Athens is the capital and largest city in Greece, with an urban population
of more than 3 million. It is located on the southeastern portion of
mainland Greece. Athens has a long history. In addition to its
well known classical Greek history, it has influences from occupation by
the Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans. The most famous attraction in
Athens is the Parthenon, which dates back to 447 BC. Athens has a
long standing grievance with the Royal British Museum, which holds many
priceless sculptures from that Parthenon, including the Parthenon
frieze. These came into British possession around 1801 when Lord
Elgin was concerned about their preservation and began transporting
artifacts and sculptures to London. Greece has repeatedly requested
their return, to no avail.
Athens is a summer tourist destination. Average temperatures peak in July and August at
82 F (28 C), while lows are about 72 F (22 C).
Its summer popularity is increased by the fact that you can expect no
rainfall from July and August. From December to February average highs are
54 F (12 C) and average lows are 45 F (7 C).
Rainfall is highest in the month of December. Consider spring or
fall to avoid the height of the tourist season.
Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport (ATH) is located well east of
Athens and takes about an hour by cab. There is a metro train into
the city. The metro a challenge for the novice tourist as all the
transportation signs at the airport are in Greek. It's an
inexpensive alternative to a cab and is fairly rapid. It takes you
directly to the downtown core at Monasteraki station. From there you
can walk to the Parthenon and the Ancient Agora or catch another metro
line to the port at Piraeus. The port of Piraeus is
basically a subdivision of Athens. It provides access to the Aegean
Sea for numerous ferries and is the docking location for a host of cruise
ships in the summer. The metro system is a quick and efficient way
to get around Athens.
Attractions in Athens:
Things to see and do:
The Parthenon is the premier attraction of
Athens. It is located downtown on a hill top known as the
Acropolis, overlooking the modern city. The Parthenon dates
back to the 5th century B.C. Unfortunately the intricate
carvings that adorned its gables are now on display at the Royal
Museum in London. Beside the Parthenon, on the hill top, is
the Erechtheion, with 6 columns carved as maidens supporting
the structure. The Theater of Herod Atticus is located
at the foot of the hill and is a venue for live performances in the
present day. The Theater of Dionysious and the
Acropolois Museum are located at the foot of the hill too.
Below the hill top of the Parthenon are the
extensive ruins the Ancient Agora. This was the market
area of the ancient city for 800 years. Socrates, Aristotle
and Plato would have walked these grounds. The highlight is
the well preserved Temple of Hephaestus. The Museum
of the Ancient Agora has reconstructed the Stoa of Attalos
and it includes a pleasant walk through the columns in a
covered portico. Along the northwest edge of the Agora is the
Kerameikos or potter's area, plus the Athens
City Museum. Kerameikos is the origin of the English word
In the Plaka beside the Agora, you will find
souvenirs and very inexpensive gyros and souvlakis. The Monastiraki Flea Market
happens here on Sundays. The ruins continue into the city at Hadrian's
Constitution Square (Syntagma Square) is where the
people demanded and received a constitution. The Royal Palace
faces the square. Each hour the elite soldiers known as
Evzones dressed in kilts literally strut past the Tomb of the
Unknown Soldier. The National Gardens are located directly off
the square and add African rainforest to the desert that is Athens.
Ermou Street off the square has been converted to a pedestrian only
Also visit the Panathenian Stadium, site of the
first modern Olympic Games in 1896, and Omonia Square.
Mount Lycabettus - an amazing view, a cafe and an
amphitheatre with great performances.
Athens Central Market
Temple of Olympian Zeus - the largest of the Greek
Athens participates in the European tradition of
providing two prices at small restaurants and coffee shops - one
price for takeout and another price if you want to sit down.
Gyros with French Fries included in the pita.
We can't believe this idea hasn't spread around the globe.
Stop at any small restaurant where you can see the beef and lamb
cooking as it rotates on a shawarma.
Loukoumades - fried balls of dough drenched in honey
and sprinkled with cinnamon.
Bougatsa - pastry with custard, cheese or minced
meat between layers of phyllo.
Pastourma - air dried cured beef.
Fanouropita - spicebread with ground cloves and
Koulouri - circular bread with sesame seeds.
Melitazanopitakia - eggplant pies.
Tzatziki and Greek salad.
Spanakopita - spinach in phyllo.
Moussaka - potato pie with layers of tomato,
aubergine and white sauce.
with Tim Anderson
At the end of our Eurail trip, we caught a flight to Athens for our Mediterranean cruise on the MV
Cristal and we
entered a very different world than Italy. It’s much drier and the language is much different.
At the airport, none of the metro info boards made any sense. We were heading to
Monasteraki, which I thought was a major metro intersection, but couldn’t find it listed anywhere. We finally found our way to the metro ticket station and when I said
Monasteraki, it was obvious to the attendant at least that this was a simple destination. He pointed us in the right direction and we got on the only train there. Inside, there was a nice map with our destination on it. I usually prefer to see my destination indicated before I board, but things worked a little differently here. At
Monasteraki, I amazingly picked the right metro exit without and we easily found our B&B.
We walked down the street to a little gyro restaurant and watched them cut meat off a heated rack to build the most delicious gyros ever, with sour cream, onions, tomatoes, French fries (yes, fries inside the pita wrap) and lots of meat for a price that seemed so small we felt we weren’t paying our way. Lots of fun. That evening we walked around the base of the Parthenon in the pleasant evening air and we were in love with Greece.
We allowed a day in Athens before our cruise, so the next morning, we had the pleasure of not being rushed.. I planned an assault on the Acropolis by coming up through the Agora. We stopped at Hadrian’s Library, the Roman Agora and the Ancient Agora, which were pleasant, but it was hot. We then climbed up to the Parthenon in the heat of the day and joined the throng of tourists. Not on my list of fun things to do and I was so glad I had the pleasant experience the evening before. Similar to Rome, these sites are best visited in the evening when the temperature is better and the crowds are gone. We should have gotten up earlier that morning.
After the Parthenon, we made our way on foot to the Athens Acropolis
Museum, which was not only interesting, but air conditioned. This museum is built over ruins at the base of the Parthenon and they’ve built a see-through glass floor so that you can walk over the ruins and look down. A very cool experience, especially if you have trouble with heights. The third floor also has see through glass, so on the main floor you can look down at the ruins or up at the legs/skirts of those above you. Very unusual. The museum has some great exhibits, but the plaster casts of statutes from the top of the Parthenon are a sad reminded that the British Museum holds the best treasures of Greece and won’t return what Lord Elgin removed. Another trip to gyro heaven was barely enough to revive us.
In the morning, we took the metro to Piraeus and then had more adventures as cab after cab turned us down for the trip to the ship. Most said
"no English" and one
indicated we were on the wrong side of the street. Eventually we found an expensive and short cab ride to our ship. What a relief.