Welcome to Athens

A visit to 3,000-years-old Athens, the capital of Greece can be a dream come true or a nightmare. Usually it is a little of both. On the one hand, the city with its 4 million inhabitants, is surrounded by beautiful hills. On the other hand, the peaks can be obscured by terrible pollution.

At times, the horn honking and hustle and bustle of downtown will drive you crazy.

Suddenly, however, you will find yourself in the Plaka area wandering cobblestone streets lined with colourful houses, gardens, quaint shops and small tavernas. From the vantage point of ancient monuments and amphitheatres, you can look down on modern skyscrapers.

The centre of the modern city is on its turn borders on the Agora, an ancient marketplace.

The Acropolis, the hill upon which the Parthenon and other important ruins are located, is the first place you should visit. Not all its attractions are on top of the hill, so take your time to appreciate the ruins you will pass along your way upwards to the top of the hill. In fact, before starting up, take a look at the amphitheatres and the Odeon of Herod Atticus (this is one of the locations where the Athens Festival is held during summer).

As you climb, pause to look at the various views of the city -the layer of brown smog is seen less frequently than in the past thanks to restrictions on automobile use. Amongst the monuments to investigate on the Acropolis are the small Ionian temple of Athena Niki (also called the Temple of the Wingless Victory), the Erechtheion Temple, the Theatre of Dionysus and the Parthenon (5th century BC). There are also other temples, a museum and caves (though you are not allowed to visit these).

At the beginning of April, until the fifteenth of October, a sound-and-light show is held at 9pm. Many nights, these performances are in English and your hotel often has the schedule of these shows.

Other interesting things to see and do in Athens include taking a trip to the top of the Hill of Philopappou (Hill of the Muses) for a great view of the city and seeing the skirted soldiers (called Evzones) perform a changing-of-the-guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in front of the Parliament building on Constitution Square.

Afterwards, relax at the Zappion, a beautiful garden with shaded benches. You should also see the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch (these are next to each other, just a few blocks from the Acropolis).

Be intrigued at the Roman Forum, or Roman Agora, by the Tower of Winds, built in the first century BC, and the Hadrian’s Library, which shows how he stored manuscripts. Not-to-be-missed either are the Presidential Palace and the National Archaeological Museum which is located at the Polytechnic University. Upscale shopping can be found at the Constitution (Syntagma) Square at the Kolonaki area and there is a flea market at Monastiraki (especially good on Sunday mornings).

There are several spots near Athens that can be visited as either full- or half-day trips.

However, when you have the time, spending the night there is a better option. These excursions include the Peloponnese Peninsula (Epidaurus Corinth Mycenae), Cape Sounion, Delphi Eleusis and Marathon.

Many visitors to Athens take a full-day cruise on a hovercraft out of the port of Piraeus to either Poros, Hydra or Aegina, three of the most popular Saronic Gulf Islands. Although a day trip is better than nothing, we feel that also in this case, one or two nights should be spent on each island.

If you are not planning to visit any of the Greek isles on your trip, visit a beach resort such as Glyfada (on the southern side of Athens, not far from the airport), Vouliagmeni or Varkiza.

They are not great for swimming, but are locally known as ‘tanning’ beaches. Just lay back and enjoy the sunshine after a steady walking-trip.

Although Athens gets more and more commercialised, it still manages to maintain its authentic side, not in the least because of its lasting remnants of classical times. The best thing to do is to start your trip at the Plaka, the centre of old antique Athens and decide what you would like to explore.

Or go to the centre of the present Athens, Sindagma Square, which in itself is not very interesting, but serves as a good starting point for walks to the main sights. Will it be the museums, the street markets or maybe the Acropolis site with its monuments?

Or maybe you should start with a visit to one of the two other areas packed with ruins, the Agora (northwest of the Acropolis) or the Roman Forum. Or simple deliberate on it when sitting outside a charming taverna at the Plaka, letting the world pass by. It is your holiday, isn’t it? Section Sights:Temples The Acropolis Hill is one of the main sights of Athens.

This ‘sacred rock’ of Athens served as a residential area from the Neolithic period onwards. Besides that, it was the matrix for the cult of the city’s patron goddess, Athena. During the Classical period, the monumental entrance to the area was constructed, the Propylaea. Besides that, three important temples were erected on the ruins of earlier ones, namely, the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Nike.

All these monuments reflect the successive phases of the city’s history. Although these monuments were converted into Christian churches and houses belonging to previous invaders (such as the Franks and the Turks) at one time, after the liberation of Athens from the Turks, a large-scale restoration and preservation plan was made, which is still maintained on this very day.

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