One day in Athens itinerary
Although the current economic crisis has put somewhat of a damper on the overall mood of the Greek capital, Athens remains a must-see for anyone visiting southern Europe. This is true not only because of its status as cradle of Western civilization and culture, but also because it is lots of fun – Greeks, even when they are down in spirits, never forget how to have a good time and the capital city remains as vibrant as ever. So, apart from visiting the most popular sites in this big and bustling capital, visitors to Athens are also strongly invited to grab a frappé and enjoy a game of Backgammon or a chat with the locals to experience true Greek hospitality and culture. Here’s a one day itinerary for Athens, intended to make the most of even a short visit by alternating art and culture with a bit of relax and good food.
A date with Archeology: Acropolis Hill
Overlooking the Greek capital, the Acropolis Hill sits some 500 feet above sea level and boasts spectacular views of the city below and the Athens coastline. Undoubtedly a must-see, it is wise to visit this ancient architectural site early in the morning, when the temperatures are cooler and the crowds minimal (Tip: Get there at 8am, when it opens, to beat the big coach tourist buses that arrive at around 10am). Nestled atop the flat rocky hill of Acropolis are buildings and ruins of inestimable cultural and historical importance, among them the Parthenon, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007, these monuments date back to circa 450 BC and have endured centuries of wars and much damage. That’s why locals are working to restore the site’s original glory through the Acropolis Reconstruction Project, which began in 1975 and aims to reverse years of damage and neglect, looting and misguided past restorations. Entrance to the Acropolis archeological site costs 12 euro; for more information, see the official website.
Acropolis Museum for art and lunch
Continue admiring the wonders of Ancient Greece at the Acropolis Museum, just steps below the ancient site, in the old quarter of Makriyianni. Nestled 300 meters below the Parthenon, the museum building is a sleek, state-of-the-art structure designed by Bernard Tschumi Architects and Michael Photiadis. The design of the concrete, steel and glass structure is meant to recall the simplicity and clarity of ancient Greek architecture and its permanent collection features some of the most dramatic sculptures and finds of Greek antiquity. The museum is also a great place to stop for lunch. Located on the second floor of the building, the café and restaurant serve traditional dishes from Greece’s regions and islands revisited to reflect modern tastes, in the magnificent backdrop of the Acropolis. Reservations recommended; call +30 210 9000915. As the the line to enter may be long, we suggest booking an Acropolis Museum skip the line tour through Musement.
Shop and Walk through “Old Athens”: Monasteraki and Plaka
Take in a bit more of ancient Greece on the way down from Acropolis hill and museum with a stroll through the city’s oldest neighborhoods like Plaka and Monastiraki. Just under the ancient hill is Plaka, perfect for a leisurely, nostalgic stroll. A largely pedestrian area popular with tourists, Plaka is also home to Anafiotika, one of the Athens’s prettiest neighborhoods known for its whitewashed walls and bougainvilleas that evoke slow-paced island life rather than twentieth-century urban living. Monastiraki is situated in the heart of Athens and there you’ll find a wealth of shops, street markets and souvenirs. Close to the most important tourist attractions such as the Syntagma Square (or Constitution Square), the National Gardens, the Greek Parliament and the Ancient Agora, it is the city’s most popular shopping district and is also a great place to taste traditional Greek street foods, like gyros on a pita.
Contemporary art, Athens style
After delving so much into the past, a shift to the contemporary may be a necessity. Culture and art buffs must be sure to visit the new National Museum of Contemporary Art, which exhibits a range of contemporary Greek art and hosts temporary exhibits throughout the year. Its permanent collection features contemporary artworks by both Greek and international artists, ranging from paintings and installations to video art and sculpture. The works on display explore contemporary issues and are always provocative and thought-provoking. The current exhibition explores a new generation of Greek artists (until March 2, 2014).
Athens by night
Athens by night
Known across Europe for its bustling nightlife, not even the austerity of recent years can close Athens down at night. Provided there’s the clientele, restaurants, bars and pubs stay open till the wee hours of the morning in most areas, including the touristy ones like Monasteraki and Plaka. Older, more distinguished crowds can be found in the upscale area of Glyfada, near the coast. Artsy types like to catch theatre shows and live traditional Greek music in the port area of Athens, called Piraeus. While adventurous travelers seeking locals youth should head to Psiri. Located in a former rundown, industrial area, Psiri is now one of the trendiest, most colourful neighbourhoods in the city. Think narrow streets lined with Greek tavernas, cafes and pubs full of young Athenians enjoying an ouzo or two to the tune of live music. You can explore these areas on your own, or book the Athens by night tour complete with Greek dancing!