Travel guide to Athens: gods, sunshine, and souvlaki

Destinations

Travel guide to Athens: gods, sunshine, and souvlaki

By Ondřej Koraba
8 February 2020

By Ondřej Koraba | 8 February 2020

For centuries, the living cradle of democracy has served as the immortal reminder of what humanity can accomplish and maintain

There aren’t many places carved in the history of humankind to such extent as Athens. From the invention of democracy to establishing the basics of drama and literature, outstanding architecture and innovation of every aspect of life, the Athenians have always been the pioneers of progress. 

Athens cannot be called Western, nor Eastern. Athens is Greek, and more importantly, Athenian —ColorMaker / Shutterstock Travel guide to Athens: history, incredible food and everlasting sunshine Travel guide to Athens: gods, history, and souvlaki Group Created with Sketch. Athens cannot be called Western nor Eastern. Athens is Greek, and more importantly, Athenian — ColorMaker / Shutterstock

From a group of villages to a bustling metropolis

While strolling through its streets, one cannot miss the variety of Athens’ different faces. With its tall buildings and contemporary shops, it can give the impression of being the first truly European city when approaching it from the East.

However, from the opposite direction, its food, music, and bustling street life give the visitor an undeniable Easter feeling. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to call Athens merely a memory of the Byzantine or the Ottoman Empire, and neither it could be called Western, nor Eastern. Athens is Greek, and more particularly, Athenian. 

Despite having their line of development cut by foreign intruders for a few times in history, the people of Athens have always managed to start where they were forced to halt, to rebuild their heritage and place it on the world’s pedestal. 

While in the middle of the 19th century Athens was but a few villages scattered around the ruins of ancient temples, now the capital of Greece is home to more than 3.7 million inhabitants in its urban area — almost one third of the whole Greek population. 

Like other hilltop sites in ancient Greece, the Acropolis — or the high city — was both the place of worship or refuge when under attack — Shutterstock Travel guide to Athens: history, incredible food and everlasting sunshine Group Created with Sketch. Like other hilltop sites in ancient Greece, the Acropolis — or the high city — was both the place of worship or refuge when under attack — Shutterstock

The metropolis now serves as the country’s political, economic, educational and cultural center and attracts huge numbers of visitors and expats. 

Home to living history

With a plethora of temples, archaeological sites, and museums all around the area, Athens is a paradise for true history enthusiasts.

The city is home to the largest pedestrian zone in Europe. Stretching over 4 kilometers the area features an archaeological park that includes some of the numerous historical landmarks the city brims over with. Visitors can walk along the Ancient Agora, the Acropolis, Keramikos, or other places figures such as Pericles, Socrates or Plato strolled through in their everyday lives.

Like other hilltop sites in ancient Greece, the Acropolis — or the high city — was both the place of worship or refuge when under attack. Being the lasting testament of the Greek golden age, the sacred sites were built in the 5th century BCE. 

Pantheon might have easily been the mightiest temple in the ancient world — Shutterstock Travel guide to Athens: history, incredible food and everlasting sunshine Group Created with Sketch. Pantheon might have easily been the mightiest temple in the ancient world — Shutterstock

Crowned by the mighty Parthenon temple, the site rises above modern Athens as the historical, cultural and literal highpoint. Once dedicated to the virgin god of wisdom and war, Athena, the massive structure, that might have easily been the mightiest temple in the ancient world, now relies on the support of modern cranes.  

At the foot of the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora — or a marketplace — sprawls out from a surviving temple. For three thousand years Athenians gathered here to exchange goods, as well as news and gossip, making it the cultural hotspot of the old times.

While the Acropolis was the center or worship and ancient ceremonies, the Agora played the role of a beating heart of Athens where the roots of modern politics, culture, and science emerged during the times of Plato or Aristotle. 

With colourful and cosy streets featuring many restaurants and souvenir shops. Plaka offers the calmer and more intimate of Athens — Nejdet Duzen / Shutterstock Travel guide to Athens: history, incredible food and everlasting sunshine Group Created with Sketch. With colourful and cosy streets featuring many restaurants and souvenir shops, Plaka offers the calmer and more intimate side of Athens — Nejdet Duzen / Shutterstock

Explore the oasis of tranquillity inside a buzzing city

Like many of major civilizations, ancient Greece had its peak and then it slowly vanished under the rule of their usurpers. To regain a majestic facade, Athens underwent a massive development in the 19th century. To explore the neoclassical style brought to the city during that period, head to Plaka. 

