Things to Do in Athens - page 2
With nearly 40 acres of well-kept gardens, sky-high forests and ancient ruins the National Gardens of Athens (Ethnikos Kipos) offers travelers a natural escape unlike any other. Commissioned by Queen Amalia in 1838, this unique destination is home to more than 500 species of plants and animals and a vast landscape dotted with the busts of Greek poets, gods and political figures.
Travelers can wander the grounds, which offer a scenic escape from the chaos of Athens, and sip hot coffees at the small outdoor café after combing through the Botanical Museum or the garden’s small zoo. Close proximity to the Olympic stadium makes it a perfect stop for those on a tour of Athen's most famous historical sites.
Situated on the outskirts of Athens, Vouliagmeni Lake (Limni Vouliagmenis) is a brackish body of water fed by both the sea and underground springs. The water is said to have curative properties, and many people come here to treat various physical ailments and partake in spa activities such as yoga and Pilates, in addition to swimming.
Established in 1829, Athens’ National Archaeological Museum (Ethniko Arxaiologiko Mouseio) houses treasures unearthed from the many archaeological sites scattered throughout Greece, dating from prehistory to the late classical period. The expansive neoclassical building holds sculptures, bronzes, ceramics, and jewelry from Mycenae, Santorini, ancient Egypt, and beyond.
Psiri sits underneath the Acropolis and along with its neighbors Plaka and Monastiraki, is one of the buzziest districts in Athens. It’s not so long ago that it was a down-at-heel artisan area best known for its abandoned buildings and leather shops, but Psiri is undergoing a facelift and is currently one of the hottest addresses in the city. Yes, its narrow, meandering streets are still covered with graffiti and there are local grocery shops unchanged for decades but today Psiri is a magnet to locals and – increasingly – visitors alike. For starters, it’s slowly becoming home to small independent boutiques selling organic soaps, unusual handmade jewelry, old posters and glittering icons; and often market stalls selling homemade produce line the streets. And by night Psiri undergoes a radical transformation as cool cafés, bars, restaurants and local ouzeries open on to the alleyways and the laidback crowds come strolling in. Even later still the music clubs open, some playing rembetika, a bluesy urban folk music, others with live bouzouki music roaring out on to the crowded streets.
Syntagma Square (Plateia Syntagmatos) is the heart of civic life in Athens, a popular meting place edged with the imposing Parliament of Greece (Vouli) and studded with fountains and shady trees, as well as the unique sight of kilted soldiers changing the guard outside the Monument to the Unknown Soldier with a flourish of the pompoms on their shoes. It is also a transport hub for trams and buses, and its metro station is one of the busiest in the city, where both Lines 2 and 3 stop.
Athens is built on foundations that go back more than 9,000 years to prehistory and so it was no surprise that when excavation started to build the city’s metro system, the digging produced a perfect chronological timeline of the past. These have been innovatively displayed in situ, creating the only underground metro-station museums in the world. Altogether seven metro stations in Athens have museums, with the most interesting discoveries displayed at Acropolis, Monastiraki, Kerameikos and – most spectacular of all – Syntagma. Thousands of ancient artifacts were discovered there, from Neolithic cemeteries to sections of Greek drainage systems, mosaics, funerary urns and skeletons, many displayed behind glass. In the entrance hall a cross-section of the substrata is uncovered, displaying a prehistoric necropolis, and moving ever upwards through classical Greek, Roman and Byzantine remains, charting the development of the city through the millennia.
Omonoia Square is a big square located north of the central market in Athens, Greece. It's the city's oldest square, and pictures show it was once a lovely square with lots of trees. However, it has been reconstructed several times in order to adjust for the introduction of cars and other vehicles. Six streets intersect at the square, making it a busy traffic hub. Buses, metros, and taxis can all be found here. There are no ancient ruins here like in other parts of the city, but the area surrounding the square is known for its bohemian vibe and cultural mix, and it is popular with students.
You can find affordable hotels, inexpensive restaurants and cafes, and other types of shops here. Nearby are several flea markets as well. The National Archaeological Museum is the most well known attraction located near Omonoia Square. Other important buildings include the Athens Art Gallery and the National Theater.
Home of the Muses in Greek myth, 8,061-foot (2,457-meter) Mount Parnassus (Parnassos) is one of the star attractions of Parnassos National Park. Activities on offer span the gamut from skiing and snowmobiling to climbing and mountain biking via hiking and 4WD adventures, but most travelers experience it only on a visit to the ancient site of Delphi.
