One of the world’s oldest cities and home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites, Athens is a feast for the senses and an absolute delight for history buffs. Widely referred to as ‘the cradle of Western civilisation’ and ‘the birthplace of democracy’, there are over 3,400 years of human history to explore here.
Not to mention the stunning beaches, legendary Greek Islands, and mouth-watering Greek food! This is a destination that will truly have you spoilt for choice.
One of two UNESCO World Heritage sites in Athens, the Acropolis is an iconic landmark and widely regarded as the most important ancient site in the Western World. Visible from almost anywhere in the city, the Acropolis is still awe-inspiring, despite it being more than 2000 years since Pericles rebuilt the city after everything was destroyed by the Persians on the eve of the Battle of Salamis in 480BC. Major restoration of the site is ongoing, and many of the original sculptures have been transferred to the Acropolis Museum and replaced with casts.
You can take a guided tour or meander your way there via the car-less avenues filled with cafes and restaurants. The best time to go is late winter or spring, but if you are there in summer, make sure you go early or late in the day to avoid the worst of the heat.
It’s worth engaging one of the licensed guides who gather around the entrance, to get the benefit of their insight and knowledge. Even if you’re not much of a history buff, this is the one thing you must do when visiting Athens.
Perched atop the Acropolis, the Parthenon was created during the 5th century BC, in dedication to the goddess Athena. The temple’s primary function was to shelter the gold and ivory statue of Athena fashioned by Pheidias. It was also used as a treasure and in the late sixth century AD was converted to a Christian church.
Although most of its Doric columns are still intact, the Parthenon has borne the brunt of much violence and warfare over its long history. Its architectural refinements are legendary and despite its fragile state, the building is still widely considered one of the most remarkable examples of a Doric temple ever built.
When you visit the Parthenon, buy an all-inclusive ticket that will grant you entry to the other major archaeological sites, including The Theatre of Herod Atticus, Theatre of Dionysus, the Ancient Agora and Keramiekos.
There are lots of museums in Athens, but the National Archaeological Museum is the largest, and is filled with some of the most important artefacts in the world. With 64 individual galleries and more than 11,000 exhibits, you won’t find a more comprehensive compilation of ancient Greek artefacts.
Collections include the Prehistoric Collection, the Sculptures Collection, the Vase and Minor Objects Collection, and the Metallurgy Collection – to name but a few. The museum building is an imposing neo-classical design and the property incorporates a large design garden dotted with sculptures.
Located in the Exarcheia area in central Athens, the museum is open from 8am–8pm most days. There is usually an admission fee, though this is waived on special days like International Museum Day on 18 May.
Located to the northwest of the Acropolis, the agora was the civic heart of Athens, as with any ancient Greek city. This is where anything social, political, philosophical or commercial happened. Large groups would gather here for all manner of reasons: a market, an election, an oration, an athletic competition, or a religious ceremony.
It first became a public site in the 6th century BC and was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC, being subsequently rebuilt. It has gone through many changes throughout its lifetime and from being the buzzing centre of the ancient city is now not much more than rather austere ruins and fragments of buildings. While there is not much left of the Agora itself, the adjacent Temple of Hephasestus, (reputedly the best preserved temple from the Classical era), and the Stoa of Attalos have retained much of their former glory and are situated adjacent to the ancient meeting place. For history buffs, it’s certainly still worth a visit to the Ancient Agora to soak in the significance of its history.
Greek mythology tells us that Mount Lycabettus was created when Athena dropped a limestone mountain she was carrying to use to build the Acropolis. This stunning landmark of Athens rises out of the centre of Athens, inviting you to ascend to its peak. You don’t have to climb it yourself, if you’re not feeling like a Greek Olympic athlete!
A funicular railway will take up to the summit from a terminus at Kolonaki. Regardless of your transportation, it’s worth the effort to take in the open-air amphitheatre and breath-taking views – where many world famous musicians have performed.. There is also a good quality café at the top so you can refuel before your descent back into the city.
If you’re looking for some tranquillity and time out from the bustle of the amazing – but sometimes overwhelming – city, then make sure you save at least half a day for the oft-overlooked National Gardens. Previously known as the ‘The King’s Garden’, you could wander around this tropical oasis of some 38 acres for hours. With beautiful shaded pathways, the gardens feature exotic plants from around the world, duck ponds, turtles, a small zoo, and a café to quench your thirst and sate your hunger. There is also a botanical museum on the grounds.
Enter the gardens at the top of Syntagma Square on Amalias Street, behind the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
On the east side of Syntagma Square sits the impressive Greek Parliament building, and in front of this, at the base of a high wall surrounding the building, is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Inscribed on either side of the monument are excerpts from Pericles’s famous funeral oration.
The tomb is protected by members of the presidential guard, known as Evzones, who are dressed in traditional tasselled caps, kilts and leggings, known as foustanella. The hourly change of the guards is like a solemn, slow dance. There is a more elaborate version at 11am on Sundays.
Make the most of Greece’s famous beaches and stunning turquoise waters by sailing amongst them. Sail for up to 15 days amongst the stunning Greek islands, travelling from Santorini to Athens aboard a 15m yacht, exploring the ancient sites, and buzzing modern harbours.
Try your hand at sailing, snorkelling, or just go along for the ride. With lots of opportunity for day trips and exploring, your sea based adventure can be as relaxed or active as you want it to be. You can customise your itinerary to suit your needs. There are many sailing operators, so make sure you do your research and choose the option that’s right for you!