One of the most ancient cities in the world
Athens is one of the historical capitals of Europe, offers you the opportunity to come closer to the ancient monuments, Greek traditions and cultures, museums, art and warm waters from this Mediterranean jewel. Situated at the heart of Mediterranean Sea, it is known as the crossroad of three continents as it connects Europe, Asia and Africa.
Greeks were some of the first people to start maritime trade and for many years they were on top on this business field, with many imports and exports around the three continents. Apart from commerce and history, Athens is set on a magical peninsula, which expands around Attica, the main province. From sightseeing to beautiful warm waters, from the coastal road to daily excursions and from shopping to nightlife, summer or winter, Athens is magical, and waiting for you.
To experience the culture, history and atmosphere of the city, here are the places you wouldn’t want to miss when you set foot in the historical land of Greece:
1. Athenian History
If you are one of those people who love to wander around museums and historical places then Athens should be on top of your list. With the famous Acropolis and Parthenon to the temple of Poseidon in Sounio, you will be amazed by the beauty and art this city has to offer.
If you plan your visit, remember that it is essential to stay close to the city center, as the public transportation is easy, cheap and can take you everywhere! You can choose to travel by train, subway, underground, suburban railway, bus or tram. Quick and easy within 20 to 30 minutes, you will have arrived at your destination.
Don’t forget that you can also visit many places on foot, as you can walk from parliament down to the busiest pedestrian street, Ermou Street, which is full of shops, cafeterias and restaurants and all the way down to the popular Monastiraki, which is close to the stunning Plaka area, Thissio and Acropolis. By taking either the public transport or on foot you can see all historical and archaeological places and enjoy a day well spent full of history, art, culture and unique architecture.
Don’t miss the New Museum of Acropolis, as it won the prestigious global award for the Best Worldwide Tourism Project for 2010 by the British Guild of Travel Writes - the simplicity of it will amaze you.
2. Time Travel
The history the capital of Greece has to show off will transport you back 6000 years. There is a “baptism” between the monuments, the masterpieces of art, the ancient and medieval history as well as the architecture of the 19th and 20th century. On top of that the magical nature that surrounds the monuments and natural sunlight make these places look like a beautiful painting.
The best place to start from is Acropolis to see the Parthenon. There is the Acropolis subway station, which stops right at the new archaeological museum of Acropolis and is only a 10 minutes walk to the actual site, where Parthenon is situated. After visiting the museum there are some other places worth visiting such as Zeus temple, the ancient theatre of Dionysus, where the famous worldwide ancient Greek poets Sophocles, Aeschylus, Aristophanes and Euripides, directed their own plays for the very first time. You can continue your way down to Herodion, which was built in 161 AD, a place where plenty of festivals and cultural music concerts have taken place, from the Bolshoi Ballet to Diana Ross, Liza Minnelli and Andrea Bocelli.
These festivals give you the chance to travel back in time by listening to classical or modern music or by watching some of the most talented dancers. You can also book online a ticket to go to a concert or a ballet. On the other side and closer to the Monastiraki train station, is the Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman Agora (Markets), which were the heart of discussion on commerce, politics, culture and religion. Have a look from the top, close your eyes travel back in time and imagine being one of the Ancient people of Greece. Walk down to Thissio and sit down for a coffee or a cool drink and marvel at the architectural sights around you.
3. Athens by Day
After all this walking and day dreaming you must be feeling hungry - in that case you must try the ultimate Greek delicacy: Souvlaki. One of the most delicious Greek dishes that is so popular around the world. Pita bread that encloses meat of your choice, (lamb, chicken or pork) and filled with fresh tomato, onions, French fries and a protagonist of Greece, the Tzatziki sauce.
All these fresh flavors cooked on the day and to perfection, await you to taste them. Trust me, you will be amazed! Even though Souvlaki is a must try, there is a huge variety of delicious Greek food, whether you are a vegetarian or not. You must already know or have heard about Moussaka, Pastitsio, Papoutsakia (little shoes), Tiropita (cheesepie), Spanakotiropita (spinach and cheese pie) and many others that if I start naming them this post will never end!
