Athens has undergone significant transformation in the last 10 years or so to emerge as a cosmopolitan city. And coupled with two of the most famous architectural wonders in the world – the resplendent Acropolis and the iconic Parthenon – this is the ideal city break destination. And Athens is one of our tips for cheapest cities to visit this year.
Since hosting the 2004 Olympic Games, Athens has acquired a wealth of upmarket boutiques, fancy restaurants and modern leisure facilities. Yet the oldest city in Europe still offers much to keen culture and history lovers, which is why Athens was crowned the very first European Capital of Culture City back in 1985.
Admire the The Acropolis and The Parthenon
Hailed as the ‘birthplace of modern Western civilization’ the Acropolis needs to be experienced up close to be fully appreciated. This is one of twelve hills within Athens and is dubbed the ‘high city’. Situated in the very heart of the city, the Acropolis has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987 and towers over the city below. The Athenian Acropolis is one of top things to do in Athens and is open daily and features a startling array of ancient Greek architecture including the largest temple; The Parthenon, which was dedicated to Athena, the goddess of the city. Also on the Acropolis site is the Temple of Athena Nike and the New Acropolis Museum which opened in 2009. The site is open all year round, but as you’d expect the site is incredibly popular, so try to arrive for the 8am opening to avoid the main crowds.
Explore the Temple of Hephaestus
Discover the rich culture and history of Athens at the best preserved Greek temple is the Temple of Hephaestus which is located in Ancient Agora. Dedicated to the god of the forge, Hephaestus, this temple was constructed in 449BC by the same architect as created the Parthenon. The temple is magnificent with 34 columns and a frieze that shows the Labours of Heracles. The temple was converted into a church in the 1300s and sadly has not been used since the final service in 1834.
Wonder at the Panathenaic Stadium
A visit to the Panathenaic Stadium is a must to witness the birthplace of the very first modern Olympic Games. Originally constructed in the 4th century BC, this is the original site where the Romans held gladiator contests. It was rebuilt in AD144 for the Panathenaic Festival and again in 1896 to host the first modern games. It was also modernised and updated again in order to host the 2004 Olympic Games.
Discover the many Museums
The number of museums in Athens will blow your socks off – your best bet is to make a shortlist of the thousands of artefacts that you want to see and prioritise! There are the Minoan arts and artefacts on display at the National Archaeological Museum, the story of Greece is told via exhibits at the Benaki Museum and more than 3,000 objects are on display at the Museum of Cycladic Art.
Climb Mount Lycabettus
Take a breather from the historical sights with a pleasant walk up Mount Lycabettus. The mountain looks over Athens and rises up to a height of 277 meters (908 feet). If you don’t fancy the trek, join the Lycabettus Funicular railway instead, which will whisk to the top. And awaiting you is a big open-air theatre, the St George Chapel which dates back to the 19th century and a spectacular view out over Athens. Time your visit for sunrise to beat the crowds and catch a beautiful sight.
Catch a theatre performance
Athens has the most theatrical stages in the world, with around 150, which is a great reason to catch a show here. Each year the famous Athens Festival runs from May to October and showcases the very best theatrical performances and arts theatres. At the center of the event is the famous Odeon of Herodes Atticus Theatre which dates back to 161 AD. Parks and gardens also convert into open air cinemas. As well as the festival, the Athens Concert Hall hosts top-notch ballets, converts and performances all year round as does the beautiful modern Pallas Theatre.
Try the Athens cuisine and nightlife
For a bite on the go, try the Greek fast food of choice – the ubiquitous souvlaki. Made with grilled meats and vegetables of your choice and smothered with tzatziki and served inside a pita bread, souvlaki is perfect for lunch or a snack. Other Greek delicacies include the kotosoupa (chicken soup), slow cooked lamb Kleftiko and Strapatsada, scrambled eggs.
Athens is a lively city and many locals come out after the sun has set to socialise. Generally dinner is eaten later and the nightclubs don’t really get going until at least midnight. During the hot summer months, much of the recreation and leisure scene moves to the coast, where it’s cooler.