If you are travelling to Greece this summer it is worth spending two or three days in Athens. It is not only the islands that are interesting or the Mountains. There is so much you can do in just 2 or 3 days here.
Have a look at this guide which I am sure will help you a lot as to how to spare your time!
It is an excellent time to discover the city of Athens.
Tourists gravitate to the souk-like lanes of the Plaka in the shadow of the Acropolis. The hand-out map from the Athens tourist organisation is more than adequate for independent exploration of up-and-coming neighbourhoods such as Thissio and Psiri. Pick one up from the Public Store (6) at Karageorgi Servias 1, Syntagma (00 30 210 3246210; breathtakingathens.com), open 9am-9pm weekdays, 9am-8pm Saturdays, closed Sundays.
As you get to grips with the modern city, you simultaneously make the acquaintance of the ancient one. The core of the city encompasses the Ancient Agora (2) and Roman Agora (3), lying between the two unmistakable hills of the Acropolis (4) (literally "high city") and the conical Lykavittos (5) (which despite its daunting appearance, takes less than half-an-hour to climb).
The partial banishment of cars makes it both pleasurable and fascinating to cover the 3km distance on foot from Hadrian's Arch (9) to the marvellously intact Temple of Hephaistos (10), skirting the southern slopes of the Acropolis. This broad, cobbled pedestrian boulevard, known as the Unification of the Archaeological Sites, is especially enjoyable in the cool of the evening, when Greeks and foreigners share the vrathini volta ("evening promenade").
The Central Market (11) is a very lively place to eat, with plenty of fast, fresh food on offer.
Shopping and good bargains is a must in Athens at this time of year.
You can enjoy a fairly raucous shopping experience at the Central Market (11): butchers bustle around with shopping trolleys filled with sides of lamb, and skinned sheep's heads are displayed on marble slabs. A more practical gift for your loved ones would be a bag of tasty pistachios mostly coming from the island of Aegina.
The shop at the Museum of Cycladic Art (12) stocks beautifully crafted reproductions of the Aegean's most ancient art objects, jewellery, pots, and figurines that are so stylised they are nearly abstract. The Museum is at 4 Neophytou Douka St (00 30 210 7228321; cycladic.gr) and is open 10am-5pm daily except Sunday and Tuesday.
The pedestrianised Iraklidon street – in hip and hopping Thissio – is lined with cafés and restaurants. Buy a snack here at a leafy courtyard, and rest for a while.
Preferably eat where the locals eat. It will surely be much cheaper. Try some Ttraditional local dishes like the slow-cooked lamb baked in paper with garlic and mint, the fava topped with capers or onions and olive oil. The prices are reasonable. Avoid ordering bottled wine, - instead ask for a carafe. It will cost you much less and the quality is excellent. Many restaurants will offer a complementary dessert for free at the end of your lunch.
The name of the 12th- century Byzantine gem just south of the Mitropoleos Cathedral is almost longer than the church itself. Panagia Gorgoepikoos-Agios Eleftherios (18) – the latter is the patron saint of freedom, which is particularly apt for striking Greeks at the moment – is a cruciform church built using marble rescued from earlier buildings. The exterior reliefs depict scenes from a folk bestiary: cat biting dog and bird overpowering hare. Sunday services begin at 7am and last until 10.30am. If you arrive when the liturgy is being chanted by a presiding priest accompanied by two of his colleagues, be sure to take one of the 20 seats and prepare to be intoxicated by the complex rhythms and Eastern-sounding harmonies as well as by the incense.
The Benaki Museum (19) has a stylish café upstairs. From its outdoor terrace adorned with flowering tropical plants and lime trees in huge terracotta pots, you can look over the National Gardens to the Acropolis. It is open from 9am on Sundays for excellent coffee and an enticing menu, including smoked salmon and goats cheese sandwiches. You needn't pay the museum admission charge of €6 if you tell them you are just going to the café, though exploring the varied collection from prehistoric tools to 19th-century traditional costumes is worthwhile.
While multitudes swarm over the Acropolis, the neglected tree-covered hill opposite is covered with a maze of footpaths. Few signposts help you to find your way on the Hill of the Muses, now known as Philopappos Hill (20), named for the 2nd century AD Syrian prince who was a benefactor of Athens and whose imposing mausoleum crowns the summit. Much of the climb is shaded by pine trees, with a view of the Acropolis and Lykavittos Hills, and of the sea to the west, the reward. Descend past the ruins of ancient dwellings to the Hill of Pnyx (21) where the democratic assembly convened in the 5th century BC.
On the eve of its first birthday, the breathtaking new Acropolis Museum (22) retains its buzz. The striking building reveals remnants of the ancient city in situ under transparent floors. The top floor mirrors the dimensions and orientation of the Parthenon, which is clearly visible up the hill. The western side is the best preserved, with dramatic scenes of mounted Amazons attacking Greeks. Many sections are conspicuous by their absence, having been spirited away by Lord Elgin at the beginning of the 19th century. This unmissable museum is open 8am-8pm every day except Monday (00 30 210 900 0901; theacropolismuseum.gr); €5.
The Athens Coastal Tram links the city centre with the beach suburbs of Glyfada and Voula. For €1, travel on a hi-tech tram for an hour; tickets can easily be purchased from machines at city stops such as Syntagma. At the coast, walk to fish tavernas and beaches – though the swimming is better further south at Varkiza and beyond – via bus 149 from Glyfada Square (your ticket remains valid for 90 minutes from the time of purchase).
Within commuting distance of Athens is the island of Aegina in the Saronic Gulf, connected by ferries that take an hour and the Flying Dolphin hydrofoil that cuts that time in half. Both depart frequently from Port Gate E8 in Piraeus.
If you have more days visit the island of Syros which is also another worth visiting island not very far from Athens.
Enjoy your holidays in Greece!
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