Chaotic, alluring and entirely intoxicating Athens – the capital of Greece – is one of the world’s oldest cities, with a gigantic history stretching back some 3400 years, if not more. Architectural perfection eons ahead of its time – much of which has yet to draw parallels – can be found littered all throughout the city. Startling sights, incredible stories, myths, legends, mystery and romance, the city of Athens has it all.
Arts and Antiquity
A hugely popular tourist destination, Athens is a complex hive of activity all year round, accommodating the droves of visitors who flock here every year for the sun and to experience the sights of one of the most important civilizations from the ancient world. Athens has seen it all in its glorious past – everything from enchantment to squalor, from wealth to poverty, from war to dejection, from flourishing to floundering trade and back again. It’s no wonder that it is a place that continues to hold such determined fascination to every traveller’s soul.
Worshipped by gods, jam packed by people, the birth place of democracy is an absolute feast for the senses, and once you start to come to terms with the magnitude of its sheer beauty and glory, you will need your wits, a laid back sense of humour and the ability to go with the flow, to reap some of the finest travel rewards – all compliments of Greece and Athens.
The Acropolis in Athens must be one of the most legendary and famous sites in the world – and is possibly the most famous archaeological site in all of Europe. Dating as far back as the 5th BC, this magnificent and iconic Greek landmark, the Holy Rock itself, comes right from the times of the Golden Age of Periklis. Athens may have experienced many tumultuous times and tribulations, but the Acropolis has stood the test of time – and continues to be one of the most visited sites in the country.
Athens is surrounded by the majestic mountain ranges of Parnitha, Ymmytos, and Pendeli and sweeps all the way from the heart of Attica to the sparkling peninsula that rolls all the way up to Central Greece. The enviable climate is also a fabulous draw card, the winter here in Athens is practically non-existent, beautifully mild, which in Greek terms is well, the perfect summer holiday weather.
The summer months are suitable for the real sun lovers, it’s incredibly hot and sensationally busy with visitors who are making their way through to the soft white beaches of Greece for their summer holidays, just outside the port of Piraeus.
A trip to Athens is never complete without a visit to Plaka, the small charismatic village in the shadow of the glorious Acropolis. Built on the ancient site of Agora, this is opne part of Athens that has been inhabited continuously since antiquity. Many of the streets are now completely closed to cars and traffic in this area – one of the oldest regions of Greece. But being Greece, there could still be a runaway motorbike or truck bearing down on you as you enjoy a leisurely meander, so just keep a beady look out, while exploring here.
The history of the area is still being uncovered and there has been permanent archaeological excavation going on since the 19th century. The ancient Agora is easily reached from the main Adriano Street and should be a must visit when in Plaka. Sights include the 5th Century Temple of Hephaestus, the Stoa of Attalus which is now a museum and also, one of the oldest churches in Athens, the 11th century Agias Apostoli.
Also at the same west end of Plaka as the Agora is the Roman Forum and the Tower of the Winds – an eight-sided construction that has a different wind deity depicted on each side. Additionally, around this area there are ruins of ancient shops and a fountain.
As would be expected of such a historically significant part of Athens, there is a clutch of museums among the lovely restored 19th century Neo-classical homes, boutiques and restaurants, but they don’t all focus on Ancient Greece. Among them are the Benaki Museum of Islamic art and the Kanellopoulos Museum which has a small but excellent collection of artefacts from Mycenean Greece and Persia. Also, there is the charming Museum of Greek Folk Art which has a marvellous collection of primitive painting, pottery, interior decorations, costumes and embroidery. Another little gem is the Museum of Greek Popular Musical Instruments.
Plaka is quite a touristy suburb in central Athens, but it is absolutely one of the nicest areas. Lots of great cafes, little boutique shops, jewellery and souvenir shops, brilliant restaurants, market stalls, flower sellers, musicians, buskers – the works. It has a nice vibe and a festive atmosphere and the best place to buy artwork, hand crafts, bead work and gifts to take home. With a heavy focus on tourism if you want to discover the real food scene of Athens, you won’t really find it in Plaka, but the restaurants are still excellent.
The Plaka is like its very own central village in the middle of the city, with its modern versus traditional and ancient contrasts, it’s a chance for visitors to experience the undeniable magic of Greece.