For the people who love shopping, Ermou Avenue, in the heart of the city center is a pedestrian avenue that starts from the Parliament, which is located in Syntagma Square. This is the place where you will find all the famous brands from around the world. There are plenty of department stores, malls and flagship stores of popular brands. If you are visiting during August then treat yourself during the enticing sales period and shop till you drop!
4. Athens by Night
One of the things that Greeks know how to do best is partying! In Greece, we just drink enough to have fun and enjoy our evenings by dancing the night away. Come join fellow tourists or Greeks and party the Athenian way. From North to South and East to West, the city has numerous bars and clubs to choose from. Some of the most popular areas with bars are located in the city center and the Southern Suburbs.
Choose from visiting the famous bars and cafeterias at Saint Irene Square or Baba au Rum at Saint Marcos and Klitiou Street which is placed amongst the 50 best bars in the world as the quality of cocktails is top notch and the variety of alcohol unique as the barmen have traveled and hand picked the spirits from South America to Russia and Indian Ocean to Africa.
If you want a romantic night out on a terrace with a view then you cannot go wrong by visiting the 360° bar or the A for Athens both located in Monastiraki and be mesmerized by the lit up Acropolis and its sacred temple. The best summer clubs are situated in the coastal area of Attica and are plenty - most of them right next to each other. There you can dance to the rhythms of the latest songs and enjoy the DJ’s music mix!
If you want to experience a Greek night out try Bouzoukia. You will most probably find it quite different as most of the songs will be in Greek but get lost in the crowd, try to copy the next person’s dance moves and throw a bunch of flowers on the stage! Last but not least, before you leave you have to try Ouzo and Rakomelo. Two very strong spirits that are presented in shot glasses but must be drunk slowly. Ouzo has a liquorice sweet taste and Rakomelo is Raki mixed with honey and cinnamon. Cheers or Yamas!
5. Mediterranean Sea
You can’t visit this coastal country and not swim in the magical Mediterranean waters. The Athenian peninsula has plenty of beautiful sandy beaches to offer. If staying in one of the hotels that offers a beach in front of your room or if you rent a flat somewhere, you just need a car or take the bus and pop in to the nearest beach destination.
Swim in the warm, blue and light blue waters take your mask and dive to find seashells. One of my favorite coastal destinations is Sounio. A day well spent would be visiting Cape Sounio and Temple of Poseidon, which is one of the most alluring monuments as the way the sea and the sunset meet, make the temple look like a masterpiece. This side of Athens offers some of the clearest seawaters and taverns with exquisite cuisine and the freshest fish in town!
6. Traditional Greek products
Mediterranean cuisine is so popular and is loved by everyone who has visited any of the countries that surround it. Greece though has something more special! Even though it is a small country, you will be amazed at the quantity and quality of products produced in this holy land of food.
With the mainland full of Olive trees, grapes and pomegranates we have a great variety of Virgin Olive Oil production, mouth-watering wines and delicious pomegranate juice. Mastiha is a particular product of Greece that can only be found in the areas of Chios Island and on the Çesme peninsula, which is located only 8 nautical miles from Chios where there is specific ecological condition, which enables it to be produced. It is a natural gum that has also been used as medicine from the ancient times in Greece and the Middle East.
Avgotaraho is the traditional fish roe and gourmet delicacy and falls in the same category as caviar, truffle and foie gras. Ouzo, as mentioned before, is the ultimate Greek traditional drink and a must try. The famous Feta cheese, (the European Commission has registered its name as a protected designation of origin, meaning that the name feta cannot be used in cheeses with similar composition produced outside Greece) is the most delicious cheese that is produced in many varieties - mostly from sheep or a mixture of cows and lamb or goats milk.
