Although Athens covers a huge area, the major landmarks of the ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine periods are close to the modern city center. You can easily walk from the Acropolis to many other key sites, taking time to browse in shops and relax in cafés and tavernas along the way. From many quarters of the city you can glimpse the Acropolis looming above the horizon, but only by actually climbing that rocky precipice can you feel its power. The Acropolis and Filopappou, two verdant hills sitting side by side; the ancient Agora (marketplace); and Kerameikos, the first cemetery, form the core of ancient and Roman Athens. Along the Unification of Archaeological Sites promenade, you can follow stone-paved, tree-lined walkways from site to site, undisturbed by traffic. Cars have also been banned or reduced in other streets in the historical center. In the National Archaeological Museum, vast numbers of artifacts illustrate the many millennia of Greek civilization; smaller museums such as the Museum of Cycladic Art and the Byzantine and Christian Museum beautifully and elaborately illuminate the history of particular regions or periods.
Athens may seem like one huge city, but it is really a conglomeration of neighborhoods with distinctive characters. The Eastern influences that prevailed during the 400-year rule of the Ottoman Empire are still evident in Monastiraki. On the northern slope of the Acropolis, stroll through Plaka to get the flavor of the 19th century's gracious lifestyle. The narrow lanes of Anafiotika thread past tiny churches and small color-washed houses recalling a Cycladic island village. Vestiges of the older city are everywhere: crumbling stairways lined with festive tavernas, occasionally a court garden enclosed within high walls and filled with magnolia trees, ancient ruins scattered in sun-blasted corners.
Makriyianni and Koukaki are prime real estate, the latter recently voted sixth-best neighborhood in the world by Airbnb. Formerly run-down old quarters, such as Kerameikos, Gazi-Kerameikos, and Psirri, popular nightlife areas filled with bars and mezedopoleio, have undergone some gentrification, although they retain much of their post-industrial edge. The newly trendy area around Syntagma Square, including the buzzing, gay-friendly café scene at Monastiraki's Ayias Irinis Square, and bleak, noisy Omonia Square, form the commercial heart of the city. Athens is distinctly European, having been designed by the court architects of King Otto, a Bavarian, in the 19th century. The chic shops and bistros of ritzy Kolonaki nestle at the foot of Mt. Lycabettus, Athens's highest hill (909 feet), with a man-made forest. Each of the city's outlying suburbs has a distinctive character: Pangrati, Ambelokipi, and Ilisia are more residential in nature, densely populated, with some lively nightlife hotspots and star attractions like the Panathenaic Stadium and the Athens Concert Hall (Megaron Mousikis).
Just beyond the southern edge of the city is Piraeus, a bustling port city of waterside fish tavernas and Saronic Gulf views that is still connected to Central Athens by metro. And beyond Athens proper, in Attica to the south and southeast, lie Glyfada, Voula, and Vouliagmeni, with their sandy beaches, seaside bars, and lively summer nightlife.