By Theresa Russell
Climb to the top of Athens’ Acropolis for a magnificent view of the city and its surroundings. Do it early in your visit to get your bearings, to understand how the city is laid out and to marvel at the Parthenon and other monuments on this most famous acropolis. This most beautiful and most perfect building constructed by the world’s most advanced civilization is only one example of the keen appreciation for art and design that the Greeks have possessed and continue to contribute to the rest of the world.
Modern Greeks continue to follow Socrates’ advice to enjoy life, even if you have nothing. You will find the people of Athens friendly, helpful and pleased when you are trying to speak Greek. So learning some essential phrases and using them will go a long way in making a good impression.
A visit to the outstanding Archaeological Museum requires many hours to view the extensive collection. The chronological displays dating back thousands of years puts the history of Greece and the world into perspective and details the culture of the Greeks. You may wish to visit before going to the Acropolis to better appreciate what you will see. Another place to visit prior to your climb is the newer Acropolis Museum recently opened near the base of the Acropolis. The modern building displays many artifacts from the archaic and classical periods including original sculptures and friezes from the Parthenon.
A couple of other worthwhile visits include the Benaki Museum, combining history with art and culture and Panathinaikon, the ancient stadium where the first Olympics took place and which was used as the blueprint for many present day sports stadiums.
Although the Parthenon is the best known and recognized, several other equally striking and beautiful temples and structures remain. Even the ruined remains of buildings like Hadrian’s Library and later period structures on the same site evoke illusions of grandeur of times gone by.
The more you learn about Athens, the more interesting your visit to the Acropolis will be. From the Propylea entrance looking out to the port of Pireaus, you will see the islands and mountains of the Peloponessos. Go to the platform where the large Greek flag is flying and you will see the Plaka below, the ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Athens spreading out endlessly. Just below the Acropolis you will find more great views at the Rock of Areopago, where Saint Paul preached to the Athenians. Further down you find the Theaters of Herod Atticus and Dionysious, both still in use today for musical and cultural performances.
Scattered throughout Athens are markets, pedestrian areas and shopping. Monastiraki boasts a typical flea market. Athens is very walkable with a pedestrian area basically bounded by Plaka, Dionysiou Areopagitou street and Keramikos, an area where most of the historical monuments are found, but also offers a good public transportation system. Bus and metro tickets are good for an hour and a half and taking a bus is a cheap sightseeing tour and a good way to become oriented to the city.
A favorite place for tourists is the Plaka area, quite near the Acropolis. Sidewalk restaurants and shops abound in this pedestrian area and traditional Greek music provides the background sound. Nearby in Anafiotika are tiny whitewashed houses built into the hillside of the Acropolis; narrow, winding and sometimes steep pathways meander along just below the Parthenon. Surprises abound along the streets of Athens with ancient structures sharing space with modern buildings and none of it seeming out of place.
Athens’ proximity to the sea makes seafood a popular item on menu; traditional Greek foods must be tried.
Gyros make a good, quick and inexpensive snack or quick boost for utilizing every minute of the day exploring Athens. Other typical dishes include mousaka, pastistio, souvlaki with tsatsiki and all should be accompanied by Greek wine; finish them off with baklava, kataifi or other sweets. Greece is famous for its olive oil, an essential ingredient in its recipes and salads. Of course, if you are looking for other types of ethnic food, you will find it in international Athens. When you are hungry you will find a variety of options to get something to eat. The more common places will be restaurants serving a wide range of Greek food, specialty grill houses, tavernas, souvlaki shops and ethnic restaurants.
Much of what you will see will be remains of the Golden Age of Greece, of a glorious past long ago. However, since Athens hosted the Olympics, things are getting even better. More attention was paid to the archaeological sites, museums and public places were renovated, and tourist services have improved significantly. Traffic patterns have been improved with new highways diverting traffic from more populated areas and large pedestrian avenues have been developed around the Acropolis. Public transportation opens up the city to visitors, providing easy access to all areas. So enjoy the sites, eat some great Greek food, have an exciting time and see why the Athenians are so proud of their city.
About Theresa Russell
Claiming her lust for travel began on her first journey through the birth canal, Theresa is genetically programmed to travel and to have fun doing it. She especially enjoys adventure and experiential travel and always finds something at a destination to write home about.