Be amazed by Athens
Stunning Athens, named after the goddess of wisdom, Athena, is not only the capital city of Greece, but one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. Brimming with aromatic tavernas, lively neighbourhoods, and plenty of ancient culture mixed with modernity, there is nothing quite like holidays to Athens.**
In preparation for the 2004 Olympic Games, a lot of money was spent on regenerating the city which in turn boosted the city’s appeal for great holidays in Athens. Gone are the days when Athens was just the best place to fly into before catching a boat to the Greek Islands like Mykonos or Santorini, the city now exudes a certain charm and character which attracts holidaymakers from across the world. As well as the many museums in Athens, including the National Archaeological Museum, there are also street markets to explore, vine-covered tavernas where you can sit and relax with a bottle of wine and a Greek salad, plenty of shopping opportunities and historic wonders to see at every street corner.
Athens is bursting with history, and you don’t have to search far for evidence. The Acropolis, which looms over the city from its famous hill, contains some of Athens’ finest historical buildings. The highlight is the magnificent Parthenon, one of the world’s great buildings, where the gods of Ancient Greece were once worshipped. Other famous landmarks amongst Athens’ attractions include the Agora, the ancient marketplace of the city, which offers a wealth of historical and architectural interest. For a taste of authentic city life, you can stroll around the Plaka district, Athens’ oldest continuously inhabited area where shops and bars nestle beside churches and museums. There are countless things to do in Athens, a city of sights, smells and sounds unlike anywhere else in the world.
Wine and dine
Athens is home to a diverse cuisine influenced by migration from the countryside, the Greek islands and elsewhere in the Mediterranean region. Street food is a culinary highlight of Athens, with plenty of quick and tasty snacks on offer such as roast corn and stuffed pitas. Greeks are proud of their cuisine – the food here is fresh, healthy and appetising. In restaurants there are hundreds of Mezedes, or starters, to choose from, followed by mouth-watering meat and fish dishes. For most of the year you can eat outside and enjoy a distinctively Mediterranean way of life, whether in lively Tavernas or traditional cafes. If authentic Greek takes your fancy, look no further than the Eleas Gi restaurant in the Kifissia region of the city, recognised as one of the finest Greek restaurants in the city.
Action and adventure
The area around Athens offers a terrific range of outdoor activities for all ages. The Attica Coast is a playground for water sports, with tour companies offering jet skiing and windsurfing classes, along with kayaking and rafting in Greece’s pristine rivers. Many of Athens’ attractions can be enjoyed in the crystal clear Mediterranean waters, which are perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving, whether you’re searching for archaeological ruins or plunging for colourful marine life. From June to April you can hit the ski slopes of Mt. Parnassus – cheaper and less crowded than most other European resorts. The hills around the city are criss-crossed with hiking trails offering superb panoramic views.
There are plenty of things to do in Athens for couples looking for a getaway. Greeks love to watch movies in outdoor theatres, especially in the summer months. No movie experience is as romantic as watching the big screen under the stars. There are plenty of small bars and restaurants found throughout the city where you can dine on traditional cuisine while listening to local musicians. Out of the city, nothing beats a quiet beach on the Mediterranean shore, and there are plenty of spots within an hour’s drive of the city. Vouliagmeni Lake, barely ten miles from Athens, is a great spot to swim and sunbathe away from the crowds. For families, there are a number of spacious parks with plenty of activities to keep kids entertained. Little ones will love Pedion Aeros, the largest park in Athens, where visitors can explore the many ponds and fountains dotted around the pristine lawns. The National Gardens of Athens’ is another good family destination, home to a playground and a children’s library with a section for English readers, as well as a small zoo.
Athens is a paradise for museum-lovers. The city’s rich history can be explored in a number of world-class exhibitions, such as the enormous National Museum, which houses Greek artefacts from as far back as 1600BC. You can head to the Benaki museum for an incredible range of artwork, jewellery and costumes from throughout Greek history, while a trip to the War Museum will showcase displays of Ancient Greece’s military might. If you’re looking for some open-air culture, there are memorable options amongst Athens’ attractions. For an unforgettable night out you can take in a concert at the majestic Herodes Atticus amphitheatre in the shadow of the Parthenon. Athens is dotted with outdoor theatres staging all kinds of performances, from traditional Greek dance performances to modern stage plays. The Acropolis was the ancient fortified town of Athens and is a Unesco World Heritage Site. It dates back to the late Bronze Age and is home to the finest buildings of the Greek Classical age. A stroll around this ancient realm is a journey back through time.
Festivals and parties
There are plenty of fun things to do in Athens throughout the year. Holy Week, which takes place over the Easter weekend, is the most important religious festival of the year and is a great time to visit. Gasp at the spectacular fireworks on Easter Saturday, or join one of the church services which run throughout the week. For an unforgettable climax, join the thousands of worshippers who march with burning candles to the top of Lykavittos Hill to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. In summer the Athens festival takes over the cultural calendar, featuring a range of musical and theatrical performances in outdoor theatres across the city.
City on the Shore
As you will find out on holidays to Athens, it is actually quite a large city with plenty of accommodation options. The scenic heart of the capital is centred on the dazzling Acropolis in Plaka. With rooftop terrace gardens and patios, views of the Parthenon lit up at night, and easy access to the metro and shops, this is the spot for those who are in Athens for a short break or just want beautiful views. However if its upscale boutiques, gourmet restaurants and trendy nightspots you are looking for then there is no better place than Kolonaki, one of Athens' most attractive neighbourhoods. For those looking for a quick stopover in Athens before exploring the Aegean, staying nearby the port of Piraeus is as good a spot as any. Here you can be within walking distance of the harbour and only a short distance away from the metro that can take you into the heart of the city or to the bus terminals for day trips to Corinth in the Peloponnese.
The Greek Life
As well as its obvious historic importance, Athens is also Greece's commercial centre and home to most significant of all the Mediterranean ports, Piraeus. Couple all of the above with attractive pedestrianized streets, leafy parks, great shopping, pine-covered hillsides, numerous bars and restaurants and a lively nightlife scene and it is easy to see why Athens has become a popular Mediterranean holiday destination in the last few years. The best way to explore Athens is on foot as so many of the city's attractions are located close to one and other. Start with a visit to the world-renowned National Archaeological Museum before a visit to the Panathenaic Stadium which dates back to 330 BCE and hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Even today, this 70,000-seater stadium is used for concerts and large events. Obviously no trip to Athens would be complete without seeing the city's most famous landmark, the Acropolis, and a great place to view it is from the monument on Philopappou Hill opposite. Plaka is another popular area of Athens and is home to a variety of quaint museums, Roman temples and Byzantine churches, art galleries, tavernas, cafés and restaurants. Finally, make sure you find enough time on your Athens holidays to visit some of the fantastic beaches that line this beautiful stretch of the Greek coastline.
Out and About in Athens
One of the main attractions of Athens holidays is that the city is quite compact and most of the attractions are accessible on foot from the central area around the Acropolis near the Plaka district. As you will soon discover, walking is the best way to soak up the atmosphere and run into culture at every turn. There are some great beaches within easy reach of Athens allowing you to enjoy the benefits of a major city combined with the obvious attraction of a Greek beach holiday. Travel a few miles along the south-east to the district of Glyfada where you’ll find some uncrowded beaches, although many of them are private so you may have to pay to enjoy them. To the northeast of Athens, close to the Marathon district, the beaches are beautiful and generally quieter while to the east you will also find nice beaches, but here they are a lot more crowded. The best way to explore the beaches in Athens is by hopping on a bus and seeing where it takes you.