From the Parthenon to other ancient ruins, the past looms large in Athens
Tip: For the true museum junkie, buy the USD10 Athens Museums ticket package, which gives you access to the archaeological, epigraphical, numismatic, and Byzantine and Christian museums.
There’s no denying it: The Acropolis is one of Europe’s most crowded tourist sites. Avoid the worst of the shuffling hordes by arriving as soon as it opens at 8am and heading straight up the smooth marble paths to the Parthenon. Take in Pericles’ colossal building, a temple to Athena that dates back to the 5th century BC and whose columns tower overhead, before looking down on the Theatre of Dionysus, a vast 17,000-seat venue whose stage has seen masterpieces by Sophocles and Aristophanes, among others.
In 2009, the magnificent Acropolis Museum (theacropolismuseum.gr/en) opened and was immediately heralded as one of Europe’s best museums. Stroll through its light-filled interior, pausing at marble statues and sculptures by Greece’s greatest artists, to reach the top floor and a complete representation of the frieze and metopes as they would have been arranged on the Parthenon. Many marbles are missing, some because they’ve never been found, others because they’re in the British Museum in London.
Get a quick taste of the Greek Isles by getting pleasantly lost in the narrow whitewashed alleyways of Anafiotika, which burst with bright bougainvillea and tumble down the slopes of the Acropolis toward the ancient streets of Plaka. You could easily snap the perfect Greek holiday postcard shot in this charming ancient neighbourhood.
Take a gourmet tour around the country without leaving the capital, with a buffet lunch at Manas Kouzina Kouzina. Chef Thodoris Fourakis serves dishes such as cuttlefish with spinach and aubergine fritters, each labelled with the Greek region it comes from. Even the drinks are Greek; try an Ouzon soda.
Walk off lunch by pounding the streets of Plaka, the city’s most attractive quarter and one that is largely pedestrianised. Go where the mood takes you – though be sure this includes the forest of columns that is the Roman Forum and the Byzantine church of Ayía Ekateríni.
Finish an afternoon’s exploration at By the Glass (bytheglass.gr), one of the city’s newest bars, which sells only Greek wines. Introductory glasses (25ml) start at just USD0.50; the setting in one
of the arcades in the Syntagma area is beautiful and blissfully
Food is all-important in Athens, so end your time here on a high with delicious traditional dishes at Tzitzikas kai Mermigas. Tuck into a Greek salad, all juicy plump tomatoes and crisp leaves, before tasting the perfect moussaka, cooked with tender lamb, and a smoky chicken souvlaki, a perfect end to your perfect visit.