Athens

With a recorded history of 3,000 years, Athens is the capital of Greece and among the most interesting places in the world. Actually Athens Greece is the best destination for a city break as it has amazing sightseeing to visit, including the world-famous Acropolis with the Temple of Parthenon, the New Acropolis Museum, the Theatre of Herodes Atticus, the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora and others. After a full day walking around Athens city, do not miss a drink at night in the many hot spots. Located in a central spot in Greece, the city is also very convenient for day trips to archaeological sites in the mainland and close islands in the Aegean Sea. Located in the centre of Greece, Athens is a convenient transportation hub for the Greek islands and road trips to the mainland. Due to the long history and rich culture, this is also an interesting place for sightseeing. The Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, the Hellenic Parliament and the Neoclassical trilogy is among the top ancient sites to visit in the Greek capital. Many museums also dot the city centre, hosting valuable archaeological findings and art treasures. The new Acropolis Museum, in particular, and the Archaeological Museum are very interesting museums for a visit. Holidays in Athens combine a cultural visit in important attractions and a swim in beaches close to the city centre. In fact, there are many hotels along the coastline of Athens, the Athenian Riviera as it is called, that provide easy access to beaches.

Most popular and historical neighborhoods of Athens are located in the city centre: Syntagma, Plaka, Monastiraki, Acropolis, Thissio and Gazi are the most tourist places to walk around and include most sightseeing. Many tourist facilities are located in these places.

Although Athens is mostly famous for its sightseeing and not for the beaches, there are though many beautiful beaches in Athens. Athens beaches are spread all along the southern and the north eastern side of the Attica peninsula. All the coastline from Glyfada to Cape Sounion have nice organized Athens beaches as well as secluded coves to enjoy a day at the sun.

Hotels in Athens are concentrated around the city centre, particularly in the regions of Syntagma, Plaka, Acropolis, Monastiraki, Thission and Panepistimiou Avenue. Most archaeological sites are found in a walking distance from these regions. Accommodation in Athens city ranges from luxurious hotels and suites to budget hostels. The squares of Omonoia and Metaxourgio also have some hotels, but crime rates are higher there. Hotels of all kinds and price ranges are also found in Piraeus as it is the main port of the city.

Athens city is the most important in Greece and it is found in the region of Attica. Taking its name after its protector, goddess Athena, Athens Greece is famous because here the political system of democracy, sciences and philosophy were born. The most important monument of Athens city is of course the Acropolis. There are several other important ancient sites and monuments that can be found mainly around the lovely neighborhoods of Plaka, Monastiraki, Thissio and in the vicinity of the Acropolis. They include ancient temples, ancient theaters and stadiums, public buildings and interesting museums. Athens is the capital of Greece and the most important Greek city. It has many beautiful quarters. The historical centre (Syntagma-Monastiraki-Plaka) is a gem for history lovers, as it includes monuments from all periods of time, from the Classical and Roman times to the Byzantine and Neoclassical period. Do not miss a visit to important sights, including the Parthenon and the temple of Olympian Zeus, theatres, such as the Herodes Atticus, and public buildings, such as the Agora. However, the city is not only about sightseeing and lovely restaurants. Athens holidays may also include swim in nice beaches. There are many beach resorts to enjoy a relaxing swim in the hot summer days in the peninsula of Attica. The beaches from Glyfada to the south till Cape Sounion are mostly organized and get very popular, especially in summer weekends. The present guide of Athens offers all the necessary information about a visit to this wonderful city, the birth place of the Greek history and also the seat of the modern Government.

Climate

Athens experiences a hot-summer Mediterranean climate (Köppen climate classification Csa), with extremely long periods of sunshine throughout the year and with the greatest amounts of precipitation mainly occurring from mid-October to mid-April; any precipitation is sparse during summer and it generally takes the form of showers and/or thunderstorms. Due to its location in a rain shadow because of Mount Parnitha the Athenian climate is much drier compared to most of the rest of Mediterranean Europe. The mountainous northern suburbs, for their part, experience a somewhat differentiated climatic pattern, with generally lower temperatures. Fog is highly unusual in the city centre but it is more frequent to the east, behind the Hymettus mountain range.

Snowfalls are not common and these do not normally lead to significant, if any, disruption. Nonetheless, the city has experienced several heavy snowfalls, not least in the past decade. During the blizzards of March 1987; February 1992; 4 January-6, 2002; 12 February-13, 2004 and 16 February-18, 2008, snow blanketed large parts of the metropolitan area, causing havoc across much of the city.

Spring and fall (autumn) are considered ideal seasons for sightseeing and all kinds of outdoor activities. Summers can be particularly hot and at times prone to smog and pollution related conditions (however, much less so than in the past). The average daytime maximum temperature for the month of July is 33.5 °C (92.3 °F) and heat waves are relatively common, occurring generally during the months of July and/or August, when hot air masses sweep across Greece from the south or the southwest. On such days temperatures soar over 38 °C (100 °F).

