Athens

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.

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  • 1. Ancient Agora

    Monastiraki | Ruins

    The commercial hub of ancient Athens, the Agora was once lined with statues and expensive shops, the favorite strolling ground of fashionable...Read More

  • 2. Benaki Museum

    Kolonaki | Museum/Gallery

    Greece's oldest private museum received a spectacular addition in 2004, with a hypermodern new branch that looks like it was airlifted in from...Read More

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  • 3. Benizelos Mansion

    Plaka | Historic Home

    Known as "the oldest house in Athens," this Byzantine mansion was once the home of the prestigious Benizelos Paleologou family, and Athens'...Read More

  • 4. Kanellopoulos Museum

    Plaka | Museum/Gallery

    The stately Michaleas Mansion, built in 1884, now showcases the Kanellopoulos family collection. It spans Athens's history from the 3rd century...Read More

  • 5. Kerameikos Cemetery

    Gazi-Kerameikos | Cemetery

    At the western edge of the modern Gazi district lies the wide, ancient green expanse of Kerameikos, the main cemetery in ancient Athens until...Read More

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  • 6. National Archaeological Museum

    Exarcheia | Museum/Gallery

    Many of the greatest achievements in ancient Greek sculpture and painting are housed here in the most important museum in Greece. Artistic highlights...Read More

  • 7. Numismatic Museum Iliou Melathron

    Syntagma | Museum/Gallery

    Even those uninterested in coins might want to visit this museum for a glimpse of the former home of Heinrich Schliemann, who famously excavated...Read More

  • 8. Roman Agora

    Plaka | Ruins

    The city's commercial center from the 1st century BC to the 4th century AD, the Roman Market was a large rectangular courtyard with a peristyle...Read More

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  • 9. Varvakeios Agora

    Monastiraki | Market/Bazaar

    Athens's cacophonous Central Market runs along Athinas Street: on one side are open-air stalls selling fruit and vegetables, with a few stores...Read More

  • 10. Benaki Museum of Islamic Art

    Gazi-Kerameikos | Museum/Gallery

    Housed in a gleaming white neoclassical mansion with a sweeping view of the Kerameikos cemetery (that can be relished over coffee at the rooftop...Read More

  • 11. Byzantine and Christian Museum

    Kolonaki | Museum/Gallery

    One of the few museums in Europe focusing exclusively on Byzantine art displays an outstanding collection of icons, mosaics, tapestries, and...Read More

  • 12. Center of Folk Art and Tradition

    Plaka | Museum/Gallery

    Exhibits in the neoclassical family mansion of folklorist Angeliki Hatzimichali (1895–1965) include detailed costumes, ceramic plates from Skyros...Read More

  • 13. Gennadius Library

    Kolonaki | Library/Archive

    Book lovers who ascend the grand staircase into the hallowed aura of the Reading Room may have difficulty tearing themselves away from this...Read More

  • 14. Greek Folk Art Museum

    Plaka | Museum/Gallery

    The Greek Folk Art Museum (also known as the Modern Greek Culture Museum) encompasses numerous buildings and focuses on folk art from 1650 to...Read More

  • 15. Little Mitropolis

    Plaka | Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    This church snuggles up to the pompous Mitropolis (on the northern edge of Plaka), the ornate Cathedral of Athens. Also called Panayia Gorgoepikoos...Read More

  • 16. Monument of Lysikrates

    Plaka | Memorial/Monument/Tomb

    Located on one of the ancient city's grandest avenues (which once linked the Theater of Dionysus with the Agora), this tempietto-like monument...Read More

  • 17. Municipal Gallery of Athens

    Metaxourgeio | Museum/Gallery

    One of Athens's oldest neoclassical buildings became the new home of the city's Municipal Art Collection in 2010. The former silk factory, designed...Read More

  • 18. Old University Complex

    Kolonaki | Educational Institution

    In the sea of concrete that is Central Athens, this imposing group of white marble buildings, known as the Athenian Trilogy, gleams majestically...Read More

  • 19. Syntagma Square

    Syntagma | Plaza/Square

    At the top of the city's main square stands the Greek Parliament, formerly King Otto's royal palace, completed in 1838 for the new monarchy...Read More

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  • 20. Technopolis

    Gazi-Kerameikos | Museum/Gallery

    Gazi, the neighborhood surrounding this former 19th-century-gasworks-turned-arts-complex, takes its name from the toxic gas fumes that used...Read More

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