Athens is the largest city of Greece as well as its capital. It is located in the south-eastern part of mainland Greece, in the Attica Basin. It is bound by mountains in the west, north and northeast, and the Saronic Gulf in the southwest. The city is geographically constrained and, due to the lack of space, only 3% of the city area is devoted to greenery and recreational areas. The surrounding mountains cause an inversion layer that is partly responsible for Athen’s air pollution.
The metropolitan population is 3.5 million people, whereas the population of the city proper is officially 770,000. Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world; its history can be traced back thousands of years. It is considered the cradle of the western civilization, and the birthplace of democracy. It was home to the famous philosophers Plato and Aristotle. As well as being a political center, Athens was also an important cultural and artistic hub where the art of theatre was perfected. The city of Athens was named after the goddess of wisdom, Athena.
The modern city of Athens is a mixture of the ancient and the modern. The majority of the city’s attractions lie within an easy walking distance, in the central part of the city around the world-famous Acropolis.
The number one attraction is the Parthenon, an important example of Doric architecture and key feature of the Acropolis. Other notable sights include Plaka, a picturesque historical district with interesting neoclassical architecture, churches, mosques, and fine taverns boasting delicious local food and lively music.
Athens has a Mediterranean climate which is mostly dry, has low average rainfall and hot summers. Summers are very hot, with temperatures as high as 40°C in the shade. It is usually very dry. There are occasional heat waves in July and August. Winters are mildly cold but frost sometimes occurs during the night. The rain usually falls during the winter months in the form of short, heavy showers. The hottest month is July, the coldest is January; December is the wettest.
January average temperature 10 deg Celsius, 45.7 mm rainfall February average temperature 10 deg Celsius, 48.3 mm rainfall March average temperature 11.7 deg Celsius, 43.2 mm rainfall April average temperature 15.5 deg Celsius, 25.4 mm rainfall May average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 15.2 mm rainfall June average temperature 25 deg Celsius, 5.1 mm rainfall July average temperature 27.8 deg Celsius, 5.1 mm rainfall August average temperature 26.7 deg Celsius, 7.6 mm rainfall September average temperature 24 deg Celsius, 10.2 mm rainfall October average temperature 19 deg Celsius, 48.3 mm rainfall November average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 50.8 mm rainfall December average temperature 11.7 deg Celsius, 66.0 mm rainfall
The Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport is situated 33km south east of the Athens city center. It is an important European hub with good international connections as well. www.athensairport-2001.gr /
Metro: Line 3 (blue line) takes you to the downtown Syntagma and Monastiráki stations. Suburban railway: Go to Larissis Railway station, where you change to Line 2 to reach downtown. Taxi: Taxis costs around € 30-35 and are available at the arrivals level. Bus: Express buses connect the airport to the city. The services run 24 hours, leaving every 10 minutes from the arrivals level and costs €3.60.
The numerous Greek islands are served by various ferries, boats and catamarans leaving from the nearby port of Piraeus.
An efficient and modern metro system makes it easy getting around in the city center. www.ametro.gr/
The main sights and museums are all within easy walking distance.
There are two lines: the blue and white Suburban Buses. The services run from 5:00 am to midnight and leave every 15 minutes. The ones marked with ‘E’ serve express lines and connect the airport to the city. www.oasa.gr /
This is a new addition to Athens's public transport network. The main line starts from Piraeus, passes through the main line train station of Larissis in Athens, and forks at Neratziotissa west to Kiato and Corinth and east towards the Airport. www.trainose.com/
Trams run from 5:00 am to midnight. Tram tickets can be bought at all kiosks and must be validated upon entering the vehicle. www.tramsa.gr/
Taxis are relatively cheap although hailing a cab on the street can be somewhat difficult. The more expensive but more comfortable option is the radio taxi. Make sure the meter is on. If you have difficulty hailing one down, shout your destination as taxis often pick up more passengers who go to the same destination.
Driving in Athens is stressful. The city is smothered in cars and driving its streets is a nightmare; the city center has, in addition to lack of parking spaces, a complicated system of one-way streets. It is not recommended to rent a car.
For a breathtaking view of the Acropolis, head to the Lykavittos hill. It can be accessed via a funicular from Kolonaki Square that rises steeply to the height of 278 meters. There is also a chapel of Agios Giorgios (St George) at the top, as well as a café.
