Athens’ heyday was around 400 years BC—that’s when most of the classical monuments were built. During the Byzantine and Turkish eras, the city decayed into just an insignificant little village, only to become the capital of newly-liberated Greece in 1833. Ahead of the 2004 Olympics, almost the entire infrastructure was transformed—the Metro, trams, new ring roads and viaducts have eased the pressure of the heavy traffic.
Athens is still a rather messy and chaotic place—it wouldn’t be Athens otherwise—and despite all the improvements, still retains a great deal of its oriental charm. The whole coastal stretch from Piraeus to the old Hellenikon airport has been improved with new plantings, viaducts and paths for walking. The Plaka quarter is becoming more popular and is on the way to catching up with Psyrri, Gazi and Rouf as regards restaurants. Discover the right places in the Anafiotika district, at the feet of the Acropolis, and you will find it still has a village feel in the midst of the city. In Exarchia, there is still a somewhat in-your-face anarchic atmosphere around the Technical University. Meanwhile, Kolonaki is becoming more and more chic.
National Archaeological Museum
The National Archaeological Museum, in Exarchia, is home to Ancient Greece’s most spectacular pieces. One room contains Schliemann’s finds from Mycenae, another has the famous frescoes from Santorini on display. There is also a fine collection of idols from the Cyclades and ceramics!
The Acropolis and its surroundings
The Parthenon, the temple of Athena, is the major attraction. There is also the Erechteion, whose columns are statues of the female Caryatids, though the original statues have been replaced by copies due to air pollution (the originals are in the new Museum or ... in London!). On the southern slopes of the Acropolis lies the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a Roman theatre with room for as many as 5.000 spectators. It is used during the annual Athens Festival for world-class ballet and music performances. The Dionysus Theatre lies beside Herodes Atticus, and almost all the tragedies and comedies of Ancient Greece were written for this theatre.
Psyrri and Gazi
Psyrri and Gazi are the newest hearts of Athens night life. The crowd is young and trendy, and this is where the Students and locals gather between friends for an all night long party. The options are basically limitless, but look out for Astron or Bee, must-visit in these areas!
Good to know
The Metro stations are well worth seeing, and are kept spotlessly clean. At the Syntagma and Acropolis stations you will find a large collection of antiquities on display. There is a tram from the centre (Syntagma) running along the coast to Glyfada (50 minutes) and Voula (60 minutes).
Buses, trolley buses and the Metro run until around midnight. The tram runs between 5.30 am and 1 am and until 2.30 am on Friday and Saturday. Airport buses all run on a 24 hour schedule. The airport bus tickets are not valid on other public transport services but only for a single journey.
Ferries out to the island leave from the harbour in Piraeus or from Rafina.