Athens, the capital and largest city of Greece, dominates the Attica periphery; as one of the world's oldest cities, its recorded history spans around 3,400 years.
The Greek capital has a population of 745,514 (in 2001) within its administrative limits and a land area of 39 km2 (15 sq mi). The urban area of Athens extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of 3,130,841 (in 2001) and a land area of 412 km2 (159 sq mi). According to Eurostat, the Athens Larger Urban Zone (LUZ) is the 7th most populous LUZ in the European Union (the 5th most populous capital city of the EU) with a population of 4,013,368 (in 2004). A bustling and cosmopolitan metropolis, Athens is central to economic, financial, industrial, political and cultural life in Greece and it is rated as an alpha- world city. It is rapidly becoming a leading business centre in the European Union. In 2008, Athens was ranked the world's 32nd richest city by purchasing power and the 25th most expensive in a UBS study.
Classical Athens was a powerful city-state. A centre for the arts, learning and philosophy, home of Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum, It is widely referred to as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy, largely due to the impact of its cultural and political achievements during the 5th and 4th centuries BC on the rest of the then known European continent.The heritage of the classical era is still evident in the city, represented by a number of ancient monuments and works of art, the most famous of all being the Parthenon, widely considered a key landmark of early Western civilization. The city also retains a vast variety of Roman and Byzantine monuments, as well as a smaller number of remaining Ottoman monuments projecting the city's long history across the centuries. Landmarks of the modern era are also present, dating back to 1830 (the establishment of the independent Greek state), and taking in the Hellenic Parliament (19th century) and the Athens Trilogy consisting of the National Library of Greece, the Athens University and the Academy of Athens. Athens was the host city of the first modern-day Olympic Games in 1896, and 108 years later it welcomed home the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Those arriving in Athens for the first time generally head immediately for the Acropolis. There are very few visitors who are not already familiar with the image of this distinctive citadel of ancient Athens, perched on its steep flat-topped rock above the sprawling city. It is the spot where Athens, and classical Greek civilisation, began, and the site of a collection of beautiful temples, most dedicated to the goddess of wisdom, Athena.
The ruins that remain visible today date from the 4th century BC, most of them erected by Pericles after the Persians destroyed many of the original Acropolis buildings. Visitors toil up the slopes past the souvenir stands and enter the site through the monumental entranceway, the Propylaia, which in ancient times contained an art gallery. To the right of the entrance is the tiny temple of Athena Nike, reconstructed and restored. The Parthenon, the greatest surviving monument of Doric architecture, is the biggest drawcard on the Acropolis, built of Pentelic marble quarried from the distant mountains, which form the backdrop to the magnificent view of Athens from the Acropolis.
Alongside the Parthenon is another temple, the Erechtheion, which bears holes on its northern porch where Poseidon's trident struck it during his contest with Athena to have the city named after him. There is a museum on the Acropolis where some of the carving and friezes recovered from the temples are on show, although many of the archaeological finds from the Acropolis are now housed in the British Museum in London.
Clustered below the Acropolis (enter from Odos Adrianou, east of Monastiraki Square) is the remains of the Agora, ancient Athens' commercial and civic centre, where once walked and talked the great philosophers Socrates and Plato. In fact the disgraced and despairing Socrates committed suicide in a prison in the southwest corner of the Agora, by drinking poison.
The area is littered with the ruins of numerous ancient buildings, including the Dionysos Theatre (the world's oldest theatre where great plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were first performed). One building that has been restored is the 200 BC Stoa of Attalos (a stoa is a long, low roofed promenade which served as a combination law court, municipal office and shopping arcade in classical Greece). The reconstructed building now has a museum on its ground floor containing artefacts covering 5,000 years of Athenian history.
National Archaeological Museum
This is the largest and most popular of Athens' many museums, and is usually very crowded. Its vast collection includes treasures unearthed from Mycenae by Heinrich Schliemann; a staggering array of sculpture including the earliest known Greek figurines dating from around 2,000 BC; frescoes from the volcanic island of Santorini; and so much more that it is recommended visitors make several visits to absorb it all.
