So much of our civilization started in Ancient Athens, that it makes sense to start your trip to Greece here as well. However, be prepared for a city with all the same developments, conveniences and inconveniences as any of its modern counterparts elsewhere in the world. Many tourists arrive in Athens and expect to find men walking around in togas, trading philosophies a la Plato and Socrates and leaving offerings for Zeus and his children. They expect to find a living, breathing version of Raphael’s School of Athens painting, and are, understandably, disappointed to find urban sprawl and bland architecture standing in its place.
The reason for the discrepancy between the glory of ancient athens and the blandness of athens today is simple: time. The developments that would later shape much of Western Civilization and Western thought began taking place somewhere around the 5th century BC—a very, very long time ago. A lot has changed since the time of Athena, Apollo and the like. Athens actually lost its importance all the way until the mid-nineteenth century, when it was declared the capital of Greece. Architects and urban planners worked hard to construct a new city as worthy of the capital title as its neighbouring ancient predecessor. By the late nineteenth century, the new athens was a pretty attractive place. That changed, however, in the 20th century. World War Two, rapid industrialization and urbanization, and generally bad city planning that would have made the city’s Ancient Athens ancestors cringe turned this once aesthetically pleasing town into just another sprawling metropolis.
None of this means, however, that athens isn’t worth a visit. Quite the contrary. Athens Greece is still pretty much the birthplace of our civilization, and several historical sites worthy of a look remain.
Need proof that athens greence really isn’t all that bad? Consider the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. As a tribute to the first Olympic games, held in Athens Greece all the way back in 1896, the Olympic Committee chose athens Greece as the site of their bicentennial. (Actually, 1896 was just the first version of the modern Olympic Games. However, written records show that Olympic Games were around since 776 BC, and speculation exists that, though undocumented, the Olympics had been around much longer—it was Heracles, better known to some as Hercules, who is credited with their creation.) The announcement of the upcoming Olympics inspired all kinds of improvements to be made to better the athens experience for residents and visitors alike. The historic city center got a facelift. Also, much to the delight of visitors, the city created the Unification of Archaelogical Sights, a tourist-friendly network of pedestrian streets that connects the city's classical-era ruins and monuments.
So now that you know what to expect and, more importantly, what NOT to expect, grab a map and a Greek phrasebook, and explore some of athens greece’s legendary sites.
One thing you’ll notice is the architecture. In a city with as long and varied a history as that of Athens Greece, it’s understandable that you’ll find a diverse, almost confusing mix of architectural styles as you saunter from one neighborhood to another. Keep it all straight with one of the plentiful readily available guided tours, sure to take you past notable athens landmarks like the Athens Academy and the National Library.
Obviously, you’ll also want to have a look at the Acropolis. Perched on a rock overlooking the Athens Greece of today, the Acropolis is home to the site of Ancient Athens. The Acropolis consists of several ancient athens-era buildings, the most notable and widely photographed of which is the Parthenon, a temple built in tribute to the goddess Athena back in the 5th century BC. Restoring the Parthenon is an ongoing project and top priority of the Greek Ministry of Culture, and understandably so: the building’s lavish sculptures are among the most important examples of ancient Greek art, and the building itself is seen as a symbol of Ancient Athens-style democracy.
But don’t neglect the architectural leftovers of more recent history. Many visitors are enthralled by Syntagma Square, home to the old Royal Palace. Nowadays, this particular area of athens houses the Athens Greece business district. Here, you’ll find banks, eateries, hotels and more.
On your way up to the Acropolis, stop off for a look at the Plaka. Located at the foot of the Acropolis, the Plaka is a favorite tourist stop-off and contains 19th-century neoclassical homes, pedestrian streets, shops, restaurants, and ruins from the Roman era of ancient athens. The area is charming and eye-catching, having undergone renovations just before the 2004 Olympic Games. If you like the Plaka, you’ll also like the similar, recently renovated Thissio, sitting just by the Ancient Agora.
If you start to feel the early signs of Ancient Athens overload, fret not. Modern-day Athens has a plethora of trendy, Bohemian neighborhoods to zap you right back into the here and now. Visitor favorites include Monastiraki, Psiri, and Exarhia, neighborhoods which cater strongly to the counter-culture crowd.
For an amazing view of Athens, climb up on one of the city’s eight hills. The Acropolis and Lykavittos are the most widely visited. To get up to the latter, take the funicular railway. You’ll get off to a gorgeous view reaching as far away as the island of Aegina. From here, you can see just how hilly the Athens Greece region actually is; three mountains—Mt. Hymettos, Mt Parnitha and Mt Pendeli—border the greece capital. Also worth visiting is Piraeus, the city’s old port. This port is a bustling one even today, and chances are, if you came in by cruise ship, you may have even docked in the area. This is also where you’ll catch the ferry if your explorations take you further off to Crete or the Aegean Islands. Finally, don’t be shy to check out a Greek Orthodox church or two. Though generally simpler than their Catholic counterparts, Greek Orthodox churches are still beautifully decorated with elaborate frescoes. All the religious folks of athens greece ask is that you dress appropriately; that short-sleeved “My wife went to Athens Greece, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt” may be seen as disrespectful, especially if coupled with a loud pair of skin-bearing shorts.