When you feel the urge to touch the antiquities and visit places of strength and relax at sea at the same time, Athens is the best option. In the capital of Greece, you will discover not only the diverse ancient world, but also enjoy the beautiful nature and breathe clean sea air with the admixture of light, pine, and citrus scent. This is a museum city, consisting of unique monuments and architectural masterpieces. Everything here is imbued with the spirit of history: from the narrow medieval streets of Plaka to the majestic Acropolis and Parthenon. And if you try to solve all the mysteries of the city, it will take a long time.
Athens is located off the coast of the Aegean Sea, on the homonymous plain at the southern edge of the Balkan Peninsula. From different sides, the city is surrounded by mountains: Egaleo, Hymettos, Parnitha, and Pentelikon. The waters of the Saronic Gulf wash the capital of Greece, and the Cephissus River separates the port of Piraeus from the rest of the city. In the southeast, there is Lake Vouliagmeni, with its mineral waters having healing properties.
Administrative and territorial division of Athens
The most popular among tourists is the central district of Acropolis. It is a historical center, where the main monuments of ancient Greek architecture are located.
Another popular area is Plaka, the oldest part of the city at the foot of the Acropolis. There are several ancient temples, museums, and the famous Tower of the Winds. This is the area where most of the city's guests stay.
In the Monastiraki district, there is an ancient mosque and the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, but it is best known for its market.
In the heart of the city, in its historical part, there is the Omonia quarter, flooded with emigrants from different countries. It's not recommended coming here even during the day. It' s especially dangerous on Sofokleous Street — there has been a marked increase in crime in recent years. Not the safest places are Karaiskaki and Vathis Squares, as well as areas near the Larissa railway station.
When you come to Athens, you can't help but see something ancient, and it's true! Climb the Acropolis, stroll through the shady alleys and streets of the city and feel like an actor at the Theatre of Dionysus. Museums, ancient temples, churches, buildings — the whole town is shrouded in history, which the locals are so proud of. Every traveler should make a trip to Greece and Athens in particular.
A brief history
Its favorable location on a hill and access to drinking water caused the appearance of the settlement in the territory of modern Athens in the Neolithic. Here, already in the Bronze Age, the construction of fortifications began. Active development of the city started in the VI century BC, during the reforms of Solon. As a result of his innovations, Athens began to develop as a democratic city-state. The construction of various religious and administrative buildings did not stop, both during the tyranny of the Peisistratos and under the democratic regime of Cleisthenes. At the beginning of the V century BC, Greece was attacked by the Persians. The city was plundered twice, but after the final victory over them, a new period of state prosperity began.
Under Pericles, Athens became the cultural center of the ancient world. It was at this time ( the middle — the end of the V century BC) that the outstanding architectural structures of Athens were created: the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the famous Theatre of Dionysus. This period is also the heyday of spiritual life, thanks to the works of great creators: Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus, Socrates, Herodotus, and many others.
In the II century AD, on the initiative of Emperor Hadrian, a new district was built in his honor, as well as a library and temple of Zeus. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, to the West and Byzantium, Athens temples were converted into Christian temples. After the fourth Crusade (1202-1204), Athens became the capital of the Duchy of Athens, which had existed until 1456. Soon the city was captured by the Turks, and Islam reigned in Athens. A period of decline began. During the Turkish and Venetian war, the Parthenon was destroyed in 1687. In XVIII-XIX centuries, there was a fashion for antiquity in Europe, and parts of the Parthenon and other antiquities were mass exported from Athens.
Finally, as a result of the Greek War of Independence in 1833, Athens became the capital of the state. The city grew steadily, absorbing nearby settlements and the port city of Piraeus. Mass multistory build-up began after World War II. At the end of the XX century and beginning of the XXI century, the authorities were developing projects to preserve the historical heritage and integrate archaeological sites. Modern Athens is a densely-populated metropolis with over 3 million people living in it.
Before the trip, you should calculate the approximate budget that you will require for the travel:
The best time to visit Athens
If you want to plan a visit to one of the popular Athens festivals, you can find something interesting at any time of year. For example, in winter, there is an international dance festival and music festival for all tastes in summer and autumn. When choosing your time to travel, check out the city's program of events — perhaps, you can become one of its participants.
On 18 May, Museum Day, you can visit both the Acropolis and other museums in Athens for free. You should consider the day and time of your visit, as some of them are only open half a day.
If you drive a car, remember the high fines for breaking traffic rules. Driving without stopping at the STOP sign will cost 900 euros; driving at a red traffic light will cost 1050 euros. The same penalty applies to fans of night racing on city streets. If you violate the parking rules, you will be fined from 120 to 325 euros. It is forbidden to use "anti-radar" devices, and if you get caught, you will have to pay a fine of 2000 euros. Talking on your mobile, without headphones and hands-free devices, costs 100 euros. And if you or your passengers are not fastened (even in the back seats), it will cost you 350 euros.
