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Welcome to Athens


Athens exudes a unique charm, its lively character winning over tens of thousands of visitors every year. Street markets, vine-covered tavernas, souvenir stalls and ancient monuments are dotted among high-rise buildings in this capital city, which one out of four Greeks call home. For tourists the greatest advantage is that most attractions are accessible on foot in the central area around the landmark Acropolis.

Athens was named after Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, who according to mythology won the city as prize after a duel against Poseidon. The city can chart its history back thousands of years and is regarded as the cradle of western civilisation; the place where democracy was invented and philosophy, art and architecture were refined. After a classical golden age when it was home to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, the city declined in the Middle Ages, dwindling to nothing but a town with a few thousand residents gathered in the colourful area that is now known as the Plaka, until its rebirth as capital of an independent Greece in 1834.

Nowadays the city is busy and bustling. While the pollution, frantic gridlock and dingy buildings is of great contrast to the open beauty of Greece's coast and islands, Athens is truly the heartbeat of the country, and ancient wonders like the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and the Temples of Zeus and Hephaesus ensure that Athens will always have its attractions.

Information & Facts


Athens is known as one of the sunniest cities in Europe, with a semi-arid climate and low average annual rainfall. The rain that does occur falls during the winter months, between mid-October and mid-April, usually as short, heavy showers. Summers are very hot, exacerbated by smoggy conditions, and heatwaves are common during July and August when the mercury soars to over 104°F (40ºC). Winters are mild although frost can occur and nights can be cold. The best time to travel to Athens is during the cooler, fine weather of spring and summer.

Eating Out

The Greek salad has made a firm impression the world over, and it might not be long before other aspects of Greek cuisine start gaining popularity across the Mediterranean. The exotic and varied nature of Greek cuisine is a tantalizing attraction for travelling taste buds.

A traditional Greek meal is typically accompanied by a selection of hors d'oeuvres, known as mezedes. These include melitzanosalata(mashed eggplant with oil, lemon and garlic), taramosalata(caviar spread), gavros marinatos(marinated anchovies), saganaki(grilled or fried cheese) and many other options. While many tourists ask for famous 'Greek' dishes like dolmades and baklava, restauranteurs are quick to correct that perception, explaining that those foods are actuallyTurkish in origin.

A sit-down eating experience takes place mostly in Athens' Plaka region at the foot of the Acropolis. There are four tiers of restaurants. In an estiatorio, the familiar (but more expensive) restaurant experience is offered. Tavernas are less formal, cheaper and oriented toward more traditional cooking. The psistariaare the Greek equivalent of a steakhouse, often buffet with spit-fired meat on display, while psarotavernaspecialising in seafood dishes.

In Athens there is a culture of street vending, which means one can do all one's eating 'en route' so to speak. Among the culinary curiosities on offer are Koulouri (sesame seed bread ring), Galaktoboureko (custard-filled pastry dusted with icing sugar) and Tyropitta (cheese or spinach pies). Souvlaki is a popular Greek fast food where meat and vegetables are grilled on a skewer and often served in a pita sandwich. The Syntagma district has a number of places to eat on the run.

The drinking scene is dominated by a strong, anise-flavoured liqueur called Ouzo. Ouzo originated in Greece and is traditionally served with the mezedes, distilled in water. Greece also has a 6,000 years history of wine production and boasts over a dozen varieties of red and white wine, though connoisseurs may be disappointed in the lack of subtlety.

Getting Around

Most tourist sites are within the city centre, which is easy to get around on foot, however there is an extensive public transport network consisting of buses, trolley buses, minibuses and a fast new 3-line underground metro service that requires a standard ticket for a 90-minute usage span. The metro is especially useful to get to Piraeus to catch a boat to the islands. The metro stations double as impressive archaeological art and artefact galleries. Transport is cheap, but often overcrowded especially during the siesta rush hour between 1pm and 3pm, and operates until midnight; a limited night bus service operates along major routes. Bus and metro tickets are not transferable, but a daily pass can be used on both; single tickets or packets of 10 must be bought in advance and validated when getting on. Although taxis are plentiful it may be difficult to get one during the siesta rush hour, and it is not unusual to share the ride with other passengers going in the same direction. It is often easier to phone ahead for a radio cab. Taxis are inexpensive, but always check that the meter is on and set to the minimum fare of EUR1 as drivers will often attempt to overcharge tourists - if its 'not working' look for another taxi. Legitimate surcharges can increase the final bill, but these should be displayed on the dashboard. Driving in Athens is not recommended, there are new laws banning cars from the commercial centre to reduce heavy traffic and pollution, and parking anywhere is near impossible.

Kids Attractions

For a city steeped in so much history, many would think that children on holiday in Athens would be bored. But look behind the ancient ruins and temples and find plenty of exciting attractions and activities for kids of all ages to enjoy. With warm summers and mild winters, Athens boasts the perfect climate for outdoor activities and it's no wonder the city is scattered with parks and gardens. Picnicking in these is a regular pastime for many local Athenians and many of the gardens feature children's playgrounds. Take the cable car up Mount Likavitos and let the kids enjoy the view over the city and explore the paths up top, or for the more insatiable child, a trip to one of the Athens' theme parks or the go-kart track will tire them out. When the weather is colder and kids activities out of doors are not an option, head to one of the many children's museums dotted around the city, an indoor playground, or take the kids to the world's finest planetarium for a spot of stargazing. With all these options and more, parents will have no problem finding time to take their children exploring round Athens for the day to enjoy their own little experience of one of the world's most loved and visited cities.

