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Discover the best things to do in the capital of Greece

Athens,  with its unique cultural potential and its constantly evolving  historic and nightlife scene has many things to do for every visitor. The capital of Greece has a lot of attractions for Greek and foreign travellers, while Piraeus, beyond the main port of the country, has hidden secrets of both attractions and entertainment. The surroundings of Athens, full of pleasant surprises with emblematic monuments, national parks and a huge coastline, give even the daily occasions for mini-excursions and discoveries.

The city of Athens is spread out over a large area contained by three large hills. Fortunately for the traveller the most important and interesting sites are congregated in the middle of the city around the Acropolis.

Before you start your trip to Athens, you wonder what to do in a huge city with about 5 million inhabitants. The fact that Athens is a labyrinth of neighbourhoods, streets and avenues, historical monuments and museums, makes the choice extremely difficult, especially if you are only staying in the city for a few days.

There is so much to see and do in Athens whether you are alone or with a tourist group.
This page is not addressed to those who come with a tourist group, apparently they have their own tourist guides to explain them a few simple things and that’s all! Unlike those mentioned before, this page is made for the independent traveller who arrives in Athens for the first time.

Living in Athens as an Athenian citizen, you learn all the things and secrets about the city’s life, where to go, what to see, how to get around, the best places for entertainment and nightlife, where to eat, where to go shopping, ticket prices of buses, taxis, metro and trolleys, and all kinds of stuff regarding Athens, even how to behave according to the situation.

Standing like a flagship over the center of Greece, the Acropolis is an amazing testament to the lifestyle, wealth, and devotion of the ancient Greeks. There are countless ruins and uncovered archaeological sites that appear throughout the Plaka, the old neighborhood surrounding the Acropolis. Athens is also home to the country’s best museums.

If you are a museums buff, you could spend over a week just walking the hallways of history. The modern side of Greece is apparent in the vibrant nightlife, abundance of nightclubs and bars, the upcoming 2004 Olympic Games, and the crowded buzz that envelops you as you walk the streets of Athens.

The capital of Greece, although it is spread over the greater area of ​​Attica, is mainly concentrated around the historical center of Athens. But, contrary to what you might think, the historical center of the city has little to do with its ancient monuments.

Most visitors to Athens may imagine that the Acropolis is the historical center of the city but for the Athenians, the center of Athens remains concentrated in the triangle formed between Syntagma square, Omonia and Monastiraki. Here are the banking institutions that form the backbone of the economy, the individual businesses and the politics that are also deeply rooted here, the Parliament of Greece, dominates over the largest square of Athens.

What to see and do in Athens 

Syntagma Square

syntagma-squareSyntagma Square is in the heart of Athens. This is the location of the Greek Parliament building and all Greek distances are measured from here in kilometers. The square has many embassies and ministries, the offices of airlines and large companies, banks, and luxury hotels. Near the square are the National Gardens and behind them the President’s Mansion. Syntagma Square is the center of tourism in Athens. Visitor interest is centered on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where the changing of the Evzones Guards is an impressive sight worth seeing, especially when seen with the flocks of pigeons flying up and around them. The Evzones guard the monument 24 hours day, year round.

 

 

See The Parliament of Greece

parliament of greeceThe present-day Greek Parliament building lies above the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was the Palace of King Othon and Queen Amalia and was built between 1834 and 1838. The plans were drawn up by the German architect Von Gartner.

This three-story building is constructed of Pentelic marble and limestone. It has a Doric-style propylea (entrance hall), both small and large rooms, the Parliament assembly hall, the Parliament Library, and the offices of the State Council.

The Parliament building is surrounded by the National Gardens, which has entrances on all four sides and stretches from the Panathenaic Stadium to the Zappeion.

 

 

Have a pleasant break at the National Gardens

national-gardensThe National Gardens were formerly for the exclusive use of the Palace but now they are open to everyone.

Antiquities have been found there which have been fenced in and are available for viewing. There are flowerbeds, little paths, lofty trees, ponds, playgrounds, little bridges, stone and metal kiosks, statues, and many benches to rest on.

On the eastern side of the National Gardens, along the street Herodou Attikou is the New Palace, now the Presidential Mansion and residence of the President of the Republic of Greece. The President’s Mansion was designed by the great architect Ernest Ziller.

Visit the Theater of Dionysus

dionysos-theaterThe theater of Dionysus is open for general visitors during the hours of operation for the Acropolis and Parthenon, and no separate admission is necessary to visit the archaeological site. In the future, performances will probably require separate ticketing.

For most visitors to Athens, the 12-Euro 24-hour combination ticket gives entrance to the Acropolis and Parthenon, including the Theater of Dionysus, the Roman Agora, the New Acropolis Museum, and the Temple of Zeus.