The funicular runs from Friday to Wednesday, 8:45 am – midnight; and Thursday 10:30 am – midnight.
Take a trip to this summer seaside resort only 17 km southeast of Athens. It can be easily reached via tram from downtown Athens.
Summer weekends are very lively as many of Athens’ top clubs move here for the season. Otherwise it is a quiet resort where many Athenians come to swim, stroll, and enjoy a peaceful time at the seaside.
There is also a summer festival held in Glyfada’s open-air marble- carved theater of Aixoni, featuring Greek ethnic music and theatre.
(Aixoni: Hydras 11, Glyfada, Greece.)
There are several beaches near Athens. The nearest one is Alimo but the best known are Glyfada and Voula that boast sandy beaches, bars, restaurants, water-sport equipment rentals, organized parking and vivid nightlife.
Expect to pay from €4 – 15 for entry. The prices may rise during the weekends.
Most beaches are open from 8:00 am – 8:00 pm, or even until midnight during the peak season.
If you are looking for free beaches there are several to be found, from Flisvos up to Glyfada's Asteria, located further down the coast to the south or east of Athens. Most are accessible by tram.
Delphi is an idyllic and beautiful village, and an important archeological site located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. In ancient times this town was home to the most important oracle of the god Apollo and pilgrims from all over ancient Greece would come here to seek advice. In ancient times Delphi was thought to be the site of the omphalos stone, the center of the universe.
The site features the Sanctuary of Apollo, the Castalian Spring and the Sanctuary of Athena.
Open: daily; June–October: 8:00 am – 7:30 pm; November–May: 8.30 am-5:30 pm Admission: 12 eur/ students of EU universities free with valid documentation /Sundays free
The Acropolis is the most distinctive sight of Athens, a citadel situated on a steep flat-top rock above the city. It is also one of the most important ancient monuments in the Western world and a Unesco World Heritage Site. This is the site where the Athens and classical Greek civilization began over 3,000 years ago. There are numerous beautiful temples, most of which are from the 4 th century B.C.
The Parthenon is the most important monument of Doric architecture and Acropolis’ main feature.
Plaka is a charming historic neighborhood situated beneath the Acropolis. It is Athens’ top tourist destination with numerous neoclassical buildings, mansions, Byzantine churches, and mosques. In addition, there are many taverns with delicious food and traditional music.
Explore a little further to find the quarter of Anafiotika which is a very picturesque and surprisingly quiet maze of narrow streets, balconies and houses.
Agora was the most important part of the ancient Greek polis. It was a marketplace and a forum, a commercial, political administrative and social center.
Situated below the Acropolis, the Agora is filled with ancient buildings. There is the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos which now features the Agora Museum. The Temple of Hephaestus in the west of the Agora is the best preserved Doric temple in Greece. In the northeastern corner you can find the Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios, where Socrates made his speeches.
The square is the largest in Athens, home to numerous neoclassicist buildings and the Parliament building built in 1840. The tourists mostly flock here to see the unusually garbed guards at the palace, which change every hour.
The square is also a good starting point for the city’s major attractions and the ‘museum mile’ along Vassilissis Sophias Avenue starting from the square.
NATIONAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM
Address: Patission 44 Street Open: Monday: 12.30 pm - 5pm; Tuesday – Friday: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm; weekends and public holidays: 8:30 am – 3:00 pm Admission: Full: €7, Reduced: €3 Web: odysseus.culture.gr/h/1/eh151.jsp?obj_id=3249
The museum houses the world’s largest collection of ancient Greek treasures – it truly is a national museum as it only contains Greek treasures. The artifacts range from Mycenean, to Neolythic to Cycladic collections. Here you can admire a vast collection of sculptures, from the oldest Greek figurines onwards. The most notable item from the Mycenean collection is the mask of Agamemnon. The museum is so vast that several visits are advisable.
Greek cuisine is delicious, uncomplicated, based on simple seasonings, fresh meat and vegetables. Eating out is a favorite pastime.
Lunch is usually eaten around 2:00 - 4:00 pm, and dinner around 10:00 or 11:00 pm. You can have dinner at one of the Greek taverns, serving such delicacies as moussaka (layered potato, lamb, and eggplant dish with béchamel sauce), pastitsio (lamb or goat meat with macaroni and tomatoes), paidakia, or stifado (grilled lamb or goat chops).
