What do you know about Athens? It is a capital city of Greece, located in southeast Europe in the Mediterranean, has a mild climate, is the at the origin of Olympic games, both ancient and modern, was named after the Greek goddess Athena and it is a gigantic open air museum. Oh, you did not know about the latter? It’s time to find out.
I have visited Athens twice so far – in November 2008 and in February 2017. And will gladly return anytime. The city centre is a gigantic historical open-air museum with some monuments dating back more than 2500 years. The food is delicious, people are nice and friendly, the sun is shining most of the time and there is always something new to discover. This February we walked 49 kilometres around the city – the full Marathon. 🙂
Atény som navštívila dva krát. V novembri 2008 a vo februári 2017. A rada sa tam kedykoľvek znova vrátim. Centrum mesta je ako jeden veľký historický skanzen starý viac ako 2500 rokov. Pokračujte v slovenčine…
A few tips to begin with
The weather in Athens is relative mild with plenty of sunshine all year round. You can experience exceptions like strong winds throughout the year, very warm summers with temperatures above 40°C or very cold a freezing week in the winter. But that does not happen very often and you should be safe as we already experienced the coldest week this February. 🙂 I am sure this will not repeat often, otherwise the Greeks would have heating installed in their apartments.
Airport is connected to the city centre by metro. You can get a three day ticket including a trip to and from the airport. Most of the interesting sightseeing spots are within a walking distance. Therefore, try to find an accommodation near the city centre – check areas like Thisio, Monastiraki, Gazi, Psyrri, Plakka, Syntagma, or Kolonaki. If you plan to venture out further afield, take a metro to Pireus or a tram to Glyfada. Just check early enough whether there is not any transport strike announced. You will save yourself some trouble.
Greek food is delicious. The locals usually start a day with coffee and sometimes also a piece of pastry for breakfast. There is a lot of small cafeterias with a few chairs and a table, but most often the breakfast is on the go (we took it to the rooftop of the apartment building to benefit from a warming sun). Lunch is also light, but dinner is the main meal of the day, often eaten after 8pm or later. The locals often eat out. There are many restaurants with heated outside seating even in the winter. And if you look well, you can also add a view of the Acropolis to the meal.
The traditional dishes are souvlaki, mousaka or any other dish made of aubergine, zucchini and cheese. Baklava and loukoum are well known sweets. Famous greek spirits – ouzo, tsipouro and masticha – are often offered after the meal at the higher-end restaurants. Read more about the Greek food here.
The list of a must see sites
Most of the notable historical sites are located near the Dionysiou Aeropagitou street. The pedestrian street starts at Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, passes the touristy souvenir and restaurant area near the Acropolis Museum, continues between the Acropolis and Filopappou hills towards Agora and ends another restaurant area in Thisio and Monastiraki. My sightseeing highlights are:
The steep Acropolis hill area was reportedly inhabited already in 4000-3000 BC. It’s main building – the temple of Parthenon – is visible from almost anywhere in Athens. On the southern side of the hill there is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus – a theatre built in 161 AD which even now regularly hosts performances during the Athens festival. Nearby are ruins of an older Theatre of Dionysos and across the road there is the Acropolis Museum housing the uncovered artefacts. Walking up through the Beulé gate around a pedestal where once a monument of Agrippa stood to the left and the Temple of Athena Nike (Victory) to the right you will reach the main ancient entrance – the Propylaea with majestic set of columns. At the top, walk around the Parthenon towards the view point and on the way back stop at Erechteion. It is difficult to describe the nature of this place. You just need to see and experience it on your own. See more photos
