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Athens, is the capital city of Greece with a metropolitan population of 3.7 million inhabitants. It is in many ways the birthplace of Classical Greece, and therefore of Western civilization.

Districts

AcropolisPlaces of interest to travellers can be found within a relatively small area surrounding the city centre at Syntagma Square (Plateia Syntagmatos). This epicentre is surrounded by the districts of the Plaka to the south, Monastiraki to the west, Kolonaki to the east and Omonia to the north. Further afield is the port of Athens, the Piraeus.

  • The Acropolis— The ancient "high city" of Athens, crowned by marble temples sacred to the city's goddess Athena.
  • Plaka, Monastiraki and Thissio— Charming historic districts at the foot of the Acropolis, with restored 19th century neoclassical homes, pedestrianized streets, shops and restaurants, and picturesque ruins from the city's Roman era.
  • Kifissia— The northern part of Athens, rarely visited by tourists.
  • Nea Smyrni— The southern part of Athens, it is a modern European district.
  • Kolonaki— Upscale residential area with many cafes, boutiques and galleries.
  • Omonia and Exarheia— Formerly seedy district, it is now home to Greece's students, anarchists and the National Archeaological Museum, somewhat revitalized by the metro.
  • Pangrati and Mets— These adjoining pleasant residential neighborhoods south of Lycabettos and east of the National Garden are rarely frequented by tourists, but they do include a few hotels and a number of good traditional tavernas.
  • Piraeus— The ancient port of Athens, Piraeus is today an independent, heavily industrial municipality located southwest of Athens, whose modern-day port serves almost all of Attica's ferry connections to Crete and the Aegean Islands.
  • Psiri— Former industrial district, now full of trendy and alternative restaurants, cafés, bars, and small shops.
  • Syntagma Square (Plateia Syntagmatos)— Dominated by the old Royal Palace, Syntagma Square is the business district of Athens, complete with major hotels, banks, restaurants and airline offices.

Climate

Spring and late autumn are the best times to visit Athens. Summer can be extremely hot and dry during heatwaves, but this rarely happens. Winter is definitely low season, with the occasional rainy or snowy day, but also an ideal time to save money while enjoying the city without countless other travellers and tourists.

Whilst peak hour can still be a bit smoggy on the main roads, on most sunny days the skies are azure blue. The main bad impression of the pollution of Athens is given because Athens is enclosed by mountains and a basin is created which does not let the smog leave. However, the government's ban on diesel vehicles within Athens and the early 1990s motives to change the car fleet have greaty contributed to considerably better atmospheric conditions nowadays.

Get in (by plane)

Athens airport is a major hub in the Aegean, Balkan and East Mediterranean regions. Continental, Delta and Olympic maintain non-stop flights from North America, while a large number of European carriers fly direct into Athens.

The airport

The new Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport [1] 27 km (17 miles) east of the city center, near the suburb of Spáta, opened in 2001 as part of the infrastructure improvements in preparation for the Olympics and is now one of the more attractive and efficient major European airports, though some old Athenian hands say they miss the "Port Said" atmosphere of the old Hellenikon. The airport has excellent public transit connections to the city (see below) and the usual array of food stands, duty-free shops, and other airport services.

There is a Tourist information station in Arrivals that will have the latest literature put out by the Tourist Information Department; this is useful for getting information of arranged local festivities in Athens and Attica. They will also have a printed brochure of Ferry information from Piraeus and other Attica ports.

There is also a small museum on the top floor that has an interesting history on Athens as well as a space put aside for temporary exhibits.

You are going to need euro coins if you want a trolley for your luggage; trolleys are available at the airport, you will find them in the baggage hall on arrival and they use coins the same way supermarket trolleys do. You insert your coin, and you get it back by placing the trolley back to its original position.

From the airport to the city

From the airport you can reach the city: 