Although not really attractive to tourists, the confusing, bustling port of Athens is the departure point for hundreds of island ferries and cruise ships, so most tourists pass through it while visiting Greece. Piraeus has been Athens' port since ancient times. It actually consists of three harbours, with most of the tourist boats using the Zea Limani section. There are several fish restaurants in the harbour precincts, and a sprawling street market. Visitors with time on their hands while waiting for ferries can also explore the Maritime Museum at Akti Themistokleous, alongside the pier used by the island hydrofoils, which features models of ancient and modern ships.
This hill juts a steep 984 feet (300m) right up from the centre of the city, and is a great vantage point from which to take in the scope of Athens. The St. George chapel and Lykavittos Theatre perch atop this hill, which can be reached by car, cable car or a healthy hike! The cable car departs every 30 minutes, from the corners of Aristippou and Ploutarchou Streets in Kolonaki.
The square that forms the heart of modern Athens is home to the Parliament Building, built in 1840 as a royal palace. Tourists flock to photograph the unusually clad guards at the palace; the skirted and pom-pommed guard is changed ceremonially every hour. The square is a central point of access to all the major attractions of Athens, particularly 'museum mile' along Vassilissis Sophias Avenue, which runs from Syntagma Square. Here most of Athens' museums are clustered, including the Benaki Museum, Museum of Cycladic Art and the Byzantine Museum.
Established in 1930, the museum houses prehistoric to modern Greek art and artifacts, occasionally hosting exhibitions, and restoration and conservation workshops. The collection features Paleolithic and Neolithic relics, and covers the late Roman Empire as it merged into the Byzantine Empire.
Attica Zoological Gardens
The wonderful Attica Zoo is a must for children of all ages. Featuring over 2000 birds of 30 different species, as well as other exotic animals such as lynx, white lions, black panthers, snow leopards and jaguars, this zoo is the only one of its kind in Greece. It also features a reptile house and a children's farm as well as other walk-through enclosures, including a 'monkey's jungle'.
Picnicking with the children at the National Gardens on a Saturday has become a common pastime for local Athenian families and is a great way to spend a sunny summers day when the days are long. The Gardens feature a small zoo, duck ponds, resident cats, a Botanical Museum a playground and lots of wide-open space for children to play in. For children who love books, the gardens are also home to a Children's Library.
Goulandris Museum of Natural History
Children love nothing more than exploring museums with fossils, dinosaur skeletons and animal models, and for this reason, a trip to the Goulandris Museum of Natural History is a must for all families travelling to Athens.
Allou Fun Park
One of Athens' most popular theme parks, Allou Fun Park offer children the opportunity to ride some seriously exciting rides, such as the Big Apple and Crazy Mouse. The views over the city of Athens form the to of the panoramic ferris wheel are also great for kiss of all ages. Children under 10 years of age will do better to go to the next-door section of the park called 'Kidom'.
Hellenic Children’s Museum
The Hellenic Children's Museum is a non-profit educational and cultural organization established in Athens in 1987 aims to encourage children to explore, learn, discover and question all around them.
Cape Sounion, about 43 miles (69km) east of Athens, is a popular seaside resort used by locals and visitors alike. On the cliffs above the town is the 5th-century BC Temple of Poseidon, where, according to legend, King Aegeus waited for his son, Theseus, to return from Crete after slaying the Minotaur. Sounion is easily accessible by bus from the city.
Monastery of Daphni
This great Byzantine architectural masterpiece dates from the 4th century AD, and is situated about five and a half miles (9km) west of Athens on the road to Corinth. The church is built on a site where shrines have existed since ancient times, often destroyed by invaders and earthquakes. During the Crusades Cistercian monks turned Daphni into a Catholic monastery, but today it has been reclaimed by the Greek Orthodox Church and its beautiful mosaic work depicting Biblical scenes has been restored. A wine festival is held at Daphni each year in August/September.
