Athens is the historical capital of Europe, with a long history, dating from the first settlement in the Neolithic age. In the 5th Century BC (the “Golden Age of Pericles”) – the culmination of Athens’ long, fascinating history – the city’s values and civilization acquired a universal significance. Over the years, a multitude of conquerors occupied Athens, and erected unique, splendid monuments - a rare historical palimpsest. In 1834, it became the capital of the modern Greek state and in two centuries since it has become an attractive modern metropolis with unrivalled charm.
A large part of the town’s historic centre has been converted into a 3-kilometre pedestrian zone (the largest in Europe), leading to the major archaeological sites (“archaeological park”), reconstructing – to a large degree – the ancient landscape.
Best Time to Travel
The best times to visit Athens are between March and May and from September to November. Weather during these spring and fall months is agreeable and sunshine is pretty much a guarantee. Not to mention, crowds are thinner and hotel and airfare deals are easier to come by than in summer. But if you choose to visit between December and February (Athens' winter season), don't fret. Though chilly, Athens' winters are relatively mild, thanks in part to Greece's Mediterranean location. June through August, meanwhile, bring stifling heat and hordes of tourists, so sightseeing can be a bit uncomfortable and quite a headache at this time.
The Athens public transport system is affordable, reliable and covers most of the city and suburbs. You can use all means of public transport using the same ticket (a single ticket costs €1.40 and is valid for 90 minutes).
The fastest means of getting around Athens is the Metro. The Athens Metro system consists of 3 lines and connects to the tram, bus routes and suburban railway. The Metro runs daily from 5 am to midnight. Lines 2 and 3 operate until 2 am on Fridays and Saturdays. At peak hours, trains run every 5-6 minutes.
Airport Express buses operate on a 24-hour basis. These services connect Athens International Airport with the city centre (Syntagma Square), Piraeus port and the Intercity Bus Terminal (KTEL Kifissos).
The tram network connects central Athens with the coastal suburbs of Faliro and Voula. It takes approximately one hour to get from Syntagma to the final seaside stop at Voula. The tram connects to the Metro and overground train at four stops: Syntagma, Syngrou/Fix, Neos Kosmos and SEF (Peace and Friendship Stadium in Faliro).
The Acropolis is on an abrupt rocky outcrop above the city and has world-renowned Classical landmarks that people spend whole lifetimes waiting to see in the flesh. The pinnacle of these is of course the Parthenon, but The Propylea, the Erectheion and the Temple of Athena Nike are indispensible, and you can skip the queues and get enthralling inside facts and titbits about ancient Greek democracy and philosophy with a registered guide.
Seen as the greatest achievement of the Doric Order and Classical Greece’s most significant building to make it to the 21st Century, the Parthenon is a symbol of western civilisation and Athenian democracy. The Parthenon was dedicated to the goddess Athena and begun in 447 BC, when the Athenian Empire was the dominant force in the Aegean. Co-designed, by Ictinus and Callicrates, at that time it was a city treasury before becoming a church in the 6th century and then a mosque in the 1460s.
On the north side of the Acropolis is a temple to Athena and Poseidon, built in the Ionic Order from 421 to 406 BC. After antiquity this monument had all sorts of uses, as a Byzantine church, a palace in the Frankish period and much later a residence for the Ottoman commander’s harem. The thing you have to see, and the Erechtheion’s defining image, is the southern Porch of the Maidens.This has six magnificent caryatids supporting its roof, carved by Callimachus or Alcamenes.
Museum Of Cycladic Art
Beginning in the 1960s the couple Nicholas and Dolly Goulandris amassed the world’s largest collection of prehistoric art from the Cycladic Islands in the Aegean. By the 1980s this was enough to fill a museum, which opened in 1986. There are more than 3,000 pieces of Cycladic, Ancient Greek and Cypriot art at the museum, dating from 3,000 to the 4th century BC. But it’s the Cycladic marble figurines that draw the most acclaim. If you love modern art you may notice uncanny similarities between their minimal, abstract lines and works by the likes of Giacometti and Henry Moore.
Temple of Athena Nike
In a commanding position, raised on a bastion on the southeast slope of the Acropolis, the Temple of Athena Nike is from 420 BC and was the first complete Ionic Order temple on the hill. It’s the most recent of a number of temples dedicated to Athena Nike at the Acropolis, the previous of which was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC.
Ancient Agora Of Athens
Reserved for trade and public gatherings, the Agora was the centre of Classical Athens and is cushioned by the Acropolis to the southeast and the Agoraios Kolonos hill to the south. It was drawn up in the 6th century BC and is a wide-ranging site with the ruins of more than 30 buildings and monuments.
While Plaka is for sightseeing and shopping, Psiri has taken up the mantle of best nightlife quarter in Athens, with streets full of revellers until daybreak on weekends.
Unlike Athens’ most famous summit, Mount Lycabettus is free to climb on foot, but you can also take a funicular to the summit. Northeast of the city centre, this cretaceous limestone peak rises to 300 metres and its lower slopes are decked in pine trees, which become sparser as you approach the rocky summit.
The walk is best saved for winter and not the searing Athens summer, while the funicular runs on the hour and half-hour. At the top you’ll be bowled over by the best panorama of the city and can take your time to pick out the Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Piraeus Coast and peaks like Pentelicus, which yielded the marble for the Acropolis, and the soaring Parnitha in the north.