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Athens - Greece
Filled with ancient monuments and museums dedicated to Greek art, visiting Athens is like taking a trip back in time. The city's recorded history goes back over three millennia, and its impact on Western culture and politics is undeniable. Experience the excitement of walking in the footsteps of Plato and standing in the temples of the Greek gods, all the while enjoying what the modern, cosmopolitan city has to offer.
The most memorable part of your visit to Athens could very well be the ascent to the Acropolis. The magnificent Parthenon, built on top of the hill in the 5th Century BCE, is one of the greatest architectural masterpieces of all time. Within the vicinity, you'll find the Theatre of Dionysus, the world's oldest theater and an architectural marvel. Great plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were first performed in this open-air space with perfect acoustical clarity to crowds of 250,000.
Many major archaeological sites are also located around the Acropolis. A bit to the west, you'll find the Pnyx (the birthplace of democracy), where Athenian citizens assembled and voted on major political issues. If you venture north, you'll be able to stroll through the Attalos Arcade in the Ancient Agora (ancient marketplace) as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle once did. Other famed monuments in the area include the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Keramikos Cemetery and the Hephaistos Temple.
Syntagma Square is the heart of modern Athens. It is home to the majestic Parliament Building, which was built in 1840 as the Royal Palace. The hourly changing of the guard in front of Parliament by soldiers dressed in colorful traditional costumes is a great photo opportunity. All major attractions such as Plaka, the Acropolis, the National Garden, the museums of Vassilissis Sophias Avenue and the upscale boutiques of Kolonaki and Ermou Street are only a short walk away. The Syntagma Metro Station features an exhibition of archaeological finds.
Plaka, the picturesque old town of Athens, is perched on the north and east slopes of the Acropolis. It has been continuously inhabited for over 5000 years. You will need several days to explore all the treasures hidden in its narrow streets, most of which are closed to traffic. Few other places are so filled with historic sites - ancient monuments, Byzantine churches, mosques and stately 19th-century houses all stand side by side here. Scattered throughout these quarters are sidewalk cafes, tavernas hidden in vine-covered backyards, and shops selling clothes, handicrafts and exotic souvenirs. This lively neighborhood is an inviting place for a leisurely stroll.
One of the most unusual sights in Plaka is the Lysicrates Monument, which dates back to the 4th Century BCE. Anafiotika, a tiny Cycladic village consisting of picturesque white-washed houses, is also a popular attraction. Plaka also features Byzantine churches from the 11th and 12th Centuries, such as the Church of Panagia Gorgoepikoos.
Among other must-see sights is the Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds, which dates back to the 1st Century BCE. The Kanellopoulos Museum and Museum of Greek Folk Art are a great place to learn about ancient Greek and Byzantine art. The beautifully restored old mansions of Plaka also house other museums including the Museum of Popular Instruments, the Greek Museum of Childhood and the Vlassis Frissiras Museum of Contemporary European Art.
The Monastiraki Flea Market is located on the narrow streets between Monastiraki Square, the Ancient Agora and Assomaton Square. Overlooking Monastiraki Square is the Tzisdarakis Mosque, which features a splendid pottery collection. A short stroll away is the Central Market on Athinas Street which offers an overwhelming variety of seafood, meat and vegetables.
Psirri, Thissio & Gazi
Psirri was once a run-down neighborhood, but has been transformed into the trendiest entertainment district in Athens. Its narrow streets are teeming with traditional tavernas, elegant restaurants, fashionable bars and art galleries.
A brief walk towards the Acropolis will bring you to Thissio, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods. Its beautifully restored mansions now house gourmet restaurants, hot nightspots and cozy cafes.
The Gazi district is home to several large nightclubs and impressively styled restaurants. This area takes its name from a former gas factory which was later transformed into the Gazi Technopolis cultural center.
The section of Vassilissis Sophias Avenue between Syntagma Square and the Hilton features several world-class museums that attract thousands of visitors each year. The newly renovated Benaki Museum contains a huge collection highlighting 8000 years of Greek history. The Museum of Cycladic Art specializes in splendid prehistoric works of art from the Aegean Islands, while the Byzantine Museum deals with medieval Greece. The history of warfare from prehistoric times until the 20th Century comes alive at the War Museum. More peaceful exhibits can be found at the National Art Gallery, which features magnificent works of contemporary Greek art.
The streets around Kolonaki Square feature the most elegant boutiques in Athens. The square itself (officially named Filikis Eterias) is the favorite meeting place of celebrities and beautiful people. They can be seen hanging out at any of Kolonaki's numerous cafés after a shopping spree, or lounging in the excellent gourmet restaurants and chic bars at night. Kolonaki lies on the slopes of Lykavittos Hill, the city's best vantage point.
The scenery changes just a few blocks away from elegant Kolonaki. The area around Exarhion Square is dominated by rock music bars, jazz clubs and traditional tavernas which are frequented by students and intellectuals.
Panepistimiou & Stadiou Streets
These two streets connect Syntagma Square with Omonia Square. As well as shops and restaurants, they feature some of the city's most beautiful 19th-century buildings. Among them is the so-called Panepistimiou Street (officially named El. Venizelou Street), along with the university and National Library. The historic Iliou Melathron Mansion now houses the Numismatic Museum and the National History Museum.
Omonia is the busiest square in the city. This once neglected part of Athens has recently been upgraded with the opening of a new metro station. Many of the inexpensive but shabby stores typical of the area have now been replaced by trendy boutiques.
Patission Street (officially named 28 Oktovriou Street) is one of the city's major thoroughfares. At No. 42 is the majestic Technical University, a splendid example of 19th-century architecture. Next door is the National Archaeological Museum, one of the world's greatest museums, housing an outstanding collection of ancient Greek art. Many fine boutiques can be found further north, past Kodringtonos Street. The best place to rest after a shopping spree is in any one of the numerous cafes and tavernas of the Fokionos Negri pedestrian zone in Kypseli.
Piraeus - the port town of Athens - is located on a peninsula, ten kilometers (six miles) southwest of central Athens. It features a busy commercial port and a Sunday flea market in the streets near the metro station. The most picturesque part of Piraeus is the Mikrolimano fishing harbor, with its row of traditional fish restaurants. Other good places for eating fish are the numerous seafood eateries of Akti Themistokleous Street, on the peninsula's eastern coast. Traces of the area's 2500-year-old history can be found at the Piraeus Archaeological Museum.
Glyfada & Vouliagmeni
The city's southern suburbs are located along the Apollo Coast and feature a string of beaches as well as numerous restaurants and nightclubs. One of these suburbs, Glyfada, boasts a golf course, an excellent shopping area on Metaxa Street and elegant restaurants and bars. Further south you'll find the exclusive resort town of Vouliagmeni, renowned for its luxurious hotels, sophisticated restaurants and sailing clubs. The resort also features excellent beaches and water sports facilities at the Astir Beach Club.
The northern suburb of Kifissia is the destination of choice for the wealthy. The real estate prices in this area are actually some of Europe's highest. Visiting the district's historic landmark hotels, excellent French restaurants and exclusive boutiques is the best way to spend money in style! Visit MaxMara on Kolokotroni Street, Boutique Kostetsos on Argiropoulou Street, and pick up a fine bottle of wine to finish off the night at Cellier, one of Athens' oldest and best wine shops.