The Acropolis

Although Athens, together with its suburbs and port, sprawls across the plain for more than 240 square km (150 square miles), most of its ancient monuments cluster around the Acropolis, which rises like a massive sentinel, white and beautiful, out of the center of the city. In mountainous Greece, most ancient towns were backed up by an acropolis, an easily defensible upper town (which is what the word means), but when spelled with a capital A it can only refer to antiquity's most famously splendid group of buildings.

Towering over the modern metropolis of 4.5 million as it once stood over the ancient capital of 50,000, it has remained Athens's most spectacular attraction ever since its first settlement around 5000 BC. It had been a religious center long before Athens became a major city-state in the 6th century BC. It has been associated with Athena ever since the city's mythical founding, but virtually all of the city's other religious cults had temples or shrines here as well. As Athens became the dominant city-state in the 5th century BC, Pericles led the city in making the Acropolis the crowning symbol of Athenian power and successful democracy.

An elegant and tranquil neighborhood on the foothills of the Acropolis, Makriyianni was really put on the map by the opening of the nearby Acropolis Museum and is one of the most coveted residential areas of the city, both for its exclusive ambience and beautiful examples of neoclassical architecture; indeed, it is now considered one of the most up-and-coming districts of the capital. Explore the streets south of the museum to discover artsy new shops like Athena Design Workshop, Greek delis like Ellinika Kaoudia and Pelasgea, galleries (the Eleni Marnieri Galerie is a treasure trove of modern jewelry designs to ogle at or buy), the classic Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum, and hip "third-wave" coffee shops like Coffee Dive. Stop for lunch at Strofi, Peloponnesian cuisine–centered Mani Mani or Attalos Greek House Restaurant.

Adjacent, and serviced by Fix and Acropolis metro stations, Koukaki is one of the most sought-after residential areas of Athens. In recent years it has become one of the most fashionable places for seeing and being seen (also recently eulogized by Vogue), at bars like Bobo Winebar and Bel Ray Cafe in popular Faliron Square. A resurgence of the area, also inspired by the spanking-new National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), a massive structure that was once a beer factory, has followed the pedestrianization of G. Olympiou Street on Koukaki Square.

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