His theater is not the only place you’ll “find” Dionysus at the Acropolis – there are also several caves in the rock of the Acropolis, usually not open to the public, which were devoted to his rites in ancient times. More on Visiting the Acropolis and Parthenon

Photo Tip

You can get a good shot of the theatre from above behind the ancient retaining wall protecting the precinct of the Parthenon. From this same spot, with a good lens, you can also take a photo of the Temple of Zeus in the distance.

Visit the Zappeion Megaron

zappeionThe Zappeion Megaron is today one of the most up-to-date centres for Greek and international conferences.

The Doric columns of its facade, its imposing atrium, and the steps up to the main entrance stand out against the dark green of the pathways making the majesty of the building even more apparent.

Athenians love to stroll in the area around the Zappeion. Its little paths are where groups of Athenians hold sessions of their outdoor parliaments, attempting to solve the country’s problems, on the model of the outdoor parliament of Hyde Park in London.

Take the funicular up to Lykabettus Hill

lycabetus-hillLykabettus Hill (275 meters or 900 feet) is always beautiful. You can climb it throughout the year and enjoy the superb view that it offers of all points of Athens. You can reach the top on foot up the flight of stairs, by car to the theater, or on the funicular railway from Kolonaki.

During the Middle Ages there was a chapel to Profitis Ilias (the Prophet Elijah) at its summit. Today there is a chapel to Agios Georgios (St. George), which was built after 1835 when Athens had become the capital of Greece.

On its northwest side is a cave with the small Church of Agios Isidoros (St. Isidore). During the summer the Lykabettus Theater plays host to various theatrical performances and concerts. It is a spacious theater with 5,000 seats and occupies one of the most awe inspiring and idyllic sites in Athens.

Stroll around the chic square of Kolonaki

kolonaki-squareThe chic square of Athens is Kolonaki, officially known as Philikis Etaireias Square, but commonly called Plateia Kolonaki (Kolonaki Square). The square and the surrounding streets have the most expensive stores in Athens and many pastry-shops, cafes, and bistros. The Gennadios Library on Soudias specializes in Greek books published after 1453. The Museum of Cycladic and Ancient Greek Art is housed on Neofitou Douka. The funicular railway that goes to the top of Lykabettus is in the Kolonaki area

Panepistimiou Street and the Academy of Athens

athens-academyIt you take Panepistimiou (or Eleftherios Venizelos, as it is officially named) from Syntagma Square toward Omonoia Square you will see many historical buildings, all in a row. On the left is the Grande Bretagne Hotel built to the plans of Hansen.

A bit further down and opposite is the Iliou Melathron (the palatial mansion of Iliou) that has been renovated and houses the Numismatic Museum. It was built by Ernest Ziller for the excavator of Mycenae and Troy, Heinrich Schliemann. On the same side of the street and further down is the Catholic Church of Agios Dionysios (St. Denis).

This is followed by the Opthalmialogical Hospital built in a Byzantine style and opposite that the beautiful and imposing Bank of Greece. The next building is the neoclassical building of the Agricultural Bank and opposite that, the Athens Academy.

The Athens Academy is a work by the Greek Baron Sinas built on the plans of Hansen and under the supervision of Ziller. It is done in an Ionic Style. There is a main building with two wings and pediments depicting the birth of Athena. Apollo and Athena are on the two large Ionic columns. The statues of Socrates and Plato are in front.

The National University, founded in 1837, is the middle building on the street. It has propylea with wall paintings from the renaissance of the arts and sciences in Greece. The Festival Hall is majestic. Statues have been erected in front of the university.

The National Library, the third great building here is built in the Doric style and contains over one million volumes of books, manuscripts, gospels, and archetypal. Diagonally opposite the library is the renovated Arsakeio where the Council of State is housed. Going down Panepistimiou you reach the large Square of Omonoia.

 

Akadimias Street

akadimias-streetAkadimias runs parallel to Panepistimiou. The Cultural Center of the Municipality of Athens is here. This building, a true gem from the 19th century, is host to many cultural events. The Theatrical Museum of Athens and the Public Library are housed in the Cultural Center.

In the park in front of the center is a statue of the great Greek poet Kostis Palamas. Akadimias starts at Vasilissas Sofias Boulevard near Syntagma and ends at bustling Kaningos Square.

Do your shopping in Stadiou Street

stadiou-streetBelow the university, beginning at Syntagma Square, is Stadiou. It is one of the three large streets that were laid out in the town-plan of 1832 by the young architects Stamatis Kleanthis and Eduard Schaubert (the other two were Athinas and Piraeos) and today is one of the main arteries in the town and near Klauthmonos Square.