About 26 miles (42km) northeast of Athens, between the villages of Nea Makri and Marathona, is the site of the great battle between the small force of Athenians and the mighty Persian army in 490 BC. On the plain of Marathon today the burial mound of the 192 Athenians who fell in the fight can be seen, along with a small museum displaying archaeological relics from the battlefield. The battle is famed not only for the Athenian victory against huge odds, but also for the fleetness of the Athenian runner, Pheidippides, who was dispatched to Athens with news of the victory and fell dead from exhaustion after delivering the message to the city; thus the name 'Marathon' was given to long-distance running races. The Marathon race in the 2004 Olympics started here, and followed the same route as that run by Pheidippedes in the legend, ending at the Panathinaikon Stadium in Athens, which was built for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.
In ancient times pilgrims came from all over the Greek world to seek advice from the god Apollo, via his oracle at the scenically beautifully situated site on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, known as Delphi. Today tourists flock constantly in the wake of the pilgrims of old up the Sacred Way to marvel at the remains of the marble Sanctuary of Apollo, the Castalian Spring and the Sanctuary of Athena. There is an excellent museum, too, at the site, which is northwest of Athens in the prefecture of Fokida.
The Saronic group of islands are all within an hour or two of Piraeus by boat, making them ideal destinations for day trips from the city for those who want to experience a taste of Greek island life. Alternatively, use the islands as tranquil bases on which to stay while commuting to Athens to see the sights. Aegina is the closest island, sporting a sandy beach called Agia Marina, and a quaint fishing village called Perdika. Hydra has no sandy beaches, but the town is picturesque and offers good seafood restaurants. Poros can be reached from Piraeus in little more than an hour and sports beautiful forests that descend to the beach. It offers water sports opportunities and a lively café scene, as well as being a ferry hub offering connections to all the popular Aegean islands. Spetsi has an attractive old harbour and one of the oldest wooden boat-building yards in Greece. It is also renowned for its beaches and pine forests.
Located 4km outside the town of Peania, and a scenic hour's ride from Athens, this cavern lies under the eastern slope of Mount Ymittos. A guided tour of the cave starts every 30 minutes.
The city of Athens' cultural showcase is the two-phase Athens Festival, held every summer since 1955 at the magnificent 2,000 year old Herod Atticus Odeon, built in 161 AD, as well as other venues throughout the city. The ancient tiered theatre nestles at the foot of the Acropolis and during summer and autumn resounds each evening to the tune of symphony orchestras, classical drama and dance, and operatic performances. The large and varied programme of international and Greek artists is available from the Athens Festival office on Stadiou Street. The summer section of the festival runs from about June to July, while the autumn section covers August to October.
Sea Turtle Rescue Society Archelon
Near Athens in Glyfada (50 min by tram from the center), there is the Sea Turtle Rescue Society Archelon. They are regularly looking for volunteers who are willing to work on their own costs and are able to take care of injured sea turtles.
Beaches to the South of Athens
If the weather is good, head out of town on buses A2, B2 or E22 from metro station Sygrou, or the tram from Syntagma to the beaches to the south of Athens. Just get off wherever the sea takes your fancy. Be aware though that beach-side cafes can hit you hard with prices of food and drinks. If you are the only person getting on the bus, be aware that you need to flag the bus down to get it to stop or it will just fly on by.
EasyCruise, Syngrou Avenue 362, Kallithea , 176 74 Athinai, phone +30 211 2116211. The infamous cheap flight company now runs a variety of cruises from Greece [Athens] to Turkey and surrounding islands such as Mykonos, Paros and Syros. For the classic enthusiast, their tour company visits Acropolis, Epidavros, Nemea, Mycenae, Corinth, Olympia and Delphi.
Traditional Greek Dance Festival
The warmth and energy of the Greek people is nowhere better demonstrated than in their traditional dancing, and this can be witnessed in fine style each summer night (except Mondays) at the theatre established by Greek folk expert, Dora Stratou, on Philopappus Hill in Athens. The dancers in each show do full justice to the costumes and ancient routines that make up each packed performance.
