the world-famous Parthenon, an architectural masterpiece filled with history and secrets. Underneath lies the ruin of the previous Parthenon, an archaic temple which dates back to the 6th century B.C.E.
But the Parthenon isn’t the only impressive feat of architecture. The modern Acropolis Museum nearby shows the Greeks haven’t lost their touch when it comes to eye-catching landmarks. The museum houses more than 4,000 priceless finds from the Acropolis monuments, as well as cool, contemporary touches such as its Virtual Reality Theatre.
There are plenty of other museums to explore in Athens too, such as the National Archaeological Museum (the largest museum in Greece), the Museum of Cycladic Art or the Benkai Museum, a must-see attraction for culture-lovers.
But there’s more to Athens than just museums and history. Shopping at Monastiraki square is an unforgettable experience. Alternative bars and stylish restaurants line up alongside old-fashioned cafes, and you can taste the world-famous Greek souvlaki or gyros pita in the square’s tavernas, while enjoying a view of the buzzing market and shops. At Ifaistou Street there’s a flea market, where shoppers pick up chic, vintage clothes.
There’s also Psyrri, a bohemian district known for its vibrant nightlife, featuring trendy cafes, ouzo bars, live music tavernas and restaurants. Those who venture down the area’s hidden alleys will discover cool street art and alternative art spaces, as well as a number of Artisan workshops selling sandals, old vinyls and second-hand books.
Gazi is another neighbourhood that’s famous for its nightlife. This trendy district caters to all tastes, with countless music venues, fringe theatres and art galleries. A wide variety of cultural events are held here every year, ranging from concerts and festivals to temporary exhibitions. If you’re not ready for your night to end, stop by Agia Eirini Square. The area has become a hotspot thanks to its upbeat bars and street food stalls, and on the weekends is home to a number of live musicians, which creates an electric atmosphere.
Be sure to visit the brand new Stravos Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC). This state-of-the-art building is the new home of the Greek National Opera as well as the National Library of Greece. The glass-and-concrete building is one of the most eye-catching in the city, and resides on top of a purpose-built artificial hill.
There are plenty of cool art galleries. The unusual exhibitions at Vamiali’s have made it a hit for visitors. Its current exhibit, ‘The Artist and The Practice ’, demonstrates the working processes of nine artists, and features notes, sketches and photographs that are usually hidden from public view. Or there’s the Astrolavos Art Galleries, which showcase some of the best Greek artists and designers.
Athens is also famous for its food, and is home to some of the best Mediterranean food in the world. Botrini’s is a Michelin-star restaurant serving creative Greek-Mediterranean cuisine. Guests can enjoy fresh seafood, pizza and pasta dishes in the restaurant’s beautiful open terrace. There’s also CTC, an urban gastronomy experience that blends classic and modern Greek-style cooking as well as Funky Gourmet, a stylish Michelin-star restaurant in the Kerameikos district that specialises in Modern Greek cuisine – think mouth-watering lamb and Tsoureki bread.
Athens really comes into its own during the summer. The Athens Riviera is ideal if you’re looking for sun, sea and sand, or you can hop in a boat and head to any of the nearby Argosaronic islands.
The Saronic Gulf stretches from the southern suburbs of Athens to the southernmost point of Attica, and is easily accessible via a short bus trip. Here you can take a dip in the ocean, relax at any of the waterfront cafes or walk along the marinas.
Faliro is also a great place to spend a summer day. Thanks to its beautiful coasts, lush parks and stylish restaurants, the area has become a popular destination for visitors. Its best-known landmark is Flisvos marina, a popular stop for mega-yachts.
Or you can head down to elegant Glyfada. Visitors can take a stroll on the sandy beaches, or even get in a round of golf at Glyfada Golf Club, the city’s modern 18-hole course.
Why not visit the island of Spetses? This island is known as a tranquil getaway, with families enjoying horse-drawn carriage trips around its cobbled streets, but it hasn’t always been this peaceful. The island still pays tribute to its proud history with ‘Armata’, an impressive naval battle re-enactment that has taken place every September since 1931.
There’s plenty on Spetses for sports lovers too. Every April the island hosts Spetsathlon, one of the biggest triathlon events in Greece. Athletes arrive from all over the world to take part.
There are several cool landmarks to see on the island too, such as the House of Laskarina Bouboulina, the Church of Panayia Armata and the clock in Rologiou Square.
If you’re not finished island hopping you could head to Hydra. Those well versed in their Greek mythology will recognise its name – it’s the same as the beast Hercules slew as part of his twelve labours – but don’t let that scare you away. Hydra is actually one of the most romantic destinations in Greece, thanks to its stone mansions, narrow cobblestone streets and secluded squares. Instead of travelling in cars, which are banned on the island, the public are transported by donkeys and water taxis, which gives Hydra a unique, quaint atmosphere. Make sure to stop by the island’s waterfront too. Hydra is a yachting paradise, and every summer groups of sailing boats moor at the harbour, where they are joined by dozens of sensational motorboats and yachts.
Finally, there’s the island of Aegina, which is a popular tourist attraction, thanks to its location; just 16 nautical miles from Athens.
Though the island is small, it boasts a great number of sights and natural beauties. The most famous is the Aphea Temple, which forms a perfect triangle with the Parthenon and the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion – known to archaeologists as ‘the Holy Triangle’. The capital of the island, Aegina Town, is home to charming villages such as Kypseli and Agii, as well as organised tourist resorts like Agia Marina and Perdika. You can even get a boat at Aegina Port and explore the peaceful islands that circle Aegina, such as Moni, Metopi and Diaportia.
The city of Athens and its surrounding islands inspired a thousand myths and stories, and with so much to see and do, it’s easy to see why.