In the neoclassical Vouros mansion, known as the Old Palace (this is where King Othon and Queen Amalia lived at the start of their reign) is housed the City of Athens Museum.

It contains exhibits that cover the history and the development of the Greek capital from the period of the Franks till the present

Omonoia Square the heart of Athens

omonoia-squareTogether with Syntagma Square, Omonoia is one of the largest and best-known squares in Athens. The main station of the capital’s old metro system has been operating there since the 19th century.

All the main arteries of the city either begin or end there, such as Piraeos (to Piraeus), 11 Septemvriou and Patission (to the northern suburbs and Mt. Parnitha), and Athinas (to the market, Monastiraki, and the Acropolis).

There are many shops in Omonoia with folk articles for sale and the square itself is a meeting place. Near Omonoia are the National Theater and the Athens Municipal Gallery.

 

Patission street and Pedion Tou Areos the areas of every Political speech

pedion-areosPatission (or 28th Oktovriou) starts at Omonoia. Besides the commercial shops and the civic buildings, the National Technical School is also here, a neoclassical building from the 19th century.

Patission street used to be the main shopping street of Athens until the late 70’s . There was the first department stor Minion that destroyed by a fire as well as the largest sport center Katrantzos spor that also was destroyed by fire, that was the end of Patission street beeing the main shopping street of Athens

There is a superb example of church architecture on Patission, the Church of Agios Loukas (St. Luke) by the architect E. Ziller as well as the Pedion Tou Areos (the Field of Ares) at the intersection with Alexandra’s Boulevard, a marvelous park which every year holds one of the largest book exhibitions in Greece.

Discover the Neighbourhood of Plaka

plakaAt the heart of Athens is the neighbourhood of Plaka. When Athens became Greece’s capital in 1834, it was primarily composed of what is today known as Plaka. Since that time the city has spread enormously but Plaka has retained many of its old buildings and its character. In the late sixties and early seventies the ruling junta tore down a large number of the old crumbling Turkish building in Athens; consequently, the Plaka is all that remains of old Athens.

Situated at the base of the hill where the Acropolis is perched, Plaka is the neighborhood where every tourist should spend at least a short time. In fact, most tourists use Plaka as their base because of the large number of historic sites and museums in the vicinity.

The temple of Olympian Zeus

temple of zeusIt was the largest temple in Greece in the Hellenistic and Roman years. But the temple of Olympian Zeus had already begun to be built in 515 BC. by Peisistratus’ grandson, Peisistratus the Younger.

Aristotle states that Peisistratus began the construction of the temple following the well-known tactic of many other tyrants, who kept the populace busy so that they would not rebel against harsh rule.

However, according to the traveler Pausanias, the temple was founded by Deucalion, the progenitor of the Greeks, to honor Zeus who saved him from the flood.

With the fall of the tyranny of Peisistratus, the construction of the temple was stopped. It is even said that pieces of it were used to build the wall of Themistocles, around 479 BC Styloi Olybiou Dios 1917 c

Many tried to continue the rebuilding of the temple, such as Antiochus IV king of Syria and the Roman emperor Augustus. Finally, however, the temple of Olympian Zeus was completed in 132 AD. from Hadrian who came to Athens in 124 AD

 

Hadrian’s Gate

hadrians-gateHadrian’s Gate is a Roman arch in Athens. It gives access to the Temple of Olympian Zeus and was built in honor of Hadrian in the context of his stay in Athens in the year 131 AD and for the urban planning works he did and expanded Athens.

Hadrian’s Gate is of the Corinthian style, while it is architecturally innovative because it combines the Roman arch with the Greek pediment, the lower part follows the Roman shape of the honorary arch, while the upper part imitates the Greek tradition propyla.

Together with the Aeris and the monument of Lysikrates was one of the attractions of Athens in ancient times. The monument, 18 m high and 13 m wide, has two identical facades and is divided vertically into two clearly distinct sections.

In the portico above the arched passage are the inscriptions, on the western side: “Glory be to Athens, Theseus first city” and on the eastern side: “Glory be to Hadrian and not the city of Theseus”.

 

Panathenaic Stadium

panathenaic stadiumThe Panathenaic Stadium is one of the most emblematic monuments of Athens and the oldest functioning Stadium in the world. It is located on the site of the ancient Stadium which was built in 338 BC, according to the initiative of the orator Lycurgus who had undertaken the regulation of the finances of Athens as well as the execution of certain public works. The area chosen, a natural hollow between the hills of Agra and Ardittos, belonged to Daneas, who granted it to the municipality of Athens for the construction of a Stadium that would host the naked games of the Great Panathenaians.

