One of Europe’s fastest-growing city break destinations, with over 5 million visitors annually, Athens has been experiencing a complete tourist revival in recent years.
With its emblem the Acropolis, and its unique cultural heritage in the foreground, but also with one of the most vibrant urban profiles that can be found in Europe – especially with sunshine lasting almost all year round – the capital of Greece is constantly gaining ground against European competition both in the gastronomic landscape, with six city restaurants listed on the Michelin guide filling in the mosaic of taverns and ethnic delicacies, and in nightlife, with international guest DJs performing weekly in the city’s clubs, in addition to Athens’ historic tradition of grand bouzouki.
The symbol of Athens city, but also of classical Greece in general and perhaps the most famous monument in the world, Acropolis stands as a point of reference above the historic center of Athens. The Parthenon, the imposing ancient temple built in the 5th century BC in honour of the patroness of the city goddess Athena, occupies the top of the Sacred Rock of Acropolis, and still remains today an unsurpassed architectural wonder which attracts visitors and locals alike. Next to it, the Erechtheion temple seizes the attention with copies of the Caryatids instead of the typical columns, with five of the authentic ones being on display at the Acropolis Museum and sixth one at the British Museum.
New Acropolis Museum
One of the most important museums of the country, the New Acropolis Museum houses 4,000 exhibits counting 5,200 years of cultural heritage, on a journey to the dawn of Western civilization that begins even before one goes through its central gate. The glass floor of the courtyard reveals part of the ancient quarter that came to light during the erection of this impressive building, with its modern architecture conversing not only with the past that surrounds its foundations, but also with the shadow on top of the museum: the original partitions of the Parthenon’s rooftop decoration are in direct dialogue with the ancient monument that stands out from its large glass window wall.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
On the southwestern side of the rock of the Acropolis stands Herodion: a conservatory that is distinguished both for its architectural grandeur and for its excellent acoustics; this great building of the Roman period was built in the 2nd century BC, at the expense of the renowned orator and sophist in memory of his wife Aspasia Annia Rigillis (one of the most famous streets of Athens bears her name). However, in its 5,000 seats, it still hosts audiences every summer to watch some of the world’s leading musicians as well as international performances.
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
An impressive architectural complex under the signature of the internationally renowned architect Renzo Piano, which houses the multilevel cultural center comprising of the National Opera and the National Library of Greece. This new landmark of the city is an oasis of culture and greenery just 7.5 kilometers from the center of Athens, hosting free music events almost throughout the whole summer.
Goulandris Natural History Museum
Make a gift to your fellow travellers by offering them the experience of a museum known for its modern way of immersing in the kingdom of nature, through impressive exhibits and exciting multimedia applications. In the first rooms one can find the Museum’s botanical exhibition and in the rooms following the fauna, from the simplest forms of life to mammals. The highlight is the impressive in size and detail dinosaur skeleton that dominates the paleontological section. Make sure you check out the excellent publications at the store and take the opportunity to stroll around Kifissia, queen of the northern suburbs of Athens.
Souvlaki / Kebab
A fast food written so deep in the Greek consciousness that it is almost an essential ingredient of their DNA, the souvlaki in its traditional form carries a history that reaches back to ancient Greece, but also a modern presence that spreads throughout the country. However, one can’t find anywhere else such abundance as in Athens, where one souvlaki restaurant is located in every other city block. Head to Monastiraki Square, a timeless temple of souvlaki in all its variants; try it plain or wrapped with fresh vegetables and French fries, with pork or tender chicken fillet, or the oriental version of kebab (juicy minced lamb or beef burgers).
Few remember the original, oriental moussaka recipe, where a plethora of seemingly unrelated ingredients such as cooked minced meat, eggplants and potatos were wrapped tightly in thick phyllo. However, its modern Europeanized version, as reinvented by the monumental modernist of Greek cooking Nikos Tselemendes, introduces the concept of béchamel, reigns supreme in modern Athens. A hearty dish, identified with the city in the 1960s, starring on the Sunday tables of every respectable middle-class family, monopolizing tavern menus around tourist areas. Ideally, try it at a restaurant that inspires confidence in the freshness of the ingredients, as this is vital for their mouth-watering combination.
A crossroad between the West and the East, with the aroma and flavors of Smyrna and Constantinople embedded in the city’s gastronomic customs from the time of the Smyrna Catastrophe, Athens maintains its communication channels with the Eastern cuisine due to the city’s constant interaction with exotic cultures. Enjoy the aroma of the past in the eateries around Varvakios, the city’s main meat and fish market, or wander the narrow streets around Agia Eirini Square for snacks from the city’s modern ethnic cuisine.
Useful phone numbers
Useful phone numbers
Tourist Police: 2109200724
Port Authority: 2104172675
Radio Taxi: 2105152800
General Hospital: 2132088000