Plaka offers the calmer and more intimate side of Athens, with colorful and cozy streets featuring many restaurants and souvenir shops, and mainly, lack of cars and noisy transportation. 

To escape the speed and noise of the metropolis even more, head to Anafiotika. Built in the 19th century by the people who moved to Athens seeking work, this tiny oasis of tranquillity nestled beneath the walls of the Acropolis makes the buzz and hustle of Athens seem miles away. 

Picturesque Anafiotika was built in the 19th century by the people who moved to Athens seeking work — Shutterstock Travel guide to Athens: history, incredible food and everlasting sunshine Group Created with Sketch. Picturesque Anafiotika was built in the 19th century by the people who moved to Athens seeking work — Shutterstock

To soak in the national pride of modern Greece, head to the Syntagma square. Guarded by flamboyant soldiers in peculiar uniforms, the royal palace now serves as the seat of the Greek parliament. 

Syntagma square — or constitution square —  remains a place of national importance. It was right there where the king promised a constitution to the Greek people after regaining the independence from the Ottoman Turks in the 19th century.

Soldiers guard the royal palace which now serves as the seat of the Greek parliament— Shutterstock Travel guide to Athens: history, incredible food and everlasting sunshine Group Created with Sketch. Soldiers guard the royal palace which now serves as the seat of the Greek parliament— Shutterstock

Nowadays, Syntagma square belongs to the most crowded hubs in Athens with the largest metro station, a number of restaurants, cafes, and benches shadowed by trees that offer a short refuge from the strong Greek sun. 

As the birthplace of the Olympic Games tradition, Athens can give you the notion of how ancient Greeks appreciated the culture of kalokagathia, the balance between a strong mind and body alike.

The all-marble Panathenaic Stadium hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896— Shutterstock Travel guide to Athens: history, incredible food and everlasting sunshine Group Created with Sketch. The all-marble Panathenaic Stadium hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896— Shutterstock

As the only city in the world, Athen prides itself with a multi-purpose sports center made entirely of marble. After being refurbished, the Panathenaic Stadium — or Kallimarmaro — hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 while 4 of the 9 contested sports took place in the stadium as well.

Immerse into Mediterranean flavors

Visit to Athens would not be even half the experience without trying the colorful supply of traditional dishes. As no Greek would take food lightly, there is the option of getting a Souvlaki, Saganaki, or Moussaka almost everywhere across the metropolis. 

Greek cuisine is famous for its healthy and regional ingredients— Shutterstock Travel guide to Athens: history, incredible food and everlasting sunshine Group Created with Sketch. Greek cuisine is famous for its healthy and regional ingredients — Shutterstock

Greek cuisine famously belongs to the healthiest and tastiest at the same time. The food underlines Mediterranean freshness and authentic taste, and it usually consists of local ingredients, mainly based on vegetables, olives and cheese, and the gifts of the sea. No Greek dinner could be served without the variety of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini or aubergines, as well as fish and seafood. 

Transport in Athens

Athens can easily be called one of the busiest hubs in the Aegean, Balkan, and East Mediterranean regions. Built in 2001 for the occasion of Athens being the host of the Olympic Games, its Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport belongs to the most passenger-friendly and efficient in the whole of Europe.

Located 27 kilometers from the center, the airport provides a plethora of connections. The airport Metro line – an extension of the city’s Line 3 – heads to the downtown Syntagma and Monastiráki stations. 

Passengers can also use the suburban railway to Larissis Railway Station or express bus service to various stations across the metropolis. 

Athens is also easily accessible by boat with the ancient and still functioning port Piraeus acting as the marine gateway to the city.

The whole city is connected by a metro system that has three lines in total.  Some stations exhibit artifacts found during excavations for the system, which make the ride resemble an extraordinary visit to a museum. 

There are also three tram lines that connect the metropolis with the southern suburbs, as well as diesel buses, natural gas buses and electric trolleybuses run by the Athens Urban Transport Organisation. As driving in the city can be rather stressful, it is recommended to leave your car at home.