Want a city break that offers shopping, entertainment and history? With a nearby coastline offering sun, sea and relaxation? Then try Athens.
Once the jewel of the classical world, modern Athens has thrown off its reputation as pollution riddled eyesore to become a chic and revitalized modern metropolis, where ancient and modern coexist in perfect harmony. With so much to see, it’s hard to know where to start but these are my recommendations:
The Metro. The preparations for the 2004 Olympics meant the expansion of Athens’s metro system. Archaeological investigation has been essential and the finds have turned the new metros stations into attractions in their own right.
Clean, aesthetically pleasing and as yet free from graffiti and buskers, each has a unique display of the archaeological finds discovered during their construction. The station of Monastiraki is particularly unique. Commuters literally walk over history. A clear, Perspex floor has been set over a Roman sewer, workshops and an ancient river bed that had not seen the light of day for at least a couple of thousand years.
The Acropolis. Don’t just head for the Parthenon. There is so much more to the Acropolis than the ancient temple of Athena. Approach the Propylaia from its south eastern side and you will ascend through shady olive groves, passing the remains of the ancient sanctuaries to Dionysus and Asclepius, where sacred plays and ceremonies took place at the festivals of the gods.
Try visiting at night. The whole area around the base of the rock has been tastefully pedestrianized, making it safe and pleasant to walk about. In the evening, there are concerts in the ancient Theatre of Herodias Atticus. With the floodlit Parthenon in the background, olive trees about you and crickets in the background you’ll never enjoy a more atmospheric night out.
Plaka. Old and exotic, Plaka is a warren of narrow allies at the base of the acropolis, incorporating the Roman forum. But Plaka offers something more than ancient sightseeing. In places, its small booth like shops in narrow streets conjure images of an eastern bazaar; unsurprising since Plaka is built on a Turkish plan. There are standard tourist souvenir shops but also stores selling antiques and curios. A reputable flea market is held around Monastiraki square on Sunday’s.
The area has many distinct neoclassical buildings. Until recently, many were in a bad state of decay but renovation is occurring and they are slowly returning.
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