Gloria Gaynor must have been thinking of the Greek Honey when she was singing “You are my Honey bee” and it is easy to see why as the purity of honey in this land is delightful! Red saffron in Greece is a worthy competitor of Iranian saffron.
Another must try if you visit this beautiful country is barley rusk or paximadi as we call it in Greece and it is mostly associated with the beautiful Island of Crete and is best combined in the Greek villager’s salad Ntakos or simple with feta and olive oil.
Halva is a northern Greek delicacy and a great antagonist of the Middle Eastern types. In addition to all the foregoing, Greek natural thick yoghurt mixed with preserves, jams or honey is one of the most enjoyable, light and tasteful desserts at the end of a busy day. Is your tummy rumbling? Book a ticket to Greece and taste the very palatable and exquisite cuisine this holy ancient land has to offer!
7. Mainland Nature
If you seek a little adventure in a big city then you are up for a good holiday in Athens! North, South, East or West, Athens has plenty of suburbs that are either surrounded by the sea or the mountains. Parnitha is one of the mountains in Attica that offers great trekking and hiking!
Hiking Mountaineering is very popular, as many citizens really enjoy spending their time close to nature. There is a dense network of trails with numerous paths that cross springs and through the thick forests. Depending the trail you choose you can hike from 30 minutes up to 6 hours and get lost in the beautiful luscious green trees such as pines, oaks, junipers, and firs e.t.c. The huge diversity of fauna and flora that are protected have been the subject of research for more than 200 years. In simple words Mount Parnitha is a botanical paradise and a natural treasure that lies very close to the capital of Greece.
For the sea lovers, the southern suburbs can offer fun and adventurous activities such as kite surfing, wind surfing and water skiing. If you have time you can also take a boat from the port of Piraeus and in only 1 or maximum 2 hours you can reach a couple of small islands such as Aigina and Spetses. Don’t forget to bring a mask with you and start exploring the Athenian peninsula’s seabed.
8. Sail around the Peninsula
Few capitals around the world give you the opportunity to hop on a sailing boat and sail around the peninsula. Attica has so many magical views to offer. Hop on and marvel the view from the sea. Visit a couple of small islands just outside Athens, or cruise around and pass by Glufada, Voula, Vouliagmeni, Varkiza, Vari, Lagonissi, Saronida and end up at beautiful Cape Sounio to jump into the warm beautiful blue waters.
Visit Marina Zeas, Mikrolimano, Pasalimani, Marina Floisvou and hop off with your friends or loved ones to have a bite at one of their delicious restaurants. Try fresh fish and enjoy the stunning views the marinas have to offer from morning to night.
9. August Full Moon
A full moon occurs when one side of the moon is fully illuminated from our side of perspective on Earth. The sun, the earth and the moon are lined up creating a magical moment, alluring scenery lighting up the Athenian attractions. The Acropolis, Parthenon and Lecabettus show off their beauty covered in the moonlight. During the August full moon the sights host breathtaking classical music festivals and other concerts.
If you are visiting in this period, you should definitely book a seat at one of the open-air full moon festivals as they host some of the most important European artists. If you prefer the rock scene, then you should definitely check the concerts and festivals in Technopolis, which is located in Gazi, as many different artists take part and show off their arts, crafts and talents. It is quite amazing to see the work of new talents and support cultural festivals this way.
10. Run the original Marathon
When I lived in Kenya, my friends invited me to a Halloween party. One of the girls I met was dressed up like a marathon runner. I started talking to her and as we got along I told her that if you like running then you should definitely travel to Greece in order to take part in the Authentic Marathon which starts from Athens and ends up in the famous Lake of Marathonas.
Her response was that she was flying 2 weeks later for that exact reason! We laughed so much and this conversation made me think how great a destination Athens is for foreigners, as with this beautiful peninsula, its festivals, the activities you can do in Athens you can have the best time of your life! To all runners and sports freaks, come to Greece and have this once in a lifetime experience of running the Athens Classic Marathon and learn about the history behind it.
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