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Athens, Greece

Athens

Great Destination:

4

Value for Money:

3

Total Stars:

7.0

Personality Types that Like it Best

Strongest ratings from Centric-Venturers and Mid-Venturers, and many Centric-Authentics

Did You Know … ?

  • The Greek capital was named after Athena, the goddess of wisdom.
  • The Parthenon’s slightly tilted columns would touch — if they were more than a mile high.
  • Athens hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.
  • Ancient Athenians considered it barbaric to drink wine without watering it down.
  • Nashville, Tenn., is home to replicas of the Parthenon and its long-lost statue of Athena.

Democracy’s birthplace

Dramatic ancient ruins — beginning with the Acropolis — hold pride of place in the center of Athens, a city with a history dating back some 3,000 years.

While seeing the top archaeological sites is de rigueur for most visitors, those born to shop will find no shortage of interesting stores and one-of-a-kind markets to touch their wallets. Greek cuisine, making liberal use of local wines and olive oils, is another draw, as are the ships for sightseers that ply the waters at Piraeus, the city’s bustling port.

As iconic cities go, Athens is hard to beat. Greece’s capital has the best claim on the sobriquet, the birthplace of democracy, with the emerging political form dating from around 500 B.C. Also, the impact of the city’s famous philosophers, from Socrates to Aristotle, still reverberates throughout Western culture. Much of what we take for granted in our modern lives, from libraries to parliamentary government, can be attributed to the influence of Athenians.

The modern city has areas so overcrowded that it seems they were constructed without regard to zoning or aesthetics. The traffic is legendary, and until the strict pollution laws of the 1990s, the smog rivaled that of Los Angeles.

Visitors who take the time, however, can find older sections of the city that have retained their charm and where one can enjoy the sights from outdoor cafes and along tiny cobblestone streets lined with picturesque shops.

For culture vultures, the city is host to the Athens Festival each summer, where events are staged in the ancient Odeon of Herod Atticus beneath the Acropolis. The theater seats are admittedly hard, but they provide a physical connection with a long-ago past.

Athens, when reprising its role as first host of the modern games in the late 19th century, received a much-needed $6.8 billion facelift before hosting the 2004 summer Olympic Games. Improvements included a transit system that features efficient highways, tunnels and rail transportation that link the city to the airport and the cruise port.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Get up close and personal with marine life by scuba diving with the Aegean Dive Center in Glyfada. It offers daylong outings.
  • Saddle up for a ride. The Hellenic Equestrian Federation offers operators that can supply horses, guides and trail information.
  • Compete in the Athens Marathon, which runs from the town of Marathon to Athens the first Sunday of November.
  • Try hang gliding, a sport so popular in Greece that it’s now part of the Hellenic Air Sports Federation.
  • Skip the guided tour and take the ferry — or rent a yacht — to visit neighboring islands at your own pace.
  • Take a hike, literally. For marked paths near Athens, consider the Mount Parnitha National Park, about 20 miles north of the city. One of its trails takes you to a rock-climbing site, too.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Stop in for a nightcap at the ultra posh Alexander’s Bar at Athens’ Grande Bretagne Hotel.
  • Drop some euros in the Plaka, a charming warren of narrow streets and tavernas where visitors can shop, listen to street musicians and enjoy the neoclassical architecture.
  • It’s OK to touch the exhibits at the recently reopened Tactile Museum in Athens, designed for blind visitors and meant to showcase the history of the Olympic Games.
  • Learn to love ouzo, the classic licorice-flavored alcoholic drink that tops the menu at  Athens cafes and bars.
  • Time your arrival to coincide with the summerlong Athens Festival, where cultural events include everything from ballet to opera. The Herod Atticus Theatre beneath the Acropolis is the official venue.
  • Go sightseeing on Athens’ hop-on/hop-off Bus 400, which takes in the ancient ruins, such as the Acropolis, as well as the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Visit one or more of Athens’ museums — there are more than 130 in all — including the must-see National Archaeological Museum.
  • Mingle with high society in Kolonaki, a district where upscale cafes and pricey boutiques line the streets.
  • Catch a movie at the outdoor Cine Paris theater, situated within view of the Acropolis, which is lighted at night.
  • Feast your eyes on the pottery, fabrics and precious metal at the Museum of Greek Folk Art, which also includes a mosque and Ottoman baths.
  • Linger over dinner either at a local taverna or one of the tony new restaurants that have cropped up since the Olympic Games, but don’t expect to see dinner on your table before 9 p.m. at the earliest.
  • Pick up an English-language novel at the huge Eleftheroudakis bookstore, or troll the Monastiraki flea market for everything from knockoffs and vintage duds to real-McCoy antiques.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.thisisathens.org