Trains

  • By Metro [3] to the city center for €6. Group tickets (2 or 3 persons) are also available and they provide some discount (see below). T h e air port Metro line is an extension of Line 3 (blue line) that takes you to the downtown Syntagma and Monastiráki stations. 
Don't forget to validate your ticket before going down to the platform and boarding a train (there are validation machines at the top of the escalators in the ticket hall). Failure to validate your ticket at the start of the journey can mean a fine of up to €120. The ticket inspectors are rigorous and won't hesitate to call for police assistance if you start to object.
Those taking the Metro from Athens to the airport should note that not all trains go to the airport; typically the airport trains run every half hour, while trains in the intervals don't go the whole route. Airport trains are indicated on the schedule and by an airplane logo on the front of the train, they are also announced by the signs on the metro platform. It's useful to go to the Metro station the day before, explain to the agent (most speak English) when you need to be at the airport, and ask what time you should catch the airport train from that station. You can also get this information at the airport metro station, which has a desk staffed most hours by someone who speaks English. It's possible but not necessary to buy your ticket in advance; buying in advance though means you won't risk missing your train if you find at the last minute you don't have change for the ticket machines and have to stand in a line to buy it from the agent.
  • By suburban railway to Larissis Railway Station for € 6. Change from there to Line 2 of the subway that takes you to:
    • the downtown Omónia and Syntagma stations.
    • Northern Greece and the Peloponnese, by train.
  • By bus: X92 to Kifissia, X93 to Kifissos Coach Station, X94 to Ethniki Amyna metro station (subway Line 3), X95 to Syntagma Square (subway Lines 2 and 3), X96 to Piraeus (subway Line 1) and X97 to Dafni metro station (subway Line 2) for €3.60. It takes 45 min to 1.5 hrs depending on traffic. Buses, unlike Metro, operate 24 hours a day.
  • By taxi for € 30-35: If you take a taxi be careful. Make sure that the meter is switched on and shows tariff 1 (tariff 2 applies after midnight and is twice as expensive).

It is advisable to grab a free copy of city transport map in the airport – in the city it is extremely helpful.

Get around

Public transport in Athens has improved by leaps and bounds in the last ten years. The simple €1 ticket lets you travel on any means of transport — metro, suburban trains, trams, trolleybuses, buses — with unlimited transfers anywhere within Athens (except the metro airport line east of Doukissis Plakentias and the airport buses) for 90 minutes, and you can also get a €3 ticket valid for 24 hours or a €10 weekly ticket. 

See

At first glance, Athens seems entirely to be composed of nasty, four- to six-story concrete buildings, lacking character and badly in need of a paint, but if you look beyond that, you will find little gems tucked in amongst the grey. The areas at the foot of the Acropolis, Anafiotika, Plaka, Monastiraki and Thissio are home to many wonderful Neoclassical buildings, trendy and traditional cafes and shops, narrow winding streets, and incredible views of the Acropolis. Little Greek Orthodox churches are tucked in amongst the concrete, often in the most unexpected places. These are usually beautifully decorated with icons and brass fixtures inside, but make sure you're appropriately dressed (no short sleeves or bare legs is a good rule of thumb, as a mark of respect).

  • For the best views of Athens, head to the top of Lycavittos Hill. You can either walk from Kolonaki (the path starts 15 minutes from Evangelismos metro stop, and will take 30 minutes to talk up the winding, but paved and not steep, path) or you can take the funicular railway (3€ one-way, 6€ round trip) from the top of Ploutarchou Street in Kolonaki. Either way, be sure to wear flat shoes, and bring lots of water in the summer! From the top you can see the whole city, the port of Piraeus and, on a clear day, the island of Aegina and the Peloponnese. Have a drink at the cafe there, and pay a visit to the chapel of St George.
  • If you're lucky enough to be in Athens for the Easter Weekend, you'll see the spectacular sight of hundreds of people making their candlelit way down the hill on Easter Saturday night as part of the Easter Vigil procession.

Landmarks

  • The Acropolis, a Unesco World Heritage Site, [14] was the ancient fortified town of Athens, dating back to the Late Bronze Age, and the site of the best buildings of the Greek Classical age: the Parthenon, the Erectheion, the Temple of Athena Nike. If you attend a university in the European Union, bring your ID and you can enter for free. The normal entrance price is 12 euros. This ticket also gives you entry to the Kerameikos, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Roman Agora, Ancient Agora, and the nearby Theatre of Dionysus. If possible, get there early to avoid heavy crowds, and summer heat when relevant.
  • The Ancient Agora— The site of the Ancient Agora in a very green space and a very beautiful view of the Acropolis. You will see the Temple of Hephaestus, the best preserved ancient Greek temple, the Attalos Stoa, the museum of the agora which is a reconstructed ancient building. From the agora you can walk towards Acropolis. Extension of the agora is the Roman Forum.
  • Syntagma Square— Check out the Parliament building and the newly-restored Grande Bretagne Hotel. Also, catch the changing of the guards in front of the Parliament every hour on the hour. Their uniforms and walking style is fun to see but make sure you don't stand on the wrong side of them if you want to take a picture. If you accidentally do so, they will knock their gun and, as they are not allowed to speak, someone else from the guard will kindly ask you to change position.
  • The Kerameikos— The site of the ancient cemetery of Athens. It also houses the Dipylon Gate, where the Panathenaic procession would begin. It has a museum showcasing many of the grave stele and other archaeological items found on the grounds.
  • The Temple of Olympian Zeus— Only the ruins remain today. The column that has fallen and can still be seen on pieces was brought down during a thunderstorm about a century ago. The 1896 Olympic Stadium and Hadrian's Arch are located nearby,
  • Panathinaiko Stadium— The stadium that housed the first modern day Olympic Games of 1896. Its an enormous, white, marble stadium, with a horseshoe configuration stadium.
  • Lycabettus Hill— A 200m hill bordering the Kolonaki district. You can reach the top by walking or by a funicular railway [small ticket charge]. There is a cafe-restaurant with a great view of Athens towards the sea. From halfway up looking towards the sea there are astonishing views of the Parthenon with the blue of the sea glimpsed between its columns.