Sprawling up the northern slopes of the Acropolis and peeking above the rooftops of Plaka, Anafiotika is a tiny enclave of steep, cobbled alleyways lined with squat, whitewashed stone houses reminiscent of villages in the Greek Islands. The area was developed by skilled craftsmen from the Cycladean island of Anafi, who arrived in Athens in 1843 to work in the building boom that followed independence from the Hellenic Republic. Taking advantage of an ancient decree that allowed people to keep their property if they could build it between sunset and sunrise, the islanders worked on grand neo-classical palaces by day and their own cramped quarters by night.
Part of Anafiotika was torn down in the 1950s and now only around 50 of the artisan dwellings remain, tucked between the miniscule churches of Agios Georgios tou Vrachou and Agios Simeon, both also the work of the Anafi islanders. Their descendants still live in their mini-homes, amid splashes of color from scented gardens and balconies awash with bougainvillea and pots of scarlet geraniums.
The Acropolis is Athens’ most famous hill, but one that can’t escape notice (especially as you climb up to the Parthenon) is the nearby Philopappos Hill (Filopappou). This forested hill was once called Mouseion Hill, or “Hill of the Muses,” but has been known as Philopappos Hill since a monument of the same name was built atop the hill in the year 116 C.E. The monument and tomb, the most noticeable part of the hill when viewed from anywhere else in Athens, was for the Roman consul and senator Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos. He was a powerful and respected man in Athens, having lived there for many years, and was a prominent theater sponsor. The monument is a partial ruin today, but you can still see aspects of Philopappos’ life carved into the stone.
Lower on Philopappos Hill, you can also visit what some say is the cell where Socrates was imprisoned in 399 C.E. before he was executed. Many others contend the cell was in the Ancient Agora, but that doesn’t stop city officials from labeling the caves on this hill as “Socrates’ Prison.”
Kotzia Square (Plateia Kotzia) is located in central Athens, Greece and is lined with neo-classical buildings from the 19th century. One of the buildings here is the City Hall of Athens, which is decorated with busts of famous Athenians such as Pericles and Solon. Another impressive building on the square is the National Bank of Greece. The square was built in 1874 and was originally called Loudovikou Square. The current name is for a former Athens mayor, Konstantinos Kotzias. This square was the starting and finishing point of the men's and women's road race events during the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Ancient ruins and antiquities were discovered here, and now you can see them on display in the center of the square. Tombs, a small building, and part of an ancient road are all on display, reminding us of the long history of this city. In the areas surrounding the square, visitors can find pedestrian streets with plenty of shopping and several restaurants and cafes, some right on the square with outdoor seating.
More Things to Do in Athens
The ornate Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens (Mitropoli) is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin and was 20 years in building, finally being consecrated in 1862; it is the official seat of the Archbishop of Athens, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church. The skills of four architects and marble from scores of demolished Byzantine churches were utilized in building the cathedral, also called theGreat Mitropolis Cathedral, which was commissioned by King Otto of Greece and constructed in ornate neo-Ottoman style with twin spires; although this is the most important church in Greece, where kings were crowned and royal dynasties married and buried, it has been under scaffolding for many years. Its three-aisled interior is in Byzantine style, covered with frescoes and priceless icons, and packed with tombs and relics of Orthodox saints.
In the piazza facing Great Mitropolis stands a statue of Archbishop Damaskinos, the World War II hero who saved thousands of lives by fighting against the deportation of Greek Jews by the country’s Nazi occupiers.
Covering the period from 1453 to the 1940s, Athens’ National History Museum (Ethnikó Istorikó Mouseío) takes visitors from the Ottoman years right up until the Greek-Italian War. The museum is housed in an ornate Neoclassical palace dating back to 1813 and has seen several incarnations; it was once the home of King Otto, the first Greek monarch after independence in 1832, before being taken over by Greek Parliament, who in turned moved out to the current Parliament Building in Syntagma Square in 1932. Lastly, the Old Parliament building housed the justice ministry before opening as a museum in 1962, showcasing turning points in Greek history from the Byzantine rule to the build up to the Wars of Independence in the 1820s and the disastrous Asia Minor Campaign in 1919.
Weaponry, colorful folk costumes, decorative arts, war medals and statuary are exhibited in a chronological display through a suite of rooms spinning out from the original parliamentary chamber, which is in itself a highlight of the museum.
Adrianou Street is one of the main roads in the Plaka neighborhood of Athens, Greece. It is the oldest commercial street in Athens still in continuous use and with the same layout, direction and use since antiquity. It runs from Thesseion in the Monastiraki flea market towards Hadrian's Arch in the Roman Agora, and it is the largest street in Plaka. The street is located below the Acropolis and is lined with restaurants and cafes.
