High above Athens, Greece, on the Acropolis, the iconic Parthenon shimmers in that fabled Greek light. Nowhere else in this noisy, modern city do the ancient Greeks speak to us as clearly as they do through its soaring lines. Its seemingly straight lines are actually concave; the columns subtly narrow and tilt imperceptibly inward, creating an optical illusion that draws your eyes heavenward. Athens is a city to be savored.
Just as the Parthenon is not exactly as it seems, neither is Athens. It holds some of the most important antiquities of ancient civilization and produced some of the greatest philosophers not just of their times, but in history. At the same time, this intellectual and philosophical capital’s economic problems recently threatened the economic pillars of the European Union--and not for the first time.
It’s hard to pinpoint the one thing that makes Athens so attractive. It’s not just a museum or an olive tree or a local tavern; it’s a vibrant and contemporary city. The three-acre pedestrian mall in the city’s historic center lies in the shadow of the Acropolis. Hadrian’s Arch; the theater of Dionysus, where works by Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus and Aristophanes were performed; and the new Acropolis Museum are just some of what you’ll see here. Then there’s the Plaka neighborhood, whose houses date back to the 19th century, as well as Byzantine architecture and some remnants of the Ottoman period. Then there’s Monastiraki, a characteristic area of “old” Athens.
Some of Athens most beautiful neoclassical buildings are downtown, the district centered on the two main squares of Syntagma and Omonia. For shopping, there’s the pedestrian-friendly Ermou, the street that’s the heart of Athens’ main shopping district and its 2,500 shops. There’s haute couture in Kolonaki and a glimpse of the hustle and bustle of everyday life for Athenians in the glass-and-steel Central Market, where vendor stalls are filled with fresh fruit, nuts and seafood straight from the Aegean.
Athens is for food lovers, whether it’s Michelin-star restaurants serving Mediterranean cuisine or casual restaurants serving spit-roasted souvlaki. Tavernas in the historic Plaka and Monastiraki districts serve Greek classics such as moussaka and lamb.
Athens and its outskirts are linked by a web of bus and trolley lines. Taxis are also available. You can get into Athens from the airport by taxi or metro; there are also several bus services. Spring and early summer are the best time to visit, avoid the heat and crowds of July and August. As with most urban destinations, travel smart and be aware of pickpockets.