Athens holds the all-time temperature record in Europe of 48.0 °C (118.4 °F) which was recorded in Elefsina, a suburb of Athens. The respective low-temperature record is −5.8 °C (21.6 °F), recorded at Nea Filadelfia.

Districts

The sprawling city is bounded on three sides by Mt Ymettos, Mt Parnitha and Mt Pendeli; whilst inside Athens are twelve hills [the seven historical are: Acropolis, Areopagus, Hill of Philopappus, Observatory Hill (Muses Hill), PnyxLycabettus, Tourkovounia (Anchesmus)], the Acropolis and Lykavittos being the most prominent. These hills provide a refuge from the noise and commotion of the crowded city streets, offering amazing views down to Saronic Gulf, Athens’ boundary with the Aegean Sea on its southern side. The streets of Athens (clearly signposted in Greek and English) now meld imperceptibly into Piraeus, the city’s ancient (and still bustling) port.

Places of interest to travellers can be found within a relatively small area surrounding the city centre at Syntagma Square (Plateia Syntagmatos). This epicentre is surrounded by the districts of the Plaka to the south, Monastiraki to the west, Kolonaki to the east and Omonia to the north. Further afield is the port of Athens, the Piraeus.

The Acropolis– The ancient “high city” of Athens, crowned by marble temples sacred to the city’s goddess Athena.

PlakaMonastiraki and Thiseio – Charming historic districts at the foot of the Acropolis, with restored 19th century neoclassical homes, pedestrianized streets, shops and restaurants, and picturesque ruins from the city’s Roman era.

Kifissia– The northern part of Athens, rarely visited by tourists.

Nea Smyrni– The southern part of Athens, it is a modern European district.

Kolonaki– Upscale residential area with many cafes, boutiques and galleries.

Omonia and Exarheia– Formerly seedy district, it is now home to Greece’s students, anarchists and the National Archeaological Museum, somewhat revitalized by the metro.

Pangrati and Mets– These adjoining pleasant residential neighborhoods south of Lycabettos and east of the National Garden are rarely frequented by tourists, but they do include a few hotels and a number of good traditional tavernas.

Piraeus– The ancient port of Athens, Piraeus is today an independent, heavily industrial municipality located southwest of Athens, whose modern-day port serves almost all of Attica‘s ferry connections to Crete and the Aegean Islands.

Psiri– Former industrial district, now full of trendy and alternative restaurants, cafés, bars, and small shops.

Syntagma Square (Plateia Syntagmatos)- Dominated by the old Royal Palace, Syntagma Square is the business district of Athens, complete with major hotels, banks, restaurants and airline offices.

Do in Athens

Near Athens in Glyfada (50 min by tram from the center), there is the Sea Turtle Rescue Society Archelon. They are regularly looking for volunteers who are willing to work on their own costs and are able to take care of injured sea turtles.

Attend an event at the Athens and Epidaurus Festival. It runs during the summer and offers a wide spectrum of events covering almost every taste. Try to attend a performance at the ancient theater of Epidaurus a truly unforgettable experience.

Every Sat/Sun you can join a free bike tour of the old area of Athens. To take part in this, you should contact the NGO Anthropos or call 210 8838914 but you can just turn up if you are not able to contact them in advance. Groups meet at 10:40am outside Thissio metro station.

If the weather is good, head out of town on buses A2, B2 or E22 from metro station Sygrou, or the tram from Syntagma to the beaches to the south of Athens. Just get off wherever the sea takes your fancy. Be aware though that beach-side cafes can hit you hard with prices of food and drinks. If you are the only person getting on the bus, be aware that you need to flag the bus down to get it to stop or it will just fly on by.

Easy Cruise, Syngrou Avenue 362, Kallithea, 176 74 Athinai, phone +30 211 2116211. The infamous cheap flight company now runs a variety of cruises from Greece (Athens) to Turkey and surrounding islands such as Mykonos, Paros and Syros. For the classic enthusiast, their tour company visits Acropolis, Epidavros, Nemea, MycenaeCorinthOlympia and Delphi.

Buy

Although a huge city, Athens has relatively few shopping malls or large department stores; the small, family run shop still conquers all. Souvenirs are of course available everywhere that tourists go. Other shopping opportunities are antiques, museum reproductions, embroideries and other folk art goods, and Greek food and drink products. Here is an overview of the Athens shopping scene; detailed listings will be found on the relevant district pages:

Plaka is lined with souvenir shops, most of them selling cheap souvenir knick-knacks, though there are a few higher-quality shops here and there. Prices can be high for quality items.

Kolonaki is the upscale, hip, and artistic shopping area. An other is Kifissia.