You can easily get around the city by subway. It is considered to be one of the most modern and beautiful in the world. But it is forbidden to go down with drinks and food. As for ground transport, there are uniform tariffs for all kinds of traffic (except for express subway and bus to the airport). Remember, however, that pickpockets are frequent guests on public transport, and drivers go on strikes one day a week.
You can get a free taxi during rush hours or at night. However, you will not be charged unless you catch a taxi that is already busy. You can recognize them by the brightly lit sign. Although, the driver will pick you up if you are on the main passenger's way. And, remember, local taxi drivers do not always follow the traffic rules. And when you ride in a private taxi, you should always negotiate the price in advance.
Be careful when crossing the street. Pedestrians here have no rights, and cars can even increase speed when they see people on a pedestrian crossing. That is why the proverb "one cannot be too careful" is as appropriate here as it is nowhere else.
You should know that the Greeks have a very long "daybreak". They call it "micro-hypno" and it lasts 3 hours in summer and an hour less in winter. During this time, almost all banks, shops, offices, taverns, and restaurants are closed, and the employees of the establishments do not strain much in performing their duties. But if you have decided to rest at this time, you can safely go to any open institution and quite quietly take a nap without requiring to serve you.
In the Acropolis and other ancient sites of the city, high heels (especially stilettos) are forbidden. Local authorities believe that they can cause serious damage not only to the feet of their owner but also to the sights itself.
It is not recommended for single women to travel by road, especially hitchhiking. It is also unsafe to walk alone in the dark and accept the "courtship" of unfamiliar cavaliers in a restaurant. You may have to pay for everything you ordered yourself.
Athens is a "smoker's paradise". Forbidden signs are located in very rare places. But if you don't smoke and you're irritated by the smell of smoke in, say, a café or restaurant, ask the waiter to move you somewhere else and don't forget to tip him.
If you bought a T-shirt or other attribute of the Panathinaikos Football Club in Athens, you are strictly not recommended appearing in Piraeus. And in the areas of Gizi, Zograf, Ambelokipi, you should not wear the Olympiacos symbols.
What should a tourist do in Athens?
- Climb the Acropolis, the main attraction of Athens, and admire its majesty. It is located on a hilltop and offers a beautiful view of the city. The surroundings are particularly well-visible from the Areopagus Hill in the northwestern part of the Acropolis. The key structure is the Parthenon, symbolizing the very era of antiquity. The Temple of Athena Nike and Erechtheion are also located here. If possible, dedicate an entire day to the Acropolis: admire the perfection of ancient buildings, the elegance of bas-reliefs, and feel the timeless atmosphere of this place.
- Enjoy the narrow streets of the historic Plaka district. There is a unique atmosphere of traditional houses, pleasant shade, and hospitable taverns. Visit the Tower of the Winds, which is near Agora Square. It has a hydraulic clock showing the time by the sun, and now it is used as a weather station.
- Stroll along the alleys of Athens Botanical Garden and relax by the picturesque ponds. Nearby is the famous Temple of Olympian Zeus. All this can be visited on the way from the Acropolis to Syntagma Square. Here you can admire the parliament building, which is exceptionally beautiful in the evening. Watch the guard shift that takes place every hour.
- Don't forget to include the famous Panathenaic Stadium in your busy travel schedule. It is a stadium-museum dedicated to the Olympic Games. Here you can learn about the history of competitions, take pictures on marble benches (the stadium is entirely made of marble!), and on the winners' pedestal.
- Learn more about the heritage of antiquity by visiting the Archaeological and Historical Museums of Athens. There are thousands of exhibits from different eras. By the way, quite a few antiquities were found during the construction of the Athens Metro. They have been made into displays, which can be seen at the stations for free.
- Visit other museums of Athens (there are many of them for every taste). The Folk Art Museum is located in the Plaka district. Here you'll find items made of different metals, wood, clay, and stone. There are separate halls with weapons and carnival costumes! There is also a Museum of Cycladic Art, Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum, Benaki Museum, Museum Ship Averof, and Maritime Tradition Museum, Museum of Pavlos and Alexandra Kanellopoulou and others.
- Visit one of the oldest amphitheaters, the legendary Theatre of Dionysus. This is where the works of ancient tragedians were staged. The amphitheater is famous for its excellent acoustics — everything can be heard from the orchestra to the upper rows. Make sure you check it out!
- Climb to the top of Mount Lycabettus, in the heart of Athens. You will enjoy a panoramic view of the city from a height of almost 300 meters. Here you can also see the ancient Chapel of St. George. At the top of the mountain, there is a concert venue, where various performances are often held. You can climb here either on foot or by a cable car. And if you get hungry, there is a restaurant on the top, where you will taste delicious dishes of the national cuisine.
- Experience the city's extraordinary atmosphere at the market and during festivals and carnivals. Visit the Monastiraki Flea Market, where they sell everything from fruits to antiques.
- Try traditional Greek cuisine. Make sure you order gyros or souvlaki, the national fast food with different types of meat, fried potatoes, and delicious sauces, and retsina, as a drink. It is a kind of Greek wine with a flavor of pine needles. You should also try fish, seafood, and lamb dishes.