Athens Travel Guide


The Acropolis
The Acropolis hill is considered a gem for Athens and all of Greece. With the Parthenon temple still standing to remind us the grandeur of ancient Greece, the Acropolis is truly a wonder of the world, containing four ancient buildings.

The Parthenon was built between 447 and 432 B.C. and most of the artifacts from the temple are housed today in the Acropolis museum near the Parthenon. Also on the Acropolis are the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion and the Propylaea. Just below the Acropolis hill are two ancient theaters: the Dionysos and Odeon of Herod Atticus.

One of the oldest Greek theaters, built in the 4th century B.C., is the Theater of Dionysus which hosted plays of Euripides, Aristophanes, Sophocles and Aeschylus.

The reconstructed Herod Atticus amphitheater is used during the summer to host the Athens Festival. Truly one of the most impressive ancient monuments in Athens it was built by the Roman ruler Herod Atticus in the 2nd century A.D., (the theater can seat 5,000 spectators and has 32 rows of seats).

The ancient Supreme Court, the Areopagus, is located just below the entrance to the Acropolis. It was here where the first court of homicide was held and where St. Paul addressed the Athenians in 54 A.D.

At the foot of the Acropolis is the Ancient Agora, known as the commercial and public centre of ancient Athens. During the Classical Age, Sophocles and Aristotle taught there. Although much of the marketplace is in ruins, one can still distinguish the layout of the area. The museum nearby houses many of the artifacts found in the area.

The Thesseion is located at one end of the Ancient Agora, and it was first built in 450 B.C.

The Pnyx hill is located on the west side of the Acropolis, now serves as the theater for the Sound & Light show every evening. But in ancient times Pnyx, which offers a splendid view of the Acropolis and is a must for photographers, was the meeting place for Athenians to decide issues.

Also facing the Acropolis is the Philopappou hill, with a funeral monument of Philopappus (he was a Roman consul of the 2nd century A.D) located on the top of it. A cave sighted on the Philopappou hill is believed to have been the prison of Socrates and where he drank his fatal dose of hemlock.

Once the verve of Athens is located on the north slope of the Acropolis. Old-timers will tell you stories about Plaka being the centre of nightlife activity, in the 19th century. It is a pleasant, cobblestone walkway and cars are banned from most of the area. Narrow streets and winding stairways and some old mansions are left reminding us of old Athens, which contained a cluster of 500 houses.

There are taverns and numerous tourist shops in the Plaka area and some ancient sites worth visiting. The Tower of the Winds, with its water clock, sun dial and weather vane, built in the 1st century B.C., is a remarkable octagonal monument. Each side has a relief depicting the wind that blows from that direction.

At the west side of Plaka is the Roman Agora which includes Hadrian's Library, built by the Roman ruler in the 2nd century A.D. The Monument of Lysikratous , a well preserved 4th century B.C. monument rising 21 feet from its base is also worth visiting in the Plaka area.

If it's a bargain you are after and if you still have not decided what souvenir to take back home, don't forget to visit the Monastiraki Flea Market ! Here you will find shops selling a wide selection of souvenirs for all tastes and budgets.

The best time to visit Monastiraki is on Sunday mornings, when the Flea Market is running full and before the rush hour, later in the afternoon. The Flea Market is next to the Monastiraki metro station and just off the square with the same name.

Just two blocks up from Monastiraki Sq., heading towards Syntagma Sq., is the Greek Orthodox Cathedral known as Mitropolis. It is a massive structure composed of stones from 72 demolished cathedrals around the city, destroyed by the Turks. With an impressive interior, the cathedral was built in the previous century.

Near the end of the Flea Market is the Keramikos Cemetery located on Ermou St. going towards Pireos Ave. It was the famous burial ground for the most important ancient citizens of Athens, (most of the finds of the cemetery are in the museum within the foundation).

Hadrian's Arch
It is located at the end of Amalias Ave. and was built by the Roman ruler in 132 A.D. to mark the boundaries of ancient Athens and his new city. It is located near the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

Temple of Olympian Zeus
The largest ancient temple in Greece is the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Its building started in the beginning of the 6th century B.C. and was not completed until 700 years later. The temple was dedicated to the supreme god Zeus and 14 of its original 104 very tall Corinthian style columns still stand today.

Syntagma Square
It is now recognized as the center of Athens, an acre-large plaza filled with outdoor caf?, trees and a fountain in the center. (Here, is also the Syntagma metro Stat.). In Syntagma someone will find every type of tourist shops and shopping malls, airline offices, banks, fast food restaurants and other restaurants as well as first class hotels. Also called Constitution Square by foreigners, is facing the Parliament building. In front of the Parliament is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier , where all visiting dignitaries lay wreaths, and is guarded day and night by two soldiers (called: evzones) dressed in the traditional skirted uniforms. On Sundays at 10.30 A.M. the soldiers, accompanied by a military band, march from the Parliament building in full regalia. Across Syntagma is the best known Grande Bretagne hotel, established in 1862, has become a landmark in Athens and its seven floors have hosted dignitaries from around the world.