Agora was the administrative, political, commercial and social hub in the 6th century BC until it was destroyed in 267 AD. Later, a Turkish residential quarter with more than 400 buildings was constructed in this place and were recently demolished to uncover the historical ruins. Take a walk like Socrates or St. Paul in the ancient times around the government meeting place Tholos, council house New Bouleterion, a theater, multiple stoas with visible ruins of a colonnade and ancient canalisation system. Among these, three still-standing buildings will attract you. At the hill, the temple of Hephaestus with 24 columns is the most preserved temple in Greece built in 449 BC. On the other side of Agora, there is the Stoa of Attalos, craftfully reconstructed covered walkway with a museum inside. There are 45 Doric columns and the same amount of Ionic columns. Reportedly, this Stoa was also painted in bold blue and red colors like Parthenon and I believe the most of these ancient buildings were similarly colorful. This is quite difficult to imagine that while looking at washed beige or sandy-colored columns. At the other end of Agora there is the Church of the Holy Apostle towards the Acropolis was built in 10th century AD and dedicated to St. Paul’s teaching in this area. Further north from Agora are ruins of Roman Agora and Hadrian’s library. Do not confuse the latter with Hadrian’s Arch. See more photos
The view from Filopappou hill is also amazing. It is just opposite the Acropolis hill and has a monument at the top. The hill is a nice park to walk around. You can find there also a prison of Socrates, a Shrine of the Muses, Agios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris church and ruins of an ancient amphitheater, a meeting place of democratic assembly until 5th century BC. See more photos
Hadrian’s Arch was built by the Romans in 132 AD and it used to divide the city in two – a Greek one and a Roman one, which is confirmed by the greek inscriptions on both sides of the monument. One inscription states “This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus” and the other side states “This is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus”. See more photos
Temple of Olympian Zeus is 2500 old and 15 of its pillars are still standing. The construction begun in the 6th century BC and with its 104 Corynthian columns it was supposed to be the largest temple in Greece. Soon the funds ran out and the construction was completed by Romans in 131 AD, “only” some 700 years later. Seems the lack of funds is a problem stretching through millennia. What fascinates me the most are the 15 columns that are still standing – for almost 2000 years. There is also a fallen one. This one was destroyed during a strong strom in 1852. See more photos
Zappeion, a beautiful palace built in 1870 is now a conference centre. See more photos
Panathenaic stadium nested between two hills is an exact replica of old Stadium where ancient Olympic games were held. It was built in the 4th century BC and had seats for 70 000 spectators, a running track and a middle area. This newer one was built in 1895 and a year later, in 1896, the first new Olympic games were held here. And then again in 2004, but the Greeks built some more stadiums and a metro by then. See more photos
The view from Lycabettus hill – the hill of wolves – is fantastic (pollution permitting). Don’t be afraid of walking up. There are two roads uphill one from the Kolonaki district and the other you can take if you visit the National Archeological Museum first. There is also a funicular going uphill, but closes early, so if you would like to see the sunset, I’d recommned you to walk. It is not such a strenuous hike as it might seem. See more photos
Syntagma square with the Parliament, the other museums and the seaside are also worth visiting. Syntagma, the Constitution square is the main square in Athens with the houses of Parliament, most expensive hotels and a a transport hub. It is often a place for demonstrations. Watch the changing of the guards and then continue east to Lycabettus hill around the museums (Benaki Museum, Museum of Cycladic arts, Byzantine and Christian Museum, War museum and Aristotle’s lyceum are all on the way). The National Archaeological Museum with the masterpieces like the mask of Agamemnon, the Minoan frescoes from Santorini and a good cafe is a bit further at the other side of the Lycabettus hill. See more photos
If you already visited the famous European five – London, Paris, Rome, Vienna and Prague – and potentially also Barcelona, Milan, Venice, Berlin and Moscow, then add Athens to your travel list ASAP. The city is really worth a visit. And revise mathematics. It’s quite fun trying to read the names of the metro stops on the way from or to the airport. 🙂
What to read next:
- Athens: Olympic Panathenaic stadium
- Athens: Zappeion
- Athens: Temple of Olympian Zeus
- Athens: Historical Agora
- Athens: Relaxing walk through Filopappou hill
- Athens: The Majestic Acropolis
- Athens: Syntagma square, museums and seaside
- Athens: Hadrian’s Arch
- Athens: City views from Lycabettus hill
- Grécke Atény a trojdňový maratón po pamiatkach
- Greek food