Most people visit the three main buildings of the Acropolis - the Parthenon, Erychtheon and Propylaia - and then they go home. But as you go downhill from the Propylaia, turn to the right, almost back on your tracks, and you'll find yourself on the north slope of the Acropolis, and probably alone, despite the crowds a few yards away. Here are caves and springs in the rocks; in the Cave of Pan, we watched the water slowly bubbling up in a muddy spring. Here are little rock-cut niches for worshipping the gods. The great buildings of the Acropolis give you a feel for the 'official' Greek culture of Pericles' time - but underneath it, there's a different world, more in touch perhaps with its Mycenean roots.
Google map: tinyurl.com/33pwp8s
An easy stroll up this pine-covered hill offers one of the best views of the Acropolis, and is known as the 'hill of muses' for inspiring poets with its beauty.
A maze of paths winds lazily to the top and is well-shaded - ideal for coping with the blistering August heat. Most people come here for the views of the Acropolis opposite and southern Athens stretching to the sea, but you'll come across many more historic sights on your travels.
Highlights include the cave where Socrates was imprisoned, the Pnyx, a limestone theatre carved into the hillside, and the birthplace of Athenian democracy, and the Neo-Classical Old Observatory.
If you have time, make sure you catch a performance of traditional Greek dance at the Dora Stratou Dance Theatre, and a enjoy a coffee at the Loumbardiaris cafe.
Plaka is one of the most popular spots in Athens. Since Melina Mercury cleaned up the area from the noisy bars and night clubs, today Plaka is a quiet small Greek village inside the overcrowded Athens center.
Best time to enjoy Plaka is early spring and late October when the tourist wave has gone. There are many places and museums to visit in Plaka among them the museums of Greek folk art, the Children's Museum, the Frissiras Museum of Greek painting and the Greek music instruments museum. In Plaka you can see also the Roman bath of the Winds and the Lysicrates monument, next to it was the Capuchin Monastery where Lord Byron stayed. Across the Adrianou street and on the steps of Plaka you will find many shops, cafes and restaurants.
If the fug of central Athens is getting to you then try this little stroll for a head-clearing day. Catch the metro down to Piraeus, soak up the hustle and bustle of the big ferry port for a full five minutes before quickly heading off round the peninsula towards the quieter and more upmarket Zea Marina for a trendy coffee overlooking the yachts and fishing boats.
Then continue strolling round the bay, stopping to admire the coastal views of the seaside districts of Athens (Glyfada, Vouliagmeni) until you reach the mikrolimano (little harbour). Sadly all the traditional fishing boats have mostly disappeared but in their place is a superb range of seafood eateries and coffee bars, where anybody who is anybody can be seen hanging out with their parea (groups of friends).
As the sun begins to sink down you can then complete the loop by walking to the metro station at Faliro (past the stadium of Olympiakos football team) and hopping off again at Thisseio station to catch a moonlit stroll around the Acropolis and sip raki in Monastiraki until the sun comes up again. Bliss.
All stations are on the Greek metro map (green line) - Piraeus is the terminus so you can't miss it. Zea Marina can be found by following the brown cultural signs for Piraeus museum
It’s true that Athens should no longer be a short stay destination, but if circumstances dictate it, I recommend the following route (only because it should at least allow you to get a first impression of the diverse faces/ juxtapositions of the city).
Start early in the morning with a visit to Kolonaki square. Watch the posh (and wannabe posh) people walk by while having a coffee/breakfast in one of the numerous - though slightly overpriced- cafes.
Then again, if you'd prefer something more down to earth, rather bohemian, choose to start your day by visiting Exarheia, a neighbourhood right next to Kolonaki. Have a stroll round the nearby streets and then head towards Panepistimiou Avenue, for a short stop at the Hellenic Academy and the other nearby buildings of architectural interest.
From Panepistimiou Avenue, head towards Syntagma, to see the Greek parliament, and then keep walking down Ermou Street until you reach Monastiraki. Pass Monastiraki Square and then head towards Plaka, for a light lunch/drink in one of the kafeneia/tavernas (kafeneio Dioskuroi is highly recommended).
Take a deep breath and then start walking up the hill, for a visit to the Acropolis. On the way back, walk round Plaka for a bit longer, or visit other very interesting areas, which are all a short distance away, such as Thission, Psiri, Athens Central Market or Gazi.
Take in Athens’ archaeological sites with a stroll along the cobbled causeway that connects them in a giant, car-free park. The best starting point is Dionysiou Areopagitou, the stupendous boulevard beneath the Acropolis. This idyllic walk is the stuff of dreams. Unbeatably atmospheric, it takes you through the core of ancient Athens, past all its ancient gems down to the necropolis of Kerameikos and the ghostly remains of a more modern age – the gasworks at Gazi.
Nearest metro: Acropolis
You can’t miss it. Smack bang in the middle of central Athens, cone-shaped Lycabettus is probably the best-known natural landmark in the Greek capital after the holy hill of the ancient Acropolis. From its 300-metre high peak you have spectacular panoramas across the entire city, down to Salamis and the wine-dark waters of the Saronic Gulf. Best accessed by funicular cable car at the upper edge of Kolonaki, or if you’re feeling hardy, through the wooded trails up the side of the hill. Those who insist on wheels can also drive up.
Funicular from Aristippou & Ploutarchou; Tel: 210 722 7092; Nearest metro: Evangelismos; Open: Funicular 9am-11.45pm daily (every 30mins); Price: €3.20 single
You don't need a car to visit Hymettos. In fact it is probably easier without one. Simply take the bus from the central terminus on Panepistimiou to Kaisariani. Stay on all the way to the other end, then get off at the Kaisariani cemetery, about 20 minutes away, and follow the main road up to get across the ring road. The mountain is the big rock ahead of you. Can't miss it, guv.
If you are lucky to know a local, or daring enough to drive yourself, it's definitely worth visiting Hymettos mountain, particularly its north-east side (drive up from the Katehaki or Papagou exits of the ring road - Attiki odos). Discover a Byzantine church, a traditional monastery and other archaeological sites of interest, have a drink in a cafe nearly hidden between the trees, enjoy some of the greatest panoramic views of Athens, do the bike or footpaths, or check for events/activities taking place throughout the year. Hymettos is also renowned for its marble and thyme honey, as well as for being Greece's most crazy mountain, (ie "trelos" or "trelovouno" in Greek) probably because of its propensity to change colour under shifting sunlight.
For an unrivalled eye-feast of the Parthenon on its pedestal of limestone rock, head for the pine-clad Hill of the Muses – marble seats erected close to its summit make the experience all the more heavenly. From the network of little pathways along the hill you get spectacular glimpses of all the Acropolis temples and, beyond the urban sprawl, the sea. From here you’ll understand why the ancients elected this part of Attica to build their 5th century BC Golden Age wonders.
Nearest metro: Acropolis or Thissio
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