Since it was first held in 1996 Athens' Rockwave Festival has become one of Europe's most popular annual live rock music events, drawing the hottest performers and an enthusiastic crowd of tens of thousands. The music fest takes place over three days, featuring three stages offering different types of music: metal, rock and dance. The latest addition is the 'silent' dance experience, featuring the Silent Disco.
Lycabettus Hill Festival
A perfect way to spend the hot summer nights in Athens in stunning surroundings and with first class entertainment is to attend some of the items presented at the annual Lycabettus Hill contemporary arts festival. The various performances take place in the open-air theatre atop the hill which provides magnificent views across Athens. The programme includes contemporary jazz, pop, rock and dance shows. For more information contact the Lycabettus Theatre on (0)210 722 7233.
Greece has earned a reputation in not only Europe, but across the globe, for its crazy island summer nightlife, but don’t be fooled – the nightlife in Athens can rival just about any of its island counterparts. Athens boasts a hectic nightlife consisting of everything from sex shows and gay bars to traditional Greek music and dancing to classical concerts. Taking an afternoon nap to rest up for the evening’s activities is a good idea, as most parties don’t really get going until well after dinner, which can be as late as 10pm in the summertime. The old Turkish quarter, known as the Plaka district, is a great place to start where tavernas and fast-food souvlaki joints bustle and diners sip on aperitifs on rooftop terraces overlooking the Acropolis to the traditional Greek music, called Rembetika. The Monastiraki district is a less crowded and affordable option for an evening meal. The James Joyce Pub here is a local hangout for many expats and locals a must if you’re in the area. After dinner head to one of the many music bars, clubs, rock and jazz venues, and Rembetika clubs to hear the traditional Greek music. For a less touristy option, head to the area around the port of Pireau and explore the clubs and bars on offer here. One of the most unique and breathtaking venues for a live concert is in the theatre on Mount Lycavettos. Many world-famous artists have performed here so check the Athens news for upcoming shows. Parafono, in the centre of Athens, is a live-music club dedicated to jazz and blues and a great place do watch a gig, while Sundays are dedicated to country, rock and acoustic jam. In the distance the red chimneys of Technopolis attract bourgeois bohemians who flock to jazz and comedy festivals in this former industrial area.
Public transport in Athens has improved by leaps and bounds in the last ten years. The simple €1 ticket lets you travel on any means of transport — metro, suburban trains, trams, trolleybuses, buses — with unlimited transfers anywhere within Athens (except the metro airport line east of Doukissis Plakentias and the airport buses) for 90 minutes, and you can also get a €3 ticket valid for 24 hours or a €10 weekly ticket.
The new Athens Metro system, opened in 2001 (and followed by a restoration of the old Line 1) and currently being extended, is a wonder to behold, and puts many better-known metro systems to shame. Many metro stations resemble museums as they exhibit artifacts found during excavations for the system (i.e. Syntagma). Greeks are very proud about the new subway system, so do not even think about littering and by all means avoid any urge for graffiti- you will be intercepted by security at once. You are also not allowed to consume food or drink in the subway system. There are three lines:
Line 1 (Μ1 – ISAP): Piraeus – Kifissia connects the port of Piraeus and the northern suburbs of Athens via the city centre.
Line 2 (M2 – Attiko Metro]): Agios Antonios – Agios Dimitrios connects western and southern Athens.
Line 3 (M3): Egaleo – Doukissis Plakentias – International Airport connects the south-western suburbs with the northern suburbs (Halandri and Doukissis Plakentias stations) and the International Airport.
