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Athens: Explore the cradle of civilization

Athens, the capital of Greece is a heady mix of the classic and modern, the grungy and the civil, the historic and the contemporary. As one of the world’s oldest cities, Athens has a history that dates back around 3,400 years and conjures up images of Greek deities, colossal marble structures and philosophical discourse.

Designated the first European “Capital of Culture” in 1985, the Greek capital dominates the region of Attica from its location overlooking the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites, the cultural and architectural heritage of Athens is unrivalled. Modern Athenian life takes place amongst centuries-old Byzantine, Roman, Ottoman and neoclassical structures in a city recognized as the birthplace of Western civilization. A center for the arts, learning and philosophy with an undeniable edginess and vibrancy situated on the Eastern Mediterranean, Athens has something for everyone.

Athens is also home to many art galleries and museums and the symbolic archaeological sites of Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum. If you are looking for a little retail therapy, there is a diverse range of locales including colorful bazaars and lively street markets to chic suburban malls. After a day of culture and sightseeing, eating out is a treat with a choice of venues ranging from gourmet fine-dining to street food, traditional tavernas and neo-tavernas.

Come and visit the city with one of the oldest histories of Europe and book a flight to Athens now.

How do you get from the airport to Athens?

Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport (ATH) is located 27 km (17 miles) east of the city center. Open 24 hours, the airport has many facilities and excellent public transportation connections to Athens via express bus, suburban Metro railway and taxi. The train journey from the airport to central Athens is approximately 30 minutes and approximately 45 minutes via express bus service. There are also always plenty of canary yellow taxis available outside the airport terminals and offering reasonably priced fares.

What about getting around the city?

Public transportation in Athens is good value and services are extensive, making it easy to get around. An “integrated” ticket is available for different durations and allows travel on any mode of public transportation with unlimited transfers anywhere within Athens. Tickets are available at every station.

What else is good to know?

Before traveling on public transportation in Athens, you must validate your ticket prior to going to the platform. Ticket inspection is rigorous, fines are hefty and inspectors will not hesitate to call in assistance in the event of objections.

Uncover layers of history in historic Athens

Any season is a good time to visit and uncover layers of history in Athens. The city enjoys the temperate Mediterranean climate year-round. There can be only one Capital of Culture, and this is Athens.

In such a historical city it’s not easy to decide what attractions to visit first and so we picked out the most popular ones for you:

  • Mount Lycabettus
  • New Acropolis Museum
  • Open air Odeon of Herodes theatre
  • Kerameikos
  • Acropolis
  • Byzantine and Christian Museum
  • Athens street art scene
  • Panathenaic Stadium

Embark on a journey to the summit of Mount Lycabettus in Kolonaki and marvel at the landscape sprawling at your feet. A walk up this 227-metre (745-foot) hill will take 2-3 hours. If you prefer a less physical approach, take the funicular tramway to the top for the best views of Athens and the Aegean.

Explore Athens on foot. Start from Vasilisis Amalias Street along past the New Acropolis Museum, the Acropolis, the open-air Odeon of Herodes theater down to Kerameikos (Gkazi) for a break and pause for reflection while sipping an ouzo at a traditional taverna and watching the sunset over the Acropolis.

For a lesson in ancient Greek history, don’t miss the impressive 25,000-piece Byzantine and Christian Museum with exhibits dating from the Early Christian, Byzantine, medieval and post-Byzantine eras and pieces collected from all over Greece.

If modern street art is your thing, take an alternative tour of the Athens street art scene – one of Europe’s hottest centers for street art featuring both local and international artists. Discover the coolest urban areas in Athens while learning about the meaning behind the art and how each relates to the current social and economic situation in the Greek capital.

One of the most popular attractions in Athens is the spectacular horseshoe-shaped Panathenaic Stadium. Built entirely out of marble, before every Olympic Games, the home of the first modern Olympic Games receives the Olympic Flame for an official hand-over ceremony to the new host country. Locals refer to the stadium as “Kallimarmaro” (made of fine marble).

Tour around the Acropolis

Encircled on three sides by mountains, Athens is built on 12 hills, all of which provide spectacular panoramic views of the city, out to the Saronic Gulf and the “Athenian Riviera”, stretching along the southern coast. Seven of the hills have historic and cultural significance, with the most prominent being the Acropolis and Lykavittos (Mount Lycabettus). Visible from almost everywhere in the city, the Acropolis of Athens is a hilltop citadel crowned by the magnificent marble silhouette of the iconic Parthenon. The Acropolis is also home to several other ancient structures of great cultural and architectural significance including the Temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion with its famous “Porch of the Caryatids”. Walk an entire circuit of the Acropolis and ancient Agora on pedestrianized streets, while filling your Instagram with images taken from every angle of some of the most recognizable icons of Western civilization. Explore the narrow alleyways of the historic heart of Athens nestled at the foot of the Acropolis, in the largely pedestrianized area of Pláka, home to the Roman Forum.

Athens architectural heritage

The architectural heritage of Athens can be seen throughout the city, with the influence of the Ottoman, Byzantine and Roman cultures still evident alongside landmarks of the modern era. The largest temple in Greece is the Temple of Olympian Zeus located in central Athens, which has retained 16 of its 104 Corinthian columns of 17 meters (56 feet). Not far away, you’ll find the 17th century Ottoman Fethiye Mosque and the Byzantine Daphni Monastery, which is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Landmarks of the modern era include the Academy of Athens and the Old Royal Building on Syntagama Square, which has housed the Hellenic Parliament since 1934.

Uncover more of this magnificent city and Athens’ attractions in our guide.

When in Athens...

Athens welcomes you with a crackling and vibrant energy that emanates from city streets lined with cafes, tavernas and bars that are packed day and night. Socializing is big business in Athens and the Greeks like to enjoy a drink slowly while socializing, accompanied by a few nibbles or meze to share over several hours. Athens is a tale of two cities with its hectic and modern urban vibe tempered by the distinctive genial atmosphere that flows through the city streets.

Eating in Athens – a culinary revolution

From a culinary perspective, Greek food has had a significant influence on Europe and beyond, while in turn being influenced by both Eastern and Western cultures and age-old tradition. Fresh vegetables, fish and seafood and lamb play a significant role in Greek cuisine with flavors changing depending on season.

Food markets are often the best place to experience the essence of the culinary culture of a city, mingle with the locals and discover a genuine side of the city. Varvakios Agorà (Central Market) is the perfect place to try Greek specialties and pick up culinary souvenirs and edible delights. On Saturdays in Athens you can also find a farmer’s market in each neighborhood.

The wide range of shopping opportunities in Athens

The cobblestone streets in central Athens are pedestrianized, making retail therapy a breeze. The main shopping street in Athens is Ermou Street, named after the Greek god of commerce – Hermes. Lined with both local and foreign retail outlets, it is one of the most expensive in Europe. The historic Monastiraki Square is about half a mile down Ermou Street heading west and home to the Athens Flea Market – a jumble of stalls and outlets selling artisanal soaps, handmade sandals, souvenir T-shirts and more. The streets around Monastiraki Square are crammed with traditional tavernas and restaurants where you can take a break while admiring a view of the Acropolis.

Get more mouth-watering tips in our Guide about eat and drink in Athens.