Named for Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and courage, the proud marble columns of Athens – once the most powerful city in ancient Greece – mirror the fortitude of the goddess herself. Athens was the birthplace of democracy, theater, and Western civilization, and the city’s cultural richness and history is evident in its architecture. Majestic, strong, and purely white, the sturdy columns of the Parthenon, which crowns the city, give travelers a glimpse into Athens’ architectural perfection; this symbol of classic architecture continues to hover over the city and is one of many reasons tourists visit Athens in droves.
Travel to Athens is a must for history and archaeology buffs, but the city’s hillsides and picturesque vistas will be equally appreciated by nature lovers. Our Athens travel guide will help you navigate the many riches of Athens. Spoiled for choice – that’s likely how you’ll feel with a mere day in Athens. Brimming with grand sights, celebrated cuisine and legendary nightlife, it can be challenging to know where to begin. The secret is in not trying to do everything. Instead, take in a couple of the tourist highlights and then delve beneath the city’s skin to get a feel for this al The Acropolis always comes out at the top of the heap of things to see in Athens.
The most famous of the Western world’s ancient sights continues to impress even the most blasé of tourists as they climb the marble steps and stand before the graceful Parthenon. Views from up there are astounding. With the city sprawling as far as the eye can see. Visiting early in the morning beats the heat and the tour buses; taking it in beneath a full moon is magical, luring capital.
Often referred to as the cradle of Western civilization, Athens is a 2,500-year-old hotch-potch of concrete upon brick upon stone. Since 2004, the newly-inaugurated Archaeological Promenade, a tree-lined, traffic-free walkway that skirts the foot of the Acropolis and links all the city’s major archaeological sites, has made the city centre infinitely more walkable, and has also reduced Athens’ notorious traffic congestion and exhaust fumes. Athens is sunny and warm year-round; consequently, it is a destination that can be visited at any time of the year. Most tourists choose to visit Athens during the spring and fall, when the temperatures are at their most agreeable. Though the month of August can be quite hot, hotel rates tend to drop during this time, and the streets are quieter. Likewise, winter brings fewer visitors. Some tourists may prefer to travel to Athens during these off seasons, when they can savor the city in relative peace. A stroll inside the Syntagma Square (a.k.a. Constitution Square) metro station, where artifacts uncovered during the building of the subway, from skeletons to pre-Christian plumbing, are displayed.
The changing of the guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Syntagma Square’s pink Parliament Building. Every Sunday at 11 a.m., the Evzone guards—soldiers chosen for their height and, it’s rumored, good looks—in ceremonial dress (yes, that means a pleated skirt and pom-pom-toed shoes) perform an elaborately choreographed ceremony.
The Parthenon is located on the Acropolis on a hill that overlooks Athens. The temple was built to honor the goddess Athena Parthenos, the patron of Athens, to thank her for protecting the city during the Persian Wars. Originally designed by the famous sculptor Phidias, the Parthenon originally held all kinds of treasures, but the main attraction was a huge statue of Athena that was made out of chryselephantine also known as elephant ivory and gold. The Parthenon dates back to 447 BC, and it was actually built over another temple that is often referred to as the Pre-Parthenon.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Athens is the Plaka District, which resides under the Acropolis and spreads out to Syntagma. This village is almost like an island within the city, and it’s the perfect way to experience authentic Greek culture. The area is quite private and boasts truly unique scenery with several cafes, ancient trees, green leaf canopies and stone walkways. The area is well-known for its food, boutique shops and cafes. Along Kydathineon Street, visitors find the Jewish Museum, Folk-Art Museum and Saita Taverna, which serves delicious bakalairo and other grilled meats.
Located to the northwest of the Acropolis, the ancient Agora of Athens was once a marketplace and civic center. The people gathered here to browse all kinds of commodities. It was also a place to meet others and talk about politics, business, current events and the nature of the universe and divine. The ancient Greek democracy can actually be traced to this ancient spot. It’s a wonderful area to look at the cultural beginnings of Athens. Overlooking the Ancient Agora from its elevated position on the hill of Agoraios Kolonos, the Temple of Hephaistos was built in the 5th century BC. Similar in style but smaller than the Parthenon, the temple consists of 34 Doric columns that support a still partially intact roof. It is the best preserved temple in all of Greece thanks to its conversion into a church in the 7th century.
The Erechtheus or Erechtheion is a temple made from Pentelic marble. It’s located on the Acropolis, and it’s one of the legendary pieces of Greek architecture. Its construction dates back to c. 421 and 405 when the earlier temple to Athena was destroyed by the Persian invasion. The Erechtheum was once a sanctuary dedicated to Athena Polias, Erechtheus and Poseidon. Visitors can access the shrine to Athena by going through the eastern portico. The northern portico leads to the western cella. The Porch of the Caryatids can be found through the southern portico. The six draped female figures can be found here that support the entablature, which is the Erechtheum’s most defining feature.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
The Temple of Olympian Zeus is known as the largest temple in Greece. The massive ancient complex took nearly seven centuries to complete. Building originally began in 515 BC by order of Peisistratos, but work stopped on the temple as it was seen as oppressive as Peisistratos and his son were seen as tyrants by the Athenians. Work resumed in 175 BC but was halted 10 years later when the Roman architect Cossutius died. Under emperor Hadrian in 132 BC, the temple was finally completed and dedicated to Zeus Olympios. The temple stands today mostly as a reminder of Greek history, but only 15 of 104 huge columns remain. The columns each rise 17 meters (57 feet) into the air and once surrounded a cella where two large statues were once placed.