For a quick, cheap and delicious meal try souvlaki which is usually served with French fries on side. You can get them almost anywhere, especially in the tourist areas. ‘Souvlaki’ is composed of grilled meat, vegetables and yoghurt sauce in thin pita bread.
The national drink is called ‘ouzo’, which is an anise-flavored spirit.
Date: June, July Location: Herod Atticus Odeon, the Lykavittos Theatre, the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus and the Little Theatre of Epidaurus. Web: www.greekfestival.gr
This annual festival has been held since 1955 and is one of the oldest in Europe. The rich program includes classical music concerts, drama, dance and opera. Events take place in various ancient venues; one of them, the ancient Herod Atticus Odeon, was built in 161 AD, and is located beneath the Acropolis.
LYCABETTUS HILL FESTIVAL
Date: May - September Location: Lycabettus Hill Amphitheatre
The open air theatre atop the hill offers first class program and a magnificent view of the city. This is a nice way to spend a warm summer evening in Athens. The place can be accessed via a funicular to the top of the hill and then a short walk.
This is the biggest rock festival in Greece. Held in July, this outdoor event brings huge masses of people to the city. The three-day program includes leading international bands and the music ranges from metal to rock and dance.
Date: Easter weekend (March)
Easter is the biggest festival in Greece. It is celebrated with processions, folk dances, and roasted lamb all over the country. In Athens candlelit processions go from the hill on Easter Sunday as a part of the Easter Vigil. Try the roasted lamb, and the special Easter breads and sweets.
The Athens marathon is held on the original course starting at Marathon and finishing in the Panathinaikon Stadium. The marathon retraces the steps of the legendary messenger of Ancient Athens, who ran the distance of 42 km to bring the news of victory from the battlefield of Marathon. There are two shorter varieties; the 10 km and the 5km run, both finishing in the Panathinaikon Stadium (Kallimarmaro). The 10km race is held on the last part of the Marathon race, while the newly added 5km race is held in the historical center, passing the Acropolis and other significant city monuments.
Athens has a vivid nightlife. The action usually goes on until the morning hours. Greeks have dinner quite late, around 10:00 pm, and stay out late – often until the morning. There are numerous clubs you can visit. Most clubs are located on the Poseidonos Avenues, in Glyfada and Kolonaki square.
Glyfada is a popular party spot especially during the summer. Many of the Athens’ most popular clubs move there for the summer season to avoid the city heat.
The rebetika clubs play special music, reminiscent of the 1920s blues imported from Asia Minor. The bouzoukia clubs offer popular singers performing contemporary songs and a lively crowd. Laika clubs play popular music, tsifteteli clubs play belly-dance music, and entekna clubs play artistic music.
House and hip-hop clubs are located along the coast; they are modern and chic places.
Note that most clubs open only around midnight.
Athens has a strong café culture. You can see Athenians sitting in cafes any time of the day, sipping coffee, debating, and watching people. A kafeneio is a traditional Greek coffeehouse.
Athens has one of the longest histories of any city in Europe, and even in the world, so it is no wonder that it is considered the cradle of the Western civilization. The archeological finds show that the area was already inhabited in the Neolithic period, over 5,000 years ago. In 1400 B.C. Bronze Age fortifications and a palace were built on the Acropolis hill. The city is named after the goddess Athena, and legend has it that Poseidon, the god of the sea, and Athena, the goddess of wisdom, competed over who would become the guardian of the city. Poseidon made a well on the Acropolis but Athena made an olive tree grow in the rocky soil. The people of Athens considered her gift to be more important and named the city after her. Little is known of the period around 1200 BC, but in the 8 th century Athens emerged as an important artistic center. In the 6 th century the economic, social and cultural growth was marked by the world’s first democracy. New laws were introduced, relieving the poor of their debts, ensuring equal rights for all free men, rich and poor, and granting voting rights. The Persian invasion of 490 BC was a great threat, but the greatly outnumbered Athenian army, with their allies, managed to defeat the Persians at Marathon. A runner was sent to the city with the good news of the victory; and this was the world’s first marathon run. In 480 BC an even larger invasion of the Persians followed, and this time the Persians succeeded. Athenians fled the city and the Persian king Xerxes burnt down the city. In revenge, Xerxes’ entire fleet of sheep was destroyed by the Athenians in the battle of Salamis.