The name “Stadium” is due to the eponymous unit of length used in antiquity, which was equivalent to about 600 feet or 184.96 meters. The Stadium was initially straight and the spectators sat on the ground, on the slopes of the two hills. Like every Stadium of classical times, it had no propyla and its entrance was on one narrow side. In front of the hill of Ardittos and the Stadium, the sacred river Ilissos flowed.
The Stadium was inaugurated on the Panathenaic holidays, in 329 BC.

 

Stoa of Attalos

STOA OF ATTALOSThe Stoa of Attalos houses the Museum of the Ancient Agora of Athens, one of the most important archaeological sites of the capital. The arcades in antiquity were public buildings, with at least one side colonnaded and open to the countryside.

The arcades used in sanctuaries, markets, theaters, gyms. They were usually used to house commercial activities and for promenades, offering shade and coolness in summer and protection from rain and wind in winter.
The Stoa of Attalus owes its name to the king of Pergamum Attalus II (159-138 BC), of the Macedonian Attalid dynasty, who financed its construction.

Son of King Attalus I and Queen Apollonidos and brother of Eumenes II (197-159 BC), he was a friend and benefactor of the Athenians just like his brother, who financed the construction of another portico on the south side (slope) of the Acropolis. In their youth the two brothers had been apprenticed to the philosophers and teachers of Rhetoric and Logic in Athens

 

Feel the Athenian Nightlife at the Neighborhood of Psirri

psyriPsirri is the small neighborhood in downtown Athens that is directly adjacent to Plaka. The buildings are just as old, if not older, than in Plaka but Psirri is primarily an industrial and commercial area. In the last decade this has begun to change as the area has become more gentrified. Many of the old buildings are being renovated into bars, clubs, bouzoukia (restaurants that serve Greek food and play live Greek music), tavernas, shops, and residential lofts.

Psirri is a triangular neighborhood bounded by Ermou on the south, Athinas on the east, and Pireos to the northwest. To reach Psirri from Syntagma Square or the Plaka, walk down Ermou past Plateia Monastirakiou and then turn right on any of the small side streets.

When you initially see the neighborhood you’ll be surprised that anyone suggested you head into this seemingly commercial area. If you are there at night, you’ll likely see the run down buildings and wonder when you’re going to be mugged. But these are simply initial visual impressions. The area is very safe, it just happens to be home to a large number of buildings that could use a fresh coat of paint and a few new windows.

Take pictures of the Monument to the Unknown Soldier

monument-of-the-unknown-soldierOne of the most photographed monuments of the city, the Monument to the Unknown Soldier, is located inside the wall at the base of the marble steps of the Parliament.

Excerpts from Pericles’ funeral are carved into the marble, a poignant reminder of the horrors of war, even on the victor’s side: “An empty bed lies here in honor of the fallen.”

The Presidential Guard, the Evzoni, guard the tomb, symbolizing the Greek army. Their characteristic clothing is based on the traditional Peloponnesian costume of the 19th century.

 

 

Moving Around

How to get around in Athens takes a while to learn and this is where we can give you some hints to cut down on wasting precious time (and money) during your stay. There are buses from the airport which go right into the centre of Athens. Don’t forget to validate your ticket in the little orange machine once inside, it is easy to do and there are directions.

If you are confused at first, someone is sure to help you. The tickets for city buses are available at most kiosks (periptera) or at booths near the bus stations.
There are mini-buses which take you round the center of Athens and they use the same  tickets, you can find details of their routes on the little map at the bus stops, which are red to differentiate them from the other buses.
There is also a taxi rank at the airport prices are fixed including luggage and airport surcharges. It is a good idea to ask the taxi-driver approximately how much you will have to pay to your destination.

By car or bike

Driving in Athens should be treated with great respect; The unusually high traffic density and the seemingly chaotic driving behavior require the driver to be able to concentrate and react..
On a motorized two-wheeler it is probably easier to get through rush hour traffic and to weave past columns to the left and right. You can rent scooters everywhere, you should prefer the scooters with large wheels, as they have a higher driving stability, which can be decisive in dusty Mediterranean countries.
But nobody should be frightened: There are relatively few accidents and these are often mild due to the low average speed.

By Electric scooter

Electric scooters are ideal for visiting the historical centre of Athens you can find them mainly around the Acropolis, Syntagma square and Plaka. Electric Scooters work as follows: users who want to use them download the application of the companies from the internet, enter their mobile phone number and after doing so, receive a code which they scan on the skate which in turn unlocks and is now ready for use.