There are also lots of shops along this road where you can find factory-made items as well as handcrafted pieces sold in shops owned by the artists. It's a popular place to shop for jewelry, postcards, crafts, antiques, and more. Since it is a pedestrian street, it is a good place for a leisurely stroll while exploring the neighborhood. It's also a great place to have dinner with a view of the Acropolis and soak up the atmosphere of ancient Athens.
Amid the bustle of Ermou, Athens’ main shopping street, the Greek Orthodox Church of Panagia Kapnikarea stands out. With a history dating back to the 11th century and the Byzantine era, it’s one of the city’s oldest churches, although the structure has evolved over time. Most frescoes are by Photis Kontoglou, a renowned 20th-century icon painter.
The Benaki Museum competes with the Acropolis Museum and National Museum of Archaeology as one of the top three museums in Athens. It was established in 1930 by wealthy philanthropist Antonis Benakis in his neo-classical family mansion opposite the National Gardens, and he kick-started the collection by donating nearly 40,000 pieces of Byzantine and Islamic art to the museum. Further donations from private collectors over the decades swelled the exhibitions and resulted in the museum being extended several times.
Following a revamp in the early 21st century, the oriental and Islamic art was moved to thesatellite Museum of Islamic Art in Kerameikos and there is also an annexe on Pireos Street in the newly trendy district of Rouf, showcasing all that’s best on the Athens contemporary art scene. The Benaki Museum itself now concentrates solely on Greek history from the fall of Constantinople in 1453 through the formation of the Greek state in 1821 and on to the 1922, when the defeat of the Greek army in the Asia Minor Disaster led to the massacre of thousands of Greeks living in Turkey and the displacement of a million more. Showpieces among the museum’s fine collections are rare 17th-century embroidery from Cyprus, vivid traditional costumes from mainland Greece and weaponry from the independence struggles of 1821.
Mikrolimano is the harbor area in Piraeus, a short distance away from Athens, Greece. The harbor has plenty of fishing boats and a yacht marina with luxury yachts and smaller pleasure boats, and the area is surrounded by cafes and restaurants. The atmosphere feels a bit like being on one of the islands while still being just a few minutes outside of Athens. Many Greek films have used Mikrolimano due to its beauty and atmosphere.
Some people come for the charming harbor itself, but most people come to splurge on a nice seafood dinner or lunch at one of the high end restaurants. The seafood here is not cheap, and it is usually sold by the kilogram, so keep in mind that 1 kilogram equals about 2.2 pounds. If fish isn't your thing, you can still come here for the views and the experience and order steak, grilled meat, or a number of other local dishes.
The digital planetarium in Athens was upgraded in 2003 and forms part of the Eugenides Foundation, built at the behest of Greek shipping magnate and philanthropist Eugene Eugenides to educate Greek children on the subject of science. As well as being the world’s largest planetarium — with a dome of 270 sq ft (25 sq m) in diameter — it is also one of the most technologically advanced. With seating for 280, the planetarium offers its audiences spectacular 3D trips into space as well as IMAX and OMNIMAX movies on a 360-degree screen that is 10 times the size of a normal movie screen. Ten different shows take place throughout the day, including documentaries on the Moon landings, the Great Barrier Reef, evolution and exploring the cosmos, with a special program of films for younger children. Films are between 30 and 40 minutes long and show times are liable to change, so check schedules online ahead of visiting.
As well as temporary art exhibitions, the Eugenides Foundation Planetarium also encompasses a café and science museum, where educational and interactive multimedia exhibits showcase genetics and biotechnology; labeling is all in Greek and English.
Now supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the Numismatic Museum of Athens first opened in 1834 and has been relocated several times during its lifetime; its present resting place is the Iliou Melathron (Palace of Iliou), a late 19th century Neo-classical mansion that was once home to German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, who discovered Troy. The house, designed by Ernest Ziller in 1881, is as big an attraction as the museum and is surrounded on three sides by manicured gardens full of replicas of classical statues. Inside, a series of grand apartments are filled with highly patterned marble floors, elaborately painted ceilings and wall paintings reflecting Schliemann’s interest in ancient civilizations.
The museum itself is dedicated to rare coins, weights, stamps, medals and gemstones from across the world, mostly donated to the collection by wealthy Greek benefactors. Thematically displayed in a series of lavish apartments are rare and ancient coins from Hellenistic, Roman, medieval and Byzantine times, as well as modern coins from European states. With more than 500,000 artifacts in total, this is one of the most important numismatic museums in the world, with great rarities in the collections including gold coins dating back to Alexander the Great in 356 BC and to the Egyptian Pharaoh Ptolemy I in 305 BC. The library of some 12,000 books is also available for research purposes.