Museums and Galleries

Because of its antiquity and influence, Athens is full of museums and galleries. The major ones are the National Archeological Museum near Omonia, the New Acropolis Museum by the Acropolis, the Benaki and Cycladic Art Museums in Kolonaki, the Agora Museum near Monastiraki, and the Kanellopoulos and Folk Art Museums in Plaka. Details of these and others will be found in the district sections. 

Arts and Culture

The visual arts enjoy a big share in the Athenian cultural and everyday life. Next to big institutions such as the National Gallery and the Benaki Museum, a big number of small private galleries are spread within the city centre and the surrounding areas, hosting the works of contemporary visual and media artists. In recent years a number of bar galleries have sprung up, where you can have a drink or a coffee whilst visiting an exhibition.

  • The National Art Gallery is located at Michalakopoulou Street, close to Evangelismos metro station and is one of Greece's main art institutions and features paintings and works of art from some of Greece's and Europe's best from the 19th and 20th centuries. Emphasis is given to popular Greek contemporary artists including Giannis Tsarouchis, Domenikos Theotokopoulos (a.k.a. El Greco), Theodors Vrizakis, Nikolaos Kounelakis, Nikiforos Litras, Konstantinos Parthenis, Maleas, Giannis Moralis and others
  • The City of Athens Technopolis, an industrial museum of incomparable architecture - among the most interesting in the world, has been transformed into a multipurpose cultural space. The centre has assisted in the upgrading of a historic Athens district and the creation of yet another positive element in Athens' cultural identity. Technopolis is located at Peiraios Avenue & Persefonis Street, right next to the Kerameikos metro station (line 3).

Entertainment

Theater and Performing Arts

Athens is home to 148 theatrical stages, more than any other city in the world, including the famous ancient Herodes Atticus Theatre, home to the Athens Festival, which runs from May to October each year. In addition to a large number of multiplexes, Athens plays host to a variety of romantic, open air garden cinemas. The city also supports a vast number of music venues, including the Athens Concert Hall, known as the "Mégaron Musikis", which attracts world-famous artists all year round.

Buy

Although a huge city, Athens has relatively few shopping malls or large department stores; the small, family run shop still conquers all. Souvenirs are of course available everywhere that tourists go. Other shopping opportunities are antiques, museum reproductions, embroideries and other folk art goods, and Greek food and drink products. Here is an overview of the Athens shopping scene; detailed listings will be found on the relevant district pages:

  • Plaka is lined with souvenir shops, most of them selling cheap souvenir knick-nacks, though there are a few higher-quality shops here and there. Prices can be high for quality items.
  • Kolonaki is the upscale, hip, and artistic shopping area. Another is Kifissia.
  • For a more reasonable price tag, try Ermou Street, beside Syntagma Square. Turn right off Ermou at the MAC makeup shop and you'll find yourself on Aghiou Markou and other small streets which are home to incredibly cheap shoes, bags, jewellery, gifts, homewares, and so on.
  • The Mall at the Metro Station "Neratziotissa" (Line 1) is the biggest shopping mall in Athens with a large variety of shops, cafés and restaurants and, arguably, one of the most "hi tec" cinemas in the city.
  • The Golden Hall is a shopping mall at Kifissias avenue in Maroussi and includes shops with luxury brands, as well as luxury cafés, bars and restaurants.
  • The Athens Heart is a shopping mall close to the center of Athens.
  • Street vendors, with their wares laid out on blankets on the pavement, can be found in many places where tourists congregate, especially in Plaka and Monastiraki. Their goods are mostly forgeries, cheap knock-offs, and illegal CDs. These vendors are unlicensed, which is in violation of Greek law, and you may notice them vanishing as soon as a policeman is in sight, to reappear the instant the police have gone. They are best ignored. (This warning doesn't apply to vendors of fruit, nuts, etc. from street carts, who are usually legitimate.)

