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
The highpoint of any trip to Greece is a visit to the Acropolis – if only to discover as Freud did, that it exists “just as we learnt at school”. As monuments go it’s breathtaking, no matter how many times you see it up close. But climbing the limestone rock is neither kind nor easy in the torturous Athenian heat. The trip should be made early morning, or (gates permitting) at sunset when the capital is bathed in red, violet and blue.
Dionysiou Areopagitou; Tel: 210 321 0219; Nearest metro: Akropoli; Open: 8am-sunset daily Apr-Dec, 8.30am-2.30pm daily Jan-Mar; Admission: €12, €6 concessions, free to under-18s, free to all Sun Nov-Mar (no credit cards); www.culture.gr/
Since the 2004 Athens Olympics, Athenians have been spoilt for choice with a transport system that is one of the most sophisticated in the world. By far the best – and cheapest - way to travel into central Athens is on the ultra-efficient metro, which leaves Sparta International Airport every 30 minutes (a one-way ticket costs €6).
Your last stop, Monastiraki, near the foot of the Acropolis is a 39-minute ride away and offers expansive left-luggage facilities. This is a subway system that not only offers you archaeology (displayed in stations where it was unearthed during construction) and contemporary art, but sings to you, too. Constantly expanding, the network’s only drawback is that it does not reach every corner of the capital yet.
For those whose destination is not near a tube line, it will have to be the ubiquitous yellow taxi that will take you into town – a ride that with airport and ring-road tariffs will easily set you back €25.
One thing that Athenians claim to do best and a must-try experience for anyone who visits the city between May-September. There are dozens of great open-air cinemas from which to choose, but mostly because of a privileged location and quality of sound, I would recommend Aegli cinema, in Zappion Gardens.
Zappion Gardens, 105 57 Athens, (+30) 210 3369369, (+30) 210 3369370, (+30) 210 3369300
For the compulsive browser and more modern antiques lover, Monastiraki flea market on a Sunday is a must. At the lower reaches of feel-good Plaka – the city’s longest continuously inhabited area – this is Athens at its most Oriental and where most of its African, Middle Eastern and Balkan communities stop to sell their wares.
Around Lfestou & Pandrosou, Monastiraki; Open: 7am-3pm Sun; Nearest metro: Monastiraki
This is a hotel of the future. Facing a tranquil green park in the Kifissia area of north Athens, the hotel is boutique style with fluid design, soft style that mingles rounded forms with bright, lively colours. It offers internet TVs complete with cordless keyboards that come as standard. For more local interaction, guests can check out the hotel's two-level restaurant and bar, where the modern Greek, European and international flavours of the menu are mirrored in the cosmopolitan blend that make up the Semiramis' clientele. It is a must for those who love design hotels! ₤155 per night.
Harilaou Trikoupi 48, 14562 Kifissia, Athens, Greece Tel +30210 6284400 Fax +30210 6284499 www.semiramisathens.com
Athens News, Insider Athens, Kathimerini English edition [inside International Herald Tribune] and www.cultureguide.gr/, which provides the most comprehensive digest of cultural and arts events in Greece and is updated daily.
The city centre’s largest green belt – are much beloved by Athenians seeking respite from the searing summer heat. Home to about 7,000 trees and 40,000 plants form across the world, the gardens were originally designed for the Greek royal family (ingloriously kicked out of the country in 1974) and were the first major gardening project in Athens.
Leof Vas Amalias 1; Tel: 210 721 5019; Nearest metro: Syntagma; Open: 7am-sunset daily; Admission: free
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
Bright, fresh and sleek, this hotel is a cool retreat from the Athens heat. Downtown in the heart of the city, it's a stylish, urban resort with unconventional atmosphere and thoughtful service. With simple lines and vivid colours, the hotel surrounds guests in absolute calm.
26 Sofokleous & Klisthenous Street, 105 52 Athens, Greece email: firstname.lastname@example.org tel +30 210 5248511, fax +30 210 5248517
The Saronic isles of Aegina and Agistri, a mere 35 and 45 minutes’ away, respectively, by hovercraft. Both, despite their proximity to Athens, tend to be overlooked by tourists but are tranquil, verdant and quintessentially Greek. Aegina, which is home to many in the arts scene, has great walks and tavernas and some of the best pistachio orchards outside Iran. Agistri has some of the best swimming on offer in the Attic region thanks to the strong Saronic currents which keep its waters turquoise clean.
Saronic Dolphins (210 422 4777) and Flying Dolphins (210 419 9200) both offer fast boat services (40mins) to the islands. Boats leave from the dockside at Piraeus, 200 metres south of the Metro station, next to Miaouli. You are strongly advised to book tickets in advance and check boat times for your return journey before you leave as the number of departures varies each day. Saronic Dolphins do not accept credit cards.
In Athens there are more than one open-air summer cinema. They are a cultural delight.
Aigli – Village Cool Summer Cinema, Zappeion (in the National Gardens), Historic Centre; Tel: 210 336 9369/6970; Nearest metro: Syntagma
An island with something for everyone; cool, cosmopolitan Naoussa, with its bustling nightlife and beautiful warren of twisting, quintessentially Greek streets; picturesque Lefkes tucked into a valley in the mountains; and countless tiny villages dotted around a coastline that is blessed with some of the best beaches in Greece.
Even Parikia, the once rather grotty port town, is re-emerging from its downmarket past and can't be beaten as the place to watch the sun slowly sink into the beautiful blue waters of the Aegean.
Between three and five hours (or even longer if you take a G.A ferry) from Athens by sea, or half an hour by plane;
A plate of small, freshly cooked doughnuts, smothered in honey syrup and cinammon and eaten warm.
Most tourists never try these as they are more of a winter treat than a summer one.
Sold everywhere once you know what you are looking for
Arguably not the best choice amongst hundreds of reasonably priced tavernas, mezedopoleia, souvlakeries and restaurants, but this is why you may (be pleased to) find it hard to spot a McDonalds. Expect to get a much more culturally-sensitive and healthier range of choices than what you would normally expect from a fast food chain.
In nearly every neighbourhood
Escape the heat and crowds in the calming oasis of the Goulandris Collection of Cycladic Art. The museum houses a prehistoric collection from the 3rd millennium BC (Early Bronze Age), the most evocative being marble figurines, some of them near lifesize.
4 Neophytou Douka, GR 106 74 Athens; tel: 210 72 28 321; www.cycladic-m.gr
nearest metro: Syntagma or Evangelismos;
Closed Sunday and Tuesday
The grassy ruins of the ancient agora, if not the walkway of Dionysiou Areopagitou. Here amongst the butterflies and bees you’ll experience Athens at its most magical and atmospheric.
Entrances on Adrianou and on the descent from the Acropolis, Monastiraki; Tel: 210 321 0185; Nearest metro: Monastiraki or Thisio; Open: 8am-7pm daily May-Oct, 8am-5pm daily Nov-Apr, (museum closes 30mins before site); Admission: €4, €2 concessions, free to holders of €12 Acropolis ticket (no credit cards); www.culture.gr/
The sunsets viewed from Santorini are reputed to be the best in the world. I won't argue with that...and I have seen lots of sunsets around the world. The best places to see them are Oia (which is very crowded), Thira (also crowded with tourists), Ammoudi and the edge of the caldera between the port of Santorini and Thira. Just pull off the road (we hired a car to drive around) and watch the spectacle ...awesome.
It’s sexist, anti-religious and at times stilted but no other book captures Greek hedonism quite like this one. Alexis Zorbas (so memorably portrayed by Anthony Quinn in the film) is the man everyone wants – and perhaps needs – to meet in a lifetime.
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