Validate your ticket at the validation machines upon entering the station. Failure to do so will entail a hefty fine if you are caught by ticket inspectors. The standard metro fare is €1 for trips between all stations except the Airport line, east of Doukissis Plakentias. For €3, you can buy a 24-hour ticket for all public transport in Athens, apart from the Airport line. This needs to be validated only once, at the start of the first journey. The standard fare to or from the Airport is €6, €10 for a return trip within 48 hours, €10 for a one-way trip for a 2-person group and €15 for a one-way trip for a 3-person group.
By suburban rail
The Suburban Railway (Proastiakos) is a new addition to Athens's network. The main line starts from Piraeus, passes through the main line train station of Larissis in Athens, and forks at Neratziotissa west to Kiato and Corinth and east towards the Airport.
The new Athens Tram connects the city centre with the southern suburbs and has connections with the metro lines. There are three tram lines:
Line 1 (T1): Syntagma – Palaio Faliro – Neo Faliro connects the city centre with the Peace and Friendship Stadium.
Line 2 (T2): Syntagma – Palaio Faliro – Glyfada connects the city centre with the coastal zone.
Line 3 (T3): Neo Faliro – Palaio Faliro – Glyfada runs along the coastal zone.
A single ticket costs 60 cents.
Athens is served by a network of diesel buses, natural gas buses and electric trolley buses run by the Athens Urban Transport Organisation. A standard bus ticket costs €1. It is called the Integrated ticket and allows for multiple trips within 90 minutes, and it's available in most kiosks. Use a €3.20 ticket to travel to or from the airport. If you tend to stay for more than a week then a weekly pass for €10 is the most economical. It gives you unlimited rides on almost all public transit (bus, tram, train, subway) for 7 days. You only need to validate once, before first use. Buses will not stop unless you signal the driver by raising your arm.
Night buses. As of March 2006 the night bus routes are:
X14 Syntagma Square to Kifissia.
11 Ano Patissia – Neo Pangrati – Nea Elvetia (trolley bus).
040 Piraeus to Syntagma Square.
500 Piraeus – Kifissia (night only).
X92, X93, X95, X96, X97 (the airport buses).
At the airport you can pick up a multitude of public transport maps, especially for buses, tram and trolleys that cover the whole of Athens, and parts of Attica like Sounio and other ports. These maps can be found in display stands. They are blue and marked with big Numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 in different colors.
Athens is certainly not the city to go around with a bicycle, as it does not have much bicycle lanes and the car drivers tend to drive quite aggressively. Nevertheless (or maybe because of this) riding a bicycle in Athens has become lately some sort of a political (counter-)action, especially by young people with an alternative lifestyle. In general, tourists not familiar with the terrible Athenian traffic are not advised to use a bicycle as a principal means of transport. Small rides are safe though in the long network of pedestrian streets around the Historical Centre of the city and can be quite enjoyable indeed.
The initiative My City with a Bike taken by the General Secretariat for The Youth and several NGO's offers free conducted tours with free bikes every Saturday and Sunday from 10AM to 3PM all year round except for the rainy days. All you have to do is book 10 days in advance either by email (email@example.com) or phone (8011 19 19 00).
Athens offers some of the best and worst urban walking in Europe. Several major streets have been recently pedestrianized, and a mostly car-free archeological walk has been implemented connecting the Acropolis and nearby sites. Pleasant walking can also be had in Plaka, especially its upper reaches, and in much of Kolonaki, and the National Garden can provide a welcome respite from the heat and noise of the city center. On the other hand, Athens' horrendous traffic can make crossing the street in many areas a hair-raising proposition, and even walking down many major streets can be an unpleasant experience of noise and pollution. Cars and motorbikes parked blocking the sidewalks (illegal but ubiquitous) can also make a stroll difficult. Fortunately, much of the traffic-plagued area of the city can be avoided by judicious use of the new Metro, which goes most places a visitor would want to see or to walk around in.
You can now visit the Acropolis, walk along the picturesque streets of Plaka or the hills around the Acropolis at your own pace, with i Pod Pocket tours audioguides. It’s informative and fun! They are available for rent at Athens Hilton Hotel, Sofitel Athens Airport, King George Palace and Baby Grand Hotel.