An enduring symbol of democracy, philosophy and all those big-picture ideals of the ancients, the Greek capital also has a unique way of living in the moment. It is versatile and inventive, alive with the power of possibility day and night.
Whether Athens is your focal point or you’re in town on a stopover on your way to an island or elsewhere on the mainland, it has become one of Europe’s most exciting city break destinations.
At its heart is the Acropolis, continuing to emit its unique energy and acting as a beacon to the world – just as it would have done in antiquity. Around it, the likes of the Ancient Agora, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the temples of Olympian Zeus and Hephaestus and so many other world-renowned cultural highlights stand ready to reveal their secrets, like an open-air museum.
History revealed, one step at a time
Supplying the narrative to this visual feast are the museums. First among them, is the Acropolis Museum, one of the finest in the world – not just because of the richness of its exhibits but because of the beauty with which it displays statues and artefacts of the Parthenon and other monuments of the Acropolis, as well as objects unearthed during the construction of the museum in an area continuously inhabited for 4,000 years.
Meanwhile, the National Archaeological Museum reveals the extraordinary breadth of the history of Greece. And everywhere you look, another fascinating museum seems to call to you… the Benaki Museum and Museum of Cycladic Arts and, at the other end of the timescale, the Goulandris Museum of Modern Art, with works from Picasso to Van Gogh.
Away from the centre, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre is a wonderful recent addition to the cultural identity of Athens, housing the National Opera House and National Library. This, after all, is a place that is constantly reinventing itself. Most recently, a grand pedestrianisation project is changing the way visitors and residents communicate with the city, with new walkways and cycle paths linking ancient sites and neighbourhoods.
Creative flair & a culinary revolution
Beyond the antiquities, you’ll find a city that has lived a decade of unprecedented creativity. New shops and entertainment options have flourished and the food scene has undergone a revolution, with talented chefs reinterpreting Greek and Mediterranean classics. This is where Michelin-starred gourmet cuisine can be found right next door to street food – each memorable in its own way.
From traditional tavernas and rooftop dining with views of the lit-up Parthenon to bistros and dine-in delis (where the owner has hand-picked products from around the country), the choices seem infinite. As do the wine & cocktail bars and cafes, bringing colour to previously hidden neighbourhoods. New life has been breathed into the likes of Psyrri, Thissio and Kypseli, and neighbourhoods like Koukaki, Pangrati and Petralona call for your attention every bit as much as well-established districts such as Plaka and Monastiraki.
Just as you will be rewarded for seeking out the smaller boutiques selling clothes by local designers and handmade souvenirs, found in so many neighbourhoods (Kolonaki stands out), as well as venturing down the shopping thoroughfares of Ermou and Voukourestiou streets.
Feeling free under the stars
Athens is an outdoors city, whatever the season of your visit. How could you top watching an opera, concert or play under the starlit Athenian sky? By doing it in a venue like the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, below the Acropolis, that’s how! Or settling back to a classic in one of the historic outdoor summer cinemas, some operating for more than a century.
And in a city made to be walked (or run, if you’re here for the Athens Marathon in November), you’ll find unexpected pockets of greenery. The National Garden and Zappeion Hall deservedly stand out (perfect for a morning or afternoon run or stroll), but there is other greenery to explore. And for an amazing view of the city, Lycabettus and Philopappou hills offer an easy climb and incredible vantage points.
A never-ending taste of summer
But perhaps the most unexpected outdoor highlight of Athens lies along the coast. The Athens Riviera is a series of beaches and marinas, from the southern suburbs of Glyfada, Vouliagmeni and Varkiza… extending all the way down to Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon on the southeastern tip of Attica.
It’s a seemingly never-ending taste of summer in the Greek capital, enhancing a city break in a way that no other European city can hope to. Unless you go a step further, of course, and visit the islands close to Athens… Aegina, Hydra, Poros and Spetses … each just as magical as the more celebrated cousins in the Aegean or Ionian seas. Just a short ferry or hydrofoil journey away, they’re close enough for a day trip.
Lying on the beach on an island in the afternoon and dining under the Acropolis in the evening… contrasts you could live time and again.
Experience the best of Athens
Fill your lungs with the unexpected green spaces of Athens
The cultural wealth of Athens revealed in a stroll
A day cruise to the islands close to Athens
A tour of the Goulandris Museum of Modern Art in Athens
Journey through time at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens
- The Acropolis
- The Plaka district
- Syntagma Square
- Temple of Poseidon
- Stavros Niarchos Foundation