For a more reasonable price tag, try Ermou Street, beside Syntagma Square. Turn right off Ermou at the MAC makeup shop and you’ll find yourself on Aghiou Markou and other small streets which are home to incredibly cheap shoes, bags, jewellery, gifts, homewares, and so on.

“The Mall” at the Metro Station “Neratziotissa” is the biggest shopping mall in Athens.

Street vendors, with their wares laid out on blankets on the pavement, can be found in many places where tourists congregate, especially in Plaka and Monastiraki. Their goods are mostly forgeries, cheap knock-offs, and illegal CDs. These vendors are unlicensed, which is in violation of Greek law, and you may notice them vanishing as soon as a policeman is in sight, to reappear the instant the police have gone. They are best ignored. (This warning does not apply to vendors of fruit, nuts, etc. from street carts, who are usually legitimate.)

Stay safe

While Athens is generally a very safe city, there have been reports of pickpockets on the Metro and in other crowded areas. Street crime is rare; when it happens, it’s most commonly purse-snatching from women walking away from banks and ATM machines.

The friendly stranger bar scam has been reported from areas of central Athens frequented by travelers, including Omonia, Syntagma, and Plaka. Recently, there have been some reports of fraud. Usually, someone will stop you and ask for directions. A couple of other guys then show up claiming to be police, showing a badge (obviously s fake one). They ask passport and wallet for verification. While you are busy trying to convince them that your passport is valid, one of them sneaks out some money from your wallet.

Another danger recently reported, especially by travelers boarding the Airport Express Bus in Piraeus, ispickpocket gangs operating buses used by tourists. As the bus is boarding, a large group traveling together (who are reported often to be of various nationalities other than Greek) will divide itself in two, with half of them going on board and then stopping in the aisle to cause a jam-up among passengers trying to board through the door behind them, the other half then offering to help the jammed passengers lift their luggage on board. Just before the bus leaves, the half of this group on the bus gets off. Then, joining the other half outside the door, they all quickly disperse.

What has happened, of course, is that the passengers who were being “helped” with their luggage by some of this group were being pick-pocketed by others. The theft is particularly effective because it’s directed at travelers who are leaving the country and are thus not likely to report it — many victims don’t realize they have been robbed until they get to the airport or even until after they get on the plane. Some travelers have claimed that certain bus drivers are party to these crimes by neglecting to open the rear door of the bus for boarding passengers, thus ensuring a tighter and more confused crowd of jammed passengers trying to board through the center door, making the criminals’ job easier.

Athenians hold negative perceptions for the areas from Omonoia Square to Karaiskaki Square and the area near Larissis train station (in the western areas of the city proper), and locals advise you to avoid these areas late at night.

The National Garden in Athens and the back streets of Piraeus are probably also places where its unwise to wander around late at night. More recently, Sofokleous Street (a major street south of Omonia), especially the western part near Pireos Street, has gotten a reputation for crime and drugs; some Athenians will advise you to avoid it even during the daytime.

Special care should be taken in crossing streets in Athens’ chaotic traffic, even if you have the walk light.

Athens is one of the most political cities in Europe. Demonstrations and riots are common and accepted as part of everyday life and democracy by most Athenians. Keep abreast of news of demonstrations, and avoid them if you don’t want to run the risk of being arrested or tear-gassed.

Anarchist and leftist groups often target police, government, and corporate targets during the night. It is unlikely that tourists would be hurt, as the anarchists usually take care to damage only property as opposed to people. Nonetheless, parking by a McDonald’s, police station, or bank could get your car damaged.

In addition, you should be aware that Athens has many stray dogs. Though the dogs are usually friendly, they may be alarming and unusual upon your first arriving into the city. Athenians feed and take care of them, and it is not unusual to see a shop owner offering plastic plates full of leftovers to the dogs on the street.

Get out

Piraeus, the harbour of Athens, and Rafina (on the east coast of Attica) are the departure points for a large number of ferry services to the Greek Islands and other destinations in the eastern Mediterranean, including ports in Italy, Egypt, Turkey, Israel and Cyprus. Fast hydrofoil, catamaran or helicopter services also take you to the Greek Islands. Italy is easily approached by boat from Patras (take a train or a bus to Patras).

The port of Lavrion in southern Attica is being increasingly developed as a ferry port, especially for Cyclades routes.

The closest islands, suitable for a day trip, are located in the Argosaronic (or Saronic) gulf: Hydra, Aegina, Poros, Spetses and Salamina.

Day trips to the Corinth Canal, the theatre at Epidaurus and to the ancient sites of OlympiaDelphi and Mycenae are easy with a rental car. Other towns along the Peloponnese such as Nafplion are charming and worthwhile.

Hydra is deservedly one of the most popular day-trip destinations from Athens.

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