By Taxi

The taxi prices in Athens and Greece in general, are very low, even many Greeks prefer to ride a taxi instead of another public transport. Anyway you should be aware of several scams by some drivers who promest to give you a cheap flat rate and they are usually meant differently. You should only drive on a taxi with the taximeter on unless you know your way around. You can hire up a taxi almost everywhere by picking up your hand like in most of the cities around the world, (you can notice that the taxi is free for hire by the taximeter that is lit on). From ports, airports and train stations you shoud wait your turn on the quay at the taxi stand. If you thing that you have been charged over the limit you should ask for an invoice.

By Tram and trolley bus

The tram is might slower than the metro, but it has the advantage of going to to places where the metro has not yet stations. Most importent is the best way to reach the most beaches of the south suburbs like Phaliro, Alimos, Kalamaki Glyfada and Voula.In fact you can see a lot of Athens in a very relaxed way.There are several tram lines and stops in Athens and Piraeus.Some of the oldest tram lines are the one from the main train station of Athens that takes you up to Omoneia square and Syntagma and the line of Patision street that takes you to several suburbs of east Athens.

By bus

Regular buses run mostly every 20 minutes and go almost everywhere. They are ideal for urban areas.In Athens there are almost over 440 bus routes in the city alone. Of course, there are also intercity buses that serve the Attica region, Peloponesse and the rest of Greece (KTEL). The main stations are in Kifissou avenue and Liosion Avenue.

By Metro

LINE 1 Green Line: It started its operation in 1869. Today it extends in a length of 25.6 km from Kifissia to Piraeus. It serves 24 stations. It is connected to LINE 2 at Attiki and Omonia stations, to LINE 3 at Monastiraki station and to the Suburban Railway at Neratziotissa and Piraeus stations.

LINE 2 Red Line: It extends in a length of 17.5 km from Anthoupolis to Elliniko. It serves 20 stations. It is connected to LINE 1 at Attiki and Omonia stations, to LINE 3 at Syntagma station, and to the Suburban Railway and OSE at Larissa station.

LINE 3 Blue Line: It extends to a length of 21.9 km (and an additional 21.2 km between Douk. Plakentias and the Airport). It serves 20 stations and an additional 4, which it shares with the suburban rail. It is connected to LINE 1 at Monastiraki station and to LINE 2 at Syntagma station.

Getting to Athens

By Air

Flights to Athens Greece are readily available in these days of package holiday tourism which has seen air fares falling and flight numbers soaring in recent years. You can fly direct to Athens and many of the islands from several European destinations, USA, Canada and the rest of the world.

Some of the best budget air fares are to be found on the Internet so it’s worth taking the time to scout around before you hand your money over to a high street agent. The UK currently has more than a dozen airports from which you can fly straight to Athens and other destinations in Greece. These include Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Bristol, East Midlands, Manchester and Newcastle.

If comfort is more important to you than a cheap air fare you’ll probably want to book a scheduled flight. The national airline of Greece, Olympic Airways, serves a worldwide network of destinations including New York, Johannesburg, Sydney, Bahrain and Toronto. If you pay more for an Olympian Executive Class ticket you’ll enjoy all sorts of extra goodies including access to a VIP lounge at Athens and other international airports, priority baggage collection, a choice of menu and an extensive in-flight entertainment programme.

Olympic Airways has regular domestic flights connecting Athens with many of the Greek islands. You’ll be better off getting a flight to Athens then island-hopping by boat or hunt around for a low-cost plane ticket directly to one of the islands.

By Ferry

Many people arriving from Europe and Scandinavia take the train to one of Italy’s coastal cities, from which they can then take a ferry to Greece. The ports that connect Italy with Greece are those of Brindisi, Bari, Ancona, Venice and Trieste.

The best known Greek ferry companies are Grimaldi ferries, Minoan, Superfast, and Blue Star Ferries, with large modern and comfortable ships, restaurants and bars, and nice cabins. The shortest trip by ship is from Brindisi, in fact many ferries depart from there every day. A slower ferry from Brindisi takes about 9 hours to Patras. The one that starts from Bari takes a little longer. From Ancona it takes 19 hours to reach Patras. There are also ships from Venice and Trieste but it takes 36 hours to arrive at their destination. From the port of Patras, you can get to Athens in under two hours by train or bus, which you can take right from where the ship leaves you. However, the best and cheapest option, if you don’t want to waste too many hours traveling, is to arrive in Greece by plane.

By train

In Greece there are many railway networks covering the whole country, and you can find trains to Athens from any other European country, such as Germany, Italy or France , but the journey time is too long and the tickets are more expensive than flying, so it would be better opt for a flight to Athens if you want to travel cheaply.