The epicenter of modern-day Athens, Kolonaki Square (Plateia Kolonaki) is the most fashionable spot for a coffee break in the city, located right at the heart of the upmarket Kolonaki district. Nestled in the shadows of Mount Lykavettos, the leafy square offers an idyllic setting and its many terrace cafés are brimming with locals during the summer months.
This is the place to sip a cappuccino at a glitzy café, spot Greek celebrities and socialites, and browse the designer boutiques of adjoining streets like Anagnostopoulou and Patriarchou Ioakim. The square is also buzzing with activity in the evening hours, when the neighborhood’s many restaurants, bars and nightclubs fill up with Athens’ most glamorous.
The Museum of Cycladic Art houses a collection of works that belongs to Nicholas and Aikaterini Goulandris. Made up of two side-by-side buildings, the sites are connected by a glass-roofed hallway. The main building holds the museum's permanent collection, while the other building is mostly temporary exhibits. The museum gets its name from the Cycladic civilization which developed mostly in the Cycladic islands between 3200-2100 B.C. The collection contains artifacts from three different time periods of the Cycladic civilization.
There is also a collection titled Ancient Greek Art that has art and other artifacts from 2000 B.C. through 395 A.D. Another collection displays Cyprian art from prehistoric times to the Roman Empire. The exhibit on the everyday life of ancient Greeks uses photos, diagrams, and videos to explain the items on display. The videos include topics such as wedding and funeral rituals, entertainment, school, going off to battle, athletics, and much more.
The Byzantine & Christian Museum is housed in the lovely Neo-Classical Villa Ilissia in the Athens suburb of the same name; it was built in 1848 as the residence of Sophie de Marbois-Lebrun, the philanthropic US-born Duchess of Plaisance. Having had an architectural facelift in 2004, the museum has one of the best displays of Byzantine icons and mosaics on earth. Its priceless exhibits are laid out chronologically to trace the development of early Christian and Greek Byzantine culture from the 4th century onwards, drawing on more than 25,000 treasures from across the Greek world including religious statuary removed from ruined churches in Attica. Among the Coptic priestly vestments, pottery, the frescoes, armor and fragmented mosaics is a world-beating collection of more than 3,000 glittering Byzantine icons. Modern-day religious art in Greece is covered in a series of ever-changing temporary exhibits.
Allow at least two hours to visit this well-curated, well-lit gallery, with multi-lingual labeling and displays spread over several floors. It’s often crowded in summer so get there early in the morning. The Byzantine & Christian Museum sits next door to the War Museum of Athens and close to Aristotle’s Lyceum, the remains of one of the three major academic gymnasia of ancient Athens, which is a pleasant park for a stroll among olive trees and scented rosemary bushes. Further treasures from Greece’s Classical past are on show at the National Archaeological Museum.
A brutalist concrete slab, the Athens War Museum (Polemiko Mouseio) celebrates Greece’s military history—ancient and modern. Collections start from prehistoric times and include weapons from the Troy era, but there’s a focus on the nation’s struggle during World War II. Heavy artillery and Greek military aircraft are on display outside.
Founded in 1953, the Dora Stratou Greek Dances Theater aims to preserve the rich traditions of Greek folk dances. During the summer, the group runs regular performances at their open-air theater on Philopappos Hill in Athens. They also host performances by visiting dance troupes and offer classes in Greek dance.
The decommissioned armored cruiserGeorgios Averof is one of two legendary Greek naval ships that have been transformed into floating museums; built in Italy during the first years of the 20th century, she served in the First Balkan War, played a major part in both world wars and patrolled the Indian Ocean as the flagship of the Greek fleet and was taken out of combat in 1952. The Navy restored and reopenedAverof as the Floating Naval Museum—Battleship Georgios Averof in 1984; today four decks are open for public scrutiny, including the officers’ sumptuous quarters, engine rooms, cramped accommodation cabins, the chapel and kitchens are all on show among uniforms, weaponry, navigational charts, medals and many black-and-white images of the ship in mid battle. TheAverof museum is manned and managed by the Greek Navy and opening hours are liable to be erratic, so check ahead online before visiting. She is moored up in Flisvou Marina, with the former naval ship Velos close by as well as a replica trireme calledOlympias; it’s a pleasant place to wander around while spotting the gleaming, modern super-yachts bobbing in the water. Otherwise incorporate a visit to the ship into a cycle tour of Athens Riviera.
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