National Garden
It is located behind the Parliament building. The park has numerous walkways surrounded by all kinds of trees. There are also two small artificial lakes filled with ducks and swans, a playground for the youngsters and plenty of benches.

Inside the National Garden is the Zappeion Hall which was built to be used during the 1st Modern Olympic Games in 1896 . The hall now is used for cultural and commercial exhibitions.

Olympic Stadium
It is situated across the National Garden, on Vas. Konstantinou Ave. and hosted the 1st Modern Olympic Games in 1896. The stadium can seat up to 90,000 spectators and is sometimes used for major sporting events and concerts. During the 2004 Olympic Games, the events of Archery and Marathon finish will be hosted there. It is also called Panathinaiko Stadium or Kallimarmaron by the locals, and is located at the same site where the ancient Athenians had a stadium built in 330 B.C.

Presidential Palace
In earlier times when the country was ruled by monarchs it was the Royal Palace. The palace was originally built as a home for the crown prince in the previous century but is now used by the President to host dignitaries. The Presidential Palace is located on Herodes Atticus St. behind the National Garden. Outside the Presidential Palace is an evzone guard.

Other areas
On the way to Omonia Sq. from Syntagma Sq. on Panepistimiou St., is the impressive neoclassic University, National Library and Academy buildings, all built in the previous century.

The next important square after Syntagma is Omonia Sq. (where the metro stat. is located) which is considered to be the most crowded place in Athens. It offers many hotels and tourist shops, fast food restaurants, snack bars and coffee shops, shopping malls, kiosks and banks.

Mt. Lycabettus
The highest hill inside Athens, offering a panoramic view of the city. On the top of the 912-foot high hill is a small 19th century chapel of St. George. Not far is a cafeteria. You can reach the top of Mt. Lycabettus either by foot, by car or by a funicular (railway) which can be taken from Kolonaki.

Pedion Areos Park
A large park on Alexandra Ave. has a playground and plenty of shady areas. Yet another escape route in the busy Athens.

Byzantine churches
In the centre of Athens half a dozen Byzantine era churches of interest to visitors are located.

Near the Mitropoleos Sq. is St. Eleftherios, a small church built in marble and decorated with a frieze, containing several interesting icons inside. The church is also known as Panaghia Gorgoepikos and was built in the 13th century. Aghia Kapnikareas is right in the middle of one of the busiest streets of Athens, Ermou St. This little 10th century church has a double dome and a number of tiny roofs. The 11th century Church of Aghias Dynamis is unique in that it is situated in the middle of a sidewalk on Mitropoleos St. beneath an arcade.

Aghii Theodori near Klathmonos Sq. was also built in the 11th century and has some very interesting wall paintings.

Near the Thesseion is yet another 11th century church that has been restored, Aghii Apostoli. It was among the first Athenian churches. The 11th century Church of Aghios Nikodimos at Filellinon St. has become since 1949 a Russian Orthodox church. It was restored by the Czar Nicholaos I and Alexander II.

Other Greece Attractions

Steeped in Homeric history and culture, scented by wild fennel and basil, Crete welcomes and overwhelms visitors with its wealth of myths, legends and history, a blessed and dramatic landscape, an extraordinary fusion of past and present, and an abundance of choices and experiences.

Crete was the birthplace of one of Europe's oldest and most fascinating civilisations, the Minoan. Iraklio, the capital, has some fine musuems in which you can learn more about the island's history, or you can visit the ancient Minoan site of Knossos. Hania has a beautiful old Venetian quarter.

Dodecanese Islands
Whitewashed walls, deep blue sky, olive groves, fig trees, azure Aegean waters...the heavenly Dodecanese Islands have all this and more. In this diverse group of islands you can experience the traditional life without the tourist trappings.

This Dionysian group of islands is perched on the easternmost edge of the Aegean, where ancient history jumps out at you at every turn. Island-hop your way to heaven, or just indulge in a spot of people-watching in the bar and beach scene of the big resorts.

Ionian Islands
Give into temptation and succumb to the lure of the idyllic Ionian group of islands - Corfu, Paxi, Lefkada, Kefallonia, Ithaki, Zakynthos and Kythira - far more lush than those barren Aegean islands, and tinged with a distinctly Venetian flavour.

Each island has its idiosyncrasies of culture and cuisine, and differing dollops of European and British influences. Their surfeit of charms include mountainside monasteries, Venetian campaniles, unspoilt villages, ancient olive groves, famous wines, white beaches and ludicrously blue-heaven waters.

The monasteries of Meteora are one of the most extraordinary sights in mainland Greece. Built into and on top of huge pinnacles of smooth rock, the earliest monasteries were reached by climbing articulated removable ladders. Later, windlasses were used so monks could be hauled up in nets, a method used until the 1920s.

The monasteries provided monks with peaceful havens from increasing bloodshed as the Byzantine Empire waned at the end of the 14th century.

Apprehensive visitors enquiring how often the ropes were replaced were told 'When the Lord lets them break'. These days access to the monasteries is by steps hewn into the rocks and the windlasses are used only for hauling up provisions.