Greek is the national language, but English is widely spoken.

The Euro (EUR) is the official currency, divided into 100 cents. Banks and bureaux de change are widely available and travellers cheques and major credit cards are widely accepted. ATMs are widespread and are generally the cheapest and most convenient method of obtaining euros.


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 sounds of violins, concertinas and bouzouki playing traditional urban Greek music like Rembetika and Smyrneika. Many tavernas have lively music and dancing, including Taverna Mostrou and Palia Taverna Kritikou.

After dinner, head to one of the many music bars, clubs, rock and jazz venues in the city. Clubbing in Athens is expensive, with many large venues charging entrance of EUR10-20, and upwards of EUR10 per drink. For a less touristy option, head to the area around the port of Pireau and explore the clubs and bars on offer here.

Parafono, in the centre of Athens, is a live-music club dedicated to jazz and blues and a great place to 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.

One of the most unique and breathtaking venues for a live concert is the theatre on Mount Lycavettos, which has hosted many world-famous artists. You'll find classical music programmes at the Megaron Mousikis Concert Hall, Olympia Theater, and the Pallas Theater. For traditional Greek theatre and dancing, head to the Athens Centre or the Dora Stratou Folk Dance Theater.

Grab a copy of the International Herald Tribune for its daily Kathimerini cultural and entertainment listings, or the monthly Now in Athens has comprehensive lists of clubs, restaurants, theatre, and more.


Historically a crossroads for Middle Eastern and European traders, present-day Athens holds a treasure trove of goods from all over the world. This city boasts a plethora of boutiques, department stores, speciality shops and markets. Popular buys include antiques, ceramics, books, jewellery, shoes and olive oil. In the centre of Athens there are numerous music stores and bookshops, some of which offer translations of the modern Greek authors and music records no longer in production. The Monastiraki Square flea market runs into Pandrossou and Ifaistou streets and is great for local produce and various antiques. While it is operational all week, the best bargains are available on Sundays. Ermou Street is one of Athens' main shopping streets and hosts clothing, accessory and souvenir shops, trading in everything from old money and copper pots to fine ceramics, designer labels and sensational jewellery. Vildiridis and Bulgari jewellers can be found on Voukourestiou and the adjacent streets. Located beneath the Acropolis, the Plaka shopping area also has numerous jewellery stores, art shops, cafés and street vendors.


Athens is an ancient city in the true sense of the word, and one gets the sense that they're tripping over priceless artefacts. Its origins and culture date back to the years when gods of myth walked the earth, a history reflected in popular destinations such as the Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Ancient Agora, where the temples of the gods Hephaestus and Apollo are also found.

The 3,000 year history of Athens and, indeed, ancient Greece is perusable on 'museum mile' along Vassilissis Sophias Avenue. Here most of Athens' museums are clustered, including the Benaki Museum, the Museum of Cycladic Art and the Byzantine Museum. The 'mile' starts from Syntagma Square, the home of the Greek Parliament.

For the best view of the city, climb Lycabettus Hill for its spectacular view of the Parthenon. The tranquil National Gardens make a lovely daytime break for those tired of the urban rush, or you can take a tram to Athens' urban beaches, including Agios Kosmas, Attica Vouliagmeni, and Varkiza.

Those on holiday 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 of the Acropolis 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.

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 from the top of the panoramic ferris wheel make great photo souvenirs. Children under 10 years of age will do better to go to the next-door section of the park called 'Kidom'.

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.

The wonderful Attica Zoo is a must for children of all ages. Featuring more than 2,000 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 jungle.

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. There is also an attached Museum of Islamic Art, and separate exhibitions on Chinese and Coptic art.

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. According to the legend, Theseus' ship displayed the wrong colour sail on its return, leading the king to believe his son was dead. He threw himself from the cliffs in grief, which is how the Aegean Sea got its name. Sounion is easily accessible by bus from the city.

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.

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. The museum's collections include hundreds of reptiles, insects, birds, mammals, rocks, shells, fossils and minerals, from the rich natural wildlife of the area.

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.

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.

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. Discovered accidentally by shepherds, the cave is considered one of the most beautiful in Europe for its forest of stalagmites and stalagtites. A guided tour of the cave starts every 30 minutes.

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.

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.

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 2000 BC; frescoes from the volcanic island of Santorini; and so much more that it is recommended visitors make several visits to absorb it all. There is a gift shop and cafe for visitors to relax in if they get tired.

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.

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.

The old town section of Athens below the Acropolis has become the gathering place for travellers and tourists, particularly in the warm Athens evenings. Strolling the narrow streets of the Plaka flanked by ancient monuments, Byzantine churches and mosques, stately mansions, and inviting tavernas with vine-covered courtyards, makes a pleasant diversion.

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.

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.

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