The Church of Saint George sits prettily atop Mount Lycabettus. Photo by Frank Dürr / CC BY 2.0
One of the most quintessential destinations in Greece, the ancient city of Athens is the oldest capital in Europe and has over 3,500 years of history. Hailed as the birthplace of democracy, sciences and fine arts, Athens is populated with historical monuments that fully demonstrate the grandeur of the Greek civilisation from times past. Having been injected with touches of modernity over the years, with sleek shopping and dining establishments popping up along the once antiquated streets, the eclectic city possesses an enduring charm. Discover the Grecian beauty with these five essential experiences!
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Glimpse Greece’s illustrious past with a tour of the Acropolis
A testament to the glory of the Grecians during their heyday, the 25-century-old monuments at the Acropolis are awe-inspiring both for the architectural feat they represent and for their historical value. Perched high atop a craggy hill, the UNESCO World Heritage Site was a sacred place to the ancient Greeks where the most important buildings of their civilisation resided. Take in the impressive views of Athens from up high as you wander past the grandiose gate, the Propylaea, and amongst the altars and temples of bygone eras. The Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena that was reportedly built to achieve the ideal proportions of a building, is the crowning glory of the site. To date, the Acropolis remains the most intact Greek complex of our time.
Watch the changing of guards at Syntagma Square
The oldest in Athens, this historically significant square was often used as a gathering ground when important social and political changes occurred in the country. Most travellers flock here, however, to observe the changing of guards ceremony that takes place at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier daily. On Sundays and holidays, the Presidential Soldiers, who don traditional gear, march to the tune of a military band.
The square also functions as a gateway to key attractions in the capital, including the sprawling 15.5 hectare National Gardens and the Tower of the Winds. The former is a tranquil refuge located in the center of Athens that encompasses a small zoo, a sculpture garden and six lakes amongst other fixtures, while the latter is a marble clock tower that also functioned as a timepiece in the Middle Ages .
Enjoy the view from Mount Lycabettus
Athen’s highest hill looms proudly over the city at approximately 277 metres, commanding incredible views of the landscape beneath and the surrounding regions from the summit. Best visited at sunset when the capital is bathed in a soft golden glow, the mountain can be ascended with a short ride on the funicular or via a 20-minute hike. Atop the peak, the picturesque white Church of Saint George and an open-air theatre that occasionally hosts events comfortably reside. On clear days, the panoramic views from the hill even stretches all the way to the Peloponnese region, making for a wondrous sight.
Soak in the local atmosphere at Plaka
Besides being the oldest neighbourhood in Athens, Plaka is also reputed as the most upscale area in the capital. Stroll along the streets for sightings of the restored 19th-century neoclassical homes and ruins from the Roman era. Besides stopping at local jewellery shops to pick up an intricately designed gift or two, take time to savour authentic Greek cuisine at the nearby eateries. The streets are often peppered with musicians, artists and roaming vendors, adding to the lively atmosphere. An array of museums such as the new Acropolis Museum, the Folk-Art Museum and the Frissiras Museum of Contemporary Greek and European painting are also situated within the neighbourhood.
Learn about Greek history at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens
The largest archaeological museum in the country, the National Archaeological Museum of Athens is also considered one of the most significant in the world when it comes to ancient Greek art. Their robust collection of objects includes antique statues, epigraphs and frescoes, which colourfully illustrate life in the Aegean and Greek mythology amongst other subjects. Besides the six permanent collections on display, temporary exhibitions are also held on the museum’s premises from time to time, meaning there’s plenty to see and admire!