Eat

  • For quick, decent and low-budget meals that do not fall into the commercialized fast food category, try a so uvlaki' (pronounced so o- VL A H- kee), main ly g rilled meat (pork, chicken, it's your choice) vegetables (tomato and onion slices) and greek 'tzatziki' (pronounced tzah-TZEE-khee) which is yogurt enriched with g arlic and cucumber. All the above (often accompanied by french fries) are wrapped inside a thin slice of pan bread, named 'pita' (PEE-tah). Prices of 'souvlaki' vary according to the confidence and/or nerve of the cornershop owner, but usually you can get one from €1.70 to €2.20; add some soda, salad and french fries and you can have lunch f or no more than €7 - if you ask for a take away, the price is considerably cheaper than if you sit at a table. You can get souvlaki jus t about everywhere, especially where to urists roam, though they are a bit more expensive in those regions. The best souvlaki stands in central Athens are both in Monastiraki, adjacent to each other and just off the main square in front of the Metro stop: Savvas at Mitropoleas 86-88 and O Thanasis at Mitropoleos 69.
  • If you're interested in a sandwich, cheese pie, spinach pie or the equivalent of a fast snack, try Grigoris (Γρηγόρης) or Everest, two chains of fast food to be found in most districts of Athens and the rest of Greece. Goody's is the Greek equivalent of Mac Donald's and offers a fair variety of tasty meals, including pasta, different salads, burgers etc.

For listings of specific restaurants, see the individual district sections, especially Kolonaki and Plaka.

Drink

  • Greeks love to socialize, and Athens buzzes long after its other European counterparts have laid their heads down to sleep. 8PM is the earliest most Greeks will consider going to eat out, and clubbers start to get ready at about midnight. Note that many Athens clubs relocate to the beach during the summer months. Cafes spill onto the streets and the sound of lively conversation is everywhere in the evenings.
  • Have a frappé, the delicious Greek version of cold coffee. Being a Greek invention, it is absolutely nothing like the frappé you find in other countries of the world. Served sweet, medium, or without sugar, with or without milk. Delicious with Bailey's too.
  • A 'club zone' is located in the coastal zone, running to the east- if you go there and you are lucky, you can actually get to listen to non-Greek music. There are also many clubs and pubs in the center of Athens.
  • Go to the Psyrrí area (Monastiraki or Thisseio stop, Lines 1 and 3 and Line 1 respectively) for a number of smart bars and small clubs. It is the area immediately north of Ermou street between these two metro stops.
  • The area north of Ermou street between Monastiraki and Syntagma has seen a considerably rise in the number and quality of bars during recent years. Aiolou and Kolokotroni streets both offer a fair variety of cafés and bars. Magazé, 6dogs, Booze and all the bars on Karytsi square (a small square at the end of Christou Lada street, behind Klafthmonos square on Stadiou avenue) can get very busy on Fridays and Saturdays, with visitors having their drinks even on the streets outside from spring through autumn, when the weather is nice.
  • The area around the Kerameikos station, called Gazi (Γκάζι, gas) has been the gay village of Athens for quite a few years. Since the opening of the metro station, in 2007, the neighbourhood has attracted all kinds of crowds. This is a home to dozens of bars, cafés and clubs, gay or not, as well as to small theatrical scenes, the latter one especially to the northeast of the area, towards Metaxourgeio.
Balux, Vassileos Georgiou B No. 58 Asteria, Glyfada, [17]. Arguably one of the best bars in Athens for the specific style, to call it a bar is an understaement. Balux is large complex set right on the water in Glyfada, one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the city. It is open during the summer for swimming in the ocean or pool all day and turns into a lounge and full club at night. Where Athen's wealthy go to party.

Contact

There are many free wireless hotspots across the city. Wi-Fi internet connection is available at Syntagma Square, Kotzia Square and Theseion. Alternatively, you can go to one of the many internet cafés located in the center of the city. Many bars, restaurants and cafes offer free wi-fi for their guests.

The mobile network (3G/GPRS/GSM) covers the whole city. Also, public phones are found all over the city and phone cards are available from most kiosks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Updated on Friday, 14 May 2010 11:22
 
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