These battles cemented Athens as a naval superpower and a period of unprecedented prosperity began. During the 5 th century Athens was a cultural, economic and commercial hub of the Mediterranean, and the period is also termed ‘the Golden Age of Athens’. The city was lavishly rebuilt and new political reforms bolstered up democratic rule. The destroyed temples of the Acropolis were replaced. The Pantheon was built in honor of Athena. Theatre was invented as a new art form. In Dionysos Theatre, now the oldest theatre in the world, plays were performed by such dramatists as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. The world’s greatest philosophers lived in Athens: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Athens’ great prosperity troubled Sparta and this rivalry triggered the Peloponnesian wars of 431 BC. The hostilities went on for 27 years. It left Athens exhausted and Sparta victorious. Roman rule in Athens saw numerous buildings erected, and the city was a seat of learning. When the Roman Empire was split into east and west, Athens still remained a cultural and intellectual center but by the year 529 AD its schools of philosophy were closed. Between 1200 and 1450 Athens was invaded several times. In 1453 Turks took over the city for the next 400 years. The War of Independence took place between 1821 and 1829. Many of the ancient monuments were destroyed. In 1834 Athens once again became the capital city of an independent Greece.
MODERN (20 TH CENTURY)
Athens , as well as the rest of Greece, saw a huge influx of immigrants in 1921 after the war with Turkey; over one million Greeks were re-settled in Greece after they fled from Asia Minor. To house the newcomers, numerous concrete apartment blocks were built. During WW II Greece was occupied by the Nazis. Athens suffered greatly during the occupation and the civil war that followed. After the war a big influx of people from islands and villages seeking work caused the city to grow considerably. In 1981 Greece entered the European Union which brought funding and investment to the city. Athens faced two major problems: highly congested traffic and badly polluted air. The air was so bad it was threatening the ancient monuments not to mention the health of the inhabitants.
The city has seen some dramatic changes since the 1990s. The EU funds made several new construction projects possible, for example, the new airport and the new metro system. The problem of polluted air is being tackled by restricting the use of cars in the city center. The 2004 Olympic Games helped restore some of the city’s old magnificence
Greeks are very demonstrative and affectionate. Nodding your head "yes" is not polite; say "yes" instead. "Yes" is signified by a slight downward nod of the head; “no" is a slight upward nod of the head. The “O.K.” sign is a rude gesture (making an ‘O’ shape with your thumb and forefinger). Instead use an acceptable way of gesturing ‘OK’ by making a fist and pointing your thumb to the sky. Always bring the hostess a gift when invited to someone's home. Give: expensive wines, brandy, pastries, whiskey, cut flowers. Do not give: inexpensive wines, knives, sharp objects. Business gifts are commonly exchanged among business colleagues. Give: expensive wines, something for the home, Greek handicrafts, gifts with company logo. Do not give: inexpens ive wines, sharp objects. Dress conservatively when visiting monasteries or churches: no bare arms or legs. Don't wear swimwear anywhere except on the beach. Tipping: Check the bill to see if the tip is already included, as usually, there is already a 15% gratuity included. You may also wish to leave an additional tip on the table for those who wait the tables.
Athens is a generally a safe destination and crime rates are relatively low. You can walk safely down almost any street, day or night. But take precautions against pickpockets when strolling in the Omonia Square area late at night.
If riding a trolley or subway at rush hour, make sure your wallet or handbag is secure.
Women should avoid holding their handbags on the street-side hand – there have been several incidents of bikers snatching them.
Petty theft is on the rise, unfortunately (as are instances of rape and disorderliness on the islands, generally carried out by drunken foreign visitors).
Petty crime rises during the peak tourist season, so practice general precaution. Do not carry valuables with you, and leave excess money and documents in the hotel safe.
Do avoid the small Platia Vathis northwest of Omonia Place, which is a nightly meeting point for drug dealers. Male singles should avoid touts who invite them into a local bar close to Syntagma Square. The friendly man disappears after a few drinks and leaves the tourist with a hefty bill to pay.
Tap water is drinkable. Avoid dehydration in hot summer months by drinking enough liquids and wearing a hat.
The best time to travel to Athens is during spring and autumn months; May, June, September and October. Summers can be extremely hot and crowded. Winters can be quite cold with the majority of rainfall occurring between mid-October and mid-April but the off season offers lower prices and the city is as lively as ever.