Northeastern Aegean Islands
There are seven major islands in the northeastern group: Samos, Chios, Ikaria, Lesvos, Limnos, Samothraki and Thasos. Huge distances separate them, so island hopping is not as easy as it is within the Cyclades and Dodecanese. Most of these islands are large and have very distinctive characters. Samos, the birthplace of philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, is lush and humid with mountains skirted by pine, sycamore and oak-forested hills. Egg-shaped Samothraki has dramatic natural attributes, culminating in the mighty peak of Mt Fengari, which looms over valleys of massive gnarled oak and plane trees, thick forests of olive trees and damp dark glades where waterfalls plunge into deep icy pools.

Greece's southern peninsula is rich in history and scenically diverse. Packed into its northeastern corner are the ancient sites of Epidaurus, Corinth and Mycenae. The ghostly Byzantine city of Mystras clambers up the slopes of Mt Taygetos, its winding paths and stairways leading to deserted palaces and fresco-adorned churches.

Saronic Gulf Islands
The five Saronic Gulf islands are the closest of all to Athens, and Salamis is virtually a suburb of the capital. Aegina, Hydra, Spetses and Poros are all surprisingly varied in architecture and terrain, but they all receive an inordinate number of tourists and are expensive. Hydra, once the rendezvous of artists, writers and beautiful people, is now overrun with holiday-makers but manages to retain an air of superiority and grandeur. Motor vehicles, including mopeds, are banned from the island: donkeys rule.

There are four inhabited islands in this mountainous and pine-forested northern archipelago: Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonnisos and Skyros. They are all heavily touristed and expensive. People go to Skiathos for the exquisite beaches and the nightlife; if you're there for anything else, you'll probably leave quickly. Skopelos is less commercialised than Skiathos, but is following hot on its trail. There are some lovely sheltered beaches, but they are often pebbled rather than sandy. Alonnisos is still a serene island, partly because the rocky terrain makes building an airport runway impossible. The water around Alonnisos has been declared a marine park and consequently is the cleanest in the Aegean. Every house has a cesspit, so no waste goes into the sea. Skyros is less developed than the other three, designed to attract posers rather than package tourists.

Stuck out in the Libyan Sea south of Crete, Gavdos Island is the most southerly place in Europe. Rumour has it that this was the island where Calypso the sea nymph held Odysseus captive on his way home from the Trojan War. The island has three small villages and pleasant beaches, and it is perfect for those craving isolation.

Little Cyclades
The Little Cyclades islands were densely populated in antiquity, as evident from the large number of graves that have been found, but these days they are inhabited only by a few goatherds and an increasing, though still relatively small, number of visitors attracted to the pristine beaches.

Santorini (Thira)
Santorini is regarded by many as the most spectacular of the Greek islands. Thousands come to marvel at its sea-filled caldera, a vestige of what was probably the world's largest volcanic eruption. Its landscapes of blue-domed roofs, dazzling white walls and black-sand beaches contrast the charming with the unearthly.

The eruption that caused the caldera is believed by some myth-makers to have caused the disappearance of Atlantis. The island's violent volcanic history is visible everywhere you look - in its black beaches, earthquake-damaged dwellings and raw cliffs of lava plunging into the sea. Volcanic activity has been low-key for the past few decades, but minor tremors occur pretty frequently and experts reckon the caldera could bubble up once again at any moment. For lovers of impermanence and drama, no other place even comes close.

To get some background into this island's extraordinary history, head to the Megaron Gyzi museum of local memorabilia in Fira, with fascinating photos of the town before and after the disastrous 1956 quake. The Museum of Prehistoric Thira houses impressive finds from the ancient site of Akrotiri, destroyed in the 1650 BC eruption. Look out for the gold ibex figurine, found in mint condition in 1999 and dating from the 17th century BC.

The Mani
Grey rocky mountains, mottled with defiant clumps of green scrub, characterise the inner Mani region of the Peloponnese. The people of the Mani claim to be direct descendants of the Spartans, the fierce warriors who chose to withdraw to the mountains rather than serve under foreign masters. Until independence, the Maniots lived in clans led by chieftans. With fertile land scarce, blood-feuds were a way of life, so families constructed towers to use as refuges. To this day Maniots are regarded by Greeks as fiercely independent, royalist and right-wing. Areopoli, the capital of the Mani, is aptly named after Ares, the god of war. In the narrow, cobbled streets of the old town, grim tower houses stand proud and vigilant. The Diros caves, 11km (6.8mi) south of Areopoli, were inhabited by Neolithic people and may extend as far north as Sparta. Visitors are taken on a boat trip along the subterranean river through narrow tunnels and immense caverns filled with myriad clusters of stalactites and stalagmites. Further south, there are stark, barren mountains, broken only by deserted settlements of mighty towers. Vathia, the most dramatic of the traditional villages in this region, is a barnacle-like cluster of tower houses perched on a lofty rock.

As with many inaccessible mountainous areas in Greece, the Zagoria villages maintained a high degree of autonomy in Turkish times, so their culture flourished. The houses are built of slate and the villages, with their winding cobbled and stepped streets, look as if they've leapt